Interview with Aaron Shanks, Paizo's Director of Marketing

During Gen Con, we got a chance to talk to Aaron Shanks, Paizo’s Director of Marketing, about how the impact of recent events has shaped the company.

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A huge amount of talk during the convention was the announcement of Starfinder 2nd Edition, which we covered here, but we did get a chance to discuss the impact of the pandemic and January’s OGL news had on the company as well as the myriad of partnerships they have been announcing.

Post-Pandemic

How did the pandemic change the landscape of the gaming industry? There has been a long-term positive surge in virtual tabletops. Most gaming groups made the leap to gaming online to keep their games going when they couldn’t meet in person.

In addition to the rise in virtual tabletops, the pandemic also impacted the global supply chain, making it hard to predict when products would show up to the warehouse and be for sale. Pretty much a marketer’s nightmare, but now, it is becoming more consistent and easier to get the products into the hands of their customers.

The Impact of the OGL

January’s kerfuffle shocked the entire industry and felt like an attack to many, but it has also brought a breath of fresh air. It motivated Paizo to create an intellectual property separation from its origins. This allowed the Design and Development team the space to create new ideas and fill in some missing lore in their games.

This separation is not without its own growing pains. Books like Starfinder’s Scoured Stars were pushed back and other books were pushed to the forefront to herald in the new ORC license. Pathfinder Rage of Elements was the first book to be published under the new licensing with the Remaster project to follow.

A byproduct of Paizo’s response to the OGL debacle is in the huge amount of partnerships they have been entering into. From comics to video games, the spotlight is on Paizo.

VTTs

With the huge amount of partnerships Paizo has entered into with VTTs, one of the questions people have been asking is if Paizo will build one of their own? Aaron’s response is “No, not at this time. We want to be where the players are. So we are prioritizing the VTTs that our fans choose. Paizo focuses on creating great TTRPGs and board games and we let out digital partners do what they do best.”

The one technological element they are focusing on is their new website. Aaron is hoping that they will be able to better customize the benefits of being a Paizo subscriber, allowing people to opt in and out of different elements of the subscription.

One of the VTTs, Demiplane, is supporting the playtest of the two new Pathfinder 2nd Edition classes for free. This time next year, we should also be seeing the same process for Starfinder 2nd Edition when the formal playtest opens up.

Organized Play

“We’re always going to be welcoming new players.” Aaron wants people to be able to come in to organized play and feel welcome. This includes players who are not giving up on first edition Pathfinder and Starfinder. There will still be legacy play for both games even though Paizo will not be printing any new material for them. We’ll also find out closer to the launch of Starfinder 2nd Edition what the conversion process will be for characters moving from first to second edition.

PaizoCon’s attendance was in the thousands this year. It’s always been a modest convention, but this year’s digital stats were the best they’ve ever been. Aaron promises that next year will be even better now that he has a full marketing team. It will continue to be digital for the foreseeable future as it allows them to reach more people all over the world without them needing to book a hotel to play.

With Paizo’s staff going fully remote, their attendance at conventions is completely opt in. There will be a small contingent at Pax Unplugged. So if you’re going, be sure to stop by and say hi.
 

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Dawn Dalton

Dawn Dalton

That's a tough one. The differences are many and fundamental, in some ways, but they are all aimed at the same general "itch."

If it helps at all: Level Up's Monstrous Menagerie is by far my favorite of the current/new school monster books (The Monster Overhaul is my fave for OSR games), but the player and GM side of Level Up ultimately felt a bit too much like added complexity for little reward.

Tales of the Valiant is the closest to core 5E (so far), and it'll work with Monstrous Menagerie beautifully, so that's a win.

PF2 is also a lot of complexity, but it's mostly in the form of player-facing character options. In that way, PF2 lives and dies based on "how much of the character build mini-game do you want at your table?" If you're a forever GM like me, that answer is solely in the hands of my players: I don't mind learning the monsters/magic and running it, but I won't even bother trying to learn all the bajillion of feats and class options and such.
You make a compelling point in that last paragraph. I ran PF2E for 3 years and found it very GM friendly, but stopped mainly because I have players who just burned out on it. One of my cohorts took up the mantle as GM and I played the first couple APs he ran as a player, with the third one starting soon (The one with the circus). It turns out I really hate the game as a player and find it essentially an unpleasant experience. The design weight on making PF2E GM friendly did not translate on the player end.
 

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Which I think is a stupid mistake. Even a little support would suffice. There's so much in PF2e I want to use in my PF1e games and I can't because converting them doesn't exactly work properly. The systems are too different.

Yet they have the resources to convert all of Abomination Vaults for 5th Edition!? Their rivals!? The BS I smell on Paizo. Them and WotC is why I'm done supporting TTRPG companies.
There are other TTRPG companies, including good companies worth supporting who are earnest in their love of the hobby. Just saying!
 

timbannock

Adventurer
You make a compelling point in that last paragraph. I ran PF2E for 3 years and found it very GM friendly, but stopped mainly because I have players who just burned out on it. One of my cohorts took up the mantle as GM and I played the first couple APs he ran as a player, with the third one starting soon (The one with the circus). It turns out I really hate the game as a player and find it essentially an unpleasant experience. The design weight on making PF2E GM friendly did not translate on the player end.
Interesting! I hadn't specifically heard the player-burnout angle, but it does make a lot of sense. I saw a lot of that during my late 3.5E days among a few of my players, and it seemed especially hard to bring newer people in because of the sheer amount of options before them.

(I feel like 5E is headed down this road, too, but at least it's a slightly more forgiving system; I've only once played with a group of optimizers in 5E, whereas that was the standard in 3E/3.5E days among my peers.)
 

Interesting! I hadn't specifically heard the player-burnout angle, but it does make a lot of sense. I saw a lot of that during my late 3.5E days among a few of my players, and it seemed especially hard to bring newer people in because of the sheer amount of options before them.

(I feel like 5E is headed down this road, too, but at least it's a slightly more forgiving system; I've only once played with a group of optimizers in 5E, whereas that was the standard in 3E/3.5E days among my peers.)
I know that I was already hitting level 5 as a sorcerer in PF2E I think before I realized that I had overlooked/misunderstood an entire component of the class's design, and it was incredibly deflating to realize there was an entire other arbitrary mechanical element I had to parse out from the text. I don't recall having this issue ever with PF1E or D&D 3.0/3.5, but I agree that it was tough, especially toward the later years of the game, to bring in new players....especially if you had even one min/max optimizer in your group, they tended to skew the entire experience in a bad way for the newer players.

In many ways, PF2E feels to me like it tried to appease the more hardcore builders and optimizers on the player side (whether it succeeded or not is a different question) while addressing the many complaints GMs had about the needless complications of being GM in 1st edition. The end result is the game we now have, where players either find it too much or that the sense of agency is an illusion, and GMs have a really friendly set of tools to work with, but everything is mechanically skewed against player enjoyment/success so the encounter designs feel like a constant treadmill of morale-demolishing un-fun for the players, who in turn look suspiciously at the GM as the culprit even as he is religiously following encounter build guidelines.
 

Staffan

Legend
The end result is the game we now have, where players either find it too much or that the sense of agency is an illusion, and GMs have a really friendly set of tools to work with, but everything is mechanically skewed against player enjoyment/success so the encounter designs feel like a constant treadmill of morale-demolishing un-fun for the players, who in turn look suspiciously at the GM as the culprit even as he is religiously following encounter build guidelines.
I think encounter design is mostly fine in PF2 – particularly once you realize that the difficulty levels are actually accurate, unlike PF1 and 5e where "moderate" means you can handle things in your sleep and "severe"/"hard" is about where things start to get interesting. The bigger problem lies one zoom level above: adventure design guidelines. As in, there are pretty much none. 3e and 4e have some pretty explicit assumptions about how much a party is supposed to be able to handle in a day, giving the GM a decent baseline from which to work. But PF2 has nothing of the sort, and that's the kind of thing that leads to their adventure writers making 10-encounter dungeons you're expected to handle in one day.
 

Thomas Shey

Legend
Also, as I've noted, adventure design has a nasty habit of lagging behind system changes; people tend to design subconsciously for the prior editions. You saw this with early D&D3e and D&D4e adventures too. It takes a while for designers to catch up, apparently.
 

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