Saturday, April 11, 2009

Thoughts on some recent gaming headlines...

So the gamer-verse has been busy this past week or so... pretty much three big "things" happened.  The "dust" has settled on these things now.. but let me stir it up and give my thoughts on the matters at hand.

- Dave Arneson passed away this week from cancer.  Dave was one of the two men who created Dungeons and Dragons.  Mr. Arneson is often credited as the one behind the concept  of a campaign setting.. and his original setting, Blackmoor, pretty much became the inspiration for everything that came afterwords.  Gary Gygax (who passed away last year) often gets most of the notoriety, but Dave Arneson had his hand in the pot as well.  (The two were known to have had a very Simon and Garfunkel-esque break up and later reunification).  The two of them should be proud of the legacy they leave behind.. and the untold thousands of people who their game has inspired and entertained over the 30+ years its been around.   Order of the Stick did a nice tribute to him in their latest comic - which you can read here.

Mr. Gygax is responsible for GenCon (the event around which my entire geek year revolves) and since the 3rd GenCon all those years ago, has run a campaign every year at the convention. 2009 will be the first year he misses out.  They truly made quite a difference in many peoples lives.  Mine included.  I didn't get my start in hobby gaming with Dungeons and Dragons, but without D&D there simply would be no hobby gaming industry at all.  When you trim away all the fat from the other games.. they are all D&D at heart... and speaking of D&D...*frustrated sigh*

-Wizards of the Coast has decided to stop with PDF distribution of all of their properties and pulled them from all online retailers.. Paizo Publishing (a large distributor of such PDFs) explained it in their email newsletter:
Wizards of the Coast has notified us that we may no longer sell or distribute their PDF products. Accordingly, after April 6 at 11:59 PM Pacific time, Wizards of the Coast PDFs will no longer be available for purchase on; after noon on April 7, you will no longer be able to download Wizards of the Coast PDFs that you have already purchased, so please make sure you have downloaded all purchased PDFs by that time.
Then the very next day, they put all of their other (non-WotC) PDFs on sale online, thus demonstrating the importance of this market that Wizards of the Coast has so dramatically and suddenly pulled out of.
We at Paizo Publishing understand how important PDFs have become to most roleplaying gamers. We know that PDFs allow you to easily carry around a large library of books on your laptop, PDA, or cell phone. We know that PDFs are great for searching for that piece of obscure information. We know that PDFs are a great way to keep out-of-print products available. And we know that PDFs provide a great way to check out new products.
Heres my opinion.  They say it is to protect their properties from piracy.  And that is fine.  I don't steal their books, I buy them, and so do a lot of other people (even though they are over priced - discussion for a later time).  But yes, this is the modern Internet age, the go-go 90's gave way to the Social-Media 2000's, and a lot of people distribute material online illegally.  It is perfectly understandable that WotC would want to protect themselves from losing money over pirated books, PDFs being freely distributed online, etc.;  since they are a company, and the purpose of a company/business is to make money. (very similar to the way music and TV companies try and protect their works from the torrent sites) The problem is that the measures they are taking;  pulling PDFs from retailers and filing lawsuits against a few people they believe are pirating their stuff... is going to do nothing.  OK, I take that back, it will do something... it will piss people off.  The people who purchase their PDFs legally... will now be upset they can no longer do so for no fault of their own.  And, there are quite a number of other companies that do distribute PDFs (Paizo offers PDF versions of ALL their publications) that will see an increase in sales (sales of 3rd party non-WotC PDFs).  There is no way realistic way to prevent piracy... data is too easily distributed.  So what to do?

The answer is to embrace it and give people compelling reasons to buy your online materials.  The D&D Insider is a start.. but is woefully lacking in its "promised" features.. which again.. drives people away to other online gaming sources.  My own gaming group is an example.  We are creating a new 4th Edition D&D  game world in which to play; however, our group is fragmented and scattered all over the sate of PA and we rarely get to gather for gaming sessions.  We have been investigating options for playing via the Internet.  Alas, Wizards of the Coast still has not released their D&D Game Table.  So, if we choose to go this route for some of our gaming sessions, we will be forced to use third party software, with fan-made 4e rule sets.  Missed opportunity Wizards of the Coast.  Missed opportunity.

The PDF fiasco also ties into another issue... one not wholly in the tabletop role-playing world...that being the decline of print media.  The fact that magazines like Electronic Gaming Monthly went under, when it was considered the Bible of videogame publications and was the #1 videogame magazine for 15+ years,  proves that no one is safe...the Internet is pushing many paper publications to, in the very least, offer some sort of online component lest they seem outright archaic.  (Dragon and Dungeon magazines are another prime example, in the genre even) Its a very slippery slope...  I don't have a very business-slanted mind so I am not very good at making the proper arguments... but hopefully you can glean my meaning from that rabble above... in other news...

- The Field Test for Warmachine MkII was released this week.  And holy cow did it cause an uproar!  The important thing to consider... this is a field test for the new rules that does not release until January 2010.   Privateer Press is announcing the rules change in advance of release and letting people download all the new rules, and play them, and give feedback to the company.  In their own words:
The WARMACHINE Mk II field test is a chance for WARMACHINE players and Privateer Press to work together to make WARMACHINE Mk II the best game possible. We have worked on streamlining the rules and abilities to provide the smoothest play possible without sacrificing the essential gameplay and feel of the WARMACHINE we all know. Mk II is also our chance to reexamine models in terms of their game balance, the number of special rules, and their original role on the table. All the changes you will see are the result of countless hours of discussion, playtesting, and more playtesting. The WARMACHINE Mk II you will see in this field test is very close to the finished product. This field test is about tightening the nuts and bolts, oiling the squeaks, and putting the new WARMACHINE through its paces.
Very few companies would do such a thing, and it proves, once again, how much Privateer Press thinks of its customers.  The Privateer Press Forums literally exploded with negative minded assholes who made comments that were completely unfounded and just downright rude. (not surprising considering its the Internet).  Anywho... the new rules have me very excited.  The main purpose of the Mk II rules is to streamline and speed up the game.  Warmachine was getting to the point where some models simply had paragraphs of special rules... some of which rarely came into play on the gaming table.  This made it very difficult to know at any given time what a particular model was able to do, and difficult to learn.  The last expansion, Legends, was a prime example of this with models and units completely bloated with special abilities and rules... Were these rules/abilities well thought out? Yes.  Were they cool and did they provide a great deal of fluff and flavor to the game? Absolutely.  But at some point, something has to give... with the new rules they have gone back and completely re-evaluated all of the old models, every single model in the game (which is a great many), and re-balanced them.  A great deal of these crazy abilities hit the cutting room floor.  Do the models still retain their flavor?  Yes.  But its more subtle at times.  The important thing is the gameplay is much better.  

They also changed some of the core rules of the game. (something that , despite a lot of the negativity) has been very well received.  They redid the Command/Fleeing rules, the Unit Formation rules, they cleaned up the Line of Sight rules, they did a massive change/overhaul of the army point - army building rules, and they changed some core rules dealing with warjacks (arguably the focus of the entire game line) and made them far more compelling to use on the battlefield. (thus fixing some of the old infantry-machine arguments, aka, people complaining there was no reason to use warjacks because troopers were so much better)  All of the new rule changes are positive and for the better.  So where does the negativity stem from?

All the whining, bitching, trolling and complaining stems from people who feel their faction has been "nerfed".   "Wahhh!  Model A used to due XYZ and now it sux!"  At times I feel actually a bit embarrassed to say these are my fellow gamers.  People cry over the loss of power, over the loss of all of the cool things their models used to be able to do... without looking at the game as a whole.   All of the models were rebalanced.  Everyone lost abilities, everyone had some models get less powerful while others got more powerful.  Its called balance.  There were plenty of models that never got played by anyone.. because they simply were not quite as good as others.. why take Unit A when Unit B is so much more effective?  In Mk II they gave compelling reasons to play all the units/models... Its not quite perfect.. but that's why they are doing this Field Test.  They are letting their players help them figure it out and discover any huge imbalances and rules problems.  People are going on and on about how they purchased all these models and now Privateer Press rendered them useless.  Saying that Privateer Press "ripped them off"  It is completely ridiculous.  This company has done nothing but listen to its fan base since day one.  I will say it again.. the fact that they are even doing this Field Test alone demonstrates their commitment to their fans and customers.  They very easily could have simply released the new rules without going through all of this.  They are committed to making this the best game they possibly can, and I believe they are very closer to achieving their goal. (this coming from someone who loved their games already)  Jason Soles, the lead game designer at Privateer Press even came into the forums to try and talk some sense into people.. (the PP guys very often post in their forums, from everything to tactics, painting and fluff questions: another awesome example of how they are engaged with their customers) he came in with this post..
"There seems to be a lot of people solidifying their positions on changes to the rules with half conceived notions of the way this game plays. Before settling into your position and espousing what passes for "conventional wisdom", I urge you to read carefully, play, and think. A lot of stuff changed and some stuff may yet change again. If you want to have any impact on those changes, you need to appear calm, collected, and informed...

...The same can be applied to "loss of flavor" discussions. If you have something to say, use your words and construct informed feedback. Try and articulate your position. Let us know that you think X model lost something vital in the transition to Mk II that was important to you. Let us know you feel it could be returned with a minimum effect on the complexity of the game while substantially increasing your enjoyment of a model. I will not promise that the change will be made, but we will take you seriously and consider your point."
Update: Less then a week after the Field Test documents released, they have already provided an updated file.. making changes that were caught/suggested/discussed by the players.  Proof that this Test is doing what its supposed to and that they are listening to what people are saying.

The arguments I'm seeing in the forums are extremely reminiscent of the arguments that sprang up when Dungeons and Dragons went from 3.5 to 4e.  Eerily similar... people complaining that the game is being "dumbed down" and made "boring" simply because it is simpler... well, Warmachine MkII certainly is not what I would call a "simple" game.. nor would I call D&D 4e simple... the point is, you spend less time looking up rules and more time playing the game and having fun.   I loved that many of the Warmachine models had lots of interesting rules...(and they still have interesting rules); however, the supreme glut of powers/abilities was getting to be too much and the power creep needed to be reset.  The game now starts from a clean slate.   There will never be a better time to start playing Warmachine than MkII in 2010... and those of us that have been playing since 2001 have seen the game evolve in extraordinary ways from a company that really cares about their products and their customers.

1 comment:

lokipan said...

Great post, Karl.