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Author Topic: Everyone's a Gamer: A Rant  (Read 24925 times)
ethan_greer
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« on: June 25, 2004, 07:51:32 AM »

So, here's the basic premise: Everyone enjoys role-playing.  Everyone.  There are no exceptions.  Every child pretends.  Every culture has traditions of storytelling.  Everyone enjoys role-playing, period.

If that's true (and it is), the obvious question is, why is the RPG gaming industry such a tiny portion of the entertainment industry?  Why is role-playing a niche market in a niche market?

Reason #1, AKA "Tell me something I don't know.": Our culture regards the activities of storytelling and pretending as childish.  So it's okay to play chess or go to a movie, but it's not okay to sit around with your friends making up stories because that's "kid stuff."  Reason #1 is a given, and not what I want to talk about.

Reason #2, AKA "Ouch.":  The gaming industry is, in and of itself, a barrier to entry into the hobby.

Arcane rule sets are a barrier.  The world's most popular role-playing game is 1000 pages long.  Most of the products with high visibility are 8 1/2 x 11 inch books with hundreds of pages of densely printed text.  The rules for Monopoly fit on a single sheet of paper.  Which one is a casual consumer more likely to explore?

RPG culture is a barrier.  I had a whole list of reasons for this, but I'm not going to share it because it would distract from the overall point of this post.  Bottom line: A whole lot of people think "those gamers are weird."

The games themselves are a barrier.  Do you need games to role-play?  Obviously not.  That being the case, RPGs should go out of their way to bend over backwards to make sure they're as accessible as possible to the reader.  But I don't see that.  I see insufferable "What is Role-playing?" texts that ooze pretention and holier-than-thouism for paragraph after paragraph.  I see voluminous tomes that present acronyms and totally bizarre concepts with the assumption that the reader will understand them.  I see games that unapologetically proclaim, "this product is for gamers. If you don't understand it, go do something else."  Indeed, I've written games that commit all of these sins, and I'll bet a lot of you have done the same.

What can be done?  Personally, I'm beginning to think we need to chuck the whole damn thing in the bin and start over.  Here's what I'm thinking of doing with my own work to bring this about.  These are all suggestions; I haven't made up my mind on any of these yet, but I'm presenting them as a sort of manifesto because it's easier and faster to think up and write down that way.

1. I will stop calling them RPGs.  I don't write RPGs; I write story games.
2. I will not sell in the normal "gaming" channels.  I will not sell my for-download products at RPGNow.  I will sell them at Lulu.com or some similar general-interest venue.  I will not sell my for-print products (if I ever have any) through standard gaming distribution channels.  I will sell them through Borders and Amazon.com.
3. In my texts, I will not explain what role-playing is.  I will limit myself to explaining how to play the game in question.
4. In my texts, I will make no assumptions about the reader.  Everything gets explained at least once.
5. I will not adhere to the conventions of the hobby. (i.e. you won't see NPC, PC, XP, GM, RPG, XdY, or the like anywhere in my games.)  I will create conventions for the individual game as appropriate when necessary (which will be rarely, I suspect).

What will this accomplish?  It'll probably mean my sales will suck more ass than a Beverly Hills liposuction clinic, and I'll never make it into Borders and Amazon.  But I'm okay with that.  This isn't my day job, and I feel pretty strongly that the RPG hobby as a whole has pretty much totally fucked up a no-brainer concept.  Everyone role-plays.  But the industry has marginalized itself.  What's worse, it consistently prides itself on that marginalization.  I won't be a part of it.

Thoughts?
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quozl
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« Reply #1 on: June 25, 2004, 08:05:22 AM »

I'm with you!

I really don't know what it is you do want to talk about in this thread though.  I have some ideas on how to sell "story games" but I think that should go into Publishing.  

So what do you want to discuss?
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--- Jonathan N.
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ethan_greer
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« Reply #2 on: June 25, 2004, 08:32:05 AM »

Mainly I want to discuss that numbered list manifesto thing at the end.  Will the things I list have any positive effect other than making me feel a little better?

For example, is a game written "from scratch" with no assumptions about the reader, and that doesn't make use of conventions and abbreviations common to the hobby at large, going to be any better a game for it?

And what does the sales venue tell people about a product? If they see it in a game store will they assume it to be "one of those gamer things" and disregard it even if they see it at Borders? If they see it in Borders and upon examination see that it says "role-playing game" on the cover, will they have the same reaction, i.e. "I don't want to be like those gamer people?" and put it back down? Or could I theoretically sell my products both at Lulu and more traditionally gaming-geared venues?

Should I eschew posting information about my publications at gaming oriented websites like RPGNet and GamingReport.com?

Boiling all that down, I guess the question is this: Are my proposals genuinely purposeful? Do they address the issues and problems I have raised, or are they simply reactionary?

Input on that topic would be greatly appreciated.

(And if you've got something to say over in Publishing, I'd like to read it.)
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quozl
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« Reply #3 on: June 25, 2004, 08:43:21 AM »

Quote from: ethan_greer
1. I will stop calling them RPGs.  I don't write RPGs; I write story games.
2. I will not sell in the normal "gaming" channels.  I will not sell my for-download products at RPGNow.  I will sell them at Lulu.com or some similar general-interest venue.  I will not sell my for-print products (if I ever have any) through standard gaming distribution channels.  I will sell them through Borders and Amazon.com.
3. In my texts, I will not explain what role-playing is.  I will limit myself to explaining how to play the game in question.
4. In my texts, I will make no assumptions about the reader.  Everything gets explained at least once.
5. I will not adhere to the conventions of the hobby. (i.e. you won't see NPC, PC, XP, GM, RPG, XdY, or the like anywhere in my games.)  I will create conventions for the individual game as appropriate when necessary (which will be rarely, I suspect).


My thoughts:

#1 is a good thing to distance yourself from the current perception of RPGs.
#2 isn't going to make much of a difference since the two markets have litle overlap.
#3 is a smart idea no matter what game you're writing.
#4 -- ditto #3
#5 is smart if you're saying what I think you're saying -- don't use pre-established jargon unless it's necessary (which should be quite rare).

So I agree with everything you said except for how to market it and that topic should definitely go to Publishing.  I'm going to be away from a computer for the next five days (and then I still have to get the editing for the IGCP project done!) but after that, I'd love to discuss marketing "story games" (as opposed to RPGs) in the Publishing forum.
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--- Jonathan N.
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ethan_greer
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« Reply #4 on: June 25, 2004, 09:10:24 AM »

Jonathan, yes, you read #5 correctly.

Now, when you say #2 won't make much of a difference, are you saying that I should or should not sell through the gaming-geared channels, or that it doesn't matter either way?

Or are you saying that little game maker guy poo-pooing the standard sales channels is pointless because it won't make any difference in the hobby at large?
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Lxndr
Acts of Evil Playtesters
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« Reply #5 on: June 25, 2004, 09:15:25 AM »

Choosing NOT to sell to established gamers through established venues might be shooting yourself in the foot.  I chose to sell Fastlane both through rpgnow AND lulu, thus trying to straddle both worlds and, in theory, appeal to both sides of the coin - the rpg culture, and the rest of the potential roleplaying world.

Of course, Fastlane hasn't sold very well regardless, but I think that's due to the oddity of its subject matter (and more specifically, its insistence if not reliance on a roulette wheel).
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Alexander Cherry, Twisted Confessions Game Design
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lumpley
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« Reply #6 on: June 25, 2004, 09:35:21 AM »

Believe it or not, Ethan, I disagree with you.

Back in the 90's, a whole bunch of roleplaying games dropped the term "roleplaying game."  We had storytelling games, role games, interactive entertainments, I forget how many others, all trying to distance themselves from the label.  The prob was, they were still RPGs.  They did things the way they always had and they presented all the same barriers to new players.  Their changed labels didn't make them innovative.

If you don't want to call your games RPGs, groovy, but their design is what matters.

And then, why don't you want gamers to have your games?

Don't gamers deserve good games too?  Don't we, in fact, desperately need good games?

Even if everybody likes to pretend and tell stories, there are real skills involved in good roleplaying.  They take time and practice to get.  Enjoying good roleplaying comes naturally, but doing good roleplaying is something you learn.  Same as with any hobby.

There need to be good entry-level games.  Right now there are very, very few of them.  But what you're talking about is limiting yourself to writing only entry-level games.  Maybe you'll be satisfied with that, but I wouldn't.  In fact, I think you'll find that you just can't write every game for an inexperienced audience - kind of like how you can't write every book about chess for an inexperienced audience.  You'll have a vision for a game and it'll be plain too complicated for a virgin audience to grasp.

To borrow Jere Genest's example, there are patterns for beginning knitters, and patterns for experienced knitters.  How else could it be?

As things stand now, writing a game for experienced roleplayers is problematic, yes, because experienced roleplayers are broken (I include myself; no offense to anyone).  We don't take to new ways to play.  We identify too strongly with our dogmas and ideals.  You have to cajole, seduce and bully us.  But you gotta do it - we have skills nobody else has.

So create a new breed of unbroken experienced roleplayers, absolutely, I'm there with you.  But also cajole, seduce and bully us.  We're up to it.

-Vincent
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Jonathan Walton
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« Reply #7 on: June 25, 2004, 10:11:53 AM »

Damn.  I was just about to post a long response when Vincent said just about everything I wanted to say.

To re-emphasize, in a different way:

1. If you sell only on lulu.com, I would never know your game existed.  It would be lost in a world where I would never find it.

2. There are plenty of gamers out there who are struggling to find the right game for them, who are just as disgusted with mainstream roleplaying culture are you are, who are just about ready to give roleplaying up and never look back, and need something to grab hold of.  Your game could do that for them.  At various points in my gaming career, In Nomine, Ergo, Fudge, Continuum, Nobilis, Universalis, The Forge, and the works of Shreyas Sampat and Vincent Baker were those games for me.  To quote Samwise in the movie, alienated gamers need something to remind us "that there's some good in the [roleplaying] world, Mr. Frodo, and that good's worth fighting for!"

3. I love the Pokemon roleplaying game.  Never actually played it yet, but I love the concept and design.  Even oldschoolers can enjoy entry-level games.

4. Entry level games are an opportunity to teach us old dogs new tricks from the beginning.  Follow through with your manifesto, if you like, but teach your new tricks to old and new dogs alike.  Sometimes us old dogs need to forget everything we know and approach a "story game" from a fresh perspective.  I'll tell you, get some old school roleplayers together for some Once Upon a Time and whole worlds open up.
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TonyLB
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« Reply #8 on: June 25, 2004, 10:42:42 AM »

Just to play devil's advocate (and quite possibly get shouted down or ignored, but that's cool):  What if everyone doesn't play roleplaying games?  What if some people know what RPGs are, and aren't interested?

Everyone pretends, yes.  Everyone creates their own imagined spaces.  But I don't think everyone shares them, and I know for a fact that not everyone lets other people come in and tinker around in them cooperatively.  Many self-identified roleplayers won't go that far: for example, they'll tell you all about their hard-as-nails hero who doesn't care about anyone, but heaven help the player or GM who proposes that something happen to change that paragon of testosterone in any way.

Everybody pretends, but not everybody enjoys, or is goot at, pretending in the many ways specific to roleplaying.
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quozl
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« Reply #9 on: June 25, 2004, 10:42:53 AM »

Quote from: ethan_greer
Now, when you say #2 won't make much of a difference, are you saying that I should or should not sell through the gaming-geared channels, or that it doesn't matter either way?


I was actually trying to say that selling in the game market doesn't alter the perception of non-gamers because non-gamers won't even know that it's being sold in the game market.
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--- Jonathan N.
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quozl
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« Reply #10 on: June 25, 2004, 10:46:36 AM »

Quote from: TonyLB
What if everyone doesn't play roleplaying games?  What if some people know what RPGs are, and aren't interested?


You are right, of course.  Everyone enjoys roleplaying but everyone may not enjoy roleplaying games.
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--- Jonathan N.
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Ben Lehman
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« Reply #11 on: June 25, 2004, 10:55:50 AM »

*shrug*

Make good games first.  Market them after.

If you have struggle hard just not to be something, you will never get it right.

yrs--
--Ben
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ethan_greer
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« Reply #12 on: June 25, 2004, 10:59:42 AM »

I'm hearing you all about the sales thing, and you're all making a lot of sense. Consider #2 scratched off the list.

Tony,
It's a fair point you make. But I would compare it to walking. Everyone walks (assuming they're not hindered by any disabilities). So the market for shoes is pretty big, right? Well, right, but not everyone needs shoes. Tribal cultures living in the Amazon basin aren't a particularly good market for shoes. Likewise, not everyone needs ultra-advanced high-tech running shoes. But in the middle ground, there's a whole crapload of regular old shoes being bought and used. So if pretending is as universal as walking (and I believe that it is), why aren't a whole lot more role-playing games getting bought and played?
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sergeant_x
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« Reply #13 on: June 25, 2004, 11:02:14 AM »

Quote from: ethan_greer

1. I will stop calling them RPGs.  I don't write RPGs; I write story games.
2. I will not sell in the normal "gaming" channels.  I will not sell my for-download products at RPGNow.  I will sell them at Lulu.com or some similar general-interest venue.  I will not sell my for-print products (if I ever have any) through standard gaming distribution channels.  I will sell them through Borders and Amazon.com.
3. In my texts, I will not explain what role-playing is.  I will limit myself to explaining how to play the game in question.
4. In my texts, I will make no assumptions about the reader.  Everything gets explained at least once.
5. I will not adhere to the conventions of the hobby. (i.e. you won't see NPC, PC, XP, GM, RPG, XdY, or the like anywhere in my games.)  I will create conventions for the individual game as appropriate when necessary (which will be rarely, I suspect).

Thoughts?


I'm not sure exactly where to go with this observation but I've seen this before, in an entirely different arena.

For several years in the nineties I was involved with the Libertarian party. Every so often someone would come along and make a proclamation similar to the above. The assumption being that everyone's a libertarian. Everyone values freedom, right?

They'd go on from there, pointing to the various barriers preventing the masses from 'seeing the light' and joining forces with the party faithful.

Now I don't know how analagous the situation truly is, but I think they had a similar problem with oversimplifying the premise. Sure everyone values freedom, but it falls in different places in their priority lists. They might value freedom, but value security more. Or they might just be people who don't look at politics ideologically.

I'm wondering if you haven't done the same thing here. Everyone roleplays is self evident enough, the way you've defined it. But not everyone enjoys games. Not everyone enjoys sharing their roleplaying with casual acquaintances. I'm not saying you don't have some good suggestions, I just think that the marginal popularity of roleplaying is more than a problem of packaging and presentation.
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http://www.sunflower.com/~gamearts/storylineff.htm">Storyline Firefly An RPG in development, inspired by Firefly and Traveller.
TonyLB
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« Reply #14 on: June 25, 2004, 11:03:06 AM »

To Ethan (crossposted with seargent_x):

Because RPG behaviors are a very small, discrete subset of all imagination.  They are, to use your shoe metaphor, tap-shoes, or high end trail-running shoes.

I'm not saying that the industry is reaching everyone who would enjoy it.  Oh hell no.  I keep recruiting people, and mostly they thank me when they give gaming a try.

But everyone?  No, I don't think everyone would like RPGs.
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