RPGs in their current form date from the early 1970s and there is very little difference between a 2010 game and a 1976 game. Oh, the rules are more complex, statistically balanced and slickly produced, but the underlying structure of the game is unchanged. Gamers purchase rule books filled with game rules and fluffy campaign environments. Players then generate PCs and pit them against challenging scenarios conjured by a DM.
I do not expect the player/DM dynamic to change, but I did expect a revolution in the game business model. The vast majority of RPG publishers still produce books and miniatures for a game for sale. The main difference is PDFs and other digital formats supplanted some of the old dead tree offerings. It strikes me that all of this technology has so much more to offer than just a download pipe for PDF files.
Wizards of the Coast attempted to leverage some of this technology in their digital initiative (D&D Insider), but they botched it. Software quality aside, WOTC substituted a subscription web site as the delivery system instead of downloads. That was not the evolution in gaming I wanted. It was more of a format change. Book to PDF to website to deliver content generated from within an ivory tower. WOTC gives and consumers receive with open arms, thankful for the manna from gaming heaven.
The Internet offers so much more in terms of functionality that no gaming company is currently exploiting. I want a game that integrates the best parts of social networking and game design from the moment of conception, not as an afterthought.
First, forget PDF files and dead tree books. Every aspect of the game exists only online, from rules and GM advice to maps and monsters. Create the website with built-in character generators and encounter builders. Use technology to make the game easier to run and more fun to play! On a personal note, add a dice roller for those that choose to use it, but I think most enjoy the clatter and terror of dice flying across the table in a moment of crisis.
Yes, this model requires Internet access to run a game. Given the near ubiquity of wireless net access this is less of an issue than even two years ago. Give it a few more years and you will have to live in Outer Mongolia not to have internet access at your chosen gaming location. Portable computers grow more powerful and cheaper every month, so even the most poverty-stricken of games will wield adequate technology.
You are probably thinking “Hey, you just described the WOTC DDI and 4th Edition Dungeons and Dragons.” Partially this is true, but only in the respect that online PC generators and encounter builders are good ideas. I want to get beyond the one-way business model of “publisher creates and the masses consume.”
All role-playing games are organic and evolve as the players move through the plot. GMs create new monsters, adjudicate rules and fix glaring mechanical problems in the system. Players constantly test the system’s limits and offer suggestions. Sadly, all of this evolution occurs on a local level with game groups. Sometimes a massively broken aspect of a game is repaired when enough players gripe to the publisher, but this is relatively uncommon.
My idea is a social network that constantly revises the game system, proposing tweaks and updates on an ongoing basis. Let the players decide if a rule is pointless or needs updating. A simple voting mechanic lets everyone have a say in what goes into the system.
Beyond rules, let members of the social network add content (monsters for example) to the “official” game. Members submit ideas to a voting process and after they reach a certain threshold (60%+), it goes into official canon. After approval all of the game’s features (PC generator, encounter generator) can access the new content immediately.
The social cloud aspect is very important because it makes public the thousands of good ideas that occur within small game groups that never spread into the greater gaming community.
Give out rewards, both tangible (cash/t-shirts/dice, etc) or intangible (admin status, badges) for contributors. Let the players build the game they want, not what a marketing department thinks they want.
This is a very rough draft of what I would like to see. There are still major issues to overcome like copyright ownership of submitted content, a sustainable business model(advertising or subscriptions perhaps), some kind of ombudsman system to review content changes and a hundred other things I have not thought of yet.
So, what say you all? Is this feasible? Is somebody already doing it? Or are we damned to buy paper rule books and PDFs for all time?
Trask, The Last Tyromancer