Monday, 12 December 2011

Your Business Sucks

I have just come across the hilariously titled How Not to Run a Game Business; What's wrong with the industry in just thousands and thousands of words. It's a rant-ey sort of place run by a man called Gau who screams what are actually quite well-thought out criticisms at the gaming industry.

Gau's Stop. Making. Games. piece got me thinking (and that's a complement - any blog which can really make me think about something is, in my view, head-and-shoulders over most others out there). In the post he decries the sheer volume of products on the market and argues that this is actually bad for the customer (specifically the new customer). He also finds the glut of games irritating because, he argues, e-publishing has lowered the bar on quality.

I disagree with Gau on both counts. I think people these days are used to having a myriad of choice in any market for any product. This is a simple fact of the digital age where an internet connection lets you see the world and everything in it. Folk are now used to typing "[insert product here] review" into google to get a steer on what's out there. Newbie games are no exception and I think there being more choice for customers and not less is inherently better. A commentator on the post astutely notes that rather than ranting, we'd better serve the newbie community by posting constructively critical reviews of products.

As to Gau's second point about reduction in quality, I think this is a red herring. If we address the first point this one dissolves. A good bit of googling and a few constructive reviews will quickly alert the world to a poor product and it'll die a natural death. Also, junior game designers have to start somewhere and it would be wrong to stifle emerging talent (Mike Wolf's excellent Warrior, Rogue & Mage game springs to mind). That said, as a game graphic designer I do have sympathy for Gau on this issue!

I think Gau does have an extremely valid criticism on version updates. It is crushing the way our industry has become wedded to a business model relying on forced obsolescence. This, I wholly agree, is annoying, depressing and very bad for newbies. Publishers should concentrate on ensuring their products aren't broken when they're first released and then support them for a reasonable amount of time rather than plotting the launch date of the next version.

I want to conclude this post with a hats-off to Gau. He's clearly an intelligent guy and, as I've said, his blog is extremely stimulating. I wholeheartedly suggest you delve into his posts as there's some excellent stuff there.


  1. Good post. I'm absolutely knackered, but I had to get my two cents in.

    I get the same gut reaction to this guy as I do to the notorious Tao of D&D blog. These guys need to calm down. To my mind, gaming has generally never been in a better position, from a bird's eye view. It seems completely unreasonable to stamp and cry and tell people to stop producing various types of game material. It's like moaning about the movie industry - slightly pointless, and as much as there is a glut of bad movies and remakes, there are also good ones, and always will be. And so what if Tom, Dick and Harry, or you or me, want to tinker with some old rpg rules and make their own version of a game. It's our choice, and done for our pleasure.

    I've always thought a major problem isn't the amount of stuff, it's how to introduce new people to it. For example, if you're young and become aware of wargaming, you essentially get sucked into the Games Workshop black hole treadmill of wildly overpriced miniatures, codex creep, continuous rules updates, redundant miniature conversions and arguments about competitive play.

    If you develop a sudden interest in roleplaying - if you can tear yourself away from WoW - what's it going to be? Probably 4th Edition D&D, which isn't the best situation if it's all you end up experiencing (since it's not an RPG at all, let's be honest, I'm sure it's very entertaining linear tactical miniatures game).

    The secret is to make sure newcomers are aware that there IS a large variety of options firstly, and secondly as you say to guide them with unbiased reviews.

    One of the best things I've experienced in the gaming world over the past year is my introduction to the online OSR community. Yes, plenty of nostalgia over bad art and everything else you'd expect, but also a vibrant community producing mostly free stuff, much of it actually great quality - you're spoiled for choice, don't have to pay, and can interact with everyone involved. It's made me very aware of that treadmill I mentioned earlier - old school D&D is still a wonderful game, especially in some of its clone versions - we don't really need one new edition after another, fixing things which aren't broken. When that happens, it becomes a financial decision (like games workshops's and WoTC's business models) to keep updating, rather than a necessary game decision.

    Of course, being an illustrator, I'm kind of flailing against the very industry that employs me. Life is funny that way. Apologies for the massive ramble. Bedtime.

  2. Ok, ok, I said it was bedtime, I know. This guy says 'Support the industry, don’t undermine it.'

    That's exactly the type of mentality I DON'T want to subscribe to. I decided that a long time ago, after many years of failed attempts to resurrect a dying alternative scene in my hometown, that I don't want the responsibility of an industry on my shoulders. Why I should I go out and buy a new game every months, just out of guilt in case a company or product caves in? No Mr Gau, it's free and permanently supported internet labours of love I'll be following.

    Ok! Bed already!!

  3. There are quite a few indie or small press games which are better designed than what the majors put out. At least when it comes to rules. Graphics are another matter entirely. Maybe rules designers should try to team up more with artists to produce something which is not only fun to play but also looks good. The world of Indie rpgs has made great progress here over the last decade. I hope miniature games will also follow.

  4. Hi both - thanks for the comments. Glad this has sparked some debate! Something I didn't make clear in my post is that Gau is talking about the RPG industry, not the wargaming one, so I am going to confine my comments to RPGs. I would also like to focus on the positives. Although I am a little bit too young to remember 1sd ed. D&D the OSR stuff is very endearing. I agree with Jason that it's cool to know you can interract with the creators. However, for those of us who don't get a warm, rosy glow from memories of 'the first time' the intentionally ham-fisted art and layouts do tire after a while and I find myself craving something slicker. W,R&M, which I mention in my post, is a beautiful combinations of great OSR-inspired rules _and_ some pretty nice illustrations. Check it out!

  5. I have a desire to produce an OSR product with modern production values and very carefully planned and produced illustrations and graphic design (something that turns aside from both original fan-style production and WotC/FFG/Paizo stuff), but where to find the time..!!

    I must recommend Old School Hack if you haven't seen it already, from a design point of view it's incredibly appealing and clever. Lady Blackbird is also worth a look.

    I'm also very taken by the new One Ring RPG, I'm not familiar with its rule system, but the production is so clean and atmospheric and different, I think it has great appeal to the 'old school crowd' (for want of a better term), not least because Jon when back to Tolkien's historical influences at a time when 'go large' rules the market.

  6. Being old enough to have played some when they were new, I have mixed feelings about "old skool" games. On the one hand there's a certain nostalgia, particularly for the look & feel or the settings, on the other, I remember some as having terrible, almost unplayable or very dull rules. At the time we only persisted because we were young & geeky & didn't know any better. As for wargames, my impression is they've undergone much less evolution than rpgs. We've seen more forced obsolecence and higher production values, but hardly any new ideas in the last 10 years. Fantasy & sci-fi in particular have been very conservative.

  7. 4E is not an RPG because it is a dumb tactical miniatures game for WoW babbies. On the other hand, old school games related to Gygax's tactical miniatures wargame are completely different and totally count as RPGs, because