Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Roleplaying Evangelism -- Hasbro Targets Young Audiences


Last, I commented about my belief that if the roleplaying hobby wants to remain vibrant and "alive," it will need to recruit younger gamers. The alternative is for our hobby to age with us and fade into the mists of antiquity. When I was growing up, TSR specifically targeted younger gamers with the Moldvay/Cook "Basic" line of D&D products, the Fantasy Forest and Dungeon! boardgames, action figures, and a Saturday morning cartoon.

During the 90s, TSR largely abandoned products designed to appeal to young audiences and shifted to a tone somewhere in the PG-13 range. While their misguided attempt to disassociate themselves from Culture Wars criticisms regarding the games occult content through the removal of the words "Devil" and "Demon" from their early AD&D 2nd edition products might lead one to believe that the company had become "kid centric" as a whole, this belief would be in error. The 90s saw TSR produce the Ravenloft line of horror fantasy products (PG-13 horror to be sure), the Birthright fantasy setting (a slightly darker and more political setting), and the Dark Sun apocalyptic planetary romance setting (Dark Sun as planetary romance deserves a whole post of its own). The only real effort to attract young gamers was Troy Denning's "Black Box" D&D Basic set, a set that happens to be my favorite introduction to the hobby ever written. Denning, who left TSR during the Gygax era to be one of the founders of Pacesetter, is an old hand at writing "new gamer" friendly products and his "Black Box" was a doozy (it too deserves its own post). Aside from this product though TSRs products were aimed squarely at mid-teens and higher. Mystara, Spelljammer, and Dragonlance were for the mid-teens, while Greyhawk, Forgotten Realms, Birthright, Planescape, and Dark Sun were for older audiences. Heck...Planescape has wonderful content that is borderline R rated fantasy. This list doesn't include their X-Files inspired Dark*Matter setting for the Alternity game, that was R for sure.

To some gamers, the fact that TSR wrote so much PG-13 material might make the company seem too "kid oriented." I'm not one of them. When I say that gaming companies need to recruit younger players for the health of the hobby, I mean 8-10 year-olds. This audience was abandoned by TSR in the 90s, to the detriment of the hobby. Pre-90s TSR, for all that grognards think of it as a more "hard core" era of the company had corporate policies directed specifically at attracting younger audiences. To quote a Kevin Blume interview in THE SPACE GAMER #63, "The demographics are moving younger...Our major grouping seems to be from eight to 22...We, ourselves, have adopted a code of ethics and conduct similar to what is used in the comic book industry...People can holler censorship if they want, but that type of material will not be allowed at Gen Con, and the yptes of products that promote sex, nudity, and violence and so forth [sic] are simply not appropriate for this audience...our marketplace is composed of an awful lot of younger people."

Compare Blume's description of the hobby in 1983 with today's gaming audience. It matches the Games Workshop audience, who due to specific outreach (without overt censorship BTW) have managed to increase the number of young players, but it doesn't match other aspects of the roleplaying game hobby.

This is why I was so happy last week when I saw that Wizards of the Coast, in coordination with Moonstone Publishing, had released a free introductory adventure specifically targeted at younger players. This adventure, The Heroes of Hesiod, is based on the Young Reader novel Monster Slayers by Lucas Ritter -- the novel itself is an extension of Mirrorstone's excellent and successful "Practical Guide to" series of books which includes the best selling A Practical Guide to Monsters.

Wizards aggressive recruitment of younger gamers has also prompted them to publish a D&D version of arguably the best "mass market" miniatures game ever published -- Heroscape.Heroscape Master Set 3 Game

If our hobby is to continue to grow, or sustain itself as a mature marketplace, products like these and Faery's Tale Deluxe by Patrick Sweeney, Sandy Antunes, Christina Stiles, and Robin D. Laws need to be produced. As gamers, we need to encourage and support these efforts as much as we fight against them censoring down the product lines for adults. There is nothing wrong with hobby gaming becoming such a mature market that there are separate product lines for kids, teens, and adults. All that matters is that all of the product lines are of good quality and that companies and fans support them when they are. It was tragic that Wizards didn't support the Knights of the Silver Dragon series in the same way that they are supporting the "Practical Guides" line -- an article in Dragon Magazine is not as aggressive a marketing effort as coordination with libraries and well produced online content.

The funny thing is that the "Practical Guide to Monsters" that was successful enough to prompt this expansion, was itself an extension of the Knights of the Silver Dragon series of books.

Show your support and download The Heroes of Hesiod and play it with your kids/younger friends.
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