March 2, 1996: It's All in the Timing
By now, everyone has geared up for GenCon '97 come August. Despite exaggerated rumors of TSR's demise, it looks like a go. We'll be there, and are already signed up to run a open seminar or two on gaming and the web. Many small-press publishers will be exerting collective clout in the GPA set of tables. Through this cunning plan, many smaller companies are sharing table space to bring a wide variety of products to gamers. Which is a timely thing, given the rumored dearth of large company products.
But then again, people constantly are predicting the imminent demise of role-playing games-- along with the expected banning of the Internet, the coming apocalypse, and the death of collectible card games. Forgive me if I'm a bit jaded by now. Role-playing's small size is due to it being a hobby, and by the same token that's its strength. Even if TSR were to bail, gamers would still play. And small presses are used to having small audiences.
Things do change over time, and go in waves. Some ideas are quite timely-- Feng Shui was consciously aimed to coincide with the popularity of Hong Kong cinema, written as it was by a long-time aficionado of the genre. The extra months' lead helped it gain an edge over similar genre works such as HKAT!, making it a bit more of an uphill climb for later releases. It's really Catch-22, though. Come out quickly and no one recognizes your genre. Come out late and you're assumed to be merely following a trend.
Some great ideas unfortunately manage to get hit both ways. 'In Nomine', for example, comes well after its original announcement. So it is considered a maverick, yet arrives after the genre has been flooded. Indeed, the "dark post-death" genre has already been quite settled. Though late arrivals may experience some success, they no longer define the trend. Now, it seems the current trend is post-Apocalypse games (no surprise with year 2000 approaching.) The window for this genre is, of course, the next three years, so there's time for a few more products to appear.
In other cases, the window isn't a genre, but a television show's popularity. Though the "Xena/Hercules" rpg license was acquired by someone (never found out who), the lack of a release or announcement has pretty much doomed it to nothingness. Were it to come out in 1998, the Xena craze would be well over. In a similar fashion, The Babylon Project (the B-5 game) encountered enough delays to arrive after the conclusion of the "Great War" subplot. B-5 as a show has shifted from space opera to character study, and this change in flavor will affect sales. Since B-5 has just entered rerun season, though, one hopes a new surge in popularity will hit in the fall, and keep the Babylon Project alive and robust.
The release of Mythos, on the other hand, is a case study supporting patience. Though missing the CCG craze, the product has done extremely well and is quite viable. So one hopes that "In Nomine" and "The Babylon Project" (along with the legions of other late releases) follows in their fashion, and that the extra time spent proves worth it. Ye gods, could it be, that good products will do well regardless of the trendiness? Perish the thought.
Until next month,