Embracing Change in the RPG universe

They can’t away your books. Really, they can’t.

Games change. New companies buy licenses, old companies get new developers, different ideas are bandied about to see what sticks. The point is nothing remains the same forever. Not even your favorite RPG system. In the last couple of years the RPG world has been inundated by change. WotC announced and brought to market D&D 4th edition. Paizo responded by having one of the most open, transparent, and popular beta testings of a new system, their D&D 3.5 based system, Pathfinder. And at GenCon this year both Fantasy Flight Games and AEG announced that two popular systems, Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay and Legend of the Five Rings, respectively, are going to see new versions published in the next six months.

Yet all of this change is not completely welcomed. There is something in the makeup of many gamers that does not welcome these changes; something in how habits are formed. Wherein, playing at the same time each week, at the same house, with the same system and same GM, over and over again, an inertia is created that is not easily overcome. So much so that it is usually not nearly enough when one person in that group may want to try something different, it is the whole group which must embrace something new in order for it to happen.

However, it is shortsighted to say that this is only in the hands of players. The companies which produce and publish these games also bear some culpability. They also get trapped in inertia, but of a different nature. These are habits of risk avoidance and profit seeking. It is expensive to bring major change to an established series; development and testing is rarely free and advertisement is pricey. Faced with these costs is it no wonder that new versions can take decades to reach a release. There is also the matter of previous advertisement that the publishers must deal with. You don’t have to look very hard to find where these were declared “The Best Evar!” and “Will Never Be Replaced!”. All of which has no small contribution to the risks that fans often reject changes outright.

I, too get caught up in these feelings and am tempted to go down the path of least resistance. Perhaps a smarter idea would be to admit that games change to fit the times. Popular roleplaying systems today may not be popular next year. We need to admit that there is no such thing as “The Best Evar!” and that a fanatical adherence to any particular system is a disservice to our experiences and time spent with friends. We must also respect differences in opinion; admitting not everyone enjoys or feels the same way is as important to remember as is having fun.

Most importantly, we need to remind ourselves that they can never take away our books. Just because a new version comes out, our books do not stop working. The words are still there and can still be used to create whatever world you see fit. Nothing is stopping your keyboard from writing new adventures and playing them. Just because a new version comes out, does not mean our previous experiences are magically invalidated. Your memories of fun and excitement do not disappear into a void, they are as much yours to keep as are the books. And finally, just because a new version comes out it does not mean that you have to embrace it. If the old is what you like, then by all means stick to it. There is nothing in this world compelling you to buy everything new. That sort of blind loyalty is as destructive as blindly rejecting the new.

In return for this reasonable reaction to the new, publishers need to respond with like. Make available unfettered electronic copies of previous versions so that books may be replaced as they age and wear out. If you have done your jobs correctly, then it should be cheap, simple, and profitable to do so. I also ask that publishers stop with the advertisements that push ideas of exclusivity and fanaticism of your systems. Trouble only follows when your fans become fanatics. You cannot predict when they will turn on you. Open up your development process to be seen and stop keeping every little thing a secret. Remember that communication no longer takes the form of monthly magazines. If you want us to embrace change, then let us witness it as it occurs. We have a world which communicates in seconds what used to take days or weeks. Allow us the chance to see the justification for change.

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]