May 1, 2009

{Quest Log} The 8000 lb. Gorilla that We Love to Hate

It looks like there won't be a Word of Wizards today seeing that their site is still down for maintenance. This is probably one of the longest downtime they had in recent years. Since I missed yesterday's Quest Log (which was spend to write something else but I discarded it in the end), I thought that this would make a good replacement for your weekly Friday readings.

It has been quite an interesting month over at Wizards with quite a number of drastic things happening that has caused fans to condemn and cheer for the company.

Earlier this month as some gamers were catching their breath for Dave Arneson, Wizards made it worse by suddenly withdrawing all of their PDFs from sale by online retailers indefinitely due to piracy. It happened so suddenly that many were caught unaware and in the case of those in a different timezone, were caught in their sleep. Although the dusty stormclouds have settled down by the end of the week, Wizards had came back with several responses on the matter which helped explained the situation a little better. Last week, a phone call from Greg Leeds to one of the bloggers from the RPG Bloggers Network was the latest information that we had on Wizards' future plans about selling their older and electronic material so I guess we can consider this one pretty wrapped up.

Just then, Wizards suddenly dropped another bomb with a surprising move that shocked and awe. When Wizards made it clear that they won't be selling anymore PDFs, it certainly didn't cross most of our minds that Wizards would be giving them out for free at their website which is probably one of the main reasons why their site has been down for the day. If this was the 'alternative method of distribution' that Greg Leeds was referring to it was beyond all expectations. Honestly, I don't know what is the reason for all this. The same reason why does Wizards layoff great writers and staff at the launch of every new edition and Wizards have never been for one to give very convincing or clear answers. But if there's one way to gain back some goodwill, this is one that had it coming for a long time from Wizards.

However, I have to hand it to them that Wizards can really tug the heartstrings of their fans, if not the D&D community at large. Even as gamers are starting to divert or lose interest in their game since the OGL, the company can still influence many gamers with every decision that they make. It is just that 8000 lb. gorilla that nobody would ignore or leave alone. But do we really need such a huge company to run the hobby in such an impersonal way?

While P&P RPGs is a fast-growing hobby and Wizards is probably one of the main pushers behind it but I think we are still relatively small group. We aren't as massive as MMORPGers or console gamers but we are more interconnected. You see, RPGs is a bit different than these electronic mediums because we have a higher degree of social interaction in the game.

Sure, you can say that MMORPGers foster teamwork and friendship too but in a traditional P&P, there has to be a certain trust to be able to even play the game in the first place. Everyone has to be able to give up the same level of suspension of disbelief and not humiliated those that get into character or speak in funny voices to have a good and fun game. We invest more cooperation to get a game going and we don't usually leave a group unless it is a very last resort. It's not as simple as pulling the plug because you suck in a shouting match against other console gamers, it's more like losing a bunch of friends. This makes us more tightly knitted than other gaming communities even though we still have a fair share of incompatible moments with other gamers (old school vs. new school) but that social aspect is still as important to us despite those differences.

As a more emotionally/intellectually responsive community, I think we like to have friendly and warm chats with game publishers and designers. We don't want a corporate face that treats us as sales figures, pirates or whiners and don't give us a simple courtesy of saying something in return when asked. I really don't think gamers are habitual four-letter swearers and although our criticisms can be harsh on game design but we are even harsher to a company that doesn't seem to care about us enough to do something about it.

Maybe I'm seeing this the wrong way, maybe 4E is going to be a way for Wizards to grow a new, younger and more wired generation of gamers that would suck up everything that Wizards tells them. Maybe we are just too old or too rigid with our ways of gaming that Wizards decides to give us the ultimatum to change or be left to despair in your ways. Corporations want a corporate customer and we gamers are too emotional or too discerning for their demographic. They think they can tie a leash on our necks and we would be forced to follow their lead for the betterment of the hobby. They rather have docile fanboys than dynamic gamers.

It is the small time publishers that are still holding out an olive branch of the same friendliness in the industry that we experience on our gaming tables. They give us constant updates on what's going on with their latest products. They participate in forums quite often. They go around and talk to gamers and maybe let themselves be interviewed. They offer generous discounts of their products occasionally and they are pretty open about what's going on in their company if you ask them.

If you ask me, they are the ones that will be moving this industry forward and not some suit sitting behind a desk with a job position that has nothing to do with being a designer, editor or publisher. Gamers like their niche and the smaller companies are down in the field and having a social relationship with their niche, not from some high up office building. We are not one homogeneous potential market that can grow fat with profit and pay for intellectually stimulating items that can be mass-produced. We are more than that because our hobby is more than that.

I hope that Wizards has realized this with the recent turn of events that wherever they're going with this, it isn't going to appeal to anyone they hadn't mistreated already. It's not their track record that's going to damage this company, it's what they are doing to this hobby. I hope that Wizards' decision of freely giving out their PDFs is a good sign that Wizards is starting to see the need to get some goodwill back in this community and not as an industry.

I'm not saying all this because I have something against Wizards, I just think they are sailing towards the wrong sea with the nicest crew that they will ever find in the 'games industry' and we just want to play nice and have fun.

So about some group hug?

1 comment:

Wyatt said...

I agree with everything you said, except I DO say it with malice towards Wizard's. If this latest move isn't a change of heart, even a small one, then I can only wish them more failure down the road, and this is as a 4e gamer. They need a wake-up call.

I love 4e, but I already have all I need for it, which is the core rules (and not Wizard's idea that there's a dozen core books), so Wizard's can sink or swim for me.