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SPoD
2011-06-10, 07:50 PM
OK, inspired by the off-the-wall idea from this thread (http://www.giantitp.com/forums/showthread.php?t=202539), here's my related question:

Let's say one was forming a company to make tabletop RPGs. And let's say that one had already acquired the capital needed to do some serious marketing, as well as pay for decent art and such for the book, so that the physical product would be professional-looking.

What would be required to create a fantasy game that could actually compete with D&D in the marketplace right now? Not win; that may be impossible, given how many everyday people know the D&D brand. But compete; have healthy sales, a decent-sized player base, and significant enough impact that WOTC noticed your existence.

Here are some suggestions of the sort of things I'm wondering about, but you can feel free to add your own:

Would it be necessary to abandon the "band of heroes in a quasi-medieval world" motif, because D&D has that locked up (with Pathfinder picking up the scraps)? Or would it be necessary to embrace that motif precisely because that's what most people expect from roleplaying games?

Would it be necessary to have a very "crunchy" system with a lot of rules and options, or is there any chance of a rules-light system getting the same kind of traction?

Would it be helpful or harmful for it to be tied to a specific piece of fluff, like a series of novels? Assume that the rules would contain room for other settings, but the default assumptions would be tied to an existing IP.

What sort of online/computer-based support would you expect to see from a modern RPG launch? Character builder, obviously, and probably PDF books, but would an online play option make it more or less appealing to the tabletop RPG crowd?

In general, would it be better to carve out a niche completely apart from D&D, the way White Wolf has, or to try to cater to the people who like D&D's niche but not it's execution, the way Pathfinder has?

Any additional thoughts are welcome, I'm just really curious as to what would need to be done to actually take a stab at this.

Shadowknight12
2011-06-10, 09:29 PM
This is far less fact-based than I'd like. Not speaking from a speculating point of view, but a personal one, as a potential customer.


You're looking at it the wrong way. What sells D&D isn't the archetypical character concepts (in fact, I'd even say that predefined archetypes actually hurt sales, as players can be deceived into thinking the system does not support alternate concepts). What sells D&D is its aesthetics. It's consistent and flavourful, allowing instant immersion and making the system feel more like a living, breathing toolbox than a cold set of rules and numbers. As long as the new system's aesthetics are unique and similarly rich and consistent, it can compete with D&D regardless of its niche.
The problem with rules-light systems is the diminished mystery factor. Rules are not bad. Rules are actually good. Saying "You can do anything you want, just get the DM to eyeball a DC and roll an appropriate check" is simple and easy to remember, but it's also rather plain and boring (to me, I'm sure many others will disagree). Rules add restrictions, they raise questions ("Do I want to cast this spell, or should I cast this other one instead?"), they make choices meaningful and provide a context for them. I prefer to have different rules for a variety of situations, I prefer things coming with risks and costs ("why should scrolls and potions be reliable? I want a chance of magical mishaps!" for example), so that I have to weigh options, manage resources and, most importantly, so that I don't have to rely on myself to come up with challenges to overcome. The flipside of this matter is that the system must be easy to learn despite its complexity, and it must allow for customisability in order to succeed*.
The way I would do it would be to create 2-4 "official" settings, created with the same tools that the system would give DMs and players to create their own worlds and characters, and tie official fluff to it. One would have to be the clichéd fantasy world, because that world sells. Another one would have to be steampunk/pulp, because that too, sells. Then you might have a couple more for wild ideas, in the vein of Dark Sun, Planescape or Spelljammer (meaning: settings that deviate wildly from the norm, but are still interesting to the core demographic).
To me, online support would make it more appealing, so long as it's not mandatory. If the core books give me what I need to run a game, I'm fine with having to pay extra for tools that make my life simpler, but not for things that the core books are supposed to have, like monster data, customisation tools, errata and the like. Also, I would not like at all the idea of having to pay a subscription for new material. I would much rather pay for an actual book after a long wait, that has been adequately playtested and balanced, rather than some rushed material churned out every month to keep customers hooked to a subscription.
In this day and age, you cannot succeed by focusing on a niche. It's just not possible any longer. Niche tactics are the "safe" choice for any starting project. Nobody wants to take risks, and niches are safe because they assure you a certain part of the market, and that in turn assures you money. This means, in the long run, that all niches will be filled and we will start seeing heavy competition within ridiculously specific niches, like starving dogs fighting over a scrap of meat. That is not the way to go**.


All in all, I think this is doable, but it requires someone with money, with a clear vision of what the RPG's goals are and what matters in this field, with the willingness to take the necessary risks and with the ability to bring his vision into fruition. And that's far from easy. Which is why I'm not really holding my breath. Until RPGs become mainstream, the odds of this happening are going to remain dismally low.

*: This customisability comes from the partial association of fluff and crunch. A system must have a mechanical way to reflect the way the world works, but since many campaigns take place on different worlds, customisability becomes imperative. The rules must be alterable so that the largest amount of world concepts and character concepts are feasible.

**: The way to go is to think big, and think solid. If you want to succeed in the RPG market these days, you either find an unfulfilled niche and fill it before anyone else wises up, or you develop a truly outstanding system that encompasses many individual niches and supersedes the specific systems that have already been developed for them. This requires exceptional standards of quality, customisability, aesthetics, approachability, marketing, long-term support and, quite frankly, it requires experts. And not just RPG veterans, no. It requires experts in business, psychology, sociology, mathematics, history and many more. You have to create a system that provides everything 3.5e offered, without the broken aspects, then you have to add all the unique things from less popular RPGs (the traits that attract people to that system), you have to ensure that whoever is behind the system knows their audience, knows how times change, how players change, and remains keenly aware that RPGs have a psychological foundation (because they satisfy psychological needs). In short, the only way a true competitor can arise to surpass D&D if it's backed by a team of multi-disciplinary experts who know what they're doing.

erikun
2011-06-10, 10:22 PM
Well, the first thought that comes to mind is that you don't want to create one game to compete with D&D. You want to create several games. Preferably, you want to have a team of people who is capable of designing a range of different systems. This is because no RPG publisher, apart from TSR/WotC, makes their money off of only one RPG system. Even White Wolf, who sticks to their d10 Storytellish system, expands out into things like Trinity and Exalted.

Trying to build one system is far too risky, and even if it could work, you're not guaranteed that it will work fast enough to be a business success. You're best off with a couple of less-expensive systems that are more likely to turn a profit, and then releasing your "killer" RPG when you have a stable base - or turn one of your successful systems into your "killer" RPG.


Would it be necessary to abandon the "band of heroes in a quasi-medieval world" motif, because D&D has that locked up?
No. The biggest question would be, "How well do fantasy RPGs sell today?" It could be that all the D&D lore over the last 30+ years have made fantasy games highly attractive, and any system that caters to that will have boosted sales. It is just as likely that most people are tired of the "Magic and Dragons" theme, and would rather play sci-fi or modern fantasy.

Either way, the fact that D&D does fantasy doesn't keep another system from stealing the "best fantasy" title from it.


Would it be necessary to have a very "crunchy" system with a lot of rules and options, or is there any chance of a rules-light system getting the same kind of traction?
Either could work. Ideally, you would probably want a system lighter and easier to learn. Old D&D attracted the nerdy crowd with a lot of math and tables; making new, highly complex system isn't going to attract a large number of 'new nerds'.

Heck, anyone who wants to get into the hobby to be considered a 'nerd' will probably be attracted to the D&D title most of all.


Would it be helpful or harmful for it to be tied to a specific piece of fluff, like a series of novels?
I've seen a number of very good "generic" RPGs, but nothing that has really stood out. Heck, Tri-Stat mostly cornered the whole anime RPG industry, which was really big about 10 years ago, but never made it very far.

I think that tying a system to a specific series would be very good. That doesn't mean that the system needs to be tied to the series, though. It could be a more generic system, but the setting-specific parts of the game will be the most recognizable and marketable.

Take a look at World of Darkness: It is a fairly generic modern horror setting, but most people looking at it see Vampire: The Masquerade due to Vampire being far more recognizable.


What sort of online/computer-based support would you expect to see from a modern RPG launch?
Preferably? An online Gametable-type system, where one person (paying a monthly fee) could host and anyone else (signed up or not) could play. The system would also need to provide all printed material, for free, on the website while paying the monthly fee. Character builder, character sheets, and searchable databases as well. If you are going to charge people $5 a month or so, then they had better feel like they are getting their money's worth from it.

Downloadable PDFs don't seem to work out too well, due to people taking them and distributing them after just one month's registration fee. Then again, perhaps it wouldn't matter - it's hard to tell at this point if that would actually reduce sales any.



Also, one big thing that I haven't visited yet: Have a plan. Preferably, have a big plan. And have a good plan. Don't just say, "Let's make a fantasy RPG!" Say something like, "Let's make a fantasy RPG, with options for modern and sci-fi settings, a book series and fantasy wall-scroll posters."

Having some plans on where you want the system (indeed, the business) to go will help focus your efforts now and avoid compatability problems later. If you want your system to play both fantasy and sci-fi, then you'll probably focus on a game that allows things like guns and cars - unlike D&D, where such additions feel extremely tacked-on. On the other hand, if you want to stick with sci-fi but allow various mythological settings, then you'd want to allow stuff like Greek gods and Djinn and native american dreamwalkers to work with the system. If you plan to sell wallscrolls, then you'll want to focus on good artists and good artwork from the beginning; if you're planning on creating some video games from the system, then it would be good to focus on making the system computer-logic compatable.

Seb Wiers
2011-06-10, 10:52 PM
The thing that sells D&D is... D&D. With any RPG, you don't typically buy the game; you buy into the network of people who play the game.
So, you need to do everything possible to a) make it so that people play the game and b) make it easy for people to connect and play with other people who play the game.

Would it be necessary to abandon the "band of heroes in a quasi-medieval world" motif, because D&D has that locked up (with Pathfinder picking up the scraps)? Or would it be necessary to embrace that motif precisely because that's what most people expect from roleplaying games?

I think you are pretty well stuck with pre-modern fantasy if you want any sort of mass-market.

Would it be necessary to have a very "crunchy" system with a lot of rules and options, or is there any chance of a rules-light system getting the same kind of traction?

I think crunch sells, because in the end crunch means less work during game play. There's less open to interpretation, less need for improvisation, and less dependence on imagination. That's not a bad thing, BTW.

Would it be helpful or harmful for it to be tied to a specific piece of fluff, like a series of novels? Assume that the rules would contain room for other settings, but the default assumptions would be tied to an existing IP.

Almost certainly helpful. GMs (and players) want a background setting to work with.

What sort of online/computer-based support would you expect to see from a modern RPG launch? Character builder, obviously, and probably PDF books, but would an online play option make it more or less appealing to the tabletop RPG crowd?

I think good online play is a very strong feature, but it may be impossible to develop economically at this time. You'd have to do the dev work for much less than most MMORPG's spend. Also, I think RPG's work best with people who know each-other in real life, so "virtual tabletops" may only really serve to re-connect separated friends; if console game servers are any guide, joining random people on a VTT would only hurt your game.

In general, would it be better to carve out a niche completely apart from D&D, the way White Wolf has, or to try to cater to the people who like D&D's niche but not it's execution, the way Pathfinder has?[/list]

I don't think that's really relevant, but I'd tend to lean towards "own niche", at least in mechanics. To me, a level & class based fantasy system that competes with D&D seems a hard sell.

Personally, I think what might end up kicking ass is open source content combined with excellent online gaming (pay to play). Make the books free, but make the play aids so good that people will pay to use them even when sitting around a table with their friends. People are gonna start doing that with their tablets and readers anyhow, so get them using your apps, not third party stuff. Once you get that, it won't matter so much if they are sitting in the same room or on different continents.

rayne_dragon
2011-06-10, 10:54 PM
Here's the thing: there are tons of great RPGs out there. Some have been around for years and years. Very few systems come close to competing with D&D at the only ones that I can think of are White Wolf and (maybe) GURPs. The former system offers an entirely different approach to gaming than D&D and caters to a different crowd (the vampire/werewolf crowd). The latter is designed to offer more variety and options than D&D, and while D&D has proved versatile, there is a certain feel to it that make it seem less well-suited to certain settings or types of characters.

The interesting thing about D&D is that the more recent editions are completely different than each other and earlier editions, yet the brand retains popularity. Which leads me to think that the success of D&D doesn't have to do with the content of the game so much as the brand image. D20 had a lot of rulebooks for various popular movies and books as well: Call of Cthulhu, Wheel of Time, and Star Wars. In some ways it reminds me of the video game industry, when sony entered the playstation into the market - I think having the final fantasy games on it and not nintendo's system at the time (which I don't even recall the name of) helped establish it in the market.

So there's only two ways I see being able to compete with D&D:

1) get the copyright/trademark/liscence for D&D and all related things then market your own game under the D&D brand

2) Find a way to make your game marketable under a recognizable brand identity (something that people instantly would recognize as both an RPG and something they'd want to play) along with producing suppliments that tie into popular established media franchises to draw players into it.

There's a third way, but it involves sinking money into suppliments and marketing until the game is popularly recognized, but this wouldn't be viable as a commercial business strategy since it would require a ridiculous amount of capital invested into it intially and would be unlikely to show profitable returns for years, if ever. You would eventually have a competetive share of the market, though.

valadil
2011-06-10, 11:34 PM
I don't believe it's possible because of edition wars. There are people who will blindly stick up for their favorite game due to emotional reasons and never give the new game a chance. If WotC can't convince people to play a new D&D, what hope do you have of convincing people to play a non-D&D?

SPoD
2011-06-11, 12:56 AM
OK, a lot of good response, but I want to emphasize that I agree that it is impossible to beat D&D. That's not what I mean by "competing." I'm more curious as to what it would take to slide into a comfortable 3rd or 4th position, sales-wise. If we assume the D&D is the #1 and Storyteller and all its variants are a clear #2, what would it take to come out even or on top against, say, GURPS and Mutants & Masterminds and Pathfinder and whatever else is still selling out there?


I don't believe it's possible because of edition wars. There are people who will blindly stick up for their favorite game due to emotional reasons and never give the new game a chance. If WotC can't convince people to play a new D&D, what hope do you have of convincing people to play a non-D&D?

On this, I disagree. One of the key reasons edition wars happen is because people have a clear idea of what they think D&D must be, and Edition X isn't it. A new system would actually avoid that problem. I know several people who are fanatical on one side of the 3e/4e debate and will never touch the other edition, but will give any unrelated system a try if someone they know is GMing it. A new system would have a problem getting totally new players compared to D&D, but then, new players also don't care about edition wars or the like.

Totally Guy
2011-06-11, 02:19 AM
Here's the thing: there are tons of great RPGs out there. Some have been around for years and years.

Absolutely.

D&D follows Xykon's "Power is Power" model.

Because D&D is popular there are more players. Because there are more players it's easier to find players. When you have more players the system improves for each of those players.

The only way to change this is to encourage the D&D players to read a couple of additional systems.

But which ones should they read? You'd want to read something that you'd have a good chance of playing with others. So you'd be excused for picking up the next most popular systems around, lets say World of Darkness and GURPs.

The way the world works keeps the big guys big and the small guys small. In my opinion the perception of popularity is the biggest factor in choosing an RPG for the pragmatic player.

Yora
2011-06-11, 03:37 AM
What would be required to create a fantasy game that could actually compete with D&D in the marketplace right now?
A huge advertising campaign. D&D has over 30 years of brand recognition. To compete with that, you'd have to run a massive campaign.

The game itself doesn't really matter. This would be a pure popularity contest and depend entirely on making the new game more well known and percieved as the standard system over D&D.
Wouldn't you rather use the money to build a privetely founded spaceship? :smallwink:

stainboy
2011-06-11, 04:18 AM
Would it be necessary to have a very "crunchy" system with a lot of rules and options, or is there any chance of a rules-light system getting the same kind of traction?


D&D's biggest competitors in my lifetime have been White Wolf, GURPS, and maybe Shadowrun. They all offer crunchy point-buy character creation with lots of skills and traits, and I think that's key. It's an immediate hook. You make your first character and see right away that this new game lets you do things D&D doesn't.

Rules-light doesn't sell books. Your players read the rules chapter in the core book and then they don't need you anymore. You can't sell splats because there's nothing meaningful to put in a splat. You can't even sell the core book to every player; they'll just glance through the GM's copy and memorize the few rules they need.

Rules-light games also tend to be narrowly focused (the group plays it once, then moves on to something else) or held together with tons of GM fiat (the system doesn't matter and the group might as well stick with one they know).




Would it be helpful or harmful for it to be tied to a specific piece of fluff, like a series of novels? Assume that the rules would contain room for other settings, but the default assumptions would be tied to an existing IP.


If it's an IP designed to tell one story it will probably hurt more than it helps. You can't be involved in the IP's central conflict because you won't be allowed to change anything or kill anyone, and you can't go off on your own because the original only developed the world enough to tell one story.

If you have a truly huge, diverse, widely known IP - Star Wars, basically - then go for it.

Seb Wiers
2011-06-11, 06:58 AM
A huge advertising campaign. D&D has over 30 years of brand recognition. To compete with that, you'd have to run a massive campaign.

Advertising for RPGs is, by and large, a waste of money. If its mass market, 99.99% of the people who see it don't know what you are selling, and don't care. If its targeted, 99% of the people who see it are already happy with what they have.

Yora
2011-06-11, 07:04 AM
I think the only thing compareable to an RPG that pushes D&D from the number 1 spot would be World of Warcraft.
MMOs were a highly obscure niche market. Most people did not know what was sold and why they should care, but blizzard still managed to recruit massive numbers of customers from people who never had had any interest in MMOs. If there's 5 million people playing D&D, you'd need to convert only 1 million to your game, if you also manage to get 9 million non-players to hop on.

Kiero
2011-06-11, 10:19 AM
You'd need a time machine to go back to the 1970s. There's no way to knock a well-established early entrant with massive brand value off it's perch in a mature and possibly declining niche market.

oxybe
2011-06-11, 11:17 AM
Would it be necessary to abandon the "band of heroes in a quasi-medieval world" motif, because D&D has that locked up (with Pathfinder picking up the scraps)? Or would it be necessary to embrace that motif precisely because that's what most people expect from roleplaying games?

eh... i'm probably not the best one to answer this since my interest in Faurope games is pretty much nil at this point. what i think we need to embrace is not the tropes but the genres. D&D has pretty much always been about a group of heroes doing heroics, usually in a pulp-action style, or at the least that's been the focus on the last 2 editions.

i could see another game with D&D-esque setting existing if they focused on other genres: a higher focus on a political/merchant-lifestyle, a game more focused on intrigue and personal rather then physical conflict, etc...

Would it be necessary to have a very "crunchy" system with a lot of rules and options, or is there any chance of a rules-light system getting the same kind of traction?

light or heavy isn't better then the other, but what is needed is clarity. the rules need to be clear on what they do rather then be vague about it. one thing that i really disliked about the older editions of D&D is how vague they were about some the rules. i started with 2nd edition AD&D, when i was 12, with no GM to guide me. you can imagine what kind of a mess my group (my buddies of the same age group) had trying to figure that out.

it was me, my buddy, the books his out-of-town uncle gave him and his mom's kitchen table for a weekend trying to make sense of the rules. looking back now that i have more then a few years and systems under my belt, good [deity] did we ever get those rules wrong...

which is probably why when 3rd ed came out i was surprised at how much sense it made compared to 2nd ed: it was simply clearer and more easy to understand. now some subsystems were still pretty muddled (grappling, which got better, was still weird) and the spells were still a bit too open-ended or sometimes open to interpretation. but all in all it was WAY better and easier for me to understand... i picked up the 3rd edition mechanics much faster then i did the 2nd edition ones. which is why i changed over to 3rd ed at the time.

what you should be looking at is making the ruleset easy to learn or at least concise: the quicker players can pickup on the game's mechanics and understand them the more likely they are to get games set up and actually play. this is something recent D&D editions have been trying to do with their stronger focus on streamlining with the d20 system: dice + modifier >= target number, standardized across the system.

i will admit that i still find that in D&D there is a wee bit too much math required to get the modifier at times, especially with the various buffs & debuffs that exist to modify the modifier so it can be a pain at times. still, the overall idea of the d20 system is easy to grasp.

a positive side effect of making the rules easy to learn also means there is less book flipping overall due to less confusion on how to resolve effects. this is something 4th ed D&D shines at compared to previous editions... i generally find far less book flipping in 4th ed then 3rd, and this is considering most of my longtime playgroup has had about 10 years experience with the latter and only occasionally plays the former.

you should also look at making the math transparent: the math behind the game should be consistent and it should be clear as to why... this gives the GM a better toolset to use when his adjudication IS needed.

Would it be helpful or harmful for it to be tied to a specific piece of fluff, like a series of novels? Assume that the rules would contain room for other settings, but the default assumptions would be tied to an existing IP.

eeeeeehhh... like with the first point, i'm probably not the best person to ask. i tend to ignore default fluff and simply use the mechanics as a framework to hang my re-skinned fluff on.

i generally dislike specific fluff being tied to the rules since it creates a certain mindset with more experienced players who tend to expect certain behaviors within the plot-related elements of game system, like monsters or certain NPCs. i also find it makes it harder to setup games outside the given setting since there's only so much re-skinning you can do when the rules are tied to the fluff.

then again, i'm the guy who made an expy of a megaman villain using a warforged sorcerer. that's not magic... that's a flamethrower. :smallwink:

i would much rather see the books setup akin to the 4th ed DMG that gives help on running the game by offering advice on player types, storytelling, pacing, etc...

What sort of online/computer-based support would you expect to see from a modern RPG launch? Character builder, obviously, and probably PDF books, but would an online play option make it more or less appealing to the tabletop RPG crowd?

a virtual tabletop would be nice, but just a general set of easy to use tools would be nice, be they on-line or offline. while my sig does contain various tools one can use, they're all things done pre-game due to:

A) we don't play at my place, where my computer is located.
B) i don't have a laptop to carry around all the little tools or PDFs on.

for a game like D&D that has a lot of little variables or derived values to keep track of a character builder is awesome. for something like the storyteller system, it's not really required. it all depends on the complexity of the system.

some free tools wouldn't be bad though.

In general, would it be better to carve out a niche completely apart from D&D, the way White Wolf has, or to try to cater to the people who like D&D's niche but not it's execution, the way Pathfinder has?

this will depends on the game you're trying to make. do you want to make another Faurope-setting'd, pulp-action game? if so, you'll be going up against D&D and it's clones/redheaded-stepchildren. expect to have to compete for shelf space with the biggest dog in the pound that everyone is asking for by name.

otherwise ignore D&D. well, not entirely ignoring it, just rather then focusing on stealing D&D's base, focus on what D&D does right and try to incorporate it into your designs.

just note that a lot of players will most likely be coming into your system from D&D so try to keep the system easy to understand, thus making the transition easier.

SPoD
2011-06-11, 03:39 PM
You'd need a time machine to go back to the 1970s. There's no way to knock a well-established early entrant with massive brand value off it's perch in a mature and possibly declining niche market.

Ahem:


OK, a lot of good response, but I want to emphasize that I agree that it is impossible to beat D&D. That's not what I mean by "competing." I'm more curious as to what it would take to slide into a comfortable 3rd or 4th position, sales-wise. If we assume the D&D is the #1 and Storyteller and all its variants are a clear #2, what would it take to come out even or on top against, say, GURPS and Mutants & Masterminds and Pathfinder and whatever else is still selling out there?

So, again: Compete with does not mean beat. It means able to sustain itself in such a way that people notice it, are aware of it, buy it. Macintosh competes with PCs, but PCs have a dominant market share. Wendy's competes with McDonald's, but they're a distant third behind them and Burger King. That's all I'm asking about: being within (say) the top 5 systems sold. I'm not asking how D&D can be "knocked off its perch" because that's impossible, and I knew that in post #1.

Other than that, thank you to those of you who posted thoughtful answers and didn't just react to the title of the thread.

dsmiles
2011-06-11, 04:00 PM
I didn't read the whole thread, but what's needed to compete with DnD?

Advertising, advertising, advertising. Better advertising. Early-teen-oriented advertising. FUN advertising.

Ever seen a commercial for DnD? Me neither. At least, not since the early 90's (or was it late 80's?) Dungeons & Dragons Board Game. It's all about the target market. Teens watch T.V. (or used to, when I was a teenager). Teens go see movies with their friends. Teens watch YouTube. Teens watch NetFlix.

Advertising is the key to becoming competitive. Word of mouth just isn't enough anymore.
[/2¢]

valadil
2011-06-11, 04:44 PM
On this, I disagree. One of the key reasons edition wars happen is because people have a clear idea of what they think D&D must be, and Edition X isn't it. A new system would actually avoid that problem.

That's a fair point and I think it will lead to a quality game where players don't expect dungeon crawls. But I don't think it will be a point in favor of a new system.

I know it's just anecdotal, but I've met players who wouldn't play a game that wasn't a D&D. They figured that since it was the most well known game, D&D would be the best, and therefore it was the only game for them. Naturally we switched to WoD to exclude those people.

Consider how many people stick with Microsoft. They assume Windows is best because it's default. These people aren't interested in anything but the most popular product.

I know that not everyone has this attitude, but I think there's a sizable enough portion of them that they'd make competition difficult.

Hiro Protagonest
2011-06-11, 04:51 PM
That's a fair point and I think it will lead to a quality game where players don't expect dungeon crawls. But I don't think it will be a point in favor of a new system.

I know it's just anecdotal, but I've met players who wouldn't play a game that wasn't a D&D. They figured that since it was the most well known game, D&D would be the best, and therefore it was the only game for them. Naturally we switched to WoD to exclude those people.

Consider how many people stick with Microsoft. They assume Windows is best because it's default. These people aren't interested in anything but the most popular product.

I know that not everyone has this attitude, but I think there's a sizable enough portion of them that they'd make competition difficult.
There's a fix to this problem:

I didn't read the whole thread, but what's needed to compete with DnD?

Advertising, advertising, advertising. Better advertising. Early-teen-oriented advertising. FUN advertising.

Ever seen a commercial for DnD? Me neither. At least, not since the early 90's (or was it late 80's?) Dungeons & Dragons Board Game. It's all about the target market. Teens watch T.V. (or used to, when I was a teenager). Teens go see movies with their friends. Teens watch YouTube. Teens watch NetFlix.

Advertising is the key to becoming competitive. Word of mouth just isn't enough anymore.
[/2¢]

Because D&D isn't advertised, people who don't know about D&D will most likely see our system before they see D&D. The people who do know about D&D are gonna be harder to win over, but that's expected, seeing as how they already have a tabletop RPG they know and love.

dsmiles
2011-06-11, 05:07 PM
Consider how many people stick with Microsoft. They assume Windows is best because it's default. These people aren't interested in anything but the most popular product.

I know that not everyone has this attitude, but I think there's a sizable enough portion of them that they'd make competition difficult. If there were more Linux-compatible games, I'd never buy Microsoft again.

Same thing goes for DnD. If another system models what I enjoy more, I'll go play that one. DnD isn't really a system any more, it's just a brand. People use it because it's a brand. Like people who only buy designer-brand clothes. "They are a well-known brand, they must be better!" YMMV.

Jothki
2011-06-11, 06:56 PM
For a system to become popular, it needs a base, and that base has to come from somewhere. Find a large pool of consumers with an unserved need, and build a system that can serve that need.

Unfortunately for any hypothetical competitors, WotC has already moved on the most obvious demographic, people who got hooked onto heroic fantasy by MMORPGs but got tired of the inherent restrictions of computer games and wanted something more freeform in terms of roleplaying and plot but still gamelike in terms of more mechanical aspects.

Any other untapped markets anyone can think of?

Jay R
2011-06-12, 08:10 AM
It's considered a truism in the high-tech arena that first to market gets 60% of the business, and everybody else splits up the rest. So the crucial thing is to open up a new market, or provide a new kind of game, to be the first in that market. Note that this is what WotC did with Magic: the Gathering, and what Facebook did with FarmVille.

But nobody is going to reach a level in tabletop role-playing that compares to D&D. in the foreseeable future.

Viktyr Gehrig
2011-06-12, 08:43 AM
I know it's just anecdotal, but I've met players who wouldn't play a game that wasn't a D&D. They figured that since it was the most well known game, D&D would be the best, and therefore it was the only game for them. Naturally we switched to WoD to exclude those people.

Consider how many people stick with Microsoft. They assume Windows is best because it's default. These people aren't interested in anything but the most popular product.

Well, that's just the thing. The fact that it's the default makes it the best; they're both subject to network externalities. You and your friends may be able to have even more fun with a different game, and Linux may work better for your purposes... but if you need to find a different group to play with or you suddenly need to do something else with your computer, you're going to have a much wider variety of options with D&D and Windows. In some situations, those are going to be your only options.

I'm all for variety and D&D isn't my favorite game, but unless your marketing plan addresses those network externalities you're not going to compete; your game simply won't have the same value, regardless of its technical merits.

RPGuru1331
2011-06-12, 10:35 AM
An understandable system, a cheap book, and superior marketting. That's really all you need to be number 1. For sufficiently large amounts of marketting capital, you can ignore the first two.

Now, hasbro has actual marketting resources. That they produce little now is only indicative of their dominating market share. Were a serious challenger on this front to arise, they likely would start cranking out DnD promotional material like it's going even further out of style. It would still not be easy to sieze a controlling market share. But DnD's main draw is that it's already popular. It's easy to find a DnD group. I'm not even convinced it's the best system within sword and sorcery systems, though as I haven't slept tonight the other contenders aren't coming to mind.


I think crunch sells, because in the end crunch means less work during game play. There's less open to interpretation, less need for improvisation, and less dependence on imagination. That's not a bad thing, BTW.
This isn't even wrong. The Lowest Common Denominator in Crunch would be lighter systems like Fate, or Karma systems where there's a quick comparison of stats; whoever's higher, wins, no rolling, no or few modifiers.

Edit: I seem to have misunderstood the goal of this exercise entirely.


What would be required to create a fantasy game that could actually compete with D&D in the marketplace right now? Not win; that may be impossible, given how many everyday people know the D&D brand. But compete; have healthy sales, a decent-sized player base, and significant enough impact that WOTC noticed your existence.
Well, we could ask the creators of Legend of the Five Rings, or the creators of the World of Darkness, or the creators of Mutants and MAsterminds, or the creators of Shadowrun, or the creators of GURPS, or....

That's a very low bar. If you just want to exist, it doesn't actually take that much. For God's Sakes, Eos Press is still around and released a new edition of Nobilis just recently, and that's too much pretentious fabulousness (I say this as a fan of the game and of pretentious fabulousness) to be very popular.

Seb Wiers
2011-06-12, 11:47 AM
Because D&D isn't advertised, people who don't know about D&D will most likely see our system before they see D&D.

People who don't know about D&D don't want to know about RPG's, and will ignore your advertising (or more likely, laugh at it).
Really, your argument is like saying advertising can help you sell your own classical music because most people haven't heard of Beethoven . Sorry, no- the mass market isn't interested in either, and advertising won't change that. The mass market is buying Lady Gaga, and advertising classical music to them is a waste of money.

Tael
2011-06-12, 12:24 PM
I'm confused about what you're looking for. Like others have said, Burning Wheel, GURPS, World of Darkness, Shadowrun, Paranoia, BESM, M&M, HERO, Exalted, Lot5R, FATE, and various Unisystem games all exist, and a fair number of people play them (some of those more than others). D&D isn't the best system, it just has the most people playing it. Many people on these forums think some other system is better designed than D&D, and these are D&D forums.

So, I guess 1: What exactly are you looking for? There are tons of systems that already compete with D&D
and 2: The system doesn't actually matter that much, perception of it does. D&D is the biggest now because it was the biggest before, and player base is the most important thing in an RPG.

stainboy
2011-06-12, 04:33 PM
I don't know, D&D gets some things right that its competitors don't. D&D has its flaws, but it doesn't have:


Active dodge.
Drama point -> Experience point conversion at session end.
Diminishing returns on XP, no diminishing returns at character creation.
Drama mechanics with undefined effects.
Open-ended magic with undefined effects.
Group-based character creation that cannot accommodate a player joining or leaving after Session 1.
Deliberately unclear language to conceal poorly-thought-out mechanics. (WotC products have a bit of this, but at least it's not in the core mechanic or the combat engine.)
Extremely high lethality in a game that assumes cinematic combat.
"Role-playing not Roll-playing"/"Shared storytelling experience" snobbery.


I'm not saying there are no good games other than D&D, or anything. But there are half-dozen popular stat+skill systems that think it's a good idea that whenever two mooks attack the same PC that PC doesn't get to dodge and dies. It's hard to stay interested in learning new systems when so many of them repeat the same mistakes.

E: So if you want to compete with D&D, write a good system. I know this seems obvious but the RPG industry mostly doesn't do it. Get the math right. Don't print a die test in a book without calculating the probability that the test will succeed. Don't go Oberoni when people point out flaws in your rules. Make a game that can be played by RAW and that stands up to casual powergaming. If you are an English major, career DM, and big believer in DM fiat, don't trust yourself to write crunch.

Seriously, D&D's biggest competitor in the nineties was White Wolf, and the Storyteller system is terrible. Imagine if someone had written the Vampire world with good rules.

SPoD
2011-06-13, 12:42 AM
I'm confused about what you're looking for. Like others have said, Burning Wheel, GURPS, World of Darkness, Shadowrun, Paranoia, BESM, M&M, HERO, Exalted, Lot5R, FATE, and various Unisystem games all exist, and a fair number of people play them (some of those more than others). D&D isn't the best system, it just has the most people playing it. Many people on these forums think some other system is better designed than D&D, and these are D&D forums.

So, I guess 1: What exactly are you looking for? There are tons of systems that already compete with D&D

Yes, and what I was looking for was some extrapolations from those systems that I may have missed. I was hoping to get some generalizations that would explain what the majority of those are doing wrong that the top 3-4 are doing right, other than, "They're the top because they're the top." Because of the ones you named, some of them are financially successful, and some of them really, really aren't.


Well, we could ask the creators of Legend of the Five Rings, or the creators of the World of Darkness, or the creators of Mutants and MAsterminds, or the creators of Shadowrun, or the creators of GURPS, or....

Well, if I could ask THEM, I wouldn't be asking HERE, now, would I? :smalltongue:

Vorpalbob
2011-06-13, 01:26 AM
The easiest way to become competitive in the tabletop RPG market is to design a system that uses three-inch high models and a Parcheesi board, and claim that it inspired a Tom Hanks movie.

And it would be a far out game. :smallbiggrin:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WGY1_LMiV-g&feature=related

Totally Guy
2011-06-13, 02:21 AM
Yes, and what I was looking for was some extrapolations from those systems that I may have missed.

If that's not a good answer then I don't understand the question.

RPGuru1331
2011-06-13, 02:32 AM
Yes, and what I was looking for was some extrapolations from those systems that I may have missed. I was hoping to get some generalizations that would explain what the majority of those are doing wrong that the top 3-4 are doing right, other than, "They're the top because they're the top."
The top 3-4 don't have anything in particular that their competitors don't, as such. There's no unique thing that seperates them from the pack. If you keep using market success to judge anything other than market success, you're not going to get very far.

DnD's popularity is self sustaining at the moment. If you want to define who you think the other 3 in the top 4 are, and want to look at why /they're/ popular, you may have something, but a large part of the answer is still going to be "because they're more popular". Word of mouth matters, especially when there's relatively little done for marketing.


Because of the ones you named, some of them are financially successful, and some of them really, really aren't
The world isn't a charity. If something is still producing new content, there's a pretty good chance it's still profitable. The question is by how much. That's why I mentioned Eos Press.

SPoD
2011-06-13, 04:15 AM
If that's not a good answer then I don't understand the question.

There are plenty of good answers on this thread, but "There are lots of games already competing, so therefore there's no need to discuss it further," is not one of them. Because I don't OWN one of those games that's competing, now, do I? (The answer is no, I do not.)

The goal of the question was to help me analyze why some things are successful and some fail, in the event that I should want to design a game someday in the nebulous future. "They're popular because they're popular," is therefore not very helpful. I wasn't really looking for an analysis of existing games anyway, though, I was looking for opinions on what would be needed for a new entry to the market--a market that already contained all of those other games.

Anyway, it wasn't meant to be this difficult a question. I assumed people would have opinions on this, so I thought I would ask. If you don't have any insight to share, well, OK. Thanks for stopping by.

Tyndmyr
2011-06-13, 05:14 AM
I don't believe it's possible because of edition wars. There are people who will blindly stick up for their favorite game due to emotional reasons and never give the new game a chance. If WotC can't convince people to play a new D&D, what hope do you have of convincing people to play a non-D&D?

Pretty good. Disliking one version of a game does not imply that you only play one game.

For instance, I dislike 4e, and 3.5 is my fav version of d&d. However, I also own Exalted, coc, d20m, shadowrun, 7th sea, traveller, and many more. Lots of those get playtime, and those that don't are mainly due to lack of other players for it.

Edition wars are only really a problem for that game.

Totally Guy
2011-06-13, 05:23 AM
You need to think of a way to beat the the "Popular because it's popular" property.

It's a problem for you without a known solution. I believe that it would be beneficial to discuss how this property works and how it can be countered.

I think it's shortsighted to suggest that knowing about a problem is not very helpful and so deny it.

I have a couple of books at home about this kind of Game Theory stuff and if you like I could have deeper look.

Daimbert
2011-06-13, 06:49 AM
Well, I think asking why Mutants and Masterminds and WoD work is a good question, and it seems to me that the answer is:

- aimed at a specific, under-serviced genre.
- tweaked the mechanics to make that work better.

For example, M&M built a superhero type of world, and simplified their system to be based around powers like superheroes had. And then gave lots of base powers and the like to get people going. So if you want to play as a superhero, M&M already has all of that. So you might as well just play that instead of trying to stuff that in to D&D, which doesn't do it as well.

WoD, if I'm reading it right, goes after a very specific sort of modern supernatural fantasy, and tweaks the mechanics to support that and that sort of story. D&D isn't as good at modern settings and that sort of story, so if you want to play with vampires and werewolves in the modern world, you might as well pick up their stuff.

The same thing applies to MMOs. WoW is so staggeringly successful because they were able to provide the Warcraft experience, and tweaked the mechanics to provide that, which drew in a lot of people who might not otherwise play an MMO. City of Heroes lives because it does superheroes well (it's getting some competition now from big names, but those games aren't nearly as well done). DAoC did a mythological background well. SW: TOR is trying to get Star Wars fans into the game as well.

So, your best bet is, again, to find a genre that isn't being served and serve it, and advertise that you serve it.

RPGuru1331
2011-06-13, 06:56 AM
- aimed at a specific, under-serviced genre.
I don't think this is really true in the Tabletop RPG world, at least not of Mutants and Masterminds. There's HERO and Champion as well, off the top of my head, and there's another one niggling at the back of my mind that just won't come out, but is superhero-based. And of course, GURPS has a superhero supplement (GURPS has an everything supplement, that may go without saying).




The same thing applies to MMOs. WoW is so staggeringly successful because they were able to provide the Warcraft experience, and tweaked the mechanics to provide that, which drew in a lot of people who might not otherwise play an MMO.
WoW was a reskin and polishing of EQ. The reasons it's successful are more or less marketing. It's not /bad/ either, which helps, but the predominant benefits are the amazingly low sysreqs and, well, the fact that it's Blizzard (Which on top of access to real marketing power also means that even if they exercised none of it, the fact that their name was on it would make it at least recognizable). The amazingly low sysreqs are important to note there; that's extremely unusual in PC gaming, at least among major companies. Yo'ure more likely to see repeats of Crysis and Oblivion and hte like, where the game studio's computers are incapable of running it.

Daimbert
2011-06-13, 07:09 AM
I don't think this is really true in the Tabletop RPG world, at least not of Mutants and Masterminds. There's HERO and Champion as well, off the top of my head, and there's another one niggling at the back of my mind that just won't come out, but is superhero-based. And of course, GURPS has a superhero supplement (GURPS has an everything supplement, that may go without saying).

I don't really count supplements, and having one or two other options doesn't mean that the genre isn't under-serviced. It just means that it isn't completely lacking service. But if it's not saturated, there's a lot of room for an up-and-comer who does it well to get a good market share just from that market.



WoW was a reskin and polishing of EQ. The reasons it's successful are more or less marketing. It's not /bad/ either, which helps, but the predominant benefits are the amazingly low sysreqs and, well, the fact that it's Blizzard (Which on top of access to real marketing power also means that even if they exercised none of it, the fact that their name was on it would make it at least recognizable). The amazingly low sysreqs are important to note there; that's extremely unusual in PC gaming, at least among major companies. Yo'ure more likely to see repeats of Crysis and Oblivion and hte like, where the game studio's computers are incapable of running it.

Marketing helped, but it had taken off long before the most accessible marketing got started. There have been other polishings of EQ, too, that didn't do nearly as well, some of which had as much if not more marketing than WoW did at the start. Blizzard's name helped, but so did the Warcraft universe it was attached to; that universe had a deep history, and gamers were familiar with it. That was enough to get them to start playing it, and that's all it really needed.

As for their sysreqs ... I'm not sure their reqs were lower than the MMOs they were competing against at the time.

RPGuru1331
2011-06-13, 07:23 AM
I don't really count supplements, and having one or two other options doesn't mean that the genre isn't under-serviced. It just means that it isn't completely lacking service. But if it's not saturated, there's a lot of room for an up-and-comer who does it well to get a good market share just from that market.
So you mean the market isn't actually full when you say it's 'underserviced'. Alright then, that's.. entirely different.


Marketing helped, but it had taken off long before the most accessible marketing got started.
The marketting started before they exitted Beta...


As for their sysreqs ... I'm not sure their reqs were lower than the MMOs they were competing against at the time.
They were. I had to upgrade my computer to play CoH at decent speeds. A bombed out wreck (knocked much lower than the previous computer mentioned, not just relatively but absolutely) still ran WoW at decent speeds.

They remain much lower to this day. Until you get to mid-end systems, WoW runs better and more crisply. You need a good computer to have other games actually look better.

Elana
2011-06-13, 07:39 AM
BAck to the original topic.

If you want to establish a brand new game on the market and have reasonable sales., the most important thing is to get people to look at it.

You can have the greatest system of the world with the best setting it won't help if nobody reads the rulebook.

So you need three things to get started.

A catchy name, a recognizable logo and some amazing, unique cover art.

People who see the book must immediatly be interested so they take a second look.

Then you need a good description what it is all about.

nd make sure it is both on the back of the book and in the description of any site you want to sell it from.

If people don't get the impression this is a great game during the first 30 seconds they look at it, they won't buy it.
(Of course word of mouth can help there too, but you need to have an established fan base for that to happen)



Of course when these things happen you only get a handfull of buyers. To grow the amount of people using your system more things are needed.

First it has to be a decent system
Second there has to be support for it.

Meaning a dedicated website, a message board, a faq
and most important supplements.

You have to create more books for any topic anyone could be interested in.
(It ensures also that your system is constantly mentioned in lists of what is new on the market)

Of course it won't hurt if you can also run ads.
Name recognition really helps to boost sales after all.

erikun
2011-06-13, 08:22 AM
The goal of the question was to help me analyze why some things are successful and some fail, in the event that I should want to design a game someday in the nebulous future. "They're popular because they're popular," is therefore not very helpful.
It may not be very helpful, but that doesn't make it incorrect. "You need money to make money" contains a truism, in that the company that has money can grow and produce more material faster than a company with less money.

Let's take a look at D&D compared to Burning Wheel. D&D makes a lot of money; this gives it a lot of money to spend on advertising. You see D&D in magazines, on posters, and in commercials. There are D&D books. There are D&D video games. There are D&D comic and cartoons. When somebody, reading these books and playing these games, wants to start playing a RPG, they'll say "I want to play D&D!" rather than "I want to play Burning Wheel!" Even if they find a group who prefers Burning Wheel, and even if they get informed that Burning Wheel would be better than D&D - they still prefer D&D, because that's what they're familiar with.

You can't say "My system is better, try it!" and be taken any more seriously than all the other companies saying the same thing.

If D&D publishes a book that sells to 10% of their sales base, it's a success. If Burning Wheel publishes a book that sells to 10% of their sales base, it's a failure and they are likely thousands of dollars behind. Even if D&D makes a complete flop, they have the financial security to not worry about it. If Burning Wheel makes a book or to that doesn't sell, they might have to look at closing the company.


My point is that large company = more money = more customers = more sales. It's largely irrelevant if you are just concerned with the quality of the system you are making, but if you want to compete with D&D - which is what this thread is about, I'll assume - then you'd need to be aware of the icky financial details that keep your business up-and-running.

This is why I recommended having a few different systems as a "base", both to get your name known and to have a sound financial base to work off of. That way, if you put together a large system and it ultimately flops, you can continue working at producing RPG systems rather than quitting the market altogether and eating mircowaved ramen.

Mark Hall
2011-06-13, 07:35 PM
D&D is most effectively competed with if one has a time machine, and starts something that is not D&D before there's D&D. D&D has had time to ingrain itself into the popular consciousness like no other game; it's closest competitor for that is Vampire. It happened through a massive amount of media attention, from glancing (a DMG appears in ET), nostalgic (the D&D cartoon), to negative-but-still coverage (the Dallas Eggbert and BADD stuff).

At this point, I don't think you could create something that achieves that degree of penetration without more money than a presidential campaign. Zelda or Mario might be comparable for breadth and depth of penetration; something like "Angry Birds" is a road rash compared to the impact of those two or D&D.

Tyndmyr
2011-06-14, 02:00 AM
To unseat D&D, you need to defeat the network effect. It's already established, it's well known, and it's being played everywhere. This is...remarkably hard to do.

Let's look at another successful case of where it happened. WoW. They defeated the previous winners, and set up their own.

1. Build a successful company. Yer first game is not going to defeat D&D. It's not going to happen. You don't have the money, you don't have the experience, you don't have the name recognition or reputation you need. Blizzard was known and successful at video game design long before WoW. So, you need to do that first. It's not trivial.

2. Wait for the market leader to screw up. When WoW came out, other games had issues. SWG was killing itself through endless stupid decisions, for example. Everquest had aged a lot. There was a room for something new, something better. Timing is everything.

3. Make something like the original, but better. Steal shamelessly from other sources for things that work. Focus on executing them well. Very few things in WoW were actually original....but a great deal of polish was put into the game. It's a bastardization of many individual elements from many sources....but the fact that it was made it accessible to people who had played these games, and the added polish and features from games they hadn't played made it attractive.

So, if anyone's going to unseat D&D, it'll likely be Pathfinder. I'm not sure they hit all these elements perfectly, but they're certainly the closest thing out there.

Oracle_Hunter
2011-06-14, 01:13 PM
D&D is most effectively competed with if one has a time machine, and starts something that is not D&D before there's D&D.
Oh, I disagree with this. You don't need a time machine; you need genius and a ton of money. If nobody could ever compete with an established brand, we'd all be using Archie (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Archie_search_engine) to search the web :smalltongue:

D&D has several advantages in the current marketplace:
(1) Brand Recognition
Self-explanatory. D&D is the brand of Heroic Fantasy, fullstop.

(2) The Network Effect (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Network_effect)
WotC has done an excellent job at promoting the usage of D&D, with everything from the "Living" Campaigns to other meet-ups and the like. The more people who play a game, the more valuable it is to new players.

(3) High Switching Costs (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Switching_costs)
D&D is a rules-heavy game. This means it takes a lot of time to actually learn the system, and thanks to the Sunk Costs (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sunk_costs) cognitive fallacy, that past effort makes many Players unwilling to learn a new system. This is reinforced by WotC's heavy promotion of splatbooks and system mastery which encourages people to pay a lot of money to "win" the game.
D&D's main competitors are other companies that share these advantages, of which Brand Recognition is only the most recognizable. Unfortunately for the hypothetical market entrant, these three advantages require massive amounts of money to achieve and maintain. And no, merely coming up with a "superior system" isn't going to help you play on the same level as the Big Boys: word of mouth only travels too far, and I suspect the margins in P&P RPGs are fairly thin until you hit the big leagues.

That said, you might be able to finesse the money issues with a sufficient amount of genius. Here's where, IMHO, genius can be best leveraged:
(1) Mechanics
Yeah, it's not going to win you the game, but if you can invent a novel, efficient rules-heavy system that does the following, you might be able to win converts:

- Models a new type of gameplay (e.g. Burning Wheel and character-based storytelling)

- Has a novel mechanic which is inherently fun (e.g. Bliss Stage Interludes)

(2) Fluff
If you can make a setting that is incredibly compelling and mechanics that are tied inextricably to that setting, you can achieve good Network Effect without spending a lot of money. Of course any setting that compelling would probably be better marketed as a series of novels :smalltongue:

(3) Technology
If you can figure out a nifty technology that allows you to gain Brand Recognition or Network Effect without a lot of money, you can leapfrog your way up the ladder. Additionally, if your technology is good, you can impose high Switching Costs to boot!

The sort of technology I'm thinking of is something like DDI - it lowers the barrier to entry to the game by giving access to the entire catalog for cheap, and the tools it provides give good value to the consumers. Without a doubt, this is the best P&P RPG technology we have seen to date, but there is a lot of room for improvement.

TL;DR
- Trying to fight D&D on its own ground (i.e. Heroic Fantasy) is more trouble than it is worth. You can do it, but it requires you to outspend Hasbro. Good luck with that :smalltongue:

- To compete with the Big Boys, you need tons of cash at the very least. The rules-heavy market simply has a better ROI than rules-light, and that means money.

- Genius can help substitute for money, but it can only go so far. The best areas to deploy genius are in mechanics, fluff, and technology. Note that you need genius, and not just "hard work" because "hard work" can be purchased and Hasbro has more money than you.

Kurald Galain
2011-06-14, 01:36 PM
What sells D&D is its aesthetics. It's consistent and flavourful, allowing instant immersion and making the system feel more like a living, breathing toolbox than a cold set of rules and numbers.
Wait, what?

Whatever gives you the idea that any edition of D&D is more a "living breathing toolbox" than any other RPG on the market? Or, for that matter, that any edition of D&D is among the more "consistent" or "flavorful" games on the market? Because any rules-light game beats D&D on all three counts, hands down.

It seems clear to me that D&D sells by its name: even non-RPGers have heard of it. It's very hard to beat such name recognition.

Shadowknight12
2011-06-14, 01:44 PM
Wait, what?

Whatever gives you the idea that any edition of D&D is more a "living breathing toolbox" than any other RPG on the market? Or, for that matter, that any edition of D&D is among the more "consistent" or "flavorful" games on the market? Because any rules-light game beats D&D on all three counts, hands down.

It seems clear to me that D&D sells by its name: even non-RPGers have heard of it. It's very hard to beat such name recognition.

Not going to get into an argument over other systems and whether or not they have more or less flavour than D&D. It's my opinion (and one I've encountered in other people as well) that D&D has streamlined aesthetics and that it is as consistent as any gigantic system expanded on by many people and run by a corporation can possibly be. My advice remains sound, regardless of whether you agree or not with the examples I have chosen to illustrate my point.

Your opinion differs. That's fine, you might even be right! That's not the point of the thread, and moreover, it has no impact on the points I made.

Terraoblivion
2011-06-14, 04:15 PM
But...but D&D has several different generations of aesthetics that aren't really all that similar. Or are you claiming that this (http://img1.fantasticfiction.co.uk/images/x0/x1331.jpg) and this (http://pcmedia.gamespy.com/pc/image/Basic13th_1092789310-001.jpg) and even this (http://www.deshow.net/d/file/games/2008-10/dungeons---dragons-2.jpg) represent a single, unified aesthetic? And if so, what exactly is it that unifies it?

There are quite a few systems out there with far more unified aesthetics than D&D. WoD (especially nWoD), L5R, WotG, WHFRP, Dark Heresy and probably even Exalted despite how they intentionally let different artists portray their completely own take on the setting. In fact I have a hard time thinking of any non-generic system with less consistent aesthetics than D&D.

kyoryu
2011-06-14, 04:53 PM
Sorry to get all business-y, but...

1) Figure out who your market is. Who are you trying to sell your game to? D&D players? That's a big group, be more specific. D&D players that are tired of D&D? New players? Adult players? Younger players?
2) Figure out what they want or need that is not being supplied by D&D. The tricky bit is that they might not be aware of these unmet needs.
3) Be aware that you will not only have to meet these needs, but you will have to meet them better enough to offset both the network effect and switching costs.
4) Figure out a long-term strategy.

From that perspective, a "one-off" style game with a unique setting and distinctive flair might be a good way to go. Think Paranoia. Nobody plays a long-term Paranoia campaign, but it's a great game to play as a one-off for a break.

For strategy, you cannot attack D&D head-on. Period. Can't happen. You lack the name recognition and marketing. What you may be able to do is start with a niche, and then expand on it.

Also, be aware that to take out D&D you can't target the "expert", hardcore player. You have to be accessible. Know your audience, and give them what they want/need, not what YOU want/need.

D&D does have some glaring weaknesses, even without getting into edition wars. The fact is that it's primarily based on fiction types that have largely gone out of vogue. Who reads Jack Vance any more? What your new audience acquisitions are doing is watching Anime. Record of Lodoss War, Avatar, and Slayers are going to appeal far more than Jack Vance, or even (dare I say it) Tolkien. Find a way to tap into that aesthetic.

Fera Tian
2011-06-14, 06:33 PM
Simple, kill the WotC

or you could make a product that would work into the pnp rpg, like miniatures or maps/terrain and give your system/lore along with it

Shadowknight12
2011-06-15, 08:24 AM
But...but D&D has several different generations of aesthetics that aren't really all that similar. Or are you claiming that this (http://img1.fantasticfiction.co.uk/images/x0/x1331.jpg) and this (http://pcmedia.gamespy.com/pc/image/Basic13th_1092789310-001.jpg) and even this (http://www.deshow.net/d/file/games/2008-10/dungeons---dragons-2.jpg) represent a single, unified aesthetic? And if so, what exactly is it that unifies it?

There are quite a few systems out there with far more unified aesthetics than D&D. WoD (especially nWoD), L5R, WotG, WHFRP, Dark Heresy and probably even Exalted despite how they intentionally let different artists portray their completely own take on the setting. In fact I have a hard time thinking of any non-generic system with less consistent aesthetics than D&D.

Yes, because aesthetics evolve, just like every aspect of an organic game. My point, in case it's so incredibly hard to grasp, is that care was put into aesthetics. This attracts players because it presents the product in a positive light from the moment they pick up the book, letting the product itself become its own advertisement.

Again, not going to get into a debate over aesthetics in D&D and whether or not other systems have done it better. If you pick up a handful of 3.5e books and you examine their covers, the page design, the art, the way information is arranged, their font choices, and so on, and then you go to Eberron and do the same, you find that within those subgroups, aesthetics are streamlined and consistent.

chaotoroboto
2011-06-16, 01:33 AM
You'd need a time machine to go back to the 1970s. There's no way to knock a well-established early entrant with massive brand value off it's perch in a mature and possibly declining niche market.

Kind of like how Toyota didn't take out GM?

Fhaolan
2011-06-16, 11:51 AM
You can't just compete with D&D, unfortunately. You have to compete with all RPGs on the market (and thanks to the internet, pretty much all RPGs ever published ever. :smallsmile: )

Basically there are thousands of RPGs out there, covering every niche market you can possibly think of. Zombie Western? There's a game for that. Vampires in Space? There's a game for that. Cavemen discovering language for the first time? Believe it or not, there's a game for that.

Even if your system is the bestest at everythings evar!!!!!!! it's still not going to get anywhere if only a dozen or so people bother to try it. And if those dozen don't stick with it and evangelize it, it will not get beyond them.

So the only way to compete is marketing. Not advertising, as such, but marketing. Which means having excellent distributors to get product front-and-center in front of the people you want to buy it. Conventions, game store play-days, even active solicitation of game reviewers in physical and online magazines (like the Escapist, or That Guy with the Glasses, or whatever). You need to know your audience and *push* it.

RPGuru1331
2011-06-16, 01:00 PM
Kind of like how Toyota didn't take out GM?

Automocars are niche markets?




Again, not going to get into a debate over aesthetics in D&D and whether or not other systems have done it better. If you pick up a handful of 3.5e books and you examine their covers, the page design, the art, the way information is arranged, their font choices, and so on, and then you go to Eberron and do the same, you find that within those subgroups, aesthetics are streamlined and consistent.
Most of what you've mentioned is the formatting. Generally, 'aesthetics' refers to setting and game design. For instance, the way Paranoia plays up the crazy lethality with stray mentions of lost clones for comedy (Which along with other things such as bizarre robots, absurd bureacracy, the art style, et al, establishes it as a light hearted setting), or how nWoD tries to play up the dark aspects of each game to match its aesthetic of darker world than our own (And how each game line tends to go for despair on a slightly deeper level than woe, humans are so weak...)

I mean, formatting and editting ARE kind of important. White Wolf could stand to learn some lessons, offhand. And for purposes of drawing in customers, they /also/ matter greatly. But that's not what people generally mean by the aesthetics of these games, because the font and editting is rarely used for artistic and evocative effect.

kamikasei
2011-06-16, 01:13 PM
My point, in case it's so incredibly hard to grasp,
Could probably be made without putting yourself across as an ass.

Again, not going to get into a debate over aesthetics in D&D and whether or not other systems have done it better. If you pick up a handful of 3.5e books and you examine their covers, the page design, the art, the way information is arranged, their font choices, and so on, and then you go to Eberron and do the same, you find that within those subgroups, aesthetics are streamlined and consistent.
I think you're talking about different things. I'm pretty sure Terra was talking about the aesthetics of the game: how do the elements work together, and how does the player imagine the game world in her mind? You appear to be talking about the aesthetics of the books. That's a completely different issue, one of marketing rather than game design. It's also a meaning of "aesthetics of the game" I don't think I've ever seen before; your snark above is even more misplaced given how unclear your point actually was.

Terraoblivion
2011-06-16, 01:23 PM
Not going to get into an argument over other systems and whether or not they have more or less flavour than D&D. It's my opinion (and one I've encountered in other people as well) that D&D has streamlined aesthetics and that it is as consistent as any gigantic system expanded on by many people and run by a corporation can possibly be. My advice remains sound, regardless of whether you agree or not with the examples I have chosen to illustrate my point.

Shadowknight, you also directly stated that you were talking about the system as a whole, not specific subdivisions within it. 3.5 isn't the totality of D&D and even if it was, you still had to subdivide it later in order to achieve your consistent aesthetics, while also removing the single biggest aesthetic choice, the art direction of illustrations.

For that matter, I can't recall any system that isn't as consistent as D&D 3.5 in terms of how book covers are designed and typefaces are chosen, really keeping these things consistent is a pretty big part of coming off looking remotely professional. Just look at WoD books or L5R, very consistent setup of the covers and a few standard fonts used with consistent rules for when to use which. It's hardly something even close to being unique to D&D.

Shadowknight12
2011-06-16, 01:23 PM
Could probably be made without putting yourself across as an ass.

Point taken, my apologies.


I think you're talking about different things. I'm pretty sure Terra was talking about the aesthetics of the game: how do the elements work together, and how does the player imagine the game world in her mind? You appear to be talking about the aesthetics of the books. That's a completely different issue, one of marketing rather than game design. It's also a meaning of "aesthetics of the game" I don't think I've ever seen before; your snark above is even more misplaced given how unclear your point actually was.

I am talking about aesthetics in general, and using the aesthetics in the books as an example. Again, I do not consider this point to be worth arguing. It's not incredibly important, it's just something worth taking into consideration because it has been proven to have a positive effect on potential buyers. If you disagree with my declaration that D&D has consistent aesthetics, that's fine, I don't think it's a point worth defending. What I want to get across is that, if you want to create a game system to compete with D&D, you ought to put care and effort into making sure the game's aesthetics (in every sense of the word) is consistent, harmonic and appealing.

EDIT:


Shadowknight, you also directly stated that you were talking about the system as a whole, not specific subdivisions within it. 3.5 isn't the totality of D&D and even if it was, you still had to subdivide it later in order to achieve your consistent aesthetics, while also removing the single biggest aesthetic choice, the art direction of illustrations.

For that matter, I can't recall any system that isn't as consistent as D&D 3.5 in terms of how book covers are designed and typefaces are chosen, really keeping these things consistent is a pretty big part of coming off looking remotely professional. Just look at WoD books or L5R, very consistent setup of the covers and a few standard fonts used with consistent rules for when to use which. It's hardly something even close to being unique to D&D.

And I am talking in general. I merely used book aesthetics to illustrate a point.

I'm not going to disagree with you, but keep in mind the fact that D&D has been around for longer and has printed out more material than any other pen and paper RPG. This makes it very hard to compare it with smaller brands that have far less trouble maintaining consistent aesthetics. Which is precisely my point. Consistent aesthetics sell, and as you said it yourself, make the RPG look professional.

And I never said they were unique to D&D, I merely said that D&D had care put into the game's aesthetics.

Jude_H
2011-06-16, 01:24 PM
Increased availability and ease-of-use wouldn't hurt.

Most roleplaying games require reading. Lots of reading. The two main rulebooks for 3e are 500-600 pages; even skipping the nitpicky content like specific spells and magic items, it's not a game a person can just pick up and run. No edition of D&D has been. Very few roleplaying games have been.

It wouldn't be hard to make a RPG that can be played through computer technologies, even by people who don't know the mechanical rules. I have spreadsheets to adjudicate Unisystem and d20 skill checks without bothering myself too much with the actual mechanics or number-crunching in play - just by cross-referencing character stats with system rules. With the d20 sheet, I just enter the character, choose the action, choose/enter the subject of the action and get feedback regarding margins of success. Of course, d20 wasn't designed for that and has a lot of dangling details that need to be factored in afterward, but it still generally works.

A system designed to be automated this way (including its own RNG systems, &c.) could have incredibly nuanced rules that the players wouldn't ever have to learn, and could be much more manageable in a practical sense than games that make players schlep around a library of books and a heap of dice or root around in PDFs during play.

Even business-wise, this approach could be competitive. Because game elements would need to be explicitly provided to users in order to be adjudicated by the systems, miniature minor expansions could be presented at low cost and immediate availability and might even sell (things like "20 zombie monsters" "5 pirate ships" "Noir reskin" could be made quickly/cheaply and sold profitably for very low sums, especially compared to WotC's $25-40 pricetags).

If an RPG contained in an ipad/tablet app were to spell out a brief game premise, contain a built-in rules system and adjudication tools explained by <=5 pages of instructional text, present them attractively and accessibly and be available from a common list of downloadable programs, I'd think it would have a very good chance of competing with D&D.

cattoy
2011-06-16, 02:17 PM
I talked this over with someone who owns a game store.

My advice: Use the resources to make a high end board game.

Then use the same assets to make an RPG set in the same setting as the board game.