D&D 4th Edition [Goodman/Dancey on 4E] RPGs in the 21st Century - towards another "generational peak"




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    [Goodman/Dancey on 4E] RPGs in the 21st Century - towards another "generational peak"

    I was intrigued by Joseph Goodman's "My Opinion on D&D 4E", in particular the idea that D&D has gone through different "generational peaks": first in 1982 with the boom of 1ED, then in 2001 with the explosion of 3E. This also resonates personally because I first got into D&D in the early 80s and played semi-regularly up until the early-to-mid 90s, then went through half a decade of light interest until I was caught up in the excitement in 1999 with the imminent arrival of 3E (and when I began reading Eric Noah's old 3E website...was that really ten years ago?!).

    I also enjoyed, as always, Ryan Dancey's comments on RPGPundit's site, which leaven Goodman's view with his ominous concluding comment:

    As to 4E and how it relates, I almost don't think it matters. The forces that are tearing apart the tabletop RPG player networks are utterly outside of Wizards' control, and it's become a true apples v. oranges comparison which means its really not fair to speculate much, so I just won't.
    There have been numerous discussion as to what these "forces that are tearing apart" table top RPGs are; the general view is a combination of the continuing evolution of computer games, the "grayification" of the RPG community, and of course the bickering or "Nerd Skirmishes" that said community is prone to. But it seems that the basic, core, obstacle is that the hobby isn't growing all that much; I don't know numbers, but I would guess that the "trickle in" (to the hobby) is about equally balanced by the "trickle out." As a hobby community, this is sustainable for the time being--even decades--but as a corporate-run business it is not, at least not in the long-term.

    As mentioned, according to Goodman's idea of generational peaks, the RPG industry experienced two peak years, one in 1982 and then one in 2001, with a gap of 19 years. If we shave a few years off due to the nature of increased (and increasing) information flow, another peak would be due sometime between 2012 and 2020--11 to 19 years after the last one. The first peak came a few years after the publication of Advanced Dungeons & Dragons (1977-79, according to Wikipedia); the second, the year after 3E was first published (2000). Obviously there is a correlation and one would think the next peak would occur along with the publication of 5E.

    It may be that editions of D&D are similar to Star Trek movies in that every other movie was a good one, or in the case of D&D, smashingly successful (that is, 2ed and 4ed were and are successful but not as "ground-breaking" as 1E and 3E in terms of solidifying and expanding the fan base). But here is the rub: If the pattern holds we'll see another peak with 5E, but I don't think it is a guarantee but rather more of a window of opportunity. Again, in a similar sense that while Star Trek 2, 4, 6, and 8 were all good, 10 wasn't so good...which lead to the "death" (and later rebirth) of the franchise. In other words, you can have one dud in a row, but not two--or one plateau but not two, but you need a new peak to bring it up a level.

    The point being, 5E HAS to be good, has to be wildly successful, has to break new ground and expand or--at the very least--re-invigorate the existing fan base and semi-retired fans. So a couple questions to ponder:

    1) WHEN is the right time for 5E?


    I would use the metaphor of surfing: if you jump on the wave too soon you'll just peeter out, if you wait too long you'll miss it; the timing has to be just right (and you have to be able to handle the size of the wave you ride in on!). Obviously, with 4E only a year old, it is too soon to tell. But we can safely say it will be anywhere from 4 to about 10 years from now, my guess is in the 5-6 year range (again, taking into account the increased flow of information; the gap between 2E and 3E was 11 years, 3E and 4E 8 years, 4E to 5E 5-7 years?).

    So I'm thinking 2013 at the very earliest--a gap of only five years, which isn't as short as you think if there is no 4.5E and the publication schedule remains relatively tight and focused--and 2016 at the latest, a gap of eight years, with 2014-2015 being the most likely time.

    But much could change in the next five years, especially considering the evolution of technology and the most notable new 4E item to the D&D ouevre, D&D Insider. Which leads to the next question...

    2) WHAT sort of game should 5E be?

    Obviously it has to take advantage of computer technologies--D&D Insider is likely just the beginning, the awkward prototype. But I would suggest that if D&D relies too much on technology and gadgetry, it is not only in danger of losing what makes it D&D and not something else--namely, a game of imagination--but that it may be able to be successful because it isn't techno-focused, because it is a "throwback" to pre-pixelated entertainment. In other words, 5E should remain firmly a tabletop RPG (From a design perspective, I would hope that it would be modular, with different degrees of complexity depending how an individual group would want to play the game. But that is a little outside the purview of this discussion).

    In terms of technology, it is not either/or: Either you are traditional and don't budge from your luddite roots, or you embrace everything modern technology has to offer. A combination of both is ideal, in my opinion. The technology should not, cannot, replace human imagination and the pure enjoyment of sitting around a table rolling dice with your buddies; what it can do is augment it, which is what it should do--and nothing more. This is a microcosm of what we face as a culture, and that I face as an educator: How can we utilize technology to augment human intelligence and creativity rather than replace it? It might sound very scifi, but it is a very, very serious question.

    So what do you think? The floor is yours

 

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    I would say that...

    1) Just looking at the attempt WotC is making to integrate the computer suggests that a good time for 5E is after the success or failure of that integration. If it was me calling the shots, I would do exactly what they are doing, and keep slowly build upon successes like the character builder, and other tool sets. Things that people are already using to enhance the table top experience.

    2) Which leads to the jump from table to computer screen. Something they are going to try to do. So what it comes down to is the technology factor and what the software is capable of accomplishing. It is rather easy to envision as a DM, your five players in small streaming video window images with voice across the top of your screen, all sitting above and hooked into the virtual "table top" generated by the DM, or even purchased as a software module directly from a licensed company (be it WotC, Goodman, etc...). If the software gives the DM the capability to manipulate pretty much everthing in that game world, I don't see a difference between traditional and digital.

    The old school in me wants to death grip the table laden with cheetos, pizza, and soda. All the while screaming "No you cannot have my gaming session WotC!! Take your digital table top and shove it!"

    However, I can't tell you how many times game sessions have been called off because of baby sitter issues, a sick player, travel issues, and so on and so forth. Will a computer at some point allow us to still enjoy each others company, be able to facilitate rule changes and DM fiat on the fly, and keep much of the magic we now have? Its very possible.

    The more I think about it, the more I realize I might be ok with it, given the right circumstances.

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    I would agree that 5 years seems to be the life cycle of a game like 4e. What happens after that I do not know. For example will print on demand services be good enough to change the desktop publishing industry?

    Being optimist I would say that with 5e Wotc will be trying to make a more casual friendly and a simpler, better, more solid tabletop game as a tabletop game than what 4e is. It will provide more possibilities and options with less overwhelming crunch baggage that you need a computer to organize your game and figure it out. Being pessimist I would say that 5e will target more on the hardcore base trying to milk it out before Wotc calls it quits.

  • #4
    I think that the two generational peaks were produced by outside factors and not any qualities of the games or actions of the company running the game at the time. The 1982 boom was the result of D&D becoming a fad(not unlike the Pokemon craze for CCGs), and the 2000 boom was the result of a much hyped rebirth after a long dry spell. It wasn't the game itself which powered these booms but the circumstances.

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    Quote Originally Posted by thecasualoblivion View Post
    I think that the two generational peaks were produced by outside factors and not any qualities of the games or actions of the company running the game at the time. The 1982 boom was the result of D&D becoming a fad(not unlike the Pokemon craze for CCGs), and the 2000 boom was the result of a much hyped rebirth after a long dry spell. It wasn't the game itself which powered these booms but the circumstances.
    However Dancey is saying that the peak did not happen in the 80s but in the 90s with the settings and stuff and then it collapsed and crashed due to bloat. Same thing that happened in 2000 with the OGL boom. I think it is a publishing matter of the whole industry that needs to be fixed to help stabilize the field. Look at how the movie-film industry operates more or less. Also the industry needs more talent. True refreshing talent that needs to learn how to develop games in such an environment. Not D20 clones developed by the fad that D20 system mastery has been -an excercise on how to fix and mend that system to fit perceived customer needs that game with it.

  • #6
    If a 5e came out 5 years after 4e's launch I would most likely skip it and wait for 6th. That would be waaaaaay too soon to expect me to re-buy all these books.

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    Quote Originally Posted by xechnao View Post
    However Dancey is saying that the peak did not happen in the 80s but in the 90s with the settings and stuff and then it collapsed and crashed due to bloat.
    There's an interesting bit of phrasing in there, by the by, regarding the settings:

    "In terms of gross revenue, TSR earned a lot more from '87 on than it had earned up to that point."

    And:

    "The key to the Model 2 years was that all though none of the individual campaign settings in TSR's matrix did extremely well, in combination, they did very large volumes."

    That's a picture of great gross revenues which cost a lot to sustain; note that he makes no assertions about net profits. The production costs for multiple campaign settings are gonna be higher than they would be with WotC's current model of one setting at a time, two books and a module apiece. I wish he'd talked about net profits as well, but everyone's trying to make a point...

    The other interesting fact is that LFR is generating more play than anything else the RPGA has ever done. That's hugely important. I don't know if it's generating enough play, and I don't know if it's proving Ryan wrong, but certainly the people running the RPGA are pretty pleased with the way it's sustaining and creating player networks.

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    Quote Originally Posted by tmatk View Post
    If a 5e came out 5 years after 4e's launch I would most likely skip it and wait for 6th. That would be waaaaaay too soon to expect me to re-buy all these books.
    Wotc should make games in such a way and teach about it its customers that they should not need to buy all the books to make out of the game as much fun as possible. This collector pov may be good for some business but not in the long run, especially if you want to open your market and cater to the casuals is problematic. Also I suspect many of the hardcore fans that did not go to 4e and turned to Pathfinder did it as a means to calm down their frustration of what you are talking about.
    Last edited by xechnao; Sunday, 21st June, 2009 at 10:12 PM.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Thanlis View Post
    The other interesting fact is that LFR is generating more play than anything else the RPGA has ever done. That's hugely important. I don't know if it's generating enough play, and I don't know if it's proving Ryan wrong, but certainly the people running the RPGA are pretty pleased with the way it's sustaining and creating player networks.
    RPGA is better under 4E. 4E is such a solid rules set that RPGA play can be consistent from game to game. I'm not saying RPGA produces an excellent game, because it doesn't. But, it produces a game that is good enough, and you can count on the game being good enough. Good/bad DMs and master/newbie players don't really change the experience in any negative fashion.

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    UGH. This is the FOURTH and last time I'm re-writing this; for whatever reason, the page keeps refreshing itself, I think when my finger hits a specific button, and then the information is lost. I’m copying and pasting to a Word document from now own. Anyways…

    Quote Originally Posted by MadMaligor View Post
    1) Just looking at the attempt WotC is making to integrate the computer suggests that a good time for 5E is after the success or failure of that integration. If it was me calling the shots, I would do exactly what they are doing, and keep slowly build upon successes like the character builder, and other tool sets. Things that people are already using to enhance the table top experience.
    Yes, agreed, which is why I said something about not starting a new edition too soon, catching the wave at the right moment. This goes along with the idea that D&D is an evolving continuum that integrates the best of the old with new innovations. Debatable, I know, especially among devotees of specific (older) editions!

    Quote Originally Posted by MadMaligor View Post
    2) Which leads to the jump from table to computer screen. Something they are going to try to do. So what it comes down to is the technology factor and what the software is capable of accomplishing. It is rather easy to envision as a DM, your five players in small streaming video window images with voice across the top of your screen, all sitting above and hooked into the virtual "table top" generated by the DM…The more I think about it, the more I realize I might be ok with it, given the right circumstances.

    Part of me shudders at this thought, yet another welcomes it as a lesser alternative to tabletop play, sort of a halfway between that and play-by-post. As many here know, it is very difficult getting a half dozen 30-somethings together on a regular basis; my own group ends up meeting about once a month or less, which makes it almost impossible to snowball momentum and develop campaign immersion. With online streaming, we could still play “in the flesh” once a month, but alternate it with shorter streaming sessions, or side sessions with individual characters…but I digress.

    Quote Originally Posted by xechnao View Post
    I would agree that 5 years seems to be the life cycle of a game like 4e. What happens after that I do not know. For example will print on demand services be good enough to change the desktop publishing industry?
    Yes, there are so many factors, few of which are predictable—and most having to do with technological (and economic) change.

    Quote Originally Posted by xechnao View Post
    Being optimist I would say that with 5e Wotc will be trying to make a more casual friendly and a simpler, better, more solid tabletop game as a tabletop game than what 4e is. It will provide more possibilities and options with less overwhelming crunch baggage that you need a computer to organize your game and figure it out. Being pessimist I would say that 5e will target more on the hardcore base trying to milk it out before Wotc calls it quits.
    I like your optimistic view more, but don’t think it has to be either/or, which is why I said that 5E should be “modular.” You have a core “Basic” game with tons of “Advanced” options…which is how I think D&D should have been from the get-go, and how I would house-rule 4E if I ever have the time and inclination.

    Quote Originally Posted by thecasualoblivion View Post
    I think that the two generational peaks were produced by outside factors and not any qualities of the games or actions of the company running the game at the time. The 1982 boom was the result of D&D becoming a fad(not unlike the Pokemon craze for CCGs), and the 2000 boom was the result of a much hyped rebirth after a long dry spell. It wasn't the game itself which powered these booms but the circumstances.
    Good point, but…

    Quote Originally Posted by xechnao View Post
    However Dancey is saying that the peak did not happen in the 80s but in the 90s with the settings and stuff and then it collapsed and crashed due to bloat. Same thing that happened in 2000 with the OGL boom. I think it is a publishing matter of the whole industry that needs to be fixed to help stabilize the field. Look at how the movie-film industry operates more or less. Also the industry needs more talent. True refreshing talent that needs to learn how to develop games in such an environment. Not D20 clones developed by the fad that D20 system mastery has been -an excercise on how to fix and mend that system to fit perceived customer needs that game with it.

    …This is true also. There are outside influences that cannot be predicted or controlled, but also natural publishing cycles, which Dancey pointed to.

    Quote Originally Posted by tmatk View Post
    If a 5e came out 5 years after 4e's launch I would most likely skip it and wait for 6th. That would be waaaaaay too soon to expect me to re-buy all these books.
    Understood, but in some ways it is what happened already with 3E and 4E edition considering that there was only five years between 3.5E and 4E (2003-2008). You could even say that they did a half cycle in three years, as much of what came out after 2003 was re-working of material published between 2000 and 2003 (e.g. Psionics Handbook).

    I wish there was some magic formula that allowed for innovations to be worked into the game, but without making previous material invalid or difficult to work with. One of the problems is that WotC relies upon revenue through splat books, so even though they could probably publish an easy-to-use “Edition Converter,” they don’t want you converted Tome of Magic, they want you buying Arcane Power.

    To me, there is a certain bankrupting of creativity that goes on in this endless cycle of “new edition, countless splat books glutting the market, lull, new edition, new splat books,” etc etc. It is like the Battlestar Galactica or Star Trek “re-envisionings.” Heck, they’re even re-making Alien, for Chrissake! My question is: Why not come up with a new franchise, a new science fiction universe? Why do we need the Forgotten Realms five years later, then twenty years later, then a hundred years later? What about a new campaign world? What a novel idea…But the truth of the matter is that most companies—most corporations, at least—take the easy way, the safe way, the way most likely to make guaranteed profit.

    I do like, however, WotC’s planned approach of coming out with a new campaign setting each year, without the endless splat books that basically involve paraphrasing already written material. Of course what they’re doing so far, and I imagine into 2010, is re-making old standbys…hopefully before 4E is done they’ll have come out with at least one new setting…

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