Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Dear Wizards of the Coast...

Dear Wizards of the Coast,
You don't know me. You probably wouldn't want to know me. If I was at a meeting of your #DnDNext development team, I would probably be there to help you decide who to fire and who to keep. This is a job I've trained for, and I job I won't do. I'm not one of the venture capital guys, I'm one of the ‘problem solving people.’ I'm one of the "we are deadlocked and cannot fix it, please help us," people. I could show you the degrees, I could show you the résumé, I could give you recommendations from the top problem solving professionals in the country. They’d tell you I scare them and that if you could get me to work for you you’d be damned lucky. Of course, I’m busy dying right now (or not, depending on what the specialists say today) so I’m not working for anyone.
You don’t have any reason to believe any of the above. This is a public letter, in an open forum, and I’m not stupid enough to attach any of the documents above to it because I believe in a wall of separation between public and private spheres in life. Role playing games are my hobby, something that has kept me sane between stays in the hospital. When I have been too sick to eat, I have still cracked a gaming book and prepped for my Saturday session of Dungeons and Dragons. My 20 year old son plays with us, and it has brought us closer together. I, myself, am a second generation gamer. I don’t like mixing my pleasure of gaming with my business of problem solving. I like to keep things in neat little boxes that do not spill over into each other. I am many things: A niche publisher, a problem solver, a scientist, an ethicist, an author, a mother, a wife and also a DM. It is from most of these boxes that I’m bringing you this urgent plea:

Stop. Just…stop.


This is an attempt at an intervention. One of the things I am supposed to do when I problem solve is give you unconditional positive regard towards all the ideas you are generating. I’m supposed to encourage you towards divergent thinking…you need to have a quantity of ideas, not a quality of ideas. Quality comes later, through refinement. Right now you are running your playtest and gathering all sorts of data, you should be trucking along just trying out new things…you should be in the idea generation phase. (Technically, back into that phase.) A good facilitator doesn’t intervene unless the idea generation goes off the rails…some of the things we’re trained to recognize as ‘going off the rails,’ are things like when a development team starts blaming an employee (current or former) for all of their problems, when the team starts to get cynical (or even nasty) about their target audience, when the team gets defensive about criticism from other teams, even things like racism and mental illness are things a facilitator needs to keep an eye out for. I’m not going to tell you what message some of your employees sent out that was like a “help me, Obi-Wan,” to the Jedi masters of problem solving because my job isn’t to assign blame. My job is to get you guys to work together. That’s why this letter is addressed to the whole company, not to the development team, or even the one who screamed out for help.
I’m going to break almost every rule of problem solving in this letter except for the one about letting any one of you assign blame for the situation you’ve gotten yourselves in. In part it’s because I honestly believe some of you can’t see what you are doing, and some of you say you’re doing one thing and are doing another. It’s not a good thing however you shake it. Your messages, either intentionally or not, are projecting a type of desperation and dissention that makes your company look bad to people in the know and makes your company look like you’re indiscriminately trying to offend people to that segment of people who want to be offended. I don’t think you can see this. I think you are so deep into consensus-building that you’ve lost your heads. When problem solvers are drinking at their conventions after having saved companies like yours, they call the phase of product development (or more accurately, product destruction) you’re entering right now ‘having your head up your ass.’ Since we are paid to not be profane, we use more acceptable phrase “consensus building for the sake of consensus.”
It doesn’t sound like a big deal, consensus building for the sake of consensus, but when it’s called by its third name people realize it’s a big deal. Its other name is groupthink, and when it happens in medical product development, or in engineering, it gets people killed. You don’t have to worry about exploding o-rings on your Player’s Handbook, or that the hidden side effects of your Dungeon Master’s Guide will cause a ten-fold increase in heart attacks, but you still have a potential here to still commit brand suicide, and people like me don’t want that. People like me are invested in the Dungeons and Dragons brand. We’re actually more emotionally invested in the brand than other brands that have had these problems because some of us have literally been ostracized for our commitment to the brand. I know people who had their books burned by their parents because of Jack Chick’s malfeasance, for example, and one of my close friends briefly chose homelessness as a teen rather than give up gaming as his fundamentalist parents demanded. Most long-term gamers know at least one such story personally. You have people who fought battles for women’s equality and civil rights within the microcosm of their gaming community. You have three generations, maybe four, of people whose identity was defined as “gamer” at a time when they had some (real or imagined) personal risk in gaming.
That kind of brand loyalty is stuff you can’t buy, and, in fact, the so-called “edition wars,” have actually led to a group of people with their own emotional interactions with the Dungeons and Dragons brand, albeit with less risk than the earlier cohorts, and some of the unfair criticisms of #DnDNext are based on that brand loyalty. I cannot tell you, and hopefully someone has told you, how valuable that brand loyalty is. To give an example, there is actually a huge and apparently successful ad buy from Miracle Whip based on people feeling ostracism over mayonnaise right now, an ad buy that’s resulted in social media buzz…over people’s emotional relationship and group identification with mayonnaise.  I challenge you to find someone whose parents burned their mayonnaise, but people are still willing to sort themselves into mayonnaise and Miracle Whip tribes gladly, and post their tribal status to social media, often with the company preferred hashtags and links. Miracle Whip and the second most popular mayonnaise are, of course, both made by Kraft foods, which get the money either way. I want you to keep that thought in your heads for a little while as I continue this letter. Kraft gets the money even if their Miracle Whip campaign increases mayonnaise sales, because brand loyalty within condiments is very consistent and Kraft Mayonnaise users aren’t going to switch brands as long as the product stays the same.
Your product development is stuck in the consensus-building for the sake of building consensus phase because you are problem solving the wrong problem.  Remember when I said I was going to break the rules of problem solving for you? This is another example. A lot of the time, professionals who are helping a company solve their problems have to finesse and guide their group to an understanding that they are solving the wrong problem. Identifying the problem is step one of problem solving, but if a team comes in obsessed upon a problem (real or perceived) they are going to focus upon that problem until they make the realization that they are solving the wrong problem, no matter what the outside voice says. My own emotional interaction with the Dungeons and Dragons brand tells me that it’s too valuable a commodity to allow to be further damaged (at least without trying to do something), so I am willing to bend the rules of problem solving to get you to see you’re going the wrong way. You’re going to have to take my word for it, however, because I don’t have the time or physical presence required to allow you to keep problem solving the wrong problem until you realize that for yourself.
Currently, you’re faced with two major obstacles. One is the availability of your materials on file sharing networks, which is a problem for everyone who is in publishing of any kind–my own company included. The other is the fact that you’ve got nearly 40 years of materials out there and you want people to buy new things.  One model for getting people to buy new things when old things are out there is planned obsolescence, which is the current model you are using for Dungeons and Dragons, whether you intended to use this model or not. The problem with planned obsolescence is that it can create huge feelings of ill-will towards a company. Probably the most famous long-term examples of planned obsolescence backlash have been in the automotive and kitchen gadget industries, and companies have profited from selling themselves to consumers as the ‘lasts forever,’ alternative to the brands using planned obsolescence. Volkswagen, Subaru, Kitchen-aid and Maytag have each sold themselves as alternatives to planned obsolescence with great results.
Immediately upon hearing rumors of #DnDNext, a significant number of fans of the current edition began to get confrontational and disheartened in social media. They feel abandoned despite repeated assurances by the WOTC social networking team and even some uninvolved third parties that continued new releases will happen. Their general view seems to be that there is limited point in investment in further books and materials when it’s going to be rendered useless so rapidly. As social buzz for #DnDNext increases, these voices continue to get louder.  This is a classical planned obsolescence backlash reaction. As I said, whether you intended to use planned obsolescence as your prior model for dealing with decades of older material existing in garages, attics and lovingly kept collections or not, it’s the model you are using, and it is getting what should’ve been an expected reaction to planned obsolescence–the same backlash we’ve seen with everything from cars to shoes.
Remember as well that when the economy is doing poorly or is in recovery, planned obsolescence backlash increases dramatically. This is not going to affect young buyers, but it is going to affect the collectors and long-term gamers who are willing to give a new version of their old system a shot. If the social media reactions of the current edition crowd is any indication, your sales of the current edition have already peaked and if you didn’t anticipate that you need to hire better people. I don’t know how much more honestly I could put that. If no one saw a planned obsolescence backlash coming as editions have lasted less and less time, someone needs to lose their job.
According to your company’s buzz, the ‘goal’ of #DnDNext is to provide a comprehensive ‘Edition of Editions,’ to bring the people playing multiple old systems of the game into the fold of the new edition. This is the obvious solution to the problem of a glut of old material and the fact that almost all of it is available online for free, but it creates ill-will that not only makes some people less likely to purchase anything at all, but also makes a subset of people who would never usually post to file-sharing services angry enough to do so as a form of corporate vandalism. They feel you are screwing them, so why not screw you right back?
It’s possible it was never your intention to make an edition of editions. If that is true, I have to question the logic of the way it’s being currently sold to the public. Many people are aware of the corporate ‘failure’ that was “New Coke” in 1985.  Coke made a change in formulation, people didn’t like it, and then the reformulated “Coke Classic” went on to outsell the pre-1985 Coke–this second effect has often been called the ‘real’ purpose of the Coke formula change, and there are entire websites dedicated to the theory that Coca-Cola intentionally took the hit in the pocket book of “New Coke” in order to get the end result. Executives for Coca-Cola have always aggressively denied this, and no company has ever replicated the result of changing from an old to a new to a “classic” product. If this is your intention, it’s boneheaded. Coke was able to scrap their product and get a new ‘old’ one in less than 80 days. Putting out a terrible edition to get love for a classic one intentionally is a very dangerous gamble. Your more furious critics would argue it’s already been tried with Dungeons and Dragons anyways.
Coke Classic is actually a good thing to keep in mind as I lead you to the real problem you should be solving. Rather than trying to bring players into the fold of a single edition of editions, you need to be cognizant of the fact that a chunk of players have resisted this exact action this three times now, with more falling off each time and a significant chunk ending up infuriated and giving up on the Dungeons and Dragons brand altogether. While these players are replaced by new players, you’re always going to have that happening generationally, as the people who go through phase-gaming (those who game for generally less than 5 years) come in and go out and while the lifetime gamers either stick to their idealized editions or slowly switch. Ideally, you can make money off of both groups, and that should be the problem you are solving:
How do we keep as many gamers as possible buying as many of our products as possible?
The old publishing model was based on having a high inventory of products and selling the same product to as wide an audience as possible. This may be hard for you to realize, but this publishing model is dying. In college textbook publishing, for example, a University may order only enough of a particular edition of a particular textbook to cover one class, and as Publish on Demand (POD) technology has improved, this is what we use to fulfill these small orders. [For example, my own company is able to make 45 copies of one POD book for a teacher with a change he wants for his class. It takes about 10 minutes to make his customized edition, which we get an extra $5 for per copy, and only costs the company a few cents more and 10 minutes of an employee's time...we end up with a very happy customer and a profit and a reputation for going the extra mile. In addition, we now have that edition in the machine if he wants to order more.] POD allows publishers, especially small publishers, to retain huge back catalogs that never go out of stock and never have to be retired. Entire back catalogs can be released and re-released, in hardcovers or soft,  either by purchasing a POD machine or by contracting with a publisher/distributor that offers POD. 
   Once the POD files are created, when a customer orders a book it is created and shipped. For customers ordering through places like amazon.com, which our distributor has a deal with, there is no difference between ordering one of ours and ordering something from someone else, although in theory if 500 people ordered the same back catalog book at once we might end up having to add a day to their shipping. Using POD technology, you can create comprehensive versions of each previously existing Dungeons and Dragons rules system. Collect them into 4 or 5 different subsystems. If you're obsessed with using the old and dying publishing model, make the last subsystem the one you're going to market to game stores and hobby shops via old fashioned warehousing and keep all previous editions in print in POD. While you're at it, get them on people's kindles and ipads while you still have a chance to control that content. If you refuse to have them be available this way, players will always get them the way they are getting them now, illegally.

Mock-up. Not an actual logo. Provided as an example ONLY.
You can use a simple consolidated logo to distinguish them. Your players will not be confused by this. AD&D rule books get branded green (or red, or blue, whatever), Rules Cyclopedia (including basic, expert, etc.) get branded purple (or yellow, or whatever.) New materials can be created either for a system or for a comprehensive system. A module can be labeled with the blue, green, whatever logo or it can be comprehensive, working for all the different versions. Create rules for swapping between the systems and make books of how to go back and forth. Then....

Get the hell out of the "making a new system" business. Stick with one of them (or all of them) and instead become a content provider for that system. Create modules, gadgets, computer programs, games, worlds. Sell monster supplements, new editions of old books with fixed-up artwork, modules, pre-generated characters, maps, rulers, minis, grids, movies, notebooks and lunch boxes. Stop trying to tell the people what they want and instead, give them what they want. If people are currently playing four different systems of D&D (and they are: Rules Cyclopedia (including Basic, etc.), AD&D (both editions), 3/3.5 and 4) then obviously what they want is four different systems.

You can do it. The same public that's making some of you so angry by not all going down the path you want them to can help....just ask them. If you ask them, they will help. We will help. 




     

41 comments:

  1. Great post, if not a little depressing since I don't foresee Wizards letting us get pdf's and hard copies of all the editions. Oh how sweet it would be.

    I also wish they would do a better job with their online tools. They are good for 4e, but I just feel they could be a lot better.

    Some mini's on demand would be pretty sweet. Let me order a pack of minis to go with that published adventure. While at it throw in a pack of printed maps to use with the Mini's. I'd gladly throw some money in the direction of it all being done for those games I just want to use a pre done module.

    Thanks for the post.

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  2. This makes an amazing amount of sense to me. As a web developer, I've considered making web applications for D&D 3rd in the past, but didn't, because I knew the edition was going to disappear in something like 6 years. While that's a pretty good run for a web app, when you have limited amounts of time to build and support something of that kind, you want it to be a 'fire and forget' app. Not one you have to rebuild every six years. People don't actually like having to change their gaming style/type/mechanics all that regularly.

    While I find it doubtful that Wizards will listen, I'm hopeful. Thanks for taking the time to write this open letter. Maybe it will make its way in to someones hands to can make a difference. Maybe not. But at least you gave it a shot.

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    1. "While I find it doubtful that Wizards will listen[...]" thats way im posting and sharing this to my friends :D maybe some of those "arrows" actually "hit" the target

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  3. Deeply insightful and absolutely delightful to read. My greatest wishes and thanks to you. Now we can only hope someone in WOTC will come outside the bubble and listen.

    If they don't, it still stands as a warning to anyone else wandering down the same path, and if there aren't yet, there are bound to be other systems in need of good, solid advice on how to make game publishing profitable without cannibalizing, alienating and even patronizing your player base in the process.

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  4. Great post, and I agree with much of what was said. What I'd like WotC to take away from my comments against D&D Next is this: If your intention is to get back gamers whom you've lost to Pathfinder, then you will fail in this endeavor because they left the WotC fold because you treated them like crap and they got pissed off.

    If you want new customers to play D&D and to buy your products, then you need to open up new markets. D&D is a fun game to play, because it's NOT reliant on staring at a computer, it's hanging out amongst your friends. Instead of wasting time designing a replacement system, sink your funds into evangelism: tour the US, teaching high schoolers how to DM. Once kids have fun playing D&D with their friends, you've won a customer for life (or for 5 years or whatever). This would build goodwill because your traveling bands of master DM's will be emissaries of your company and your company's products, and the focus is on having fun not pushing new incompatible systems down our throats.

    4e is a blast to play, and I've been a gamer since AD&D so that's saying something: you got a lot of stuff right with 4e, and killing it after only being on the market for 3 years PISSES ME OFF. Do you know how much i've spent on books and minis? I will NEVER buy another book now that you've stopped publishing 4e material, because you disrespect me and my friends and the time we've invested using your products. But trust me, our Thursday night campaign is alive and well, as it has been for the past 3 years.

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  5. I can't agree with the proposal here. And here is why: 4e is great, but deeply flawed. I want a system that does what 4e set out to do--balance classes for tactical combat with consistent rules that encourage a certain style of play. But I also want a system without the overcomplexity, broken progression math, and unbalanced classes of 4e.

    An I suspect that many of the 3.5 fans want a 3.5 without CoDzilla.

    And the OD&D players probably want a simple, gritty system, but even the most hardcore probably has houserules and tweaks they wish were hard-coded in.

    Essentially, "curate the old stuff" guarantees a slow trickle AWAY from DnD. Because I will eventually find a game that gives me the 4e experience without the 4e baggage. And then, if DnD is just releasing and rereleasing more and more stuff on the shaky 4e framework, I will jump ship. Gaming IS technology, and technology marches on.

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    1. The WotC can spend time creating those iterations or a third party can. The OSR exists, primarily, because WotC pulled their PDFs. And Pathfinder exists because they strayed to far from 3.X.

      I've spoken to WotC personnel with similar suggestions (though not nearly as eloquently), they seem to understand, but I don't think Hasbro does :(

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    2. What you want is not possible. That's the problem with sticking to the old model. The belief that gaming is technology and technology marches on is where it all unravelled for D&D, because it's not true. Technology is nothing like as subjective as game design. If my computer today is ten times faster than the one I owned 5 years ago, that's a fact. If you say that your Mac OS/X computer is "better" than my Windowmaker Linux machine, that's an opinion because you're talking about style and style does not march on, it only goes in and out (and in again) of fashion.

      Is it possible to make a game that you will prefer to 4e? Of course. Will that be objectively better and thus completely supplant 4e? Given how hard it has proven to do that to 1e I'd suggest not.

      While I'm not 100% behind the ideas in the post, I do have to say that the thing WotC are trying to do has been tried and it hasn't worked. I don't see any reason to think it will this time either and at some point you have to start looking at other options.

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  6. Foremost, I am very sorry to read about your ailment. My best to you and your family. I am glad to have over the years heard so many stories of how gaming can make lives better during hard times.
    ==
    As a consultant, and being honest, I have trouble seeing this as a set of consultant recommendations, or even really identifying clearly what the specific recommendations are. On one hand you suggest a shift in analysis, I think from how to please a wide audience with one edition to, I think, how to sell to a wide audience with many editions. On the other hand, you seem to then bypass the analysis shift you just recommended and then take it to a foregone conclusion to discuss Print on Demand and content provision (versus selling rules). These seem more like supporting arguments for a specific vision you have as a gamer, rather than the analysis of a consultant.

    When it comes to selling one edition to bring in a wide audience or supporting many editions to bring in a wide audience, we are still talking about how to sell stuff to a wide audience. I hope it is obvious that WotC and Hasbro would have started there in any analysis of how to proceed. Practically no company bypasses the "how do we increase sales/revenue" phase, and I'm confident enough that WotC went through this stage.

    When looking at how to sell widely, there are many variables that a consultant would need to know in order to make a recommendation. Here are a few:
    - What were WotC revenues each year for every year of 3E and 4E, and what trends do we note? What factors could have created the trends?
    - How many units were sold for core books each year, as compared to other product types?
    - How does revenue from core print books compare to revenue from pure content sources? (For example, 3E core books vs Dragon and Dungeon print magazines)
    - How quickly do sales peak and drop off for a product, and does it vary by type of product?
    - How have print sales varied when WotC changed their online sales and policies (for example, when they pulled DownloadRPG offerings)?
    - What are revenue ranges for the closest 3 competitors over the same time period?
    - What other industry revenue models are competitive with WotC revenues and unit sales? Would those models be suitable for WotC?
    - How have online sales created revenue for WotC in the past? How have they worked for other industry members? What projected losses (such as from not supporting gaming stores) are expected?
    - What revenues has DDI created, and is there an understanding of the cost it has created (in terms of possible reduction in book sales, damage to store partnerships, etc.)?
    - What are internal WotC revenue and unit sales targets for the next five years?

    I'll be honest: I have no idea what the answers to the above questions might be. I have met no person that has a feel for them that isn't under an NDA (and I don't ask such people those questions). My consulting area is not product strategy (though I have some experience with it), but if WotC wanted my recommendations I would ask questions rather than provide answers. We simply lack industry data.

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  7. Continued:

    I will give my hunch. I suspect the answers to the questions are understood enough to say that online distribution is not the simple "no brainer" so many assume it to be. Similarly, I don't believe any of "supporting all editions", "just publish core rules", or "just publish content and stop publishing rules" is at all close to being a proven strategy. I would qualify all of them as tremendously high risk.

    As a gamer, I would love to see re-issues of older edition product - with conversion sheets. I would love to see tons of adventures. I would love to see tons of player and DM content, especially for the various campaign settings. But that didn't seem like a viable strategy for 2E or 3E. Conversion docs didn't seem worth the effort. Tons of content didn't produce tons of revenue.

    When I look at D&D 4E, it was a very good attempt to raise revenue by making the game approachable for new and casual players. It seemed like a good strategy, but it doesn't look to have done well enough on revenue (though we don't know). When I look at D&D Next, it seems to also have potential. You can practically run any D&D product from OD&D to Basic to AD&D to 2E with the rules set. That creates the potential to resell a vast quantity of previously written material and to increase the appeal of the game (and the strength of the brand). All of this has potential for online sales, because you wouldn't want to print all of that old material. If future modules speak well enough to 3E and 4E, then there could be a very strong case for most gamers to work with this edition (on top of the usual case: the edition should be more fun to play).

    As a gamer I can give WotC all kinds of advice as to what they should do. WotC is smart to take it all with a grain of salt. As a consultant, I can't give WotC any recommendations. I simply lack the data to provide any actionable recommendations. We are all just guessing without better knowledge of the industry and the company.

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    1. I will give my hunch. I suspect the answers to the questions are understood enough to say that online distribution is not the simple "no brainer" so many assume it to be. Similarly, I don't believe any of "supporting all editions", "just publish core rules", or "just publish content and stop publishing rules" is at all close to being a proven strategy. I would qualify all of them as tremendously high risk.


      A risk that Paizo took by continuing to support 3.5 with Pathfinder, now they're outselling WOTC. That looks pretty "no brainer" to me.

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  8. (Part 1 seemed not to post:)
    Foremost, I am very sorry to read about your ailment. My best to you and your family. I am glad to have over the years heard so many stories of how gaming can make lives better during hard times.
    ==
    As a consultant, and being honest, I have trouble seeing this as a set of consultant recommendations, or even really identifying clearly what the specific recommendations are. On one hand you suggest a shift in analysis, I think from how to please a wide audience with one edition to, I think, how to sell to a wide audience with many editions. On the other hand, you seem to then bypass the analysis shift you just recommended and then take it to a foregone conclusion to discuss Print on Demand and content provision (versus selling rules). These seem more like supporting arguments for a specific vision you have as a gamer, rather than the analysis of a consultant.

    When it comes to selling one edition to bring in a wide audience or supporting many editions to bring in a wide audience, we are still talking about how to sell stuff to a wide audience. I hope it is obvious that WotC and Hasbro would have started there in any analysis of how to proceed. Practically no company bypasses the "how do we increase sales/revenue" phase, and I'm confident enough that WotC went through this stage.

    When looking at how to sell widely, there are many variables that a consultant would need to know in order to make a recommendation. Here are a few:
    - What were WotC revenues each year for every year of 3E and 4E, and what trends do we note? What factors could have created the trends?
    - How many units were sold for core books each year, as compared to other product types?
    - How does revenue from core print books compare to revenue from pure content sources? (For example, 3E core books vs Dragon and Dungeon print magazines)
    - How quickly do sales peak and drop off for a product, and does it vary by type of product?
    - How have print sales varied when WotC changed their online sales and policies (for example, when they pulled DownloadRPG offerings)?
    - What are revenue ranges for the closest 3 competitors over the same time period?
    - What other industry revenue models are competitive with WotC revenues and unit sales? Would those models be suitable for WotC?
    - How have online sales created revenue for WotC in the past? How have they worked for other industry members? What projected losses (such as from not supporting gaming stores) are expected?
    - What revenues has DDI created, and is there an understanding of the cost it has created (in terms of possible reduction in book sales, damage to store partnerships, etc.)?
    - What are internal WotC revenue and unit sales targets for the next five years?

    I'll be honest: I have no idea what the answers to the above questions might be. I have met no person that has a feel for them that isn't under an NDA (and I don't ask such people those questions). My consulting area is not product strategy (though I have some experience with it), but if WotC wanted my recommendations I would ask questions rather than provide answers. We simply lack industry data.

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  9. So, I will note that the *rumor* is that Hasbro won't let WotC sell PDFs (which would be part of the POD thing under any reasonable model).

    Admittedly, this is just a rumor. The official reason was piracy. Though I guess they could do POD without PDFs... It's harder to pirate physical books.

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    1. Its not hard to pirate physical books at all. Within hours of any release, there are scans with bookmarks on all the major pirate networks.

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    2. My generation of gamers in Brazil was called "Xerox Generation", because we dont had the books, and had to photocopy them :)

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  10. (Keeps eating first half, sorry)
    Foremost, I am very sorry to read about your ailment. My best to you and your family. I am glad to have over the years heard so many stories of how gaming can make lives better during hard times.

    As a consultant, and being honest, I have trouble seeing this as a set of consultant recommendations, or even really identifying clearly what the specific recommendations are. On one hand you suggest a shift in analysis, I think from how to please a wide audience with one edition to, I think, how to sell to a wide audience with many editions. On the other hand, you seem to then bypass the analysis shift you just recommended and then take it to a foregone conclusion to discuss Print on Demand and content provision (versus selling rules). These seem more like supporting arguments for a specific vision you have as a gamer, rather than the analysis of a consultant.

    When it comes to selling one edition to bring in a wide audience or supporting many editions to bring in a wide audience, we are still talking about how to sell stuff to a wide audience. I hope it is obvious that WotC and Hasbro would have started there in any analysis of how to proceed. Practically no company bypasses the "how do we increase sales/revenue" phase, and I'm confident enough that WotC went through this stage.

    When looking at how to sell widely, there are many variables that a consultant would need to know in order to make a recommendation. Here are a few:
    - What were WotC revenues each year for every year of 3E and 4E, and what trends do we note? What factors could have created the trends?
    - How many units were sold for core books each year, as compared to other product types?
    - How does revenue from core print books compare to revenue from pure content sources? (For example, 3E core books vs Dragon and Dungeon print magazines)
    - How quickly do sales peak and drop off for a product, and does it vary by type of product?
    - How have print sales varied when WotC changed their online sales and policies (for example, when they pulled DownloadRPG offerings)?
    - What are revenue ranges for the closest 3 competitors over the same time period?
    - What other industry revenue models are competitive with WotC revenues and unit sales? Would those models be suitable for WotC?
    - How have online sales created revenue for WotC in the past? How have they worked for other industry members? What projected losses (such as from not supporting gaming stores) are expected?
    - What revenues has DDI created, and is there an understanding of the cost it has created (in terms of possible reduction in book sales, damage to store partnerships, etc.)?
    - What are internal WotC revenue and unit sales targets for the next five years?

    I'll be honest: I have no idea what the answers to the above questions might be. I have met no person that has a feel for them that isn't under an NDA (and I don't ask such people those questions). My consulting area is not product strategy (though I have some experience with it), but if WotC wanted my recommendations I would ask questions rather than provide answers. We simply lack industry data.

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  11. As a consultant, and being honest, I have trouble seeing this as a set of consultant recommendations, or even really identifying clearly what the specific recommendations are. On one hand you suggest a shift in analysis, I think from how to please a wide audience with one edition to, I think, how to sell to a wide audience with many editions. On the other hand, you seem to then bypass the analysis shift you just recommended and then take it to a foregone conclusion to discuss Print on Demand and content provision (versus selling rules). These seem more like supporting arguments for a specific vision you have as a gamer, rather than the analysis of a consultant.

    When it comes to selling one edition to bring in a wide audience or supporting many editions to bring in a wide audience, we are still talking about how to sell stuff to a wide audience. I hope it is obvious that WotC and Hasbro would have started there in any analysis of how to proceed. Practically no company bypasses the "how do we increase sales/revenue" phase, and I'm confident enough that WotC went through this stage.

    When looking at how to sell widely, there are many variables that a consultant would need to know in order to make a recommendation. Here are a few:
    - What were WotC revenues each year for every year of 3E and 4E, and what trends do we note? What factors could have created the trends?
    - How many units were sold for core books each year, as compared to other product types?
    - How does revenue from core print books compare to revenue from pure content sources? (For example, 3E core books vs Dragon and Dungeon print magazines)
    - How quickly do sales peak and drop off for a product, and does it vary by type of product?
    - How have print sales varied when WotC changed their online sales and policies (for example, when they pulled DownloadRPG offerings)?
    - What are revenue ranges for the closest 3 competitors over the same time period?
    - What other industry revenue models are competitive with WotC revenues and unit sales? Would those models be suitable for WotC?
    - How have online sales created revenue for WotC in the past? How have they worked for other industry members? What projected losses (such as from not supporting gaming stores) are expected?
    - What revenues has DDI created, and is there an understanding of the cost it has created (in terms of possible reduction in book sales, damage to store partnerships, etc.)?
    - What are internal WotC revenue and unit sales targets for the next five years?

    I'll be honest: I have no idea what the answers to the above questions might be. I have met no person that has a feel for them that isn't under an NDA (and I don't ask such people those questions). My consulting area is not product strategy (though I have some experience with it), but if WotC wanted my recommendations I would ask questions rather than provide answers. We simply lack industry data.

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  12. I have been advocating that WotC adopt an alternative business model for some time.

    They need to support multiple editions.

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  13. I think that ship has been show not to float all that well.

    Currently there are all kinds of channels of support for old editions of D&D. They aren't exactly burning down the house. The best competitor is an updated edition of one of them that is simply very well supported by the company making it. (Pathfinder)

    Those folks all bought into a new edition, new books etc... They changed less, but they changed enough that its at least as dramatic as 1st to 2nd edition. D&D had two concurrent versions for a while, and it did work out decently but one of them clearly dominated the money making and got the lions share of support.

    If WOTC wants to promote old versions, they should probably selectively licence the brand to others who want to focus on that. It would make the fans happy and enrich the brand.

    I like new rules for D&D. I don't like a game that never really changes. I think gaming evolves and gets better over time. D&D deserves to evolve and have room to change, to become better, or even sometimes worse. D&D was never really about the exact rules, its about the narrative of play and the fantasy setting.

    Certain core elements will never and should never change, but fiddling around with the mechanics to make a better game is for me at the heart of inspiration as a game master. Making the game better and more fun is what inspires me and playing with the rules is an important part of that.

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  14. Perhaps ego plays a factor, too? Investment in wanting to "prove" that they can do better than TSR's game even if it means self-destructively throwing good money after bad?

    As much as we like to imagine "corporate types" as the ultimate bloodless profit-maximising machines, they're only human and stranger things have happened.

    Admitting the simple truths that that D&D was never in need of fixing and that one cannot top Dave and Gary would be admitting defeat and that their regular attempts at wheel reinvention over the past 12 years have been misguided and futile.

    That's quite a blow, no? Many usually rational people have chosen to go down with the metaphorical ship over less.

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    1. The psychological term for this is "escalation of commitment," and it is behind auction bidding dynamics as well.

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  15. Wow, thanks.

    This goes into much greater detail than I ever could as to why WotC should switch to being a 'content provider' rather than a 'system designer'. There are deeper layers to the possibilities here, of course. For instance, they could sell the rights (on a case-by-case, limited basis) to brand certain retroclones as 'D&D' or even create a program to 'promote' certain distinctive products, such as DCC or ACKS to the status of 'a new D&D edition' (where interesting variations rather than restatements of existing rules are officially designated D&D). That way, the company could maintain prestige for itself, unite the fanbase and create multiple points of entry for the brand.

    The only problem I really see is the problem of brand confusion. What does the 10-year-old who wants to play 'D&D' pick up? There are marketing tricks to help solve this, of course, but I don't really know what they are. Perhaps a never-ending parade of 'beginner boxes'? Since the core rules are pretty simple and the spells and monsters are all drag-and-drop, that could be a successful strategy, especially if each Basic Box had a list of possibilities for where to go next.

    Once again, thank you!

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  16. I'm very much inclined towards a simple, open-ended D&D, but with additional layers of optional complexity to suit all tastes. With that in mind, your idea makes a lot of sense.

    Sadly, I fear the mindset of some companies are too proprietorial, too territorial and too paternalistic to consider something this open-ended. If they could pull your model off, they'd make a fortune. But I know only too well that management can be like a fox in a chicken coop - short-sighted, self-indulgent and destructive, not to mention mindlessly bound to its own biases and messed up instincts.

    The sad thing is that your views are probably going to be ignored, and the slow death of a great brand will continue. Though, it would be nice if the young 'uns were playing something other than Mouse Guard in 10 years' time...

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  17. I think you're fundamentally misaprehending the issue here. I don't want to play the same edition forever. Not 4th, or any other edition. 4E fans, generally speaking, are not upset with Next because it means 4th is dying. That's expected, and at this point, welcome: 4E is long in the tooth and has an incredible bloat of materials, yet still some fundamental problems in the core game.

    I was excited, eager for the next edition, until it was announced to be a regressive amalgam of old ideas. I don't want that. I want a Dungeons and Dragons that can innovate and win new gamers. I want a D&D that solves the caster-fighter imbalances of the past, yet doesn't take an hour to adjudicate combat. I want a D&D that I can build a character for in five minutes if I have to, or optimize if I want to.

    Next? It's not giving us that. It's giving us a retread of bad ideas from old editions. That's why 4E fans are dissatisfied with it.

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  18. Chaltab, if your comment was directed at the blog author I think it may be you who are fundamentally misaprehending the point of the blog post. The author seems to be advocating that WotC should shift away from D&D Next and instead support all of the editions. Everybody wins. Rather than supporting only one edition that hopelessly looks for some workable compromise between you adopting to old bad ideas and me adopting to new even worse ones, why not support all of the editions and all of the fanbases? Most retroclone players still identify with the D&D brand, as I imagine the Pathfinder folks do as well.

    The above analogy to Kraft making both Miracle Whip and mayonnaise was an appropriate one. Make them both plus mustard and whatever you kooky 4th edition kids are putting on your sandwiches and WoTC takes back the market they are giving away.

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  19. Another point I would raise is that WotC is treating D&D like technology. Point releases, errata (bug fixes), support, etc, when they might do better treating it as literature or art. Does a record label stop selling The Beatles because Lady Gaga just came out with something new? Of course not. Does a publisher stop selling Philip Roth because Jonathan Franzen just published a new book? Of course not.

    Many of the old D&D products are similarly classic within their audience and it seems absurd to keep them locked away.

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    1. Agreed. Who cares if you are competing with your own other products, as long as everyone wants to buy at least one of them. This can be done without diluting your market share (q.v., Mayonnaise vs Miracle Whip).

      I also agree with Chaltab's point, in that if they want to make a new edition, then it needs to be clearly progressive - something new and shiny, not a semi-regression that appears to be pleasing very few people.

      Although, I for one enjoy a caster-fighter imbalance... but that's besides the point!

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  20. Interesting article. I am inclined to agree with many of your points. Sorry to hear about your health (it sounds quite serious from your post). I have been very sick with complications arising from crohns disease over the past year and sympathize. I am glad to hear you are at least able to find some measure of relief through gaming. I have a small game company and would love to send you a copy of our latest book. If you give me your address by email, would be happy to send (i can be reached at Bedrockbrendan@gmail.com).

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  21. I admire WoC for going forward with D&D Next. WoC is in a bad situation, one they brought on themselves through blatant mismanagement of the D&D brand. D&D 3.0 and 3.5 were not big departures from the previous two editions; they still felt like D&D at their core and lots of people switched over from 1st and 2nd edition. Sure, you always have those that prefer those older editions; you will probably never sway them to anything newer. However, D&D 4th edition was so far removed from previous editions that it did not feel like D&D. In addition, their "points of light" mindset utterly ruined their campaign settings. When fans and customers complained they were basically told "too bad, deal with it, we don’t want your input and we don't care.” Us older fans were even more put out as were basically told “sorry, you’re not our target demographic.” Fans and customers left D&D in droves and went towards Pathfinder when it came out. Now, D&D is no longer the best selling RPG on the market. In fact, D&D doesn’t feel like D&D, Pathfinder feels like D&D!

    The customers that left based upon WoC treatment of those customers may never return. They (and I) have found games that feel like D&D and a company that seems to "get it". In addition, with the OSR movement, there are plenty of retro-clones and other systems based off of or inspired by old school D&D that we don't need to return to WoC.

    One of the reasons WoC puts their money in core rulebooks is they claim there is no money in supplements. I’m not sure if that is true or if there just isn’t enough money in them for WoC/Hasbro.

    WoC would not be doing D&D Next if they didn’t need to. If 4th edition was selling well and they had a growing customer base all would be fine, however, I think 4th edition is not selling and their customer base is shrinking. WoC is trying to put forth an edition that either takes in the best parts of all the previous editions or is modular in nature (or, they could just be trying to cash in on the OSR movement.) I really do hope they succeed though I want to see D&D flourish but my hopes are not high. If D&D next is crap I still have LOTS of choices!

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  22. As longshoreman-philosopher Eric Hoffer observed,
    . ..
    “every great movement begins as a cause,
    eventually becomes a business,
    then degenerates into a racket.”

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  23. If WotC were in the restaurant business, it's a bit like they had a nice old mom and pop comfort food establishment, and over time they spruced the place up a bit. Then, out of the blue, they dropped the old time country food and went for an exotic French restaurant motif, losing a majority of their former customers. Now they're trying to re-establish themselves as old town country restaurant that specializes in comfort food again, but all their old customers have found other places to eat, and the new fans of French quisine are pissed off.

    The only people winning right now are those with a wide range of cullnary tastes.

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  24. There’s several options for the back catalog. The minimum is simply scanning all the old stuff and making it image-based PDF’s. (i.e. Not user-friendly at all). The other end of the spectrum involves scanning, OCR’ing, editing to remove typos (both OCR and original), bookmarking, hyperlinking, scanning images, cleaning up images (heck some were reproduced badly in the original formats), mastering for different electronic document formats, and quality control. The time and skills required to do this range from a couple hours from an entry level person to a hundred hours or more of skilled work. In addition, they either need to pay overhead on their own electronic store or they will need to pay other stores. They need to decide where to end up on the DRM spectrum. No DRM means pirating will be easy. High DRM slows pirating, but causes customer backlash. They also need to pay WotC overhead and Hasbro overhead. And they need to price it high enough that it makes enough profit to be worth spending their efforts here.

    When you look at the back catalog, there’s a lot of material. Some of it will be in relatively high demand, like the planescape core set. How many people are going to buy the Al-Qadim Cities of Bone adventure box? A) as a boxed set, it will need more work (no matter what level of work they do), and will therefore be more expensive. B) It’s an adventure, so it’s going to mostly appeal to GM’s and not players (and GM’s that don’t write all of their own stuff). C) It’s for a less popular setting. D) It will be of most use to AD&D 2e players. E) A lot of AD&D players interested in Al-Qadim either have the original materials or have pirated it over the years. I’m not sure it would make back the money spent on making it digital. And there are eight adventure boxed sets for Al-Qadim. How many people will purchase all thirteen products?

    Now the long tail says that most products will eventually make a profit. Once they are digital, you can keep cranking them out. But how many companies want to spend money today for a product that won’t be in the black for 3-5 years?

    The other issue with supporting all editions is that the Miracle Whip/Mayonnaise comparison breaks down somewhat. If you have a divided household, you can pay a couple of bucks more and have both jars in your fridge. If you have a divided game group, you can't play. New players are going to see half a dozen boxes of D&D on the shelf (along with all the other RPG's). How will they choose? And if you pick one you don't like are you going to try another when a basic set is $45?


    I think Sigfried and Anathemata's ideas of licensing the older content to other companies that will support and drive this better. Each group can decide what to convert to digital and what new products to develop. If they aren't successful, they can pull the licence and start again with a new company.

    @Brendan, I've seen two different kinds of people. I look at D&D as a technical manual on the game. If things are worded more precisely (a la 4e, there are fewer rules arguments and the game flows better). Then again, I'm a technical-minded person. Yes, it isn't as pretty in the wording. But to me the artistic part isn't in the books. The art is in the play and what happens there. By having more precise rules it frees us up to roleplay rather than try to figure out what they meant by the phrasing in the book. But I think that they can have a hybrid, where the rules part is very precise and the description is very flavorful.

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  25. Just a little question: Is it legal for a person, be her a teacher or whoever, to order a modified POD book? or even another bussiness to work or also ask for it? No IP rights infringement here? I guess it's not legal, but I'm no expert.


    Best.


    Kairam

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    1. In the example I give, the work is a work-for-hire work OWNED by the company that put out the modified copy for the prof. It's completely legal to do so with stuff you fully own the copyrights for.
      This is not the same as someone who does not own the copyrights doing so.
      A company can contract with another company to do their POD services, but again, not the same as Joe on the street who holds no copyrights doing so.

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    2. OK, THAT'S not clear in the text.

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  26. Obviously, this is a fish hook from WotC. Someone gave them the idea, and they are trying to see how it is received. that being said, where do I sign to get my "Glantri, Kingdom of Magic" Gazeteer?

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  27. nice posting.. thanks for sharing.

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  28. I wanted to let you know that I was quite inspired by your blog here, and the vision you have for a way to truly unite the D&D gaming community. In fact, I was so inspired, that I posted my own blog last night with a proposal to WotC based upon your own ideas for an alternative publishing model for D&D. I've even linked in a petition on Change.org, and I’m hoping to get some grassroots support from those in the D&D community who are not favoring D&D Next to sign on.

    Please check out my blog here:
    A Proposal & Petition: Say YES to DUNGEONS & DRAGONS / Say NO THANKS to D&D NEXT http://www.neuroglyphgames.com/petition-say-yes-dnd-no-thanks-dndnext

    And thank you again for sharing your inspiration with us.

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  29. When I took WotC's survey on "what 3rd edition material would you like to see reprinted" I used the comment box at the end to explain my negative answers on the survey and requested the Rules Cyclopedia be reprinted instead. And sign me up for a Gazetteer omnibus series. These things would sell via POD.

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  30. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

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