We all love to rag on Wizards of the Coast for fucking up our amazingly wonderful awesome incredible game. And to be fair, they fuck up a fair bit. Not enough that they’ve gone out of business, mind, but enough that they’re hurting us, and enough that they’re hurting their market share. According to ICv2 (which is brilliant), the good folks at Paizo are a close second in the role-playing game market, and they’re selling a game that Wizards of the Coast invented. Anyone looking at this should be able to understand the problem pretty quickly: Paizo is making nearly all of its money off of an intellectual property developed by their direct competitors, and they’re doing it legally, and it’s eating a healthy stack of Wizards’ lunch.
Most of the time, I don’t give business advice to the folks at Wizards of the Coast, because they’re supposed to know what the fuck they’re doing. These are some smart folk, the best and brightest that the gaming world has to offer. They’re supposed to understand that there is a very simple solution to this problem: they need to sell what Paizo is selling, and they can make more money selling it than Paizo can.
Back when 3rd Edition Dungeons & Dragons came out, a lot of people were pissed off that the company was replacing the best role-playing game in the world with some new, weird thing. They complained and they argued and there were some solid edition wars going on, but eventually most of the 2nd Edition folks came around to the new way of doing things. Why? Because they had no choice. It was getting harder and harder to find Dungeons & Dragons material for the edition they liked the best, and this new version was still Dungeons & Dragons, right?
This Edition War has a different flavor, though. There’s a new factor, and that factor is that you can still find material for the version of D&D you like better. You can still find 3rd Edition support from the folks at Paizo and their allies, and that means that the grognards of 3rd don’t need to eventually filter over to D&D4. I think what Wizards was hoping for was that the Dungeons & Dragons name would carry through for them, that people would rather play “Dungeons & Dragons” than “Pathfinder.” And to a degree, they’re right. I get a lot of waffling in my store. I have a set of the three core rule books for 3.5 sitting on my shelf, and it’s priced at a whopping $275. I don’t think I’m going to get that much for it. Yet. But eventually someone is going to come down to my store hoping to find some D&D3.5 core books, and I’ll say “Well, there’s Pathfinder over here…” And they’ll let me know that $275 is a steal for the Dungeons & Dragons name on the edition of the book they’re looking for. But a lot of people walk away, think about it, talk to their gaming buddies, and decide that they’d rather pick up Pathfinder than 4th Edition Dungeons & Dragons. The name means something, but if it’s the same product in a different wrapper, a lot of folks are going to buy. If it’s the same wrapper around a new, different product, they’re not so sure. Obviously, this is doing Paizo fairly well.
If Wizards wants to capitalize on this shitty situation, the solution is pretty simple. They need to open up their backlist. They need to put the entire collection of 3.5 D&D books on the idevice book apps for a dollar a piece. They need to print black-and-white perfect bound versions of the core books and put them back in circulation at a much lower price point than Pathfinder’s core book (say $25; it works for Palladium). They need to put 2nd Edition and 1rst Edition books up as .pdf files for free, and run that site on advertising packages. The most expensive part of making 3.5 D&D is paid for; all Wizards needs to pay for right now is reprinting and inventory, and both of those things are super-cheap compared to the loss of market share Paizo is currently representing.
Then they need to change how they’re doing 4th Edition entirely. Their focus is currently divided between online content and published content, and that hasn’t been doing them any favors. My coworker Ian and I were discussing the myriad ways Exalted and White Wolf have been sucking donkey balls for the past few years, and one of the ideas he put forth sort of struck home with me. Wizards of the Coast needs to put out two different versions of Dungeons & Dragons. On one side, they need printed product to support their organized play initiatives and to get most of their new playerbase involved. People become involved with D&D because someone passes them a book and says ‘This shit’s great, let’s give it a go.’ People need to have a thing in their hand before they become properly invested in the product you’re selling.
But Dungeons & Dragons isn’t a product as much as it’s an idea. It’s information, and if nothing else has been proven in the last few years of gaming, it’s a fluid idea. It’s a living idea, and the print medium is not best suited to that sort of document. Wizards should by all means continue to publish print books, but only the print books that fucking matter. Core rule-books. Setting information. Monsters. Things you need to sit down and play with your friends for a few hours.
Then they need to publish the most comprehensive online role-playing game experience ever attempted. They need to build the Google+ of role-playing games: huge online database with every word of every book, organized, searchable, integrated with a new character builder, an adventure designer, a monster-builder. Every power, every character, every dungeon tile, every sentence, all living in the cloud. The game’s errata occurs immediately. Characters are updated as the rules are. Player-built content lives side-by-side with official data so that every player can draw from every other player that uses this new set of tools. Online chat with video and audio capabilities, as well as an online table built in java allow for online play. Charge us more money for an actually robust online game, and we will gladly fucking pay it.
What problems does this solve? It means that product printed a year ago isn’t out-dated, it’s just the introductory product and it doesn’t represent the game as a whole. It means that errata can happen at the drop of a hat when something is proven to be broken. It means that you no longer have to pay scads of cash to publish high-quality book when you can pay less money by far to have a game that constantly reproduces itself, constantly updates itself, and never goes out of print. It means you stop having to deal with distributors, because you can send the logins that grant you access to this new and wonderful game to the same people running the D&D Encounters and D&D Dungeon Delve initiatives (which means that people who don’t have credit cards can still buy and enjoy your online offerings). It means you make more money, you spend less money, you increase your market share substantially, you make a lot of players much, much happier with you, you stop dividing your attention between print and online media, and you have improved the public opinion of your company with a huge division of the folks who currently hate you.
If someone at Wizards would like to hire me to fix their busted shit, they can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I’m not cheap.