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Industry Insights: From The Industry Side

GAMA Trade Show '02: An Inside Report

by Sandy Antunes
March 26, 2002


This is my GTS'02 writeup. I was there as "Staff", manning the registration desk. So while I can report on the attendance (we beat last year's 1400 before the exhibit hall opened on Tuesday), this would seem to ordinarily exempt me from having to do a full writeup.

But, alas, I snagged a "Press" ribbon so I could score some free food, and thus am now obliged to actually write a press report. Since Allan was there doing the official RPGnet GTS Report, though, this wasn't too hard. I simply told Allan to cover the hard news, and I'll focus on niche stuff.

Well, actually, that's a lie. In reality, I simply asked Allan if he enjoyed the female impersonator, the midget, and the three canes (answer=Yes!). But I'm sure he intuited my meaning.

So my GTS news will cover "Is allowing Luke to nail Leia a good Star Wars game design choice", "Why artists intimidate", and "Is 'topless' the Vegas equivalent of 'do you want fries with that'?". Hopefully, any game designer will walk away from my report thinking "I have got to go to GTS next year!1".

So I'm 150 words2 into this writeup and I haven't gotten past the intro. Are you still reading this? Rats, that means I have to finish it. Okay, here we go.

I think that was the Cook

Richard Garfield gave a wonderful talk during the WotC "Star Wars TCG" free dinner. While my retailer friends were less than impressed, I thought it was useful design insight. The fundamental problem he addresses was the same problem faced by many licensed properties, to wit:

Do you allow the players to be the main characters (and muck up the original story), or do you relegate them to minor roles (preserving story but making for a less interesting use of the property)?

Now, the upcoming "Star Wars Trading Card Game" (abbreviated as, well, "Star Wars TCG") thought about this. Richard's point about allowing main characters is it can lead to overkill: either "Luke never shows up in the game" or "All my Lukes are out at once". If you don't allow them, though, people get to play cards like "the Cook" or "wasn't that the guy from the cantina?". Either way is less than fun.

For Star Wars TCG, they decided that you do play the main characters, but in a role-play based way. Instead of a single "Luke" card, you perhaps initially play "Luke the pilot", then add roles ("Luke as Jedi", "Luke as Sous Chef", etc). Thus you are the main character, but growing in experience and depth as the cards come out. Which is a very elegant way to approach the issue.

This also leads to a story-based feel. The game itself is polarized-- you're either playing Light or Dark (no Lukes and Darths in the same deck). So again, the focus is on an evolving story. Given this is a TCG, I would be very interested to see if the design concepts (main vs ancillary, polarized versus heterogenous) get worked into any licensed RPGs.

Larry Elmore: God or Whore?

Let me just say, as a writer, I naturally hate artists. Writing takes dilligence: art takes talent plus dilligence. Plus, artists get all the babes. And they get paid before writers do, under the theory that there are a 100 decent writers for every decent artist.

Given that most writers are whores (i.e. first you do it for fun, then you do it for your friends, then you do it for money), well, then artists count as the _successful_ whores. The uptown ones, the ones that rake in the real bucks while us writers are turning over penny-a-word tricks in the dark alleys.

So, it's always a treat to meet with someone like Larry Elmore, who is one of the most respected art talents in this business, and a very kind fellow. But, being totally intimidated, I naturally decided instead to talk to his agent. Besides, I wanted to talk money, ya always go to the pimp for that kinda talk.

So there I was, asking Ken Whitman whether Larry gets a lot of work, or if publishers are intimidated by his body of work. After all, as one of the more recognized artists, I wondered if starting publishers (especially) just figured he was out of their league.

The first bit of news was, hey, even if you wanted him to work for you, Larry's booked through September. So clearly a lot of publishers are willing to step up to the plate for this. Just how much does a piece of Larry cost, then?

Well, I'd have to plunk down 3 months' rent ($3000) to commission a new oil painting from him. Given that is 3 times the amount you can start a company with, though, Ken pointed out something most startups miss: recommissions.

You can get second rights to an artists' work for a significant fraction of the original cost. In practice, this works best if the artist works in several industries (say, SF book covers). In any case, for perhaps half a thousand, you could acquire second rights to Elmore art. Plus then you don't have to wait until past September to get your work.

And given that Ken reps Dan Frasier, Steve Stone, and Tim Bradstreet, you can take a sort of shopping mall approach to getting second right artwork. In this, the web is a big help-- you can browse, see if something fits, check if it's already been used in the gaming industry, then make a pitch.

"Just wave, dear"

I do feel obligated to point out that GTS was held in Las Vegas, capital of sin. So it was strictly out of journalistic integrity and our concern for you, dear readers, that Allan and I subjected ourselves to a bevy of topless showgirls4. I know, I know, we're so damn noble.

So we went to "Showgirls of Magic" at the San Remo. The premise was that the four dancing showgirls did the stage magic. There were two shows: 8pm (family) and 10:30pm (topless, adults only). Which made sense: showgirls == topless. But then I checked other shows.

Lance Burton, Master Magician: 8pm (family), 10:30pm (topless). Hmm. A quick check of the others, and it was true-- all headliners have a family and an adult run. The adult one is 'topless'. The Vegas equivalent of 'you want fries with that?'.

In retrospect, this means that a perfectly functional show, i.e. one that is very entertaining to the 8pm crowd, simply adds "sans top" for the night crowd. This is the equivalent of writing an excellent RPG and then adding tits to the cover art, or writing a brilliant essay about GTS then gratitiously putting the word "fuck" into it. It just isn't fucking necessary!

So really, what we saw was an entertaining vaudevillian piece (showgirls, magic, a standup comic, a midget, a female impersonator who did a sort of ventriloquism, plus 2 free drinks). And yes, there were some routines done topless, with a sort of "hi, here's our usual routine but we're taking off our tops because it's in our contract, even though it adds little to the overall effect". I found it kinda pathetic, a little like Vegas itself.

But what was either truly comic or penultimately sad was the cast line-up as we were leaving. Apparently (Allan caught this and I didn't), the newest of the 4 showgirls ("Olga") had a pen out to sign autographs, and was confusably waving it around. Since there was no playbill, there wasn't much to sign, and so the lead showgirl simply whispered to her "Just wave, dear."

Therein lies the Vegas mystique. Vegas is ultracompetitive, and to perform there requires you be pretty damn good. Magic acts that rate an 'A-' in Baltimore score a 'C' from the local writers, just because of the level of competition. So having achieved a headlining show there, what do you learn?

You learn that, first, make sure your evening show is topless. And forget the autographs. People are there for the show, but they aren't necessarily there for you.

I think this applies to the RPG industry too. Some books are bloody brilliant, but when it comes down to it, we read the books. We usually don't form cults around the designers or laud the authors beyond a cursory "I might check out their next work". The work is seperate from the agony of its creation.

Hell, even I wasn't so much into meeting Larry Elmore as I was in seeing his book for sale. And Richard Garfield was interesting only for his design thoughts-- I didn't hang around to get his autograph.

So whenever some game designer or writer or artist is at a show, and thinks they'll do a signing of their amazing magnum opus, I think I'll always be tempted to walk up and say "Just wave, dear".

Until next year,
Sandy sandy@rpg.net

1: Either because a) you liked this essay or b) you were smart enough to stop reading it by footnote #1.
2: Yes, I know, I can't count.
3: The irony of such structural dimorphism appearing vis a vis a paradigm conflux suggests... oh, okay, this is just a fake footnote.
4: And thus the tickets were a tax-deductible expense. *ka ching!* TQo0~^DҒt< ek&Ǿ$\۵ZFȃuwݝIŃU QYir2HR2.u3MFoعq]4#A`pP5(b& )b)ⰾp7(i<[-2gL#5[f g?*rVGf8*)s'+20ϟ̑F}KB<7wSL\gbvm9WiRބYŜvd y0'p2I_Fc2>#o A )VL[Qk?3`)<У[(*W.JH ?tXCt谙 X:@ \0w ~LqĤE-rFkYœj4q 5AQ6[AxG [>w|?( fХθY䝛$c=_qNĦoǸ>O_|&/_Mi7"宥CЧk0dӷLh;TmuCGU-!Ul{ h<\bQX.~"O2*yPcz!ŠGg

What do you think?

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All Industry Insights

  • Gareth-Michael Skarka interviews China Mieville, April 24, 2002
  • lizard's Condensation of All Game Fiction, April 18, 2002
  • Sandy's "God or Whore?" GTS'02, March 26, 2002
  • Allan Sugarbaker with GAMA Trade Show '02: An Inside Report, March 22, 2002
  • Aldo of Impressions on the GamePlay CD, January 3, 2002
  • Gareth-Michael Skarka interviews Ken Hite, February 8, 2002
  • Gareth-Michael Skarka interviews Tim Powers, January 18, 2002
  • Aldo Ghoizzi on Inside the Making of GamePlay, January 3, 2002
  • The RPGnet Awards Cabal presents the RPGnet 2001 Awards Results!, December 5, 2001
  • Ken Whitman teaches us with A Note About Creating a Good Promotional Campaign, October 12, 2001
  • Sean Jaffe on The Fallout, September 27, 2001 [about 9/11]
  • Sean Jaffe on Interesting Times, September 21, 2001 [about 9/11]
  • GodLike: Dennis Detwiler and Greg Stolze, September 14, 2001
  • Jared Nielsen on Tribe Gamer, August 31, 2001
  • Mark Bruno teaches about Copy Editing, August 16, 2001
  • Ratings not just kid's stuff for RPG industry, reported by Matt Snyder, August 9, 2001
  • GenCon '01 News, reported by Matt Snyder, August 3, 2001
  • Origins Report: Would you send your mother to buy from them?, part 4 of 4
  • Origins Report: Booth Babes, part 3 of 4
  • Origins Report: Overview, part 2 of 4
  • The Origins Awards, part 1 of 4, reported by Jason Paul McCartan
  • Gary Gygax Interview, part 1 of 3, by Scott Lynch
  • Why I Write Gaming Materials by Greg Stolze, November 16, 1999
  • Blowing out the Nostalgia Candle by John Wick, October 19, 1999
  • Interview with Sean Pat Fannon, Shards October 5, 1999
  • Portuguese is not Spanish! by Thad Blanchette, September 14, 1999
  • Intuition and Surprise by M. J. Young, July 27, 1999
  • Fear and Loathing in the Wizards of the Coast Game Center by John Tynes, January 26, 1999
  • Breaking In,, on how to break into writing for RPGs, by Steve Kenson, December 22, 1998
  • ALT.RPG, first of a series looking deeply at what gaming is all about, by Matt Miller, September 1, 1998
  • The Night They Tore Old Mecca Down, GenCon report by Randy Porter, August 20, 1998
  • GenCon Fun: con, city, and even housing tips from Randy Porter, June 30, 1998
  • GenCon Lore Vol 3: Program Books, update on GenCon 98 attendance, by Randy Porter, June 23, 1998
  • The Missing and the Dead, update on GenCon 98 attendance, by Randy Porter, June 2, 1998
  • The Definitive Count on who is and isn't attending GenCon 98, by Randy Porter, April 28, 1998
  • How to Scam Games Part II by Steve Johnson, March 24, 1998
  • The Perils of Penniless Publishing by Aaron Rosenberg, February 3, 1998
  • Polyhedral Dice & Mirror Shades, by Greg Costikyan (or, the death of paper).
  • Ken Whitman: A Love Hate Relationship by (of course) Ken Whitman
  • Interview with Sean Punch, GURPS line editor, by Bob Portnell, October 1997
  • YOU DID WHAT? Perspectives On Becoming A Full-Time Writer In The RPG Industry, by Steven Long, September 1997
  • A Resurgence of Role Playing, by Gary Gygax, August 1997

    Other columns at RPGnet

    TQo0~^DҒt< ek&Ǿ$\۵ZFȃuwݝIŃU QYir2HR2.u3MFoعq]4#A`pP5(b& )b)ⰾp7(i<[-2gL#5[f g?*rVGf8*)s'+20ϟ̑F}KB<7wSL\gbvm9WiRބYŜvd y0'p2I_Fc2>#o A )VL[Qk?3`)<У[(*W.JH ?tXCt谙 X:@ \0w ~LqĤE-rFkYœj4q 5AQ6[AxG [>w|?( fХθY䝛$c=_qNĦoǸ>O_|&/_Mi7"宥CЧk0dӷLh;TmuCGU-!Ul{ h<\bQX.~"O2*yPcz!ŠGg