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November 17, 2011



As I recall it, the move to open up D&D with 3rd edition was based on the fact that Wizards (or TSR before them) only really made money off of the core books: the Player's Guide, DMG, and Monster Manuals. Other products such as modules and source books weren't nearly as profitable, or even lost money in some cases, but were important nonetheless because they drove sales of the core books. So the strategy was to allow other publishers to make and sell those modules and sourcebooks, thus driving sales of the core books, which Wizards reserved for themselves.

EXCEPT you could basically publish a core book based off of the SRD as long as you did't say it was "D&D" or "Compatible with D&D," but of course instead publishers would just say "This book is compatible with the world's oldest and best selling role playing game" or some such. So that didn't quite work out.

From the perspective of digital games, the D&D3E/D20 model is almost the opposite of free-to-play. It's as if you were to charge for the basic game but have an item store that's open to anyone to publish items in. Come to think of it, it's more like the model of Neverwinter Nights in which the mod community kept sales of that game going a lot longer than would have happened otherwise.

Justin Alexander

Reality check: Modules, splat books, and miniatures were all being sold for years before 3rd Edition or the OGL appeared.

Comparing 1990 to 2001 to 2009 (each the year after a new edition was released):

1990: 3 rulebooks, 2 splats, 4 monster books, 29 modules, 7 campaign setting supplements

2001: 5 rulebooks, 4 splats, 1 monster book, 6 modules, 2 campaign setting supplements

2009: 5 rulebooks, 4 splats, 2 monster books, 8 modules, 3 campaign setting supplement

The only really huge shift I'm seeing in any of these numbers is the shift AWAY from pre-packaged modules (exactly the opposite of the trend you claim exists).

If you want to compare to Moldvay, then we're looking at 1982 (the year after Moldvay's Basic Set): 11 modules

If there was a shift in the game that can be evidenced by a shift in product support, then it happened long before 3rd Edition arrived on the scene. (And has pretty much zero to do with the availability of pre-packaged modules.)

Jamie Fristrom

I wasn't so much talking about the availability of modules but that the rules themselves make it harder to play without them. They could sell fewer different modules as long as more people are buying what they do sell.

But really I'm on about the minis. You don't need them for Moldvay D&D. Whereas 3rd edition insists they're part of the game. That's where the game mechanics take over and imagination and asking what happens in the fiction goes away.

Sure, they were available before (and I bought a lot of them and hardly used any of them - what was I thinking?) but they were a nice-to-have, not an almost-must-have.

MuseHill makes a good point, though, and I don't have a pat answer to that, except that I think there was some multiple personality disorder at Wizards - some people open-sourcing because it was noble and cool and would generate some types of business, but with others looking to rewrite the game to sell more merchandise.

And I have to admit, even if they hadn't open-sourced the rules, it would still have been good business to rewrite the rules the way they did. But it's an interesting coincidence, don'tcha think?

Bobby Lewis

While it's not the entire focus of your post, I just wanted to add that I feel similar about game mechanics. I played Steve Jackson Games' GURPS for years and loved it, then slowly realized all the technical detail in combats and other scenarios weighed it down, took me too much time to create an adventure (and GURPS never had much pre-built). I really want to take a look at the indie RPGs you mention that are lighter-weight and more focused on narrative & imagination.

I do like the shift to print on demand for RPG materials, which sometimes can't be profitable in a printing run. SJG moved this way with GURPS and started creating more material then when they just printed up & sold the books.

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Jamie's Bragging Rights

  • Spider-Man 2
    The best superhero games of all time Game Informer
    Top five games of all time Yahtzee Croshaw
    Top five superhero games of all time MSNBC
    Top 100 PS2 games of all time Official Playstation 2 Magazine
    1001 Games You Must Play Before You Die Nomination for Excellence in Gameplay Engineering Academy of Interactive Arts & Sciences
  • Schizoid
    Penny Arcade PAX 10 Award
    Nominated for XBLA Best Original Game
    Nominated for XBLA Best Co-Op Game