Friday, October 3, 2008

Planned Obsolescence

Though written with board games in mind, the quote from a very fascinating blog post could just as easily be applied to RPGs:
Now we have a publishing culture whose business is to get people to buy, not to play. That means games that don't last for more than a few plays, games that appeal to collectors or fad culture, and games that need quick massive sales in order to be worth publishing - because they're not going to be worth anything next year.
What I find particularly interesting about the post is that the author rightly notes the role that television has played in forever changing the way games are made and played. I've noted many times in the past that the cultural shift away from the written word and toward visual media has had a deleterious effect on the way people now conceive of fantasy, an effect that's shown very clearly in the way D&D has changed over the last 34 years. I'd never considered the effect it might have an effect even on the way games are sold.

Much to consider here.


  1. BITD, TSR printed copies of T1-4 (originally released in 1985) up through at least 1992, two years after the release of 2e; similarly, the AD&D 1e PHB was printed through at least July 1990, a year after the release of 2e.

    The idea that an rpg book only has a shelf life of 2-3 months is definitely a post-d20/3.0 phenomenon.


  2. Thanks for posting that link. That is so true! Boardgames now are just Licensed products with rehashed rules. They even make some of the most retarded anime about such games - they even make such game as all important, life-or-death events on such shows.

    The last Boardgame that was worth it salt was HeroQuset. It was cheap, had lots of props (minis & 3D furniture), easy to learn rules, really fun to play, simple enough to hosuerule, and the grim art was amazing! It has been out of print for over a decade, and fans still play it. They would buy other games to cannibalize the parts for the game. I have seen other games that try to capture the success of HQ, but they never get it right - rules to complex and/or too tight to houserule with, props sucks, art looks too colorful and happy.

    As for how this apples to the role-playing industry. RPGs have been deluded for years by commercialism. This was so true in the 90s with the Canon-Culture. This was a time when D&D was less about playing in your own world, and playing in established settings that was fueled by countless novels and sourcebooks. T$R and White Wolf made hand-over-fist with mata-plot gaming. Nowadays, its about selling cheap gumball minis. Some how 4e feels like it was balanced out to make the game more wargame-friendly. Well I guess that the joke when the hobby was sold out to a CCG company. :P

  3. Allan,

    As ever, you bring some invaluable historical data to these discussions.


  4. Could a parallel be drawn between the rise of RPGs as collector's item and sources of canon and the 'Chrome Age' (multiple covers, multi-title storylines, darker'n'edgier anti-heroes) fad in comic books? Or am I just hearing a rhyme and assuming an echo?

  5. Chris,

    I have often made the comparison between the RPG and comic book industries on numerous occasions. I can't say whether I'm right in doing so, but there definitely seem to be some unhappy parallels.