I believe that the current business model for role-playing publishers of selling books or PDF files is inefficient and does not satisfy the changing demands of the gaming consumer.
For many years, publishers produced games using a base rule book and supplement business model. Gamers purchased the base book, liked it and then purchased supplements as they came out. This provided a semi-regular cash flow for the publisher and gamers got new content. This was a perfectly reasonable system until the internet arrived.
The main problem with paper books is that the flow of content is strictly one way. Once the book hits the printer, the content within is irrevocably fixed and the consumer has no ability to change or alter the content before purchase.
Strangely, this paradigm extends to the internet as well. Publishers use PDF files or subscription websites, but the results are the same. Publishers produce their games and then the public decides if they like the final product to purchase it. The entire final product.
The internet is literally built around the idea of interaction between disparate groups and if the game publishers want to survive, they have to forget the old methods and move on to a more interactive approach.
Customizable, on-demand role-playing games.
All role-playing games share the same basic components; rules, story, monsters, and equipment. My idea is to de-couple all of these pieces from each other.
My new paradigm is a website that sells separate “modules” for each of the components listed above. Rather than foist a rules set that may not be to the player’s liking, give them an option.
–4E Dungeons and Dragons
In this example, I move from a very “light” rules set to a more mathematically complex rules set. My hypothetical player enjoys some math in his system, but not too much so he chooses the “Cortex” system. This is just the basic system, how to fight, perform actions, etc.
Now that the rules are sorted, he moves on to story. This section contains the story background and PC generation rules/skills. PC generation rules and skills based on his previous rules choice (Cortex).
–Battle of the Gladiators
Our gamer is feeling the need for some violence, so he goes with a “Gladiators” campaign.
Monsters are a key part of any game, in this case though the monsters are all humans. No fantasy creatures allowed in this campaign!
–Human Melee/Ranged Fighters
–Fantasy Jungle Beasts
Choosing the “Human Melee/Ranged Fighter” module adds dozens of useful cannon fodder to the campaign. Again, the system automatically provides NPCs based on the previously chosen “Cortex” system.
A gladiator without weapons is no gladiator at all! Equipment is a critical part of any RPG, so just pick up the module you need.
–Pistols and Rifles
In this case, our gamers buys the “Melee,” “Ranged” and “Primitive” modules. He plans lots of bloody, primitive combat! Weapons with “Cortex” stats, of course.
The rule book is now complete and the gamer checks out, paying for each selection on an “a la carte” basis. Since this is all electronic, the modules come assembled in a single PDF and our purchaser has the option of buying a “print on demand” bound, paper version if he desires.
The benefits for a setup like this are numerous. Notably it allows game authors to specialize. Many games have amazing stories and plots, but badly designed rules kill the game. Still other authors cannot write prose, but produce balanced, fun rules sets. There is no reason not to leverage each of their strengths for a superior final product.
This model also enhances competition. Rules sets are now compared directly to other rules, without the quality of the art and story getting in the way. Prose writers directly compete with other prose writers, free of bad art or sub-standard rules. The market will quickly decide who is doing the better job and reward the skilled accordingly. Since each section is relatively small, I foresee more “semi-pro” game designers joining the fray. Creating a complete game book is daunting, but creating a single section is reasonable for a single person or small group.
From a business perspective, no longer will a single company force fans to endure a specific rules set to go with a campaign world. Financially this helps game publishers now reach many more potential customers. No longer is a system associated with a “fantasy” world, so sci-fi fans might reach out to use it. Secondary sales are also a nice benefit as customers return to upgrade their purchase (I want aliens in my gladiator campaign!) or they want to try a new game of their own design. Adventure modules (“modular modules,” I like the sound of that. I now claim “Modular Modules” as the sole property of livingdice.com, all rights reserved, copyright pending) also work in a similar fashion. One story, with many system options. With only a few options, the number of potential configurations becomes astronomical and each configuration sold is another dollar on the bottom line. Unlike previous business models, a great campaign does not expire with a new edition or a company going out of business. It lives on with whatever system the purchaser chooses. As new systems become popular, modules are modified to support the new rules set. Not every module is available for every rules set. The market decides when a publisher wants to support a new system.
I understand that many of you will disagree with my assessment. The amount of work to get this system up and running is significantly more than current publishing efforts. I am also aware that this type of “modular” game system is not new (GURPS, Cortex), but to my knowledge no one has tried it online with digital delivery or with the level of granularity I propose. Or with the level of system integration. Remember, the modules are not rules agnostic, they are rules specific. No modifications are required.
Of course, all of this can be done by a dedicated game master with the time and inclination to port a game world to a new system. The key words in that sentence are “time” and “inclination.” Most gamers I know barely have enough time for gaming, much less re-writing a complete campaign world. Some do, but I think they are the tiny minority of gamers and a low-cost off the shelf option is worth it to most gamers.
Large publishers will hate it. Hate letting others mix and match with their copyrighted material and weakening their monopoly on famous brand names. Honestly, this is not for large, existing companies. They have too much to lose and little to gain by joining this community-driven game publishing model. Tomorrow belongs to small, dedicated groups producing something they love for the world to enjoy and making money while they do it. It is the heart of the game community and, in my opinion, all too often forgotten.
As a gaming consumer, I want more flexibility in my game options. I think this is the way to leverage the internet and bring game publishing into the 21st century.
Feel free to let the comments fly about this post. I know this solution has some some large issues to work out, but I am interested to hear your thoughts.
Venture capital for this project is welcome as well. ‘-)
Trask, The Last Tyromancer