I read some things
this week over the last month. I’ve been busy, but we’ll be back to our normal programming soon. After the jump, you can read them, too.
The following article was originally posted by the author on The Mad Adventurers Society, and is reprinted here with permission. You can find the original here.
Last week, my colleague Nick Watanabe wrote a thinkpiece critical of crowdfunding (read: Kickstarter) in the gaming industry. Nick is a smart guy with a business background, and you should read his argument in his own words. In case you didn’t, I’ll offer a summary: Nick thinks crowdfunding is usually a crutch, and notes the litany of complaints from angry supporters whose funded projects never delivered. He questions whether crowdfunding is good for companies, good for gamers, or good for the industry. He also identifies specific adverse behaviors: serial crowdfunding (crowdfunding campaigns for each project or product), escalating funding goals (pledge level rewards and stretch goals), loss-leader pricing (“taking a loss” on the campaign), and a general lack of accountability (disclosure of how funds are allocated and actually used.)
Nick has some fair points. Lots of people (NPR’s All Things Considered, CNET, and even the Wall Street Journal) have noted the lack of accountability and transparency for Kickstarter, and while I suspect it’s far worse amongst video game developers, tabletop games certainly aren’t immune. The hypocrisy he cites—companies who criticize crowdfunding before they launch their own campaigns—is also worthy of criticism, though I suppose I’m not connected to the right circles to know of any specific examples. These behaviors are obviously unethical, but not unique to crowdfunding. I’m here to talk about Nick’s problems specific to crowdfunding.
One of the axiomatic truths of the Dungeons & Dragons “edition wars” is that 3.5/Pathfinder is the “system mastery” edition. Between the Open Gaming License opening the system to third party content and Wizards of the Coast’s business strategy around monthly releases of splatbooks, the 3rd and 3.5 Editions of the game quickly bloated with options for classes, prestige classes, feats, and spells. Paizo Publishing’s Pathfinder rebooted D&D 3.5 and fixed a number of issues with the system, particularly the resulting class imbalance, but it still embraced the variety of character options.
Yesterday, Paizo announced its new organized play campaign, Pathfinder Society Core Campaign. Amongst other differences from the existing Pathfinder Society campaign, this campaign will limit the character options to the Pathfinder Core Book and two small, free supplements. Paizo cites that one of the shortcomings of its existing Pathfinder Society campaign is “new players being overwhelmed or overshadowed by over-optimized characters.”
Catering to new players? Over-optimized? Don’t look now, but there’s a battle a-brewin’ between Wizards and Paizo.
As the flagship brand in the hobby, Dungeons & Dragons (and its publisher, Wizards of the Coast) sets the pace for the industry. The business model really hasn’t changed much in the past 40 years: sell the core books to everyone, sell the splatbooks to players, sell the adventure modules to dungeon masters. Sure, each edition has changed the product mix a bit, but the only major departure was 4th Edition’s introduction of the D&D Insider online tools, which gave online access to all of the published splatbook content for a monthly subscription. 5th Edition looked poised to be the first edition of D&D to offer true “digital copies” of the books through the DungeonScape app (née Codename: Morningstar), but that plan ended after a rocky beta test.
Then, Wizards of the Coast surprised us all by giving away the “Basic Rules” for free online in PDF form in advance of the Player’s Handbook release. Granted, the Basic Rules are extremely basic, but it seemed a step in the right direction for Wizards to lower the barrier to entry into the game and generate interest with a new, younger audience.
With today’s announcement on the product line for the Elemental Evil campaign, though, Wizards has taken the D&D business model in another new direction, scrapping the previously planned Elemental Evil-branded Adventurer’s Guide splatbook, merging it into the Princes of the Apocalypse adventure module, and releasing the player content for free.
Princes of the Apocalypse is available on April 7, 2015 and includes an epic adventure for characters levels 1–15 as well as new elemental spells and the element-touched genasi as a new playable race. In addition, a free download will be available in mid-March that includes more new races plus the player content available in Princes of the Apocalypse
I’ve reached out to Mike Mearls on Twitter to clarify if this approach is unique to the Elemental Evil products, or if it represents their plan going forward.
I haven’t heard back I’ve appended the post with his response below, but that won’t stop me from making some assumptions and reckless predictions going forward.