Dear Wizards of the Coast,
Hi, my name is Ed Kabara. I know you’re really busy right now with DnD Next and as part of that you’re talking, at least internally, about PDF and licensing. I’d like to throw my two gp into the conversation. Now, I know I haven’t ever worked in the RPG industry, but I pay attention to the market, the gaming stores, and player needs.
I’d like to start this conversation with Nintendo. I know that’s a strange segue, but hear me out. Nintendo used to dominate the industry, they were virtually unrivaled until they basically made their biggest competitor, and they didn’t read the industry well leading to major setbacks. Nintendo killed any competition they had. They destroyed Sega (or the argument could be made that Sega killed itself….). Nintendo also made Sony enter the video games industry when Nintendo spurned Sony publically and left that company high and dry at a major event. And finally, Nintendo was destroying the market, but then decided to make the Wii U system they thought would lead the market, but ultimately failed to appeal to their customer base. Does any of that sound familiar?
WotC, I love you guys and 4e. I do. I have run more 4e than most people you can find. If you guys had stars like Paizo’s GM, I’d have 5 starts. But you need to learn from Nintendo. Everything that has lead to the shot life of 4e and the birth of 5e/Next has its roots in Nintendo’s current straits. Trust me as a DnD AND Nintendo fanboy, I know stuff is not looking good all around.
So the stuff above is in the past, what can we learn from the future? Well, the most pressing thing is third party support. Nintendo does not like to play nicely with others. Heck, the Game Cube was a direct result of Nintendo NOT wanting to use CD/DVDs because those formats were not proprietary, thus Nintendo could not control their manufacture and licensing. This has lead to a strange bible/Noah’s Ark/Doom hybrid illegal game for the Super Nintendo from angry third party developers leaking software. More pressing, many of the AAA develop firms will not make games for Nintendo’s current consoles. While the Wii U might not be the gaming machine the world wanted, the death blow to the system was EA announcing that it will not make any more games for the system. This has to do with many factors, but one can suspect that Nintendo’s history of not working well with others has to at least figure in a bit.
The second thing we can learn from Nintendo is the failure to embrace the internet. Nintendo doesn’t like to use technology it can’t fully control. This fact has lead to Nintendo basically considering the internet a passing fad. Nintendo doesn’t have accounts, they have consoles. When you get a new console, you can rebuy all the old games you had! Isn’t that nice! Can’t wait to upgrade my Wii to a Wii U, so I can rebuy the Zelda game for the Nth time at $5-$10 a pop! Besides the snark, there are other problems like a market place, buying media (music, TV, movies etc) and games. Nintendo using mostly it older hits online and doesn’t have near the independent game database that other game studies have. Sound familiar again?
Now, I am a self admitted Nintendo fanboy. I want Nintendo to stay around. I don’t think you understand how much it hurts for me to admit that that Nintendo might be a sinking ship. Now, I want to turn my attention to another large company I love and hopefully tell them what I’ve seen.
WotC, you NEED to embrace the third parties! You need to be OPEN! Open is good! Open gets you more than just in house design. Open keeps a game alive! Open is more software (modules, adventures, rules) for your console (RPG system). Right now most successful gaming system ever created in the 3.X system and all its babies. I don’t think that even arguable. It worked well for you, and then Paizo ran with the ball and made ALL THE MONEY. While 3.X is good, I think that open design of the system helped. Sure, crap got made by not you and lots of people might have saturated the market back then, but if you had stayed with 3.X and designed more parts to 3.x, while keeping the system open, you might still be number 1. When 5e comes out, keep it open. Do the same rules as before with parts being open (standard crap, base system, standard classes/spells), and then carve out your own stuff (Umber Hulk et al). I’ll still pay top dollar for the aberrant books with mind flayers. That strategy above is paying out beautifully for Paizo. If you want more evidence, look at Paizo and the Living Games that have grown around them. I know I can name at least three. You own D&D! I promise if you let the third party play without threats, you will get double that. And the more people playing your system, the more base books you sell. You will have people like me buy all the WotC official world books (i.e. anything Forgotten Realms etc), but you can get the people who don’t want that setting to play your game and buy your base books also!
Next, you need to embrace the future and technology. I’ve mentioned before that Paizo doesn’t support the stores as much as you do with their business model. I like your support of the friendly local game stores (FLGS), but you need more online presence. Lately, you’ve put your greatest hits online. That’s good, but I’ll only buy the Zelda games so many times! You need to put the newest stuff up there also. What I would love would be a scratch off code that gets you a free or reduced cost PDF when you buy the physical books. The FLGS get money and support, I get a PDF with the book, and you look modern. If I sell my book, the new person has to buy a PDF. That’s ok. You basically pull of the same trick Paizo’s doing with their online store, but with the physical stores. You get less money, but the FLGS have some product to sell, and having product to sell means they support your stuff more. If I get all my wishes, you will also put out a bunch of small, online only PDFs about your campaign worlds. Paizo does this with their setting, Numenera does this with their setting, and even Catalyst does this with Shadowrun! You should too. I pay WAY too much for a short PDF compared to the price of the base book. Heck, I’ve spent almost as much on Numenera PDFs as I’ve spent on the base book. If you have more smaller stuff come out that the stores can’t keep up with like Paizo’s smaller books, and have a few hard covers come out each year to help the FLGS (with those nifty PDF codes inside). Keep the magazine alive with freelancers (that you control), and I’ll give you lots of money. Heck I kept my DDI subscription up for the 4e run AND bought lot of other products, I’ll do it again!
So that is my 2gp. I know you’ve been waiting on pins and needles to hear what one random geek has to say, but I just wanted to put that out there. Thank you for your time.