Wednesday, March 20, 2013


I live in Small Town, Oklahoma so we are a tad behind on a few things.  No - before you ask - we are not still fighting "the Indians out there".  No, that comment is not meant to be offensive.  Someone always seems to be under the impression that it is "almost the Wild West" in this part of the nation.  I assure you that is not the case.  We have the same modern conveniences as other places in the United States; from automobiles to computers to shopping malls and even that fancy internet!  So, what is my point you may be wondering.
Quite simply, my wife and I have two small children and have elected to live in a smaller town.  There are several reasons - family, schools, college, etc. - but the biggest reason is the option to avoid being in "thug-central" because it "feels safer" in this smaller town.  One of the side effects of that choice is being a little behind in some areas.  For instance, we have high speed internet but we could have much faster internet if we lived in the big city.
I had Netflix for quite some time but the internet was just lagging too much in this area.  I cancelled my subscription about 8 months ago.  In the months following my cancellation, the internet has gotten more stable in this area and we received an upgraded router.  I decided to give Netflix another try because I figured if I was out $7.99 due to dissatisfaction then it really was no big deal.  It works great now because the Internet is much faster and I have experience no delays or lagging while we have been burning through seasons of shows that are now available on Netflix.
This past weekend I was down with whatever bug was going around the community.  It had went through the rest of the family and it was my turn.  I had a little bit of insomnia after sleeping off and on all day so I went to the living room and decided to fire up the Netflix while I was surfing the Internet in hopes of making myself drowsy. 
I am a long time professional wrestling fan so I browsed the wrestling titles available.  I would have preferred something from the old school era but I settled on The Rise & Fall of WCW and NWO: The Revolution because I had some big gaps to fill in on my wrestling history.  I knew a bit about WCW but I mainly watched WWF at the time.  As I watched those programs I was visiting the various role playing forums and blogs I have saved on my favorites list.  
As I watched the story of the Monday Night Wars between WWF and WCW unfold I realized that I watched a bit more of WCW than I had previously thought.  I was in the Army at the time so we would hang out, drink beer, and see what was happening on the wrestling shows.  Professional Wrestling was huge at the time and there was wrestling shows on 6 nights a week with Pay-Per-Views on about every 3 weeks when you throw ECW in to the mix.  I recalled that during this time, Eric Bischoff made WCW the #1 wrestling company in the world.  Nitro was clearly leading in the ratings at the time and did so for something like a year or two years.  Fast Forward several years down the line and there is no WCW or ECW left to compete with WWF.  There were many WWF fans that felt everything would have been better off that way all along. 
I am sure you are wondering what in the world does all of this have to do with D&D or roleplaying in general?  Quite simply, there are some interesting parallels that can be drawn between the Monday Night Wars and the 4E/Pathfinder split in the fan base.  It all starts by replacing WCW with Paizo Publishing and WWF with Wizards of the Coast.  WCW really started hitting it big when they got an old WWF product - Hulk Hogan - and made him their own by turning him heel and then launching the NWO invasion angle.  Paizo did something very similar by taking D&D 3.5 and creating the Pathfinder system.  If your throw the OSR/retro clone publishers into the mix then you basically have ECW represented also.   
I may be grasping at straws with this post but I do have two points to make.  First, all of these competing products in the D&D field eventually makes the whole field stronger.  When WWF had WCW and ECW to compete against for money then it was a much better in ring product.  Sure, there is TNA today but their show is on one right a week and does not go head to head with WWF on Monday Night.  WCW literally took the fight to WWF and it made both of their products better.  Second, a lack of competition basically translates to a lack of a measuring stick to compare product against product.  I read several posts from 4E fans that wished Pathfinder was not available so 4E could rule the D&D field.  I think it would be more interesting to see how D&D Next responds to the shortcomings of 4E to see what is next.  Then maybe we can see what comes from Pathfinder 2 has to offer against 5E?  Honestly, without Pathfinder would Wizards be knee deep in play testing D&D Next or would they have let the edition have a life span that lasted several more years? 
Just some food for thought...   
Note: Yes, I am aware that it is now properly WWE but I just refuse to use that label.  I grew up with WWF and it will always be WWF to me.   


  1. For some reason I thought you were going to talk about stealing plots from wrestling.

    Anyway, didn't the WWF eventually buy/put the WCW/ECE out of business? In that case, shouldn't we think that 5E will get rid of the competition?

    To your larger point, there are two (at least) factors working in gaming/economics that are pushing things in opposite directions. First, competition does force people to create better/more appealing products (games). WotC now feels pressure to attract a new audience. (BTW playtesting is just part of the promotion. They are just copying what they did with 3E launch in the hopes of getting interest.) So WotC will be doing something with their products to make them more appealing. (One of the things they tried in the past way to appeal to PC gamers. Not saying this is a bad thing. I really think some of the mechanics out to be ported over into tabletop.)

    Now, the other aspect affecting the gaming industry is the low barrier of entry. Anyone can pretty much put out a game. This has caused many games to become more niche in search of an audience. A successful game might end up with 5000 fans now, compared with 500,000 a couple of decades ago. Why does this matter? Profitability.

    Industries work by consolidation. The idea is to centralize production to reduce cost and to put out a huge amount of products. What we see is decentralized production now. In some sense this is good for the consumer because it means more choices and potentially better products. On the downside, it means it is very rare to have a profitable RPG game. It is rare to be able to make your living just doing games. I am not saying it can't be done, I am just saying it is very hard. The result is fewer products from games you might want, not being able to get hardcopies of games, few games in stores, talent leaving the industry, etc.

    Overall, the result is more and more niche products appealing to a smaller and smaller subset of gamers. This is good for consumers. It is bad, however, for the industry. The industry needs to attract new gamers. That takes money which means you want large companies that make a lot of money. In other words, what is good for the goose is not necessarily good for the gander.

    1. Ha! Stealing plots from wrestling could be quite fun and interesting if it was done properly.

      Yes, at the end of the day WCW and ECW were both purchased by WWF and then the most desirable parts were kept while the rest was left unused. I do not care to make predictions like that because the gaming industry has proven to be pretty fickle from edition to edition. I am sure that Wizards would like for 5E to run everyone else out of arena but who knows?

      The current fanbase and market potential for any new games is definitely not what it used to be. That is probably the trickiest part of the equation. As you mentioned, what is good for the fans is not necessarily good for the business and vice versa. Hell, back in the 80s it might have been harder to enter the industry BUT once you did it seemed like it was easier to stay in it for a while. It would be super tough to have staying power these days. Not only have the presentation standards improved tremendously but there is a ton of competition from other areas such as computer games, MMOs, trading card games, etc.

  2. I agree with your comments on 4E v Pathfinder. I've looked at some of the PF products and found them remarkably useful... but I first started playing D&D in 4E, so I don't completely hate it like many former players do. (I'm ignorant, I don't know any better!)
    I'm hoping that the competition does in fact make WotC (and Paizo and every other company) work harder to offer the best product possible. I admit I didn't see that in my 4E experience.