Friday, March 24, 2006

It Makes The World Go 'Round

If I had my druthers, the answer would be games. But, sadly, it's money. I'm not talking about Monopoly money. I'm talking about cold hard greenA cash.

Being a libertarian by birthB, I believe in allowing unfettered natural market forces to drive the economy. Unfortunately, I also believe that the perfection of the libertarian utopia is constrained by the intelligence of its population. In essence, you get what you are willing to pay for, and not an iota more.

Why do we have Wal-Mart's all over the place? Because the majority of people want inexpensive stuff far more than they want a nice place to shopC.

What does this have to do with gaming? Isn't the entire gaming industry driven by our collective passion for games? Not really. While some designers and publishers may have a passion for games, the bottom line is that money controls what is possible, what gets made, and what we buy.

This essay is not a rant against that fact. It is simply a pondering of some of the influences of money on gaming and how that affects our experience.

Let's talk about Reiner KniziaD. Anything he designs gets instant buzz. Why? He's got 197 games to his name, and at least 15 are really really good. He's got 9 games in the BGG top 50. It's been said that he doesn't play games by other designers. But you don't get his kind of track record without some passion for the hobby.

Ok, so what? Well, games are not some unexplored land waiting to be discovered. They are invented. In some cases, quite a bit of their design is constrained. For example, there is going to be a 3rd expansion for the classic cooperative game Lord of the Rings. Do you think Knizia had a flash, called the publisher, and told him he had a new idea for an expansion? Or did the publisher say, "Hey, this game is selling well. Design us another expansion so we can milk it a bit more."?

I ask these questions without any cynicism. Stuff like this happens all the time. We can't be naive enough to think it's absent in gaming. That being said, I still trust that Knizia will do an excellent job given the very restricted space he has in which to work. It may not be the best "game" he's capable of at this moment, but it may be the best source of income for all parties involved at this time. That is not a bad thing.

Let's talk about serious gamersE. Games are produced to sell. The most profit can be gained not by catering to us, but to the masses. Even if we would be willing to pay ten times the standard rate for a game, it wouldn't be enough to make up for opportunity costs.

We may be the heart and soul of gaming, but we are not its wallet. We are the concept cars, the $1000 dresses on the catwalks. Designers throw us an occasional bone to keep us happy, and every once in a while, a consumer-targeted game misses its mark and ends up being really goodF. And in return, we fuel the hype, review their games, and even buy them.

Let's talk about BoardGameGeekG. It was created--I am sure--out of love for the hobby. It's the same reason we BGG addicts are there. But times they are a changin'. BGG now has that low-end consumer feel to it, just like a Wal-Mart. Everywhere you look, there's ads and crowds of people that you've never seen before. Most of the conversation is noise.

BGG is simply following the market. Aldie now needs BGG income to support his new full-time endeavor. Some of this money may come from BGG supporters, but I'm guessing a much bigger chunk comes from ads and affiliate programs. BGG now caters to the masses.

So this is natural and expected. What's the economic downside? There's less incentive to contribute. More and more BGG regulars are getting their gaming info elsewhere. They are writing in their blogs rather than making posts to the BGG forums. There's little effect at this point for the casual passerby, but over time I think new people will be less likely to become regulars. The reasons we became regulars in the first place no longer exist.

BGG is still the best place to go for information, rules, images, yada yada. But it doesn't feel like a hang out any more. The site keeps evolving in form and function, but it feels more like draping Christmas lights over a dying tree. There's an underlying inconsistency that's just not being addressed, and the site design is very unprofessional.

Let's talk about game quality in general. I'm probably one of the most vocal people when it comes to quality. I expect game publishers to test their games, to write clear and unambiguous rules, and to produce components that have exceptional function. Maybe they listen, but they don't really care. Say you published a game that I would consider perfect in terms of quality. Compare that to the same game with $5 cheaper components. The effect on sales is probably minimal, but the savings is huge.

Let's face it, weH complain because it makes us feel better. It takes a serious blunder--something along the lines of the RRT board warp issue--to make a publisher take action. And even in that case, I doubt there will be a fair solution.

Publishers can crank out whatever crap they want, and we will buy it. They do not care about the indignant few who can't bear to part with the same amount of cash they spent taking their significant other to see Police Academy 6. Fortunately there are forces at work in favor of the consumer. The look of game helps it sell. That at least promotes reasonable quality components. Also, more and more people are becoming informed before they buy thanks to places like BGG. If your game sucks, you will feel the pain.

Do not fret. All is not lost. In this day and age, the internet is our voice. One day the large majority of game buyers will all be talking together. Publishers and designers will not be allowed the kind of mistakes they routinely and cavalierlyI foist upon us. Okay, maybe this was a little bit of a rant. But the tide will turn. I look forward to the future, where the informed masses turn money into a positive force for the consumer.

A Colors may vary by region.
B I believe that if you have sufficient IQ, you can't be anything but a libertarian.
C I hate Wal-Mart.
D My favorite designer.
E I consider myself one.
F I mean a gamer's game.
G My favorite website.
H The royal we.
I Yup. It's a word. I just looked up.


At 11:19 AM, Blogger gamesgrandpa said...

Beautiful! Excellent post. Catharsis is good for the soul -- applying to both the writer and the reader. Thanks much!

At 3:01 PM, Blogger Unknown said...

I know what you mean, dude. Just check out today's thread on the offensive Rocketville ad. According to Koldfoot, we can't complain if we don't have a Supporter '06 badge. Whatever.

I knew things would go down the tubes when Aldie quit his job to run it. Before he quit, he had to make enough money to pay BGG's bills. Now he has to make enough money to pay BGG's bills and his family's.

Why, oh why can't things go back to the way they were?

At 7:42 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I just made one more post in the Rocketville thread. I followed that up by customizing my BGG home page to remove every forum except the Reviews. I've wasted too much of my time on it.

At 10:45 PM, Blogger Friendless said...

I think it was Sue and maybe Derk that said in that thread that the geek is not so useful when you've devoured everything on it. I've noticed that I'm keener to check Bloglines than the front page of the 'geek, but apparently unlike Chris Shaffer I have *so* much time sitting in front of a computer waiting that I still need the 'geek to fill my daily quota of game-related dross. I agree it is worse than it used to be, but it's still OK.

At 11:21 AM, Blogger Steve Janecek said...

As usual, you hit the nail on the head 90% of the time.

The libertarian comment is interestign though and I often think that if EVERYONE had that IQ it could work, but unfortunately, we live in the US..where 51% of the people are idiots, and dont even take the time to think about "why" anything.

So, sure, Libertarians may have it right theoretically...but it will never work...just like Communists may have it right theoretially...but thast did not work

At 8:15 PM, Blogger Brian Perez said...

I agree with your B superscript. That's all I had to say. I am rather new to BGG and I enjoy listening to what it was like in the ancient past from the people who were there. I guess I've always been a history buff.


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