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.