A blog about games, gamers, and various and sundry geek culture-related ephemera and paraphernalia.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

I'm an Old-School Gamer, and I Buy Products Too

I don't plan on using this point in the blogosphere as a personal soapbox.

I just wanted to make that clear. I'm not big into punditry, and I'm not very interested in attracting trolls (in the internet sense of the term - or in the fantasy sense, either, come to think of it!) or hosting flame wars in my comments.

That being said, there will be exceptions to this rule. (Note, re: the non-guarantee of consistency in my Statement of Intent.) This post will be one of them.

As most of you who read this sort of thing already know, there's been a lot of discussion on the interwebs regarding the disposition of Troll Lord Games' Gary Gygax's Castle Zagyg, and the overall destiny of Castle Zagyg/Greyhawk/whatever. (Hereafter, I will refer to this project as "Castle Gygax." It's easier, and, hell, isn't that what it really is anyway?)

This is a roller coaster most Gygax fans have been riding for years; some of us, for decades. It's a long, sordid tale of promises unfulfilled, pretenders to the throne, more promises and delays - all culminating with the meager hope of fruition ultimately dashed with TLG's loss of the licensing to produce/distribute Gary's IP. I'm not interested in reiterating the history or the timeline, or condemning some and defending others.

Let's just say there's been a lot of talk, and a lot of passions stirred - both good and bad.

It was in reading such an item in the blogosphere - lamenting that TLG's CZ product was not what it could have been - that I read a blog comment that - at the time - struck me as typically contrary, but didn't seem to be worth rebutting.

As time passed, however, the words stuck with me, and I began to become more annoyed each time I recalled them. Since that comment and its associated post are now far too old (in my mind) to return to and add my own comment in reply, I decided I'd do it here.

Here's the comment that ruffled my feathers:

"I would personally have to agree with Mr. Gygax that tailoring a product for a small segment of your most rabid hardcore fans at the expense of hobbyists in general is a big mistake.

Rob Kuntz's business model is perfect if you're talking about very narrow-interest collector's items intended to be sold at premium prices to a few hundred people at most.

Gary Gygax wanted something affordable, widely-distributed, and accessable, not a limited run museum piece for gaming scholars. I think this was a wise choice on his part."

If you read the original blog post and its comments, you'll get a better sense of the context of this comment. In the simplest terms, it was in reply to a group sentiment that CZ should have been more a product extolling the virtues of its creator and properly accepting and exploiting its place in the history of fantasy roleplaying.

Personally, I disagree with the commenter's point of view. I think that making Castle Gygax simply another megadungeon - albeit one created by Gary himself - was not a "wise choice." There are many megadungeons/campaign settings out there, several for each edition of D&D (prior to the most recent, which is still fairly new). By releasing CZ in the manner they did, all Gary and TLG have succeeded in doing is creating one more such beast in the wilderness. Despite having Gary's name (distinctly) attached to it, it's still just a megadungeon. (I know there are folks who will claim that CZ is different, in that it's a megadungeon for Castles & Crusades; but to them I pose this question: Isn't every megadungeon for every version of D&D prior to 4E a megadungeon for C&C? After all, part of the game's intent is that it can be used in association with all of those editions...)

So, I disagree with the direct statements of the comment, but that's not what has eaten away at my brain for the last few days. No, what has been slowly nibbling at my nerves is the underlying sentiment of the comment,which was captured in a half of a sentence:

"...not a limited run museum piece for gaming scholars..."

This is what I glossed over upon first read, but what has since gnawed at me. "Limited run?" "Museum piece??" "Gaming scholars??!"

This isn't the first time I've read comments like this. In nine words, the comment's author managed to capture a sentiment that I've seen running rampant since the old-school "movement" began: That those who choose older versions of D&D over newer ones are somehow a disconnected, limited segment of the D&D fan base. That we're the lunatic fringe, and the things we like should be placed in sealed jars and put on shelves for appreciation of those few who still find interest in such things.

I'm sure that with a little digging I could find many quotes of a similar bent on the interwebs. And I think it's time we stopped the merry-go-round.

First off, I'm not a "gaming scholar." Nor are most of the people I know who appreciate the older versions (to some, the "true" versions - but I won't open that can of worms here) of D&D. We are fans, just like the people who make these statements. We are players, just like them.

And, most importantly, we are consumers, just like them.

That's right - we have disposable income, and we buy gaming products. And I seriously doubt that people who appreciate older versions of the game and the roots of their hobby are as small a segment of the game industry demographic as these hand-waving naysayers would have you believe.

I don't have the financial statistics, but let me do a little "fuzzy" math:

D&D has been in existence for, what, 34+ years? The edition that spurred the whole retro/old-school movement has only been in existence for about eight of those years. The game's heyday was well prior to that edition's inception - arguably between 1979 and 1989. I find it therefore extremely difficult to believe that those who would be inclined to buy an "old-school" based product are a significant minority of the D&D and related fantasy gaming industry's demographic rather than a completely viable market segment.

Personally, I think that a comprehensive Castle Gygax product - including a well-produced, contemporary, and complete megadungeon/campaign setting, as well as original author's notes and maps, and commentary from contributors to and players in Gary's iconic games - would sell far better than people like the commenter above would have you believe.

I also believe that such a product is exactly what the game and its creator deserve. A product that serves simultaneously as a useful gaming resource and an homage to the man and his creation, crowning almost three-and-a-half decades of a game that - regardless of edition preferences - we all love.

So, that's it. That's my rant. Of course it's IMHO, YMMV, FWIW, and I'm sure a bunch of other netspeak acronyms.

My ultimate message is to you, my fellow "gaming scholars": stand up and be counted. Don't be fooled by a vocal, mistaken minority into thinking that you're a dinosaur or a relic, or that you aren't part of a much larger group. There are far more people who played RPG's prior to the old-school revolution than there are who have only played them after. It only stands to reason that there are at least as many players who cling to the old school as there are who do not.

You are not alone - not by a long shot.

3 comments:

  1. As much as I love 4E, I still have a MAJOR soft spot for my ruinsof the undermountain boxed set.

    Does that make me a closet grognard? :)

    This is a great site, one that I had never heard of until now. I am a fan now :)

    I try not to talk down on older editions and the players who love them, but I can't help poking fun at the "cave grognard" stereotype I see so much of these days.

    Please keep up the good work!

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  2. What a fantastic and well-written post. I appreciate the thought that went into it and I really do agree with what you said.

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  3. @Donny_the_Dm - Thanks for the praise - I'll do my best to keep up the momentum. And please, step out of that closet! We need more people who are willing to declare their love for the "old ways" to come forward - regardless of how they feel about new editions. :)

    @Dane of War - Thanks so much - and here all I expected was to get flamed for my point of view.

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