Saturday, June 20, 2009

Another Perspective

Joseph Goodman of Goodman Games has weighed in on the topic of how well the current edition of Dungeons & Dragons is doing from his perspective. He offers some very interesting data, which, if accurate, suggests that things aren't as gloomy for third party publishers as Clark Peterson suggested in his recent post on the same subject.

I have no horse in this race myself, since, as I've repeatedly said, 4e holds even less interest for me than 3e. Nevertheless, it's interesting to see someone step up and attempt to put things into a historical context. I'm not sure what to make of it all, but it's good that there's open discussion of this topic, as I find it all very fascinating.

27 comments:

  1. I don't doubt his industry expertise, nor his business acumen. But he seemed to state his credentials and then his conclusions, with nothing objective to back it up in between.

    It reminded me of all the court cases I've seen. I worked for a few years as a Judge's clerk, sitting next to him in Court, and watched about 100 or so cases played out in court, both jury and non-jury. Plus, I've been to court to argue cases for my clients.

    Anyhow, to use a personal injury case as an example, if the potential for winning/losing a lot of $$ is great enough, each side will hire an "expert" to come to court to testify. Usually a doctor. Each doctor will examine the accident victim, and based on that examination, and the examination of the medical records both past and current, render a diagnosis as to the extent of the injuries, what the cause of the injuries was, and the future prognosis of the accident victim.

    Each side's doctor, both eminently qualified with credentials out the wazoo, renders completely different and contradictory opinions. They can point to the same charts and x-rays and say totally different things.

    That same dynamic of hiring experts to toot the horn you want tooted exactly the way you want it tooted is played out in every type of case I've seen, from personal injury, to land use, to construction defect, to divorce, to business litigation. Each side's expert look at exactly the same set of objective facts and says completely different things which supports the viewpoint of whichever side they are testifying for.

    Other than beating up the personal credentials of the other side, or hammering them on their interpretation of the facts, one of the most effctive ways to discredit the other side is to point out all the various ways they have a financial interest in saying what they are saying. Asking a doctor, for example, how much they testify in cases as opposed to practicing medicine, how much they charged for the diagnosis, how often they do plaintiff's work as opposed to defendant's work, how many times they have testified for that particular lawyer's firm, how much they got paid to testify, the likelihood of a future financial interest in the outcome---such as the patient going to them to be treated if they are awaded money for future medical expenses, etc.

    Just as an aside, I'd pay a few bucks to read a pdf of the business history of the industry he talked about in the post...I'm particularly interested where he got the objective concrete numbers for sales figures going back 30 years. As far as I can tell, that's not publicly available information.

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  2. ** Pure opinion and not accented with any subtext:

    Is it possible that there is a disconnect between Goodman Games sales data, and general 4e sales data? GG may be selling well, and if so, I certainly join with others in congratulating them.

    My experience at the LGS' (plural) is that while a few 'hard Core' purchasers pick up 3 out of 4 new 4e titles from WotC, there are copies of every single title still hanging around on the ever increasing section of the 4e rack. In other words, even modest lots of books are only selling 1/4 the number ordered, and the remnants are stacking up.

    I wonder if demographics and regional sales data would be more telling than one company's degree of success -- given that in this market segment 4e still doesn't touch CCG and Boardgames sales, with miniatures, dice, and ancillary items (card sleeves, etc.) still being regular purchases of first-time walk-in customers. I would say that even Privateer Press' WARMACHINE is continuing to outsell 4e material, even with the announcement that WM Mk. II is being released.

    In any case, I wish continued success to Goodman Games, as I think their heart is in the right place.

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  3. I'd be shocked if 4e wasn't doing as well as, if not better than 3.5 and all the previous editions.

    The presentation has mostly been dumbed down, the "powers" system seems like it would draw those more familiar with online gaming, and ultimately they come out with a new supplement that widely expands the possibilities of the game every 3 or 4 weeks it seems.

    Many of my friends, who have been playing since well before I ever picked up a 20 sided die, see the game as "simpler" - and I can't say they are wrong on that front. They've been playing 3.5 for close to a decade, and we still have frequent rules debates that slow down any session of the game.

    So it isn't as though 4e is automatically veteran's bane - in fact, I feel like one of the few who dissents against the system.

    Simple in the wrong ways, IMHO.

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  4. The presentation has mostly been dumbed down, the "powers" system seems like it would draw those more familiar with online gaming, and ultimately they come out with a new supplement that widely expands the possibilities of the game every 3 or 4 weeks it seems.

    I'm bitterly amused by the repeated insistence from 4e 'dissenters' that the new D&D is 'dumbed down' in some way. More logical organization, less complication, less empty 'simulation' pretense, more consistent support for collective improvisatory play...sounds like WotC wised up. The flavour is lacking, obviously, but then flavour is the easiest thing to import from previous editions - and there's a robust secondary market for old supplements, buttressed by the fact that (notwithstanding our host's affection for the paper-thin mechanics of OD&D, and despite its complex combat engine) 4e is the most universally compatible version of the game yet.

    That it's overpriced, managed at the corporate level by ignorant philistines, and caters (like every version of D&D, though arguably to a lesser degree thanks to the emphasis on party play) to prolonged-adolescent escapist narcissism...well, you take the good with the bad.

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  5. Joeseph Goodman, from the link: "Is 4E doing as well as 3E sales in 2001? Definitely not. That was the high point in a generation."

    Joe has an axe to grind, and it's that he wants to keep the wind blowing into his business. Throughout 4E he's been very careful to say (I've seen it multiple times now) things like, "The pre-orders on Dungeon Crawl Classics #53, #54, and #55 were larger than anything I had seen in years."

    Obviously, the fairest thing to do is to compare analagous years in the product cycle, not "start-of-4E" versus "tail-end-of-3E". When he's pushed up against the wall, then you get an admission like at the top here (buried very far in the article).

    Clark Peterson (from the other day) also has an axe to grind, and it's his desire to publish for currently-branded D&D. His bending-over-backwards diplomatic dance to praise Scott Rouse at all opportunities (who is, if you get right down to it, just the dedicated guy at WOTC to tell Clark "no" in a pleasant fashion), just downright silly over the last several years.

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  6. I'm bitterly amused by the repeated insistence from 4e 'dissenters' that the new D&D is 'dumbed down' in some way.

    They got rid of the more complicated, but rewarding, Vancian magic system from the previous edition. They gave everyone, including fighters, "powers" like its WoW at the tabletop. That stuff irks me - not so much that I won't PLAY D&D 4e, but enough that I do not plan to make it my go to D&D edition when I myself GM.


    But, mostly, when I was saying "The presentation was dumbed down", I was referring to the text - for example, the Monster Manual which is embarassingly short on any sort of useful detail.

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  7. The issue is that "doing well" can mean wildly different things. There's no question that 4e is the #1 rpg seller, which seems like it should count as "doing very, very well", but it's more complicated than that. No other rpg has the level of expectations attached to it, nor a similar initial and continuing R&D and support cost. Any rubric of success must factor that in, in addition to the BIG question- how much of a profit margin does Hasbro require to consider 4e as worthwhile IP to continue developing and supporting?

    One look at the state of DDI's actuality vs. the bombastic projections from a year ago, and I think it's possible to conclude that 4e can be doing "very, very well" from Goodman's perspective, but still not be doing well *enough* for Hasbro.

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  8. You know, the other thing I can't help but point out is that Goodman tries to focus on two "peak" years (1982 and 2001) and discount those as outliers, leaving 4E in the "pretty good compared to most historical years for D&D" category.

    But I don't think anyone can believe that D&D has a "median" performance that goes forward indefinitely. If we step back and compare editions, we see this (according to Goodman): 1E peak, 2E trough, 3E peak, 4E trough (apparently). Maybe 5E will be great, or maybe it will be cancelled... will be interesting to see.

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  9. But, mostly, when I was saying "The presentation was dumbed down", I was referring to the text - for example, the Monster Manual which is embarassingly short on any sort of useful detail.

    Aah - you're right that it's missing flavour, has grown less thrilling. But the new monster manual text is more useful than it's ever been, at least in combat. The 'tactics' sections and interlocking power design are a big step forward from the haphazard work on earlier MMs. D&D has never effectively simulated anything; now that the game has shed that silly pretense, it's free to do a few things extremely well. Monster/NPC/power design is one of them. (And the PC powers are the most flavourful part of the three 4e core books, along with the excellent Manual of the Planes.)

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  10. "The presentation has mostly been dumbed down"

    It's like it's 1989 all over again.

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  12. "The presentation has mostly been dumbed down"

    This makes me want to see a 4E version done in 1E Gygax style. I might buy it then!

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  13. Hmmm. For some reason, this particular topic just brought out of the woodwork everything about ENWorld that made me leave it.

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  14. with nothing objective to back it up in between.

    Visits to 47 different game stores. All of them listed on the forum. Granted it isn't draw up in a form suitable for a term paper but come on.

    Now there is a hole in his argument. Tim at Gothridge Manor pointed out to me that Clark posted HIS experience trying to get stuff out there. Here is a outfit, Necromancer Games, with a proven quality and sales record and he is having trouble lining up the pieces to make his projects happen.

    Joseph Goodman doesn't address that. Either directly or indirectly. While this may lessen the authoritative quality of his post it doesn't lessen overall value.

    My point of view is that if somebody is going to talk about the state of the RPG Industry it is going to have to account for the differences in experience between Clark's and Joseph's accounts.

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  15. @wally watch out, 4e players are shot in this neck of the woods

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  16. [/QUOTE]Now there is a hole in his argument. Tim at Gothridge Manor pointed out to me that Clark posted HIS experience trying to get stuff out there. Here is a outfit, Necromancer Games, with a proven quality and sales record and he is having trouble lining up the pieces to make his projects happen. [/QUOTE]


    Eh? Maybe I'm crazy but Necromancer Games has rarely done anything on it's own. If it wasn't in alliance with White Wolf, it was Kenzer (and that with less than stellar results.) I would trust Goodman more than Clark in terms of stores, distribution and other issues since even now Necromancer Games is in "partnership" with Paizo (and in this partnership, apparently unable to get ahold of the Pathfinder rules in time to debut a Pathfinder Tome of Horrors for a product luanch.)

    Love Necromancer Games but when it comes to putting product out and knowing how the gaming market is working, unless Clark pops in here and says otherwise, I'm taking Joe's view on distribution channels.

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  17. @Joe - I am aware of that and Clark talks about that in his post.

    I agree that Goodman's post has a lot of weight behind it as he works with the chain directly and visits a lot of place where his products are sold.

    Yet it doesn't explain why Clark has difficulty finding partners or a distribution path for 4e products.

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  18. Suddenly lost interest in ever giving GG any of my money again.

    Self serving, shillerific panderings do that to me.

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  19. Re: the 4e MM.

    "Balhannoth (Level 13 elite lurker) A CUNNING SUBTERRANEAN HUNTER, the balhannoth distorts nearby reality with its very presence.
    ...
    Reality Shift (move; at-will) Teleportation The balhannoth can teleport 10 squares. Enemies adjacent to the balhannoth before it teleports are dazed until the end of its next turn. The balhannoth automatically gains combat advantage against creatures it teleports adjacent to."

    This is the tone of total disenchantment; the lack of any spirit, any personality or a remaining sense of wonder. It is empty.

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  20. "This is the tone of total disenchantment; the lack of any spirit, any personality or a remaining sense of wonder. It is empty."

    Couldn't disagree more. The flavor of a 4E character/monster/trap/etc. is embedded in the mechanics in the stat block. IME, they absolutely come alive at the gaming table, in a way 1E characters/monsters/etc. seldom did. Now it's cool w/me if you don't like 4E, and if earlier editions did everything you wanted. I know there is much I can learn from the Old School approach. But to say "4E is soulless/has no flavor b/c the monster descriptions are too short" is no more correct than to say "0E/1E has no flavor b/c all the cool stuff about the monsters is confined to the exposition text w/no game mechanics provided to make it come alive in play". Two approaches, that's all.

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  21. It has nothing to do with the descriptions being short. It is the total codification, labelfication of every effect, rule etc. It is about taking the fantasistic and turning it into mechanics.


    "a cunning subterranean hunter, the balhannoth distorts nearby reality with its very presence."

    That is is enchantment.

    The term/trait filled stat block is soulless. It robs the imagination. It crushes creativity. Although, the fully rulifed statblock does make it easy for even talentless DM's to utilize the creature against players when playing a miniatures game.

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  22. Stay away from the Hero/GURPS/BESM and other point buy systems Norman. That's the standard in those games!

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  23. "The term/trait filled stat block is soulless. It robs the imagination. It crushes creativity. Although, the fully rulifed statblock does make it easy for even talentless DM's to utilize the creature against players when playing a miniatures game."

    Well, dang. I guess my friends and I have been having HurtingBadWrongFun all this time, while we thought we were enjoying ourselves. Glad we cleared that up.

    I say again...two different approaches. Some gamers enjoy one over the other, that's all.

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  24. @JoeGKushner re point buy

    Yep, I learned that...


    Sorry for continuing this off-topic discussion but I believe @elrics and I have misunderstanding and it hasn't devolved into flamfest.

    Although used "negative" words (soulless, disenchanting) in describing the style of play 4e promotes I never said is was wrong or unfun. It is certainly a different kind of fun. And if you are talented and have or are willing to force players away from the game's default expectations you can make 4e anything you want.

    I played 4ed at Free RPG day this past weekend. It was fun, a fun combat miniatures game. With effort and player buy in it could have been an RPG, but it wasn't. There was reading of boxed text and we got to look at interesting minis on not as interesting terrain. But no one used imagination. There was no room for it. Everything had been presented to us right down to every possible action our characters could take. And the "creativity" was of the analytical type. Problem solving and figuring out tactics. Which I enjoy and I repeat was fun.

    It's like the difference between a movie were you are wowed by the visuals / audials and a book which prompts your imagination and visualize with your mind's eye.

    4e gives you all that wow. Which you have to accept or work around if you have your own wow. (Some) D&D editions provide little wow and expect/demand the players come up with it themselves. For some gamers coming up with that wow is 90% of their fun in playing RPGs. For them 4e sux, is souless.


    "I say again...two different approaches. Some gamers enjoy one over the other, that's all."

    We agree except for the "that's all" part.

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  25. @Normal Harman: "And if you are talented and have or are willing to force players away from the game's default expectations you can make 4e anything you want."

    That's a rather weighted statement. It implies difficulty in doing things that you think are difficult in the system. I don't think that's the case. I believe you also imply that earlier editions made doing these things easier. I believe the opposite.

    This comes from also reading: "Everything had been presented to us right down to every possible action our characters could take." This is not the case.

    However, what I can see is how this all would appear so at first glance.

    The problem is, 4E provides so many things to do, that you feel as if it's all you can do. And that's the important difference. You are talking as if the powers are all you can do. They aren't.

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  26. I see some people are still pounding on the "4e is dumbed down" drum...

    I was really interested to see Goodman's comments on 4e. His company has been around for quite a while and does some great work. I agree with much of what he said, although I find it hard to believe that online sales make up so little of their overall sales. I don't see too many people in my group passing up that Amazon discount, especially on RPG books, which tend to be rather pricy.

    I had my fears about 3rd party publishers operating under WotC's strict licensing agreement. WotC's dithering about with a GSL also forced many 3rd party publishers out of the game - they simply could not afford to wait for the GSL to arive. It looks like that's what happened with Necromancer games, and it's exactly the trap that Paizo wanted to avoid by making Pathfinder. Personally, I think the delay on the GSL was a calculated measure on WotC's part, but hey, at least there is a GSL out there. There didn't have to be.

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  27. " Everything had been presented to us right down to every possible action our characters could take."

    This is actually completely false, and if that's how the 4e rules had been explained to you, your DM failed you.

    You can, in fact, take any plausible action you can imagine. It's 100% supported in the rules. The powers are a list of options that make combat more exciting than pushing the "Standard Attack", "Full Attack" or "Full Defense" buttons over and over, but they are not a limited menu of options.

    Your DM has rules to handle stunts and out of the box creative actions in the DMG. As a player, your powers are one thing you can do, but they aren't the only things you can do!

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