Monday, May 16, 2011

I'm Tired of Edition Wars -- An Open Letter to Gamers

Dear Gamers on the Internet,

Every now and then I like to visit the various websites associated with the companies who manufacture and produce role playing games that I enjoy. These companies, and companies that no longer exist, have provided me with over 20 years of entertainment. The companies are filled with hard working employees who care about the hobby, participate in the hobby themselves, and who believe that roleplaying games are something valuable enough to make a career out of. Given the size of most of these companies, and the ratio of dollars profit to hours of labor of most rpg product, I hold them in pretty high esteem.

I also firmly believe that every single one of them wants to entertain us with an engaging quality product.

I am sick of reading screeds on the message boards of company x about how company x has betrayed the gaming tradition and how company y's came is the real version of company x's product. I am sick of visiting company y's boards and reading comments by fans of company x's products who troll around slamming on the hard work of the employees and fans of company y. Stop it. It is irritating to those of us in the hobby who love both company x and company y, and who realize that these companies have shared staff from time to time. A certain staffer at company x wrote a heck of a lot of the content about a certain "Shackled City." He seems to be a stand up guy.

These comments apply to all those in the "indie" and "retro rpg" movements as well. These communities are creating wonderful gaming products that are influencing the design decisions of the bigger companies. These communities are invaluable to the gaming hobby as they spawn innovation and are some of the best sources of new players. But I am sick of them attempting parricide on older and newer games/editions. You make the hobby better, but so do those other games.

There is no perfect game, and no perfect edition. I would even go so far as to argue that there are only a few truly awful roleplaying games in existence. In fact, I believe that there are more high quality roleplaying games and game adventures than I will ever be able to play in my lifetime. They are already out there. When I found a copy of Dennis Sustare's Swordbearer, I was blown away by how awesome that forgotten game was. When I cracked open Heroes of Shadow for D&D 4e, I was impressed with some of the design decisions which went in directions I never would have chosen -- yet they still seemed to work. When I began reading the most recent Paizo Adventure Path, the "Hammer Studios" fan in me got giddy.

My gaming group recently decided to add "one shot" sessions playing games we've never played before into our normal mix of play, and it has been wonderful. Some of these one shots will be of forgotten, or smaller press, games, but other sessions will be of prior editions of existing games. I'd love to have four to six one shots that go through the evolution of GURPS from The Fantasy Trip to present. We've already done a couple of "Moldvay/Cook" sessions and will likely do more, but that will have to wait for sessions of Boot Hill and even the old Fantasy Games Unlimited Flash Gordon rpg.

These are all wonderful games, and I believe that every edition of the "most popular role playing game in history" are excellent.

As much as I want to say that edition wars are bad because every edition is good -- and I do believe that -- this isn't the real reason that edition wars are bad. Edition wars are bad because they scare away new players. Imagine if you will to people heatedly arguing about some subject that you have little -- or only a passing -- interest in, let's say this subject is programming on The CW Network. As the conversation progresses, the passion of the speakers might pique your interest a little. "These shows must have something to them if they inspire such passion," you might say to yourself. But as the conversations progress and the passion quickly escalates to violate Godwin's Law, your interest might quickly wane. You will no longer care if Supernatural is a better show than Vampire Diaries, and you may not even turn on the one that most matches your viewing preferences. You might miss something you would really like.

The desire to avoid the product associated with people suffering from a kind of IFWS is stronger with the gaming hobby than with other products because the potential new player must ask him/herself, "are these the kind of people I want to spend 4-8 hours a week hanging out with?"

I'll tell you what. I don't want to spend most of my gaming time hanging around people who have to insult other games to build up their own game play. I want to hang around with people who care about the hobby, and who want to have fun. Let's all have fun!

14 comments:

cwhite said...

I'm totally with you! (Except for those 4th edition guys--that game's crap!)

Totally kidding. I've blogged on the same topic: http://intwischa.com/2011/02/the-value-of-systems/

Scott said...

One of the best posts I've ever read, and a worthwhile sentiment.

Tim Brannan said...

Awesome post.

Edition wars are crap. I honestly believe to only way to improve as a gamer is to try multiple games.

Ragnorakk said...

Kudos!

Elbuagnin said...

Hear, hear. Well said!

Bob said...

alot of people worked very hard on Windows Vista. But it wasn't very good. If people just accepted it for only it's good points, and didn't really bitch about it's bad points... well they wouldn't have bothered with the changes in Windows 7. Which still may not be very good, but is better than Windows Vista. I don't rant all over the internet about 4th edition, or turn people off it, but it's not for me, and in an appropriate forum, I will try to share why, and hope for a better next edition, for me.

Christian Lindke said...

I actually don't believe that there are many "bad points" to most role playing games. There are many "not for me" points to a number of role playing games, but that is a very different thing.

4e is quite innovative and a lot of fun if you can embrace its design decisions, which are descendants of games like Feng Shui, Burning Wheel, and D&D.

3.x was innovative for adding some rigorous design into encounter balance and a real attempt to make multi-classing work in a meaningful way.

Pathfinder innovated the way that combat maneuvers work, and changed the class to class balance a little bit by making some of the shapechange spells more "static" -- among other very good changes.

Ars Magica innovated by creating a free form magic system and an interesting dueling system.

Feng Shui innovated by adding static predictability to heroic action enabling players to perform more "awesome" tasks.

The list goes on...

Styles of play vary, and there are games for various styles, but few games suffer from the kinds of problems that Windows 7 experienced -- and the kinds of criticism offered of 4e were often not useful for the purpose of fixing issues.

I'm just an advocate for the hobby as a whole. I think players should feel free to talk about what is great about their system -- and even criticize other systems -- but I that is different than agitating a flame war or shouting (in internet fashion) down opinions you disagree with.

As an advocate of the hobby, I want us to make the hobby seem appealing to those who aren't yet "one of us...one of us...one of us."

SpiralBound said...

You've nailed my feelings on the matter completely. The infighting has the potential to do a lot of harm to this hobby. The entire edition war is such a petty, lilliputian issue anyhows, I can't understand the zombie-esque staying power it has. Just how big of a loser are you if you are STILL agruing over which version of the rules of a particular game are more intrinsically better in some innately (and innanely) personally subjective measure than another version? Really? This is worth arguing over? Just play the game!

Anonymous said...

A gamer geek complaining about gamer geeks who complain about gamer geeks. Get off your high horse. For some people, not me, but some people, flame wars are what make it fun for them. Most everyone else can just ignore it. Who cares about what gets said on internet forums? As a role player you should understand that forums are just another game where people can try on personas. Also, those imaginary people who you think would be part of the hobby as you put but get turned off by forums posts just don't exist, certainly not in any significant numbers. Go play, have fun, do what you enjoy, and leave others to the same.

Josh said...

I've started writing on this topic several times but never finished because I couldn't quite get the "feel" of my argument right.

Yours is one of the most eloquent statements on the issue that I have seen. Well said!

By the way, am I the only person who thinks Vista and Windows 7 are 90% (or more) the same, and most of the changes were cosmetic? Kinda like 3.0 -> 3.5 IMHO...

Callin said...

@Anonymous Recently I was at a gaming convention. It was a mix of new and old players playing a variety of editions. I could tell some of the players were new to the hobby and were having fun. However, in one corner was a group grousing about 4E and saying it would be dead soon. What are the new players to take from. Sure they could take the notion that there are other games out there, but they could also take that this geek lifestyle is fading and dying and why should they participate in something like that. In the end it benefits no one.
And that is what disturbs me the most about people who proclaim that edition wars or flame wars are a form of entertainment in and of themselves; in the end it benefits no one else. It is a selfish pastime, at best an annoyance to be ignored, at worst a true detriment to the hobby.

TheClone said...

signed.

silverdesertdesign said...

Now, I happen to not be a fan of 4e (not because I don't think the rules are poorly done- they just happen to impart a different feeling for my games than I'm looking for), but the rules are secondary... the play's the thing. If you have a good group of players together, you could run a compelling game, full of fun and excitement, without anyone picking up a die or, in fact, even choosing a gaming platform on which to base their actions.

Anonymous said...

The motivation behind 4E (grab a new customer base whilst abandoning the old one, include lots of "proud nails" of personal game design philosophy that are alien to what people know D&D to be while we're at it, plus sell minis and gradually subscription model then computerize entirely) were junk.

The D&D fanbase largely reacted to such cynical motivations as they deserved - the more discerning ones recognized the resulting product as crap. Some entire companies (e.g. Paizo) and many game designers also agreed. Do not put the onus on the former D&D fans to ignore the mess WOTC has intentionally made - they made their bed, and now sleep in it.