Thursday, May 14, 2009

The Industry is Irrelevant

It occurred to me Tuesday night (late Tuesday night) that the roleplaying industry--as distinct from the hobby--is supported primarily by people who aren't playing. Not that they aren't playing at all, but that it's their non-play, outside of game activities are the ones that drive their purchases, rather than their actual at-the-table time.

I'm a prime example. I game a lot. I've currently got one game active (Trollsmyth's Labryinth Lord game), another on hiatus (my Mongoose Traveller game), a third about to start (Arcana Evolved Is This Fair? sequel), and then the dungeoneering with the boyfriend that will soon be getting more regular. I've also got a shelf full of various roleplaying systems and supplements. I'm obviously devoted to the hobby and the industry.

But the two don't mix much. Trollsmyth's game uses one book, Labyrinth Lord, plus his foul and unhinged decrees house rules. The Traveller game is the same deal. Much as I like the Mongoose Traveller core book, I have no interest in or use for any of the supplements, nor do my players. Dungeoneering? Swords & Wizardry. I've used a little material from Fight On! but any major modifications will likely be entirely of my own design. The Arcana Evolved game will likely use a few books from my collection, as the game it's based on did, but that's mostly because I have the books and want to use them. There's nothing I would have gone out and bought for the game.

I like reading roleplaying books. I like trying new systems. I like fiddling with things and building settings and characters and places. (That's how the Traveller game got started: I was bored and wanted to make a subsector. Then, hey, if I was going to make a subsector, why not go ahead and run a game?) It's a peculiar and fortunate feature of the hobby that there are so many peripheral activities to enjoy that aren't play, particularly when play can be so tough to arrange. I know those kinds of "rainy day" activities are a big part of what's kept me interested in roleplaying over the years.

But I don't need them to play. And that's the main thing that I'm here to do. And I don't need the industry to do that. I appreciate having it around, surely. But I don't need it.


  1. I'm in complete agreement with you! I see a lot of people posting about games online who seem to confuse "The Industry", "The Hobby (Collective)" and "My Hobby (Personal)". These *can* be very closely related, like if you were heavily involved in the RPGA, but for lots of people they aren't really related at all.

    As long as I have enough people at my own game table it doesn't matter all that much what everyone else in the world is playing. And it matters even less what a handful of companies are publishing if it's not something I'm buying. :)

  2. You conversations on Twitter are likely what inspired the post, so I'm glad you agree. I'll add that "the industry" would probably be a lot more important to me if I was playing 4e D&D -- that's part of why I decided to drop it. I didn't want the temptation of buying a bunch of books, which I know I'd do if I was playing it regularly because building new characters and coming up with new combinations of monsters would be kind of the point. But outside of that? Don't need 'em. Like 'em, but don't need 'em.

  3. Whenever this topic arises, I'm always reminded of the old interviews of TSR's designers that were done in Dragon Magazine. There always seemed to be a sense of bewilderment amongst the designers that they we getting paid to produce books and games that anyone could do themselves for free. They obviously didn't want to rock the boat and risk their jobs but, nevertheless, this sense of "why are you people paying me?" always colored their interviews.

    If the OSR has reminded me of nothing else, it's that the Industry is superfluous to the Hobby, no matter what the big game companies might have us believe. And I wouldn't have it any other way!

  4. So Oddyssey... what about game companies that publish system independent material? Does that have more mileage? Can't think of any examples at the moment though. but notion of publishing gaming material (the fluff as some might call it) without marrying the book to anyone one game system has always intrigued me..

  5. Not that I disagree, but the problem is that, without "the industry," you wouldn't have had those games to start with. There's many aspects to this hobby; collecting's one of them, as valid as play. The industry makes sure that the needs of all the subsections are met, whether for the immediate moment or for later on.

  6. I think I could quite happily play and run games using only free material. Infact, now I think about it, I've only ever played in three games (all ill-fated D&D 3e oneshots) that were using systems that cost money. Nowadays I play and run other people's homebrew games and my games, which are all free on my blog.

    With the quality of some of the stuff out there I'd take the online community over the industry any day of the week.

  7. Which is awesome, except there would not have been a community, online or otherwise, without the industry (with the possible exception of those cats around Gygax and Arneson in WI back in the 70's).

  8. As I see it comes down to one of those questions: if such and such was gone what would be the impact. If Wizards/Hasbro and the constellation of mid-range RPG companies suddenly collapsed would we be any worse off? I mean, hell, we're not talking investment banks or Big 3 auto manufacturers here.

  9. At this point in time, no, we'd continue as happy clams as ever. But that can only happen now because of the existence of an "industry" in decades past that laid the groundwork.

  10. Absolutely. I should clarify I'm in no way saying "kill the industry!". It's the reason the online community exists, for sure.

  11. Amityville Mike: Got the same thing out of the OSR. It's reminded me what's important about the hobby, which is great.

    Jonathan: I think it still falls into the category of "stuff I don't need but is still fun." But I, too, would be intrigued by a system-neutral presentation. Mechanics have a way of crystallizing certain ideas (Which is more interesting: a discussion of magic in D&D-world, or a big ol' list of spells?) but there are certain settings, like Exalted, that I'd be much more likely to use if they weren't attached to a system.

    Daniel M. Perez: I pretty much agree with what you're saying, especially regarding the historical perspective involved. (The internet changes the game significantly, and we're only just now adapting to that.) But as a community we have a tendency to get distracted by the non-play parts of what we do, often to our detriment (since that's what brought us here in the first place, and what attracts new people) so it's still important to make a distinction between "stuff that is play" and "stuff that supports play/is an alternative to play."

    SuperSooga: What an age we live in, eh? The internet is fantastic.

    ckutalic: I think we're getting to the point where we would be okay (recruitment is a problem, something Hasbro is still vital for, though that *may* be changing) but that's a very, very new position to be in.

  12. Back in the real world, I've been writing articles for two weeks straight about the Chrysler bankruptcy. The tangible damage its collapse I can readily grok, but the tabletop RPG industry seems so economically marginal and based so much on an ephemeral cultural product that I think it'd be hardly missed.

    And with the explosion of so such more creative, free (and/or cheap and easily reproducible) product bubbling out of not just the OSR but all kinds of nooks and crannies of the Internet, I think you could easily make the case that the hobby would endure long after a fall. (At the least Mutant Future would ha.)

  13. @Daniel: It's not that the industry is "bad" or should go away of anything - just that these things are separate concepts... and too often the terms get used interchangeably.

    Even something like "this hobby" - I'm not sure we're all in agreement about what that actually means. For me it would include all the stuff I might sit down at a table and play with my friends. So boardgames and even Poker are part of "the hobby"... for someone else LARPing and costumes are in... and for someone else it's really just the specific RPG that they're interested in.

    I think it's seeing people say things like "the hobby is in dying" or something similar that just baffles me. My hobby is doing fine, what I consider "the hobby" is doing fine... and what I think the person really meant was "Company X isn't making a much profit as they'd like"...

    I mean... I feel bad for that company, but it really doesn't affect whether or not people are going to get together with their friends and play tabletop games. :)

  14. Fat Alibert15/5/09 8:25 AM

    My personal favourite is players in the RPG Industry who say you cannot use their systems or settings in the publication of your own adventures.
    To me being able to do that is a cornerstone of the RPG hobby. If you can't do that with their products, then the products shouldn't be promoted or sold as RPG products.

  15. Well, having been in the hobby since 1974. I'll say if the "industry" from then is more like the independent publishers today. Most back then were individuals putting out a product that they, for the most part, were thrilled just ot break even publishing.

    Now it seems everything is brought out based on it's profitability. Hence the endless movie and TV tie-ins with glitzy books. Problem is that the actual product actually sucks and is grossly overpriced.

    Only current games I buy are the Hero System (which I started with in 1981) and the "Serenity" game because I liked the TV series it was based on. And which impresses me not one whit.

    Current games are an infrequent Space:1889 game started in 1988 amd a MegaTraveller game which started as a Traveller game back in 1978 and I'm trying to resurrect, possibly as a PBM game.

    Only other things I'm working on is my on and off again Champions Game (started in 1981 and a long inactive Chivalry and Sorcery game I still work on because I like my setting and am always expanding on.

  16. That's an interesting point.

    However, at least in my case, there's a sort of self-adjusting balance between my individual use of RPG content and my social use of RPG content. I buy a few books a year and spend most of my spare time creating characters, worlds, and stories for my own fun; meanwhile, I use that derivatives of that content in whatever sessions I and my group have time to do.