Is an era ending?

April 10, 2010 at 7:39 pm
filed under Roleplaying

It’s been a while since I’d been to my FLGS. What with house shopping, buying, and moving, it was hard to make time. And, now that I live outside walking distance, it’s a bit more difficult to just pop over there. We had lunch in the U District and realized that, hey, our FLGS is right up the street. So we went in.

My girlfriend likes comics and I like RPGs. As usual I’d hoped for a new World of Darkness book. I wasn’t disappointed. Still, when we left, I couldn’t help but observe that, when it comes to White Wolf’s World of Darkness, I feel we’ve approached the end of an era.

At a guess, the last time the proprietor had new WoD material in was February. Today, once again, there was only one book, Night Horrors: the Unbidden. I’m pleased there was something, but this is a far cry even from a year or so ago. Rather than two books a month, it’s more like a book every two months. It’s hard not to look at the slow, haphazard release schedule and conclude that the end must be near.

White Wolf has said up front that part of the reason why they don’t announce release dates anymore is because of flaky publishing and distribution. Fair enough. It’s also no secret that the tabletop roleplaying industry is struggling to some extent or another. Now, I never got the impression that White Wolf was doing very poorly, but it’s not like I know anything and data is quite sparse. Furthermore, I can’t imagine that the recession has helped them any, or that the ridiculous cost of oil a couple of years back didn’t make things more difficult.

The most convincing speculation I’ve heard is this: the folks who would’ve been writing or developing have are devoting most of their time to the World of Darkness MMO. If that’s the case, it would be an eminently reasonable business and creative decision. Who better to write for the game than the folks who do this sort of thing for a living? As they near launch, it should be obvious that they’d need to spend more and more time on polish and bug fixing.

Still, I wouldn’t bet on a return to the typical monthly-ish publishing model. Modern MMOs need to stay fresh. That means, among other things, content updates. Content updates require writers and designers, the same folks who’re devoting their time to shipping the initial release.

Of course it’s not all-or-nothing, and it’s possible things will continue on as they have for the last however many months. It’s also possible or even probable that they’ve got something up their sleeve— they’ve got smart folks there, and it’s tough for me to imagine tabletop folks abandoning the medium altogether.

If I had to write up some kind of guess about what’s in store, it’d be some manner of tie-in between physical products and the MMO. I don’t know what form that would take, or whether that’s even feasible. White Wolf’s people have had a lot of time to think about this. It’s more than likely they’ve moved on several iterations past whatever half-assed ideas I can come up with now.

The best I can imagine is some kind of tie-in between events or mechanics introduced in the MMO and a physical product. That could mean a return to a metaplot-like state of affairs, where each book allows your group to play through the events introduced in the MMO, or introduces new mechanics that mirror mechanics from the MMO. Perhaps there might be a subscription-based model, an add-on the game subscription that provides you with material for offline games. It may be that they decide to go all-in with digital content.

Regardless, if they are poised to enter a new era, that does imply an exit from the previous era. I suppose many eras are ending these days, in any case. Many forms of old media find their business models in danger— newspapers, movies, television, and book publishing. Unlike the movie or music industry, however, the RPG industry cannot afford lobbyists who can provide legislation in lieu of innovation. (Zing?)

There’s another rumor I’ve heard somewhat recently. I started writing up a reaction to that one, too. It ran long, so I’ve got another piece coming up momentarily. Stay tuned.

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