Thursday, January 20, 2011

Dungeons & Disfunctions - What is Up With WotC?

The blogosphere and assorted forums are swarming with talk of WotC's decision to drop their randomized collectible miniatures line and the cancelation of some of the D&D Essentials line that was scheduled for later this year. Then again, there is the talk of the new but trying to look old Red Box that they released last year.

If one didn't know any better, you would think their budget had been slashed by Hasbro. Maybe it has, maybe it hasn't, but one thing is for sure, some is worried about WotC's bottom line right at this moment. Not the future, but now.

Amazingly enough, I haven't logged into the D&D Virtual Table Top since the one time I did right after I was notified I had landed a spot in the Beta. It just doesn't compare to the flexibility of what is already out there. Fantasy Grounds, Map Tools, Battlegrounds RPG - those are your big boys, with another half dozen or so right behind them. The D&D VTT is playing catch-up with all of them.

As others have already said, what is 4e these days? Is it the core books that were released previously, the Red Box, the new trade paperbacks... does WotC even know? They seem to want to get away from physical products and take their toys to the electronic media side, but they don't want their material distributed in PDF format. Every Pathfinder product that I buy direct from Paizo includes a PDF copy. It doesn't seem to be hurting their sales any.

WotC no longer sees their customers as gamers first, but as consumers of a product that they want to turn into a self generating cash cow. Some folks say they are trying to follow thew World Of Warcraft method of making money, but only WoW is making that kind of money in the sphere of MMORPGs... no one else comes close. The same used to be said of the Dungeons & Dragons brand... sadly, that's no longer true.

I hope that WotC can find their way before the D&D brand is fully drained of value and relevance.

9 comments:

  1. The 2010 Red Box product is barely playable except as a very brief intro to another game. I think you could get by with the Red Box GM rules, the Monster Vault, and one of the "Heroes of the..." Essentials books.

    Green Ronin's Dragon Age box set is one example of a far superior product, in my view. Taking the classic D&D approach, it provides you with complete character creation rules and enough scope to create adventures for characters up to level five, all in one box. One hopes that the three follow-up boxes will come out before the Bioware IP license dries up, but the AGE system is solid enough to stand alone without Bioware's intellectual property.

    Of course, T&T gives you a complete game for the same outlay, but the T&T business model isn't exactly cohesive either.

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  2. I need to dig out my Dragon Age Box and give it another look.

    As for T&T, its main weekness is a dearth of adventures for group use as opposed to solo. Hmmm, actuallly a nice article to read would be about how to effectively use T&T to run a party based campaign.

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  3. While I haven't bought anything game related since the basic books for WOTC edition 3.5 (and have a like/hate relationship with that), it's sad to see the tried-and-true original RPG get bungled up and downsized and lost-in-the-woods so badly.
    I think it's a sign of the times. Many US companies are now being run by accountants who can't see past the end of the quarter rather than by innovators, engineers, artists and visionaries.

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  4. All I can say is, "Thank you Paizo for the way you treat your customers!"

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  5. Honestly I don't think they know what they are doing. Not one move has made sense since the whole 3.5 debacle.

    For anyone who has read The Escapist interview with Mike Mearls where he mentions that they didn't set out to run off the player base with 4e the numbers are staggering. They have lost 22.5 million players since it's launch. From 24 million players to 1.5 million. That is incredible.

    And to fix the problem they are in the process of running the remaining players off as well. The hardcore who stuck with them feel like they are being crapped on, hate Essentials, blame the whole mess on WotC trying to appease 'the old grognards'...it's truly a mess.

    People can say whatever they want but the OSR has had enough impact to get them to try to recapture the old school players right down to creating their own Red Box 'clone'.

    Add to that that Paizo is now neck and neck in sales and you have a company with 5 gallon buckets throwing crap at every wall praying something will stick.

    And now the word is starting to circulate that 5e is being readied for launch. That may well prove to be game over for the franchise.

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  6. Tenkar wrote:
    > I need to dig out my Dragon Age Box and give it another look.

    I got it for my brother-in-law for Christmas. We just broke it open this past weekend and it's a pretty well-designed game. I'm not that attached to the Ferelden setting, but the mechanics do just about everything I'd be interested in doing with D&D, only with much greater design elegance. I posted my first impressions here.

    > As for T&T, its main weekness is a dearth of adventures for group use as opposed to solo. Hmmm, actuallly a nice article to read would be about how to effectively use T&T to run a party based campaign.

    For me, T&T has proven time and time again to be utterly easy to run with any adventure. Converting monsters and other threats on the fly is a piece of cake. We did cut our teeth on The Lair of the Wyrm and Mark Hill's Dungeon of the Rat [published in M6E], but after learning the ropes, the system rewards flying by the seat of your pants, which is my preferred style with dungeon fantasy— let the players' goals direct the fiction.

    I can see how the lack of T&T-specific adventures might be a turnoff for GMs and players new to the game. It's definitely a weakness in marketing terms. But it highlights a strength of the game: It doesn't require anything close to the prep-to-play ratio of other games. You can take any published adventure you're familiar with and run it instantly, or just pull follow the players' choices with opportunities, problems, resources and threats. The MR and Saving Roll systems allow you pull appropriate game mechanics for any situation without hours of forethought.

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  7. I initially thought that the whole point of the 'Essentials' line was to provide a simplified 'entry product' for people interested in 4e. Instead, all it seems to have done is sow further confusion. It is hopelessly unclear what precisely is 'essential' for playing 4e.

    I agree that it's hard not to think that WotC doesn't know what it's doing these days.

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  8. The WoW model doesn't make sense as a lot of MMOs have already gone free-to-play.

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  9. The WOW model makes no sense as many MMOs have gone free-to-play.

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