[MUD-Dev] DESIGN: The game with a thousand faces

Travis Casey efindel at earthlink.net
Mon Apr 4 14:17:47 New Zealand Standard Time 2005

On Thursday 31 March 2005 08:54, Kiztent Hatepriest wrote:
> On Wed, 30 Mar 2005 13:47:17 +0930, Mike Rozak <Mike at mxac.com.au>
> wrote:

>> Can all the uniformity really be blamed on "my venture-capitalist
>> made me do it"? Is there a single, deep local minima in the human
>> psyche that causes almost all VWs to be fundamentally identical?
>> Or are we so blind that we can't see/predict other local minimas
>> without stumbling into them?

> This mirrors the development curve seen in the pen and paper RPG
> community.  It was AD&D or... AD&D for a long time.  With the rise
> of other systems, certain of the preconceptions were overthrown.
> I'm not in touch with the P&P RPG community enough to know, but
> when I was, AD&D was still the most popular game... for whatever
> reason.

A long time?  Within two years of original D&D's release, there was
Tunnels & Trolls, Boot Hill, En Garde, and Empire of the Petal
Throne.  By the time AD&D was released, some six years later, there
were games with no classes (e.g., RuneQuest), SF games (Traveller,
Starfaring, Space Quest, Space Opera), superhero games
(Superhero:2044, Villains & Vigilantes), crime/espionage games
(Gangster!, Top Secret), games focused on a particular subgenre of
fantasy (Thieves' Guild, Knights of the Round Table, Chivalry &

AD&D (now renamed simply D&D, as D&D has gone by the wayside as a
separate product line) continues to be the most popular paper RPG.
Explanations for this vary, but it's probably a combination of
several factors:

  - Name recognition.  Just about everyone knows what D&D is; only
  those already in the gaming subculture know what GURPS, Hero,
  etc. are.

  - Distribution.  D&D can be found in pretty much any chain
  bookstore; at one point, it was available through Sears and
  Wal-Mart.  The only other paper RPG company that's gotten that
  kind of widespread distribution is White Wolf.

  - Gateway effect.  The majority of people who learn to play paper
  RPGs start with D&D.  Some stick with it exclusively.  Some stick
  with it and branch out into playing other games.  Some abandon it
  in favor of other games.  And some abandon it and the hobby as a
  whole.  The last category often seems to be the largest, which
  helps keep D&D having the largest sales.

  - Inertia (or, if you prefer, network effects).  People play D&D
  because they know other people who play D&D.  Finding players for,
  say, Sorcerer, RoleMaster, or All Flesh Must Be Eaten (to name a
  few games that are in print) is harder.

It should be noted on this last one that network gaming has changed
it some; playing via email or IRC, it's much easier to find enough
people to play some of the more obscure systems.  However, this
doesn't tend to "grow" those systems much, since the people one
finds to play them are usually ones who are already fans of them.

       |\      _,,,---,,_     Travis S. Casey  <efindel at earthlink.net>
 ZZzz  /,`.-'`'    -.  ;-;;,_   No one agrees with me.  Not even me.
      |,4-  ) )-,_..;\ (  `'-'
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