Monday, I got a tweet that pointed me to the following article by Paco Garcia Jean talking about "Is it WotC's responsibility to bring new people to the hobby?"
The question at first prompts a simple "yeah, unless they're stupid" type of answer (which I admit was the one I had). But as you start thinking about it some more, the question is not that simple to answer. And Paco's expose is very good.
Richard Whipple's opinion:
The hobby is shrinking and it is because of the attitude of WotC towards the game industry and the edition wars that ensue every time there is a new D&D edition release. Dungeons & Dragons is still the flagship and gateway game by default and people recognize the brand, whereas other games are not recognized, thus if you try to use another game to introduce people to the hobby, people won’t be interested since there won’t be any familiarity. WotC doesn’t do enough to bring people into the hobby – instead, it’s just trying to bring players back and not expanding the demographics of the hobby.
I both agree and disagree with Richard.
I do not believe the hobby is shrinking, I think it is growing, but in a more diluted form than what many of us now-longer-so-young gamers used to see. In the old days, everyone would play board games, table-top (which was usually D&D or AD&D), bizarre card games, etc. If you were geeky enough, you would play whatever would be brought for the entertainment. Nowadays, many gamers won't bother to show up unless you play the specific version of the setting they like. Forget about bringing the games' club together for "whatever night".
I admit I'm super guilty of this... I won't show up for 4e games, won't show up for board or card games, but I try to attend most other RPG events. I'm a war gaming guy and a table top guy, and will (try to) participate in those events. This dilution of the gamer pool certainly help the "hobby is getting smaller" opinion.
Next, I agree with him that D&D's brand as a whole is getting smaller. Good computer games, like the gold boxes where the game mimics the table top closely - or closer than first-person shooters and RTS - have gone away. Now we have DDO (which I liked, but it didn't really feel like D&D, more like "D&D-flavored water", and with the latest upgrade gone too 4eish to my taste so I stopped playing and gone back to... BLOOD BOWL!!!), the reviews for the latest Atari 4e game were just DISASTROUS, so even the 14$ price tag allowed me to safely leave it on the shelf. The D&D movies were not exactly great - I think they were better than most SyFy movies, but not Willow or Arny-Conan great!
His final comment... That WotC seeks to bring players back is really what lead to the disaster of 4e. A lot of the old guard - myself - dropped 4e like a sack of unwanted goblin steak. With that old guard walking away, they did not have these die-hard fans who would support the game. When most of the "old time GMs" start running something else, you need to scramble to find a GM who is willing to put the time to run AND who can do a good job of it.
In all fairness, I think Colorado was blessed with a number of old timers who enjoyed 4e enough to keep it going strong for much longer than other, much bigger markets. There are a number of GMs with whom I like to play, most of them are older, more experience guys who have played for years. I'll give a shout out to Mario (Warhammer), everyone from the NIGA (Non-Irish Gamers Association who GM'd: Kristian, Christophe, Darryl) and locally, there is Lenny and Stu whom I always enjoy playing under. Now don't go flaming me if your name is not on the list... I only mentioned guys who I played with more regular games.
The Edition War
Over the past year or so (and with the announcement of 5e), I have come to the realization that the edition war lies squarely on WotC's shoulders, at least the initial salvoes. I remember talking to Lenny who was a Gencon 2007 when they announced the death of Living Greyhawk, the death of 3.5 and the coming of 4 as the savior of all RPG-kind. I felt... I felt offended by what they were saying. Then reading blogs, comments and forums only convinced me that I felt attacked, that the outcry for the terrible overall product the 3.5 was, which really offended me. 3.5 had flaws, but it wasn't THAT bad... especially when you don't have an alternative that's out there right away! That we had to wait about a year before we got to see what was offered (okay I got to see it early and I didn't really like it then either). But that's the thing... if you are gonna blast it, provide something to replace it right away, not promises.
Which does explain why they have been VERY careful when they talk about 5e, which is encouraging because they now know that without the old guard they don't have the critical mass to maintain their product. That's good to see.
D&D's image as the flagship of RPGs
This is something I never paid to much attention to. However when doing my interviews with Organized Play People, I realized that the brand itself is beloved by a lot of people. More than I expect. My parents still say I play "dungeons" no matter what it is I play. As such, yes people have a rough idea what you do when you say "I play Dungeons & Dragons" more than "I play Gurps/Pathfinder/Robotech/whatever else".
When did you see an ad for D&D anywhere outside a gaming magazine? Okay, those ads in comics, when did they look interesting and not a bunch of kids about to discover what comes out of the box when "pop goes the weasel" finished playing...
Even more telling, google "4e D&D ad" or "4e D&D marketing" looking for images... You'll get wrestlers, cos-players and a lot material you don't really care for... But little in the ways of advertisement. And what you find looks a lot like: Click on the links to see them in full glory...
I know. It's scary...
The one from the 80s is odd... it looks a little like those ads for the x-ray goggles that would allow you check out girls' underwear (why else would you need them?). It's not great, but it was in the spirit of the time. I mean you have these oddly shaped characters walking through a town... The two guys look like they are planning some nefarious activity. Not what you want to see and the young kids there seem to be having seizures of happiness. Again scary for parents. And what does the text let you know? Once you have the basic, you're hooked you can become an EXpert? Now what is that?
But it was the 80s, a lot of what we did back then didn't require strict scrutiny. Surely, the recent one would...
The 4e one doesn't even let me know what else I could be doing in a significant way. So... I'm going to meet people in person and... what? play? do the same thing? That add is just scary bad because it doesn't tell you what the problem is. It seems like an ad for sex addicts anonymous... I'd be worried about going there.
So... Should WotC be responsible to bring in new people to the hobby
After all this, I think the initial response of "yeah, unless they're stupid" still makes a lot of sense!
Because like any creator/manufacturer of product, they need to maintain and grow their client base. How do they do that? by creating material that is aimed at new players. By giving people something that will intrigue them enough to fork hundreds of dollars into this hobby. They are the gateway into the world of RPG, want it or not, like it or not, they are. Schools, youth events, friends will often talk to you about D&D before you head out to the store to buy that memorable first D&D product...
Because of their "regal" status among RPG, they are the ones people compare themselves to. When you create a new game: a number of concepts and elements will come or be created in opposition to something in D&D.
Don't like the D20 skill system? Make if D100!
Hit points bother you? Replace it with a system of health by location!
AC? Thac0? Claw, claw, bite? Again, many other games are designed "in opposition" to D&D. My own NeoExodus was designed with a similar thought process: Let's do something that is similar but not the same as Paizo's Golarion! And go from there.
WotC has to be good shepherds of the gaming community. Not just because it makes sense, but because it will help them in the long run. Why is Paizo currently the top publisher in the game industry? Why/how did they overtake something that seemed impossible just 2 years ago? They made themselves be good shepherds of the herd that we are. They put themselves out there, answered questions, made themselves available AND they published quality products. I won't go into the specifics of why Paizo rocks at this time, but suffice to say that the biggest thing is that Paizo HAS DELIVERED what they promised. Remember the Virtual Table Top for 4e? PDFs?
But the "No, not really" is also good.
Then again, it's not *JUST* WotC's place to be the sole bringer of new players to the hobby. That would be unfair. While they have the name and the following, we, as a community are no responsible to it. We have to be good shepherds, includers and ambassador to the game. Whatever your game of choice, there are people who need/want to play. By being inclusive, by talking to them, you grow interest.
One of the things I keep telling my players and GMs is that if you want to set up a game, set it in public. In a game store. When players see people playing, they will want to buy and try it out. Don't only plan massive 12-year campaigns that no one who starts will ever finish. Plan short one-shots. Get people playing. Get people excited. That's what we need to do. Don't hide in your dark basement with you 20 year old edition of Champion and wonder why no one ever comes to play. Make it easy.
Sure, true, the game environment in a store is not as cool as in your basement you tricked out with light and sound effects. But for those who don't know you, its a lot less worrisome.
It's not just WotC's role to bring in new people... no.
It's all of us, WotC included. For the new person that comes in to play D&D could be at your Pathfinder table tomorrow! (They should, anyway).