The Red Box Blog

Ramblings about D&D.

Making RPGs Cool Again

After reading this article, which was itself referencing this one, I found myself wondering how rpgs could overcome this:

Towards the end, they get into an interesting discussion about how the current environment for games differs from the environment D&D came out of. The short of it is that RPGs— or any board game, really— are competing for time with video games. Video games have many strong incentives to get you up and running very quickly, whereas learning an RPG or any sort of board game typically takes time. It’s a boostrapping problem: how do you start playing immediately if you have no idea how to play? I imagine that first hour, if that long, is extremely fragile.

The truth is that rpgs have always had a barrier to entry, but now there are more alternatives that lack this barrier. But surely there must be a way to over come the barrier, a way to get people to try rpgs out en masse and expand the industry.

Attract New Players Using Computer Games

Well, I have one answer; leverage those very things that are stealing away potential players. If we could use the very things that keep people from becoming players as tools to teach them to become players – then gaming could reach many new audiences.

The obvious competitor to rpgs, that I am going to focus on for the rest of this article, are computer games. Now integrating rpgs into computer games is nothing new; its been going on since the 80s and the two are now so intertwined that most computer game players have a very good idea of the mechanics of pencil and paper rpgs. But the conversion rate is very low because some computer game players were already playing pencil and paper, and most of the rest don’t know (or care) that the rules of the game they are playing has some connection to a game that is not a computer game. The mediums may be related, and share users, but the rate at which computer rpg players decide to take up pencil and paper games is low.

Bioware D&D/d20 games frequently outsell the games they are based on.

But creating an epic computer game with ties to a pencil and paper game isn’t what I’m talking about. It can only reach the audience who are already interested enough to shell out $50 for the game. Further, as a purchased product its customers will expect it to stand on its own, and not push them in any way towards something else. But there is a kind of game that reaches a an even larger audience and without the requirements of a retail purchase, I am talking about Facebook games.

A Facebook Game That Teaches How to Play PnP

Imagine a game made for Facebook (or any other place where free games are flourishing these days). A game that combines the addictive qualities that so many of those games have, with gentle nudges towards taking up pencil and paper gaming. Once people start playing these games, they feel they HAVE to max them out.

So you start with a game, which for the sake of example will be based on D&D 4E. Make the game like some of the best rpgs of the 80s where the world is crazy huge, and for the most part you just wander around it exploring. There are lots of little side quests you could do in a short time, but no over arching story. The rules are hugely parsed down, and you get very few choices.

Now every level for the first 5 works kind of like a typical Facebook game, with fanfare and achievement stuff every time you pass. But starting with level 6, in order to get the achievement you also need to answer a question about D&D. The answers to the questions are all located on an easy to access website, but the players are none the less encouraged to find out a bit about the game.

Millions of people will start to play a facebook game, then be unable to stop.

Then, at level 11, the player unlocks the ability to customize his character and gets access to a pdf of the slimmed down Players Handbook. This encourages him to read and figure out the best way to maximize his character. As the game progresses through Paragon tier it becomes more and more dependent on the player having read the PHB. At 16 level the player unlocks a coupon for a large discount on a real life copy of the PHB.

Once the player reaches Epic tier they win access to a play by chat session of D&D (run by someone from Wizards). They earn another one of these each level and then to reach level 26 they have to have actually used all the sessions they’ve earned. Finally, to pass each of the last 5 levels in the game, the player has to publish (on Facebook) a note detailing a live session they have participated in.

The Fall of Board Games Makes RPGs More Special

I don’t know if there is a single answer to the problem to the explosion in entertainment choices people face right now, but I do think that the solution lies not in bemoaning the competition, but in utilizing them. Computers and the internet are a powerful tool, and one that can easily link to gaming. Further, it should be recognized that as those other entertainment choices grow more dominant pencil and paper games get a far more unique quality about them; 30 years ago there was nothing special about a game you got together with your friends to play around a table, but today a game which does that gives a special feeling that many people are lacking.


October 6, 2010 - Posted by | RPGs | , , ,

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