Tobold's Blog
Friday, August 17, 2012
News from GenCon and the long tail

Depending on which continent you live and what kind of games you prefer, you might be interested in two major game conventions this weekend: Gamescom in Germany for video games, or GenCon in the USA for roleplaying games. Unfortunately I find myself on the wrong continent, as usual. I don't want to visit Gamescom to stand in line for 4 hours to be allowed to play a video game for 5 minutes. I'd love to be at GenCon, but it is too far away. So I'm watching the news from GenCon, and I like what I hear from the WotC keynote.

The first good news is that the D&D Next playtest is scheduled to last 2 years, thus D&D Next will only be released in 2014. While I still consider D&D Next deeply flawed, I already remarked on the improvements from the first playtest package to the second, and can only hope that many more of those iterations will fix the glaring imbalances the game still has. Although I wonder if it is possible to have Vancian magic in a game and *not* suffer from the linear fighter, quadratic wizard power progression problem.

The second good news is that all the previous editions of Dungeons & Dragons will finally be released in electronic format. This is a major shift to the very core of what Dungeons & Dragons is. Having only one "current" edition of D&D and many "out of print" previous editions is what causes the edition wars. Previously WotC in effect declared at the release of any new edition that this would be what "Dungeons & Dragons" now is, and that what the people were previously playing would stop to be D&D. Make any major change to the game, like 4E did, and D&D Next will do again, and you get lots of upset customers angry about their favorite version just having been declared obsolete.

In 4 decades the various versions of Dungeons & Dragons have produced tons of books. You couldn't possibly expect a game store to stock them all, especially with most being out of print. But while physical shelf space is limited, digital space is not, or at least not to a degree which would be significant compared to the file size of all D&D books. If instead of using physical books you use their digital version on a tablet at your gaming table, you aren't forced to play the "current" edition. You can play any edition you prefer.

And this is not only good for the players, but also for Wizards of the Coast. As Chris Anderson said in his book The Long Tail: Why the Future of Business Is Selling Less of More, WotC is likely to make more money selling small amounts of everything they have than if they tried yet another time to force everybody to play their latest new edition of the game. And ultimately that non-exclusive approach to what Dungeons & Dragons is makes it possible for the game to cater to many different demographics, and to have more innovative and different versions of it in the future.

Heh! I refer you to my comment om the supposed "decline" of MMOs on your previous topic. The long tail indeed.
Maybe next year you could plan to go to Gencon as a holiday, we really don't have anything like these huge US gaming conventions in Europe. I know I really enjoyed San Diego Comic Con, even though it is a long trip. (We stayed an extra few days to see the sights.)
Well, the difference is that in this case WotC sells ALL the parts of the curve up to and including the long tail. In the case of MMORPGs there are not only very many games, but also very many companies. And some of these companies have invested money expecting to be at the best-selling end of the curve, ended up producing something in the long tail, and are now in financial difficulties.
I want to be at GenCon just to see the prototype of Solforge, the new digital only TCG from Richard Garfield, of MtG fame.
2014 ...

Well WotC shall find the next year and a half financialy very difficult trying to come up with filler material which has a very high dimishing return on sells, even more so with a new edition announced.
Hm. What will this "format" be, I wonder. Hopefully not something useless. I bought their cd archive of dragon magazine back in the 90s, not sure I could even run its weird viewer on a new machine.
Tobold, will you be visiting Spiel in Essen (held in October)? It is bigger than GenCon focussed on board and roleplay games.
I'm seriously considering the Spiel, haven't been there for years.
Jack Vance's wizards could hold only a small number of spells in their heads at one time. If I recall correctly, a powerful wizard was able to memorize 7 spells, more was all but unheard of. Of course, those spells were pretty nasty.

I found that enforcing the spell memorization times from first edition did a lot to lower the effect of a wizard. 15 minutes per spell level means that a high level wizard took a long time to regain his spells. The party didn't enjoy spending a day or more at a campsite watching for random encounters while the wizard reads his spell book, and the wizard had trouble loading up high level spells in-between wandering monsters. Wizards in my game hoarded their spells for true need and wands, staffs, etc. were highly prized.
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