Thursday, September 29, 2016

On Marketing and Politics in the World of RPGs

Just a few thoughts from a recent spat of threads that I thought were interesting, possibly true, and maybe worth talking a bit about.

Today's journey starts here with a post by Jens D.:

Which coincidentally was followed a few minutes later by my stumbling across this post by Quinn Moerike:

Here are the highlights from both threads:

Vb Wyrde:
I also have the impression that a lot of people are using this term ["player agency"] to mean different things. Just as for many terms in the world of RPGs there is no official definition ... mostly because there is no universally recognized authority that has defined them. So we are often chasing our tails in arguments over what things mean and there's been a great deal of politicking along the way. That's where people try to co-opt or conflate terms with the intention of proving that their viewpoint is more valid than another's. It's a pity but without an authority we have little choice but to muddle through as best we can.

The problem with player agency is that some people who want to undermine the traditional role of the GM on the grounds of "tyranny" are conflating player agency with mythopoeia as though the two are synonymous. But they're not. All players already have agency in traditional RPGs. What they don't have is mythopoeic authority which is reserved to the GM. So many of the arguments presented are spurious. Oh well. Muddling along. Muddling along.

Jens D.:
Yes! Exactly that! No academic discourse, only capitalist interest ... Not what Gygax had in mind, I'd venture. But that's the reality of it and incidentally connected to that other endeavor of yours: the PGS. Incidentally i had n encounter in a FLGS the other day. Told me he doesn't sell that stuff, because there's no money in it. What he mainly sold? Magic and Warhammer ... Damn, we are in a very desolate state. It's bothering me for a while now.

Vb Wyrde:
That's not great news but I can understand it. Once people settle on an RPG system they are often good for the next few decades. Why would there be money in RPG rules books? It's why we find that most indie RPG publishers consider 200 sales "a success story".

Jens D.:
Yeah, right, I know :( But what really bothered me, is that the beauty of it all isn't communicated anymore. Get rpgs recognized like chess or Monopoly and you'll have a totally different thing going. Money should be a side effect and not a reason to let it die a slow death ... Work this in public, organize, teach it ... all those things could earn a guy money. But instead it's greed and petty tribalism (with a good dose of elitism for the toxic mix to be complete).

Vb Wyrde:
Yup. According to some commentators this is due to the malignant marketing practices of a handful of RPG publishers. Apparently in their zeal to promote their own games they felt the (gr)need to denigrate the traditional style of play. This action created a war of words within the ranks of the enthusiasts and probably hamstrung the hobby's natural growth for at least a decade. After all, who wants to join a hobby where huge flame wars lay waste to the mythic lands? ... Muddle, muddle.

Well that's a bit jumbled but does roughly cover the scope of the points I want to make. Namely, that

1. The RPG Hobby is saturated with RPGs and there's no reason to think that anyone should be able to make a living off of selling RPG Rules Books because most people in fact only need one RPG rules system to be perfectly happy for several decades at a time.

2. There's been a lot of rancorous debate about terminology in the RPG Hobby due to the fact that definitions were created without universal acceptance, and then used for political and marketing purposes to "prove" that someone's viewpoint is more valid than someone else's.

3. That rancorous debate, it seems, has been fueled by a faction of RPG marketers who felt the need to denigrate other styles of play in an effort to "prove" that their own style is better, and therefore people should Buy Into the "new and revolutionary" style. They started a Revolution inside the hobby.

4. This has probably dampened the natural growth of the hobby by alienating new comers who might otherwise have thought "Gosh this sounds like a fun hobby" instead of "OMG - these people are at each other's throats for some reason... I think I'll just back away slowly..."

Just some thoughts. I'm sure plenty of people will take umbrage and disagree. Understood and accepted. But that's my take on things at this point. And to be honest, I'm only covering a slice of the territory as one could also tie in the entire debate about Social Justice, and how that relates to the above points, for better or worse.

To conclude:

Jens D:
You, know, Mark, I was looking for words to describe what happened and when and I think you hit it on the head. Must have been around the time D&D went corporate. That language in D&D 3e is outright manipulative. The whole set up is, really. Get everyone to own the game but if they own it, they need rights, too. So a guy can sit down at the table and say "I bought supplement xy and it says yx, so I'm entitled to this or that ...". The next new thing is the best and all else before is worthless. Enough people drank the cool aid, too. And as it's the way of the Borg big corporations, they just keep assimilating (hey look, over there, those indie guys actually have fun ... let's buy them and incorporate their ides into our game, too). It's not been about advancing the hobby in the long, long time ... now I feel bad.

Vb Wyrde:
Don't worry. This muddle is all part of the natural process of evolution. In fact if you take the high ground and look around you'll notice a lot of great gaming being done out there.

Does that mean that I think you can make a living selling RPG Rules Books. Nope. But does it mean that those rules are not going to be enjoyed by anyone? Nope. They may even make it into "the canon" some day.

The other thing to notice is that Settings is a never ending horn of cornucopia for creators. The only problem now is that when you create a Setting you kind of need to make it useful for any number of RPG systems (with stats) and then we run into the problem of translations between systems. I do think there is a solution to that somewhere nearby, though. Anyway, regardless, in my opinion Settings can never be depleted as people always need more. Rules systems though? Not so much. If I have three that's way more than enough, and at least for me, my own homebrew has been completely wonderful for 30+ years now. No need to buy another rules system.

Settings. We need more of those. Hope is on the way, my brother.

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