Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Overreaction Wednesday - 5E Positivity!

Here's a link to an interview with Mike Mearls. The first section is what really interested me, where he is asked about making the rules available for free:

By sharing the rules, we’re making it easier than ever for people to get into D&D. For way too long the rules have been a deterrent. So, it’s really about focusing on what’s important – campaigns and adventures – and selling that, while removing barriers to entry.

Wow! That is 180 degrees from everything I have ever heard from TSR or WOTC and from what most other RPG companies have done, with one or two exceptions! It very clearly is what Paizo is doing, and I think it's been noticed over at the Wizards place. Now granted, the rules were somewhat freely available with 3E and the SRD, but that was not quite as user-friendly as the new PDF so I'll take that this is a new attitude. There is more:

As far as worrying about sales goes, we’re definitely approaching the business in a different way. In the past, the way to make the business work was to release more and more RPG books. In reviewing sales records, it’s pretty clear that after a few expansions people simply stop buying and many even stop playing.

This works for smaller companies, mainly because they can't release books all that often. I admit that I got that drinking-from-a-firehose feeling with 4E because there was a book every month for a while. That's a lot to keep up with when you like other games too.

Could you imagine trying to keep up with a boardgame if a new expansion or three came out for it every month?

Imagine it? I've lived it, back when Warhammer Fantasy & 40K were well-supported in White Dwarf it was a must-have to get all the rules expansions and new units. 40K has been on quite the run for the last two years as well with some kind of new book or PDF coming out about every month. I will happily take a slower-paced release schedule, especially for an RPG.

In hindsight, it’s actually a fairly obvious move. Let’s say you buy the three core rulebooks and then the two volumes of the Tyranny of Dragons campaign. That gives you everything you need for the next 6 to 12 months of gaming. Do I really have much of a chance to sell you more RPG stuff during that time? Why fight that battle?

Hallelujah! They finally get  it! "Support" does not require a new book every month!

...I think in the past D&D relied way too much on a volume strategy, where we did so much stuff that it was hard for people to get excited about any one thing. Book after book came out each month, far faster than anyone could absorb it all.

Our philosophy now is to make everything count. If we release a new super adventure, like Tyranny of Dragons, or a new rules expansion, we want it to be an event. When you add stuff to an RPG, you’re asking all the DMs out there to evaluate their campaigns, learn new options, and then try to implement them. You have to be very careful in how you add things to the game, and very deliberate in making those additions exciting and compelling.

My dream would be a world where new expansions are real events, where people are seeing exciting new ideas and concepts for the game.

So Paizo is the obvious model here: Rulebooks 3-4 times a year, some kind of small setting supplement every month, and an adventure every month. Campaigns/settings/adventures as the focus instead of rules mechanics. I really really like this approach.

The only other company I can think of that's taking a similar philosophy is Pinnacle with Savage Worlds. For quite a while now the rules have been available for $10 in book or PDF form and the emphasis is on adventures and campaign settings rather than rules expansions. It seems to work alright for them. 

This is what's being said now and I wonder how it will hold up and what we'll be seeing in 2015-2016 as sales numbers start to become real. Perhaps those last two years of not selling a whole lot of books tempered the expectations to more tolerable levels. 

I also wonder if this change means we might see more support for old campaign settings. We know the Realms are going to be a focus for this first wave. Maybe Greyhawk gets some love? Maybe Birthright? Planescape seems like a pretty rich vein to mine for adventures and campaign material. One or two setting "events" per year and it could be a really nice run if this course holds.  

Will I be running it? Not anytime soon, at least as far as a campaign goes. we have a pretty full plate here with Pathfinder, a potential 4E continuation (someday!), and whatever games we can fit in on the side. But I am more interested now than I was, and I would not be opposed to playing it either.

This is about as positive as I have felt about 5th in a long time. I'm looking forward to what comes next.


Kelvin Green said...

Diterlizzi has said that there's a Planescape announcement on the way so you may be right about the old settings.

Monkapotomus said...

If Planescape got some love and new material that would be awesome!

The one thing I will comment on is that I think 3-4 rule books a year is too much.

Blacksteel said...

That's cool on Planescape. I suspect the settings will be done completely through WOTC this time, instead of being farmed out like they were in 3E, if they go that route. I was thinking Gen Con might bring some news on this kind of thing too but they may want to keep the focus on the new game itself and leave that kind of thing til next year.

Monk - the rulebooks for Paizo include things like a monster book about every year to every other year, and things like Ultimate Campaign which is handy if the PC's are going to start running a kingdom or leading armies but not really needed if you're not going in that direction. It's a nice mix of "new" but not "essential" stuff.