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Sunday, 21st June, 2009, 07:29 PM #1
Grandmaster of Flowers (Lvl 18)
[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.
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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