November 1, 1996: Best of Times, Worst of Times
Hello. This month we are presented with the idea that the industry is dying, the industry is thriving, the hobby is fading, and the hobby couldn't care less about the status of the industry. Which means, of course, rumors galore!
First, everyone seems to have a live game in the works. Chaosium has one coming, SJG is considering the idea, West End's Star Wars LARP is out there (along with its unofficial competition), and there's always White Wolf's Masquerade. Lots of LARPs, we'll see how this works out.
As I said on one public forum (shortly before being roasted alive for stating my opinion), there's are many different approaches to LARPs and LARPers are a strongly fractious bunch. One of the big issues is the level of simulation-- are You and your LARP character the same (i.e. live combat, real-world fasttalking required) or are you playing a Character different (oft better) than you (simulated combat, ability cards)? This one schism seems to make the "charts versus freeform" debate seem like a minor nit in comparison.
I think LARPs will only really succeed if the players actually can unite a bit. This, in turn, means the industry would have to listen to multiple opinions. But this goes against standard Sales techniques, where you must tout your system as being "better than the others, in fact, The Best Possible!". For games to improve, there has to be evolutionary advancement, cross-fertilization of ideas, and a willingness to change. I don't see that happening soon.
Which leads to another interesting point-- many of the larger companies are having hard times, while many smaller companies are prospering. (Realize we're entering serious "rumor only" territory for much of this). Now, as a caveat, success must be defined differently for each. For products of equal quality, a print run that keeps Event Horizon Productions in business would hardly sustain a TSR title, just because of the expectations and the costs and overhead associated. Also, small companies are used to running leaner, and working more unbillable hours to produce their excellent publications.
That said, rumor has it that West End is closing down all of their non-Star Wars lines temporarily, until they can afford otherwise. Hero Games, after their ill-received "books on disk" effort, is now beset by rumors of doom and shutdown. At the same time, though, their RTG "Fuzion" collaboration seems to be chugging along (after the Logo complains were resolved, or at least actively disavowed by Hero). So expect chaos for those who are actually involved in writing and producing materials, but little outward sign of change.
On the plus side, Pinnacle has been noisily happy of the success of "Deadlands" (which I must add, is a very cool work). Their post on Usenet mentioned they're nearly sold out, about 6 months earlier than expected. Imperium Games's launch of the new Traveller is off to a shaky-yet-strong start, including licensed products to be made by Gold Rush Games. So the second- and third-tier outfits seem to be optimistic. It's this optimism, I think, that will keep both the hobby and the industry alive.
Like it or not, the hobby and the industry are connected. Tracking the large companies lets you know how well the industry is doing, relative to the world at large. But looking at the success of the smaller companies is a good measure of how well the hobby is doing, and how varied we can get. And speaking of viability and success, I'm very curious as to how many people actually read this column. So, I'm running a contest. The 100th person who emails me (at firstname.lastname@example.org) will receive a free game of their choice (selected from a limited list, which includes an autographed copy of my book, "Miskatonic University", *plug* *plug* *plug*). Note this is the 100th person, not the 100th reply, so one per person please, and we reserve the right to changes these terms at any time (just to keep us covered and avoid misrepresentation).
Until next month,