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To readers of the board who do not follow the adventure gaming business, this may seem off topic, but bear with me- the business is often a leading indicator of popular culture (Pokemon), and new creative talent emerging. WOTC, and Hasbro, may well be close to totally controlling this market, and therefore dramatically boosting the future value of the WOTC/HAS franchise.

Last month, Kergillian and I were discussing the possible consolidation of the middle tier companies in the adventure game industry. I have been recieving some information from industry publications that this may be indeed happening- though not in the way Kergillian and I had envisioned.

Item: (October) A WOTC executive leaks that WOTC may wish to use the introduction of Third Edition Dungeons and Dragons as an opportunity to underprice competitors, and DRAMATICALLY increase market share.

Item: a breakdown of market share in the RPG (Role Playing Game) Market:

Game (Publ) Hobby Game Only w/Book Trade
==== =============== ============
D&D (WOTC) 30 40
Storyteller (WW) 25 30
Rifts (Palladium) 13 10
AEG House 8 4
Icon (LUG) 5 5
Deadlands(Pinnacle)4 2
Shadowrun (FASA) 3 2
======= =======
95 97
(the missing percentages add up to all other RPG's)

NB: this market segment may add up to about $100 million in sales anually.

Item: (1st week January) Pyramid magazine, the house publication of Steve Jackson Games (SJG) runs a curious article on the future of the business, including a *most* curious prediction: that there would only be three game systems on the market for RPG's- D&D 3e, GURPS, and FUDGE (a free system published over the internet).

The author stated that this would come about due to the game systems being universal in nature (universal systems, which cover multiple genres have not done all that well historically, as the market share for GURPS shows), and (this phrase struck me when I read it) "unique new licensing agreements" that would allow publishers to put out materials for other companies roleplaying game systems. Another claim that was made that SJG would ship 60 titles a year (last year they shipped 25, half of which were reprints). Most curious, I thought at the time...

Final item (tonight): WOTC leaks that they may be planning to OPEN SOURCE Dungeons and Dragons!


(Gee, Steve Jackson didn't know this was coming?)

What Does It All Mean?

A) WOTC consolidates the industry by itself. Developers and freelancers are paid generously by WOTC (WOTC retains the IP rights to D&D, freelancers get rights to publish under generous license agreements). Competitors get crushed in price and quality competition. A vicious cycle develops where only "freeware" can survive vs WOTC products in price, but not in quality.

B) WOTC captures the talent. (The average freelancer makes about $25K/year at best, making the choice of who to produce for obvious). Since people in this business who show promise often leave for greener pastures, WOTC gets first crack at them. In short, the studio system. Don't laugh. These will be the media developers of tomorrow. This is the most important development for holders of HAS stock: intellectual capital.

WOTC and HAS get a lock on the money and the ideas. Good news for HAS stock, bad news for vanity publishers.

Game Over, fanboys.

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Excellent article and research, PinkSplice. If I may put your words in a nutshell:

Role Playing Games are Operating Systems.

Supplements, adventures, novels, etc. are the programs.

D&D 3rd Edition is poised to become Windows.

Licensing will be very important for the development of the industry. Imagine that ALL Windows programs, add-ons, etc. were owned and produced solely by Microsoft. Some programs are good, some aren't, and even Microsoft is limited by what they produce.

Of course, that isn't the case. So, someone in another company can make a real loser of a program, run it in Windows, and it won't reflect poorly on Microsoft. Similarly, if another company produces junk for D&D, it's no problem for WOTC.

Now, of course, the big question is what prevents Steve Jackson from making GURPS open source even now? Nothing. However, that won't be enough. GURPS is generally thought to be a little awkward to use. In fact, even though Chaosium does a lot of licensing already for their well-designed RPG Call of Cthulhu, the game still has only a small following. Of course, the system is hamstrung by being inextricably tied to Howard Philips Lovecraft's horror stories and their literary offshoots.

WOTC has the financial clout to become the Microsoft of the hobby game market (if they aren't it already). Socially, America is becoming more dependent on creative minds, active imaginations, and innovative problem solving skills--which is what role playing games engender. Thus, the RPG market will in fact grow. WOTC is working to guarantee growth and stability in their industry. This, of course, is good.
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Open-source RPGs? Who cares? When I used to play RPGs (late 70s - early 90s) I played games I enjoyed. I wasn't really concerned about the price. My point is that I wouldn't choose a game system based on price differences (which in the Grand Scheme of things are pretty trivial - not like "do I buy the Porsche or do I buy the Hyundai?") and then spend weeks/months/years playing a campaign with that system. If I like the mechanics of a $50 Runequest game system more than a $40 AD&D game I'd certainly just spend the extra $10 and enjoy playing Runequest for the next year or two - without crying about the extra $0.0003 per minute it's costing me.

I've also found that the people who get into RPGs for the long-term enjoy tinkering with complex systems too much to lock themselves down into a single generic system. Games and companies come and go but they KEEP coming and going. Hasbro/WOTC isn't the first company with slick packaging and a big advertising budget.

Don't get me wrong, I own Hasbro and have great long-term expectations (once the next "baby boom" kicks in full speed) but I don't expect them to corner the market on creativity and RPGs.

BTW, I've been to the WOTC corporate building. It looks like it USED to be a fun place to work - but the marketing person I talked to didn't even PLAY any of the games. Pathetic. I wouldn't be suprised if some of the free spririts there bail to form yet another game company...
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The "operating system" metaphor is a very apt one indeed. (See "In The Beginning Was The Command Line" by Neal Stephenson for one view as to how operating systems and viewpoints/belief systems mesh)

rockgator wrote:

"I've also found that the people who get into RPGs for the long-term enjoy tinkering with complex systems too much to lock themselves down into a single generic system"

For another parallel, the current group of gamers are very like expert users or coders. The above quote from rockgator is an example.

(BTW, I have written at least 3 RPG systems myself, and have been co-designer/developer on at least three others.)

The current state of the industry is, in part, due to the fact that gamers expect everyone to be an expert, and write material accordingly. (Other social aspects of the gaming culture I will not touch on in this post are at work in reducing the size of the adventure gaming market) WOTC understands this. They wish to expand the market, not continue to restrict it.

SJG does in fact have a version of GURPS called "GURPS Lite" available for free download on thier site ( GURPS has come closest to the "open source" model, with dozens of licensed products for GURPS. They have never had the capital to exploit options in the way that WOTC does now. GURPS has a kind of "Unix" mystique, if we continue the OS simile, but is not generally used by beginning gamers, and can be quite intimidating to the uninitiated. Chaosium, with it's excellent CoC system, has never broken out of it's niche, due to the reasons cited by Kergillian. White Wolf's Storyteller system is too closely associated with the WOD background to break away, much like CoC has been too closely identified with Lovecraft.

Perhaps the best competeitor, in OS terms, is Last Unicorn Games' Icon system for the new Star Trek RPG. Like West End Games' D6 system for Star Wars, it is nearly the perfect mesh between system and subject (much as CoC has been with a much smaller audience).

But please note the market share for LUG (and SJG) in my original post. Those kinds of numbers speak for themselves.

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