[MUD-Dev] Role-Playing Games Are Not Dead

Koster Koster
Wed Nov 21 20:19:00 New Zealand Daylight Time 2001


I guess I should chime back in finally, since I seem to have started
two separate firestorms on the list (this one and the "human
condition" one. For some reason my ISP is not delivering mails, so I
have had to keep up via the archives.

My impression of the commercial reach of tabletop RPGing is that it
has not enjoyed significant growth over the last decade. Part of
this may be my impressions of management issues at TSR and its
subsequent absorption, part of it certainly is figures I have heard
from folks formerly in the industry, who told me rough ballpark
sales figures for typical D&D materials.

This says nothing about 26,000 people attending GenCon. That's
certainly more than attend a typical online gaming convention
(attendance at which is in the low thousands, albeit for single-game
conventions). There may well be 5 million tabletop gamers out
there. But my sense is that there were 5 million ten years ago, too.

The audience for muds has increased by a factor of 10 or so in the
last decade, which much of that growth coming in the last five
years. There is every expectation that unless the team I am on or
Will's team over at Maxis screw up severely, that it will double
over the course of the next year or so. Yes, we're at a critical
juncture here--I don't know how much DAoC has expanded the market,
but I'd say it's been incremental in nature, not severely
market-expanding--in that there have been a few setbacks. A couple
of high profile commercial games did very poorly. Microsoft's first
major entry did not do as well as hoped. Studios have been slow to
put out more games, perhaps gunshy of the investment. There are
signs of hope--looks to me like there's 25% more muds than there
were five years ago. But I am out of touch with that scene and may
be wrong.

In terms of cultural impact--I was just watching an anime from Japan
and a character asked another, "are you a PK?" It freaked me out,
ask my wife. The Matrix is a mud, for crissake, not a tabletop
RPG. Tabletop RPGs haven't been a driving cultural touchstone, as
Matt stated, for many years. We're currently such a touchstone.

Now, I was fairly harsh--and to a genre I love. I grew up playing
tabletop games. I don't have time to play them anymore, but I still
love them. I still enjoy flipping through the books and they still
inspire me.

But they are, and I will say it bluntly, CRAPPY MODELS FOR MUDS. I
simply fail to understand why everyone regards the pen and paper
model as the savior of mudding. And I have to conclude that it's
people who want to do more tabletop RPGing than they get to.

To quote something I recently wrote on another list:

start quote--->
  I've come to think that the blind effort to replicate the pen and
  paper game in MMOs is seriously misguided. Frankly, they are not
  trying to do the same thing. An MMO is for thousands of
  simultaneous players of widely disparate interests and abilities;
  a pen and paper session is for six of the same level and the same
  goals. An MMO is non-linear, and a pen and paper game is (in the
  best ones anyway) a strongly directed narrative experience. A pen
  and paper game relies on improvisation, and an MMO relies on other
  players.  A pen and paper game is cliquish and an MMO is the hoi
  polloi. How many of the problems we identify with MMOs today come
  about because they are trying to be someone's rose-colored memory
  of an AD&D session in junior high?
<---end quote

Again, perhaps needlessly confrontational. I should make clear that
a) Neverwinter Nights is perhaps my most anticipated game of the
next year b) I love the concept of player-driven content and
authorship c) I still love pen and paper.

But it's also been done. There have been MANY, MANY attempts to
replicate the pen and paper experience online. They have been done
in chat rooms, they have been done on web boards, they have been
done on mailing lists and via email, they have been done in IRC and
on muds, and they have been marketed as commercial products at least
twice--and one of them even with a major license. Anyone remember
the Storyteller mode in the computer version of Vampire: The
Masquerade? Or heck, let's not forget Baldur's Gate multiplayer,
since we're on the subject of D&D.

Yes, I can relate to the desires of those who keep tilting at this
particular windmill. I cheer them on. I want one of these games
myself, one that works and is smooth and easy and fun and finds me
the people I want to play with. Absolutely, heck yeah.

But they will *not bring sweeping change to the online gaming
world.* I could boil it down to the simple reason that pen and paper
gaming is fundamentally a cliquish activity, but that would probably
offend people some more. So let me just state that

  - no form of online activity that discourages novices thoroughly
  will bring sweeping change

  - no form of activity that requires heavy manual intervention will
  bring sweeping change

  - no form of activity which requires multi-hour sessions in order
  to feel successful will bring sweeping change

The reason we know this? Because muds already fail on these three
counts.  They just happen to fail less egregiously than pen and
paper does.

My crystal ball says that NWN will sell a lot of copies--a million
or more.  There will be hundreds of servers up and running. The
product will be excellent. There will be a devoted fan community.

But it won't replace online worlds. And of those fans, the most
devoted of them will be running muds with it, not single adventures.

You know the single biggest reason I havce heard for wanting to play
NWN?  It's not "wow, I'll have a better roleplaying experience" or
"wow, I can create my own content." No, it's "cool, it's a mud where
I can keep out the jerks."

-Raph, who will gladly eat his words next year, because honest, he
likes pen and paper tabletop RPGing.
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