Sunday, January 06, 2013

More on Amateur Hour

When I say that RPGs are "amateur hour" I mean a couple of different things. On the one hand that term has a pretty negative connotation-- of unprofessional-ism, etc.-- and I very much do mean that. Not just that there's a lot of badly made, badly edited products out there (although I do mean that) but also that I see, compared to other game design communities, a lack of seriousness in a lot of the RPG design discussion that goes on in various quarters.

What's the challenge of game design? Making games that are fun. What do Magic designers talk about? What different people find fun, and why, how to make cards that appeal to those people. What do RPG designers talk about? Why my fun is better than your fun. Not all of them, mind you-- but that this conversation happens at all is a supreme waste of time.

There's another side to the "amateur" coin, though, and it's that there's a lot of RPG products and content produced by people who are doing it just because they love the game, not because they have any professional aspirations. You can do that in RPGs because the physical barriers to entry are so low, and it's a good thing-- my own RPG bookshelf certainly attests to that.

Magic has consistently higher quality than 95% of the published RPGs out there-- including and really especially the professional stuff. They have a bigger budget for everything, and they're rewarded much more for "getting it right"-- for tight design and art everywhere and good visual design and good copy-editing. People have more fun, they can measure it, they get paid.

But the most interesting stuff that Magic makes isn't near half as interesting as the most interesting stuff that's come out in RPGs-- even in just the last year. Magic doesn't do weird. They don't do specific. They do well-produced, slickly-rendered, everybody-kinda-knows fantasy with a slight Magic: the Gathering twist. This has gotten even worse in the last few years, as they've gotten more successful. One of the lessons they've said they learned from Kamigawa block, their Japanese themed world, was that they should have been less specific and less culturally accurate and stuck more to what their players "know" about Asian fantasy.

Which is fine. I enjoy what Magic does, and they do it well. But I enjoy weird and specific and particular, and it makes me sad that Magic doesn't-- can't do-- more of that. One of the advantages of RPGs relative amateur-osity, is that they can do a lot more of that.

If they can quit arguing about who's way is better long enough to just do it.

Saturday, January 05, 2013

What I've Been Up To

Wow has it been a long time since I posted. Some updates--
  • I play a lot of Magic now. It's basically a once a week (or more) habit. That's cooled off a little in the last couple of weeks but I've been busy with holiday stuff and a new set comes out at the end of the month so who knows.
  • I play RPGs once-or-twice a month with Risus Monkey and his crew. We're starting a new campaign and ending an old one soon so that should be fun.
  • I'm on G+ on-and-off, and I talk a lot with Trollsmyth. That's where a lot of the game thoughts that once-upon-a-time would have ended up on the blog have been going.
  • Work lately has been being on the computer a lot, doing very repetitive, computer-y tasks, so by the time I get home I am sick of it and want to be off the screen for a while.
And here's a thought:

RPG design is in a lot of ways amateur-hour, compared to the games that make Real Companies Real Money. 

Getting outside of D&D for a while and playing a lot of another (much more financially successful) game has been eye opening in that regard. There's a lot of stuff that people in Magic design know and think about and talk about that just never comes up in RPGs. Or the reverse-- there's a lot of pointless stuff that RPG people fight about that never comes up in Magic because people have better things to do with their time.

Like: different people play the game in different ways and for different reasons is basically taken for granted in Magic. When players complain about a card the standard response from the designers is "Of course you don't like it. It's not for you." Everyone with aspirations to Magic design accepts and understands this. Understanding this makes Wizards an awful lot of money, so they have an incentive.

There are still fights on the player/community level, of course. But RPGs are, in comparison, basically all player/community.