Friday, November 7, 2008

Look on My Works, Ye Mighty

I haven't had a subscription to Pyramid in years and I haven't even attempted to play GURPS in even longer. Still, it's hard not take the news that, after 12 years online, Pyramid is becoming a monthly PDF release, as an ill omen for the hobby. Steve Jackson Games is one of the oldest and most well run companies in the industry. If even it can't turn a profit with its online edition of Pyramid, time must indeed be tough. I won't make any dire predictions based on this singular event. Still, it's shocking news to me and I expect it's not the only shocking news we'll hear from a big RPG manufacturer in the next 12-18 months.


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  2. I don't see the alarm. This sounds more like a format change more than anything. Pyramid has been a small thing for a long time now. I think this is more a function of adding to it, jazzing it up and reinvigorating the brand, which suggests to me a small amount of capital infusion.

    What info do you have that says they weren't turning a profit? How do you conclude this is an ill omen?

  3. It was simply too cheap. $20/year is in no way sustainable for something that is paying an editor, paying authors, paying part of a webmaster's salary, etc.

  4. Munchkin has dominated SJ Games bottom line for the last several years.

    Their major alternative GURPS has steadily become unapproachable to the average gamer.

    Don't get me wrong the game complexity hasn't changed. However the ability for a gamer to pick and just play GURPS for a given genre is near nil.

    This has limited the influx of new gamers relative to Munchkin and resulted in products that cater to the existing fan base.

    Note I am not saying the quality has not suffered. The new 4th edition book are as good or better than their 3rd edition predecessors.

    However there some a point where you have to stop writing theory and focus on practical examples.

    Also for whatever as well written as their books are SJ Game has a lack luster track record in coming up with engaging settings for their supplement particularly for Fantasy. (Banestorm)

    They have gone the PDF route to presumably boost profit margins on the work they do put into GURPS. Any particularly successful PDF gets turned into a softcover and appears in the stores. (GURPS Dungeon series).

    Note that GURP Dungeons helps with the fantasy genre however it using GURPS ability to emulate genres not playing to GURPS unique feel for fantasy RPGS (deadly and flexible)

  5. I've subscribed to Pyramid off and on since 1999. While not every article in every issue was useful to me in my gaming, there was usually at least one article, review, or other piece that I found worth reading every week - if nothing else, the press reports and the polls were interesting food for thought.

    They have offered members the chance to go in and download all of the last ten years of Pyramid in zipped files. I made sure I did that, and I'll probably spend some time going through all those articles and printing out some choice tidbits, especially some of the more thought-provoking Random Thought Tables.

  6. Good point about GURPS' difficulty. I would love to play it more often, but coming off of 3.5, I am tired of GMing with the manual glued to my hands. Why the hell can't people be happy with a 100 page, all-in-one rulebook?

    The hobby is marginalizing itself more and more with each bloated release.


  7. I thought about taking them up on the decade of zipped files, but I suspect I'd never get around to reading them. I find a lot more inspiration digging through much older publications like The Space Gamer. It reminds me of the days when gaming didn't require quite so much work!

  8. Man, I'd love to get that zip file, but they're saying if you weren't an active member before, tough luck, you can't get it. Hell, I'd pay to get it.

  9. This is what Steven Marsh, its editor, had to say: "With more and more content of all kinds available free on the web, subscription sales slumped. We hoped that subscribers would be willing to pay for extra quality. In trying to reach that goal, we made Pyramid SUCH a good deal, in terms of price per word, that all our effort on it earned very little money. The obvious conclusion was to either kill the magazine completely, or bring it in line with other products with similar budgets."

    Perhaps "little money" is not the same as "no profit," but it's hardly a good thing. SJG has a reputation for being one of the leaner, more financially astute companies out there. They wouldn't have made this decision if they felt they could continue to eke out a profit in its current format.

  10. I'm still trying to figure out why they didn't replace their ads with ads from one of the big ad-selling services.

  11. I subscribed to Pyramid when—disillusioned by Wizard’s D&D 3e—I was considering GURPS again. Not only were many of their articles written for systems other than GURPS, I found that most of them provided a lot of inspiration no matter what system you might be playing.

    Which I suppose should be unsurprising given the reputation of GURPS source books being useful no matter what system one plays.

    I would tend to agree that if Pyramid had any problems, it was being too good of a value and being too little known.

    Letting my subscription lapse was a largely symbolic action during some rough financial times. I should check it out again.

    As for the inability to pick-up-and-play GURPS: Didn’t the “powered by GURPS” books address this? As I understand it, they were essentially a GURPS source book with GURPS lite[sic] included.

    And templates were another way they addressed the issue.

  12. Why the hell can't people be happy with a 100 page, all-in-one rulebook?

    I think that's a very important question.

  13. > Why the hell can't people be happy with a 100 page, all-in-one rulebook?

    My cynical answer is they can. Just like they could be happy with 4yr old car, or a non mcmansion house, or last years fashion.

    But the respective industries can't be happy unless we constantly buy product. So, they spend inordinate amounts on marketing, advertising, and psychology in order to convince us we are unhappy.

    Your game is old and broken, you need to buy the new improved 4ed. <-- see the version number it's bigger! buy now.