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Soapbox: About the Industry

Standing on the Shoulders of Giants

by Sandy Antunes
Aug 01,2002

 

Standing on the Shoulders of Giants

Welcome to my latest hard-hitting pragmatic business advice column. As usual, I ditch the pretentious to bring you the real numbers, the real way to best get your game to market and sell, sell, sell. Our topic today is 'creativity', taken from my perspective.

I have a game design which I expect to release 'soon' (on a geological scale, at least), and it is with a hearty sense of honesty that I attack the issue of whether it is the idea, or the execution, that makes for a best-selling game.

The answer? All ideas are evolutionary, not revolutionary. Therefore, success in the marketplace is less involved with 'the great new idea' and more concerned with how aligned your change is with the general mis-en-scene of the cultural milieu that enfolds the RPG intelligensia. Only by tapping into this subliminal superconsciousness in a meaningful way, and through ISO 9000 follow-though bringing your corporate culture into proper branding, can you expect success.

So forget that bit about ideas, sweat equity, and marketing. It's all about the zeitgeist, baby.

Let's look at the father(s) of the hobby. D&D by Arneson and Gygax, for example, built upon the basic strategic miniatures game they played, and added a multiracial and 'class' system in order to allow for interaction beyond the battlefield-- and thus was born roleplaying, in the form of 'combat underground instead of above ground'.

Clearly a mere evolution, and even today you can see that miniatures games and RPGs are really identical, except that one involves figures and stats, and the other involves diceless drama-based live action-- a minor tweak at best.

The excellent Steve Jackson release, "Nightmare Chess", infused basic chess with a randomized strategic component based on drawing cards. But few realize that Mr. Jackson didn't invent this concept. Rather, it was derived from a French game, "Le Nightmares du Croises", which loosely translates into "Crucified Nightmare". This clever French creation took the deterministic strategic game of "Tic-Tac-Toe" and added a tactical component by allowing card draws to modify board behavior. A simple 'twist' by Mr. Jackson to apply this to chess, and voila! A bestselling American game.

WizKids has made a recent fortune by reinventing miniatures. Their concept is simple: make it easy by printing the stats on the base of the figures, plus having a handy 3-fold 'lookup chart' of the special rules and conditions, plus requiring a basic understanding of the overall ground rules. This simple modification, then, of the basic system of "Monopoly" (wherein each card self-describes itself, just as each mini in the WizKids games self-describes itself), combined with a poorly written set of main rules, really makes the two games cousins in three ways. They're both self-explanatory, they both have a rulebook, and they both made lots of money. Not as much originality as you thought, eh? Told you so.

And, of course, there's M:TG (Magic: The Gathering). Originally proposed as "Robo Rally" by Richard Garfield, WotC's president (Peter Adkison) asked him to rewrite the game. By quickly making the minor change to switch it from a multiplayer tactical movement-based board game to a boardless dual-player card-based strategic randomized system of card combat, he created the megahit M:TG upon his own shoulders, as it were.

Heck, even this column isn't original. Instead, it's an 'evolution' wherein I took basic facts and 'evolved' them into more entertaining (albiet less factual) forms! So you see, there really isn't anything new under the sun.

Except my new game idea, of course.

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What do you think?

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All Soapboxes

  • See What Sticks by Sandy Antunes, 06jan06
  • Simple Gifts for Pre-Gamers by Sandy Antunes, 09dec05
  • Col vs Blog by Sandy Antunes, 04nov05
  • Running a First RPG for Kids by Sandy Antunes, 07oct05
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  • Cassandra's Industry Report by Sandy Antunes, 03jun05
  • Fiction or Non-Fiction by Sandy Antunes, 05may05
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  • A Decade of Distilled Advice by Sandy Antunes, 03sep04
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  • 10 Hurdles to Selling Your Game by Sandy Antunes, 11jun04
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  • Eigentesting by Sandy Antunes, 09oct03
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  • all i game with, i learned from kids books by Sandy Antunes, 19nov02
  • TCG: The Total Cost of Gaming by Sandy Antunes, 10oct02
  • Game Publishing & The Law by Sandy Antunes, 06sep02
  • Standing on the Shoulders of Giants by Sandy Antunes, 01aug02
  • Buying Time by Sandy Antunes, 04jul02
  • April 10, 2002 13 New FAQs
  • March 1, 2002 Give Me A Closet
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  • December 13, 2001 Conflict, Ethics, Winning, and Money
  • November 13, 2001 Secret RPGnet Operations Document Leaked!
  • October 16, 2001 Leadership and D&D
  • September 4, 2001 Leading Industry Site Reports Secret: Sex Sells!
  • August 7, 2001 Any, Anyone Can Be an Internet Success-- Why Aren't You?
  • July 3, 2001 Fine Print, Part U
  • June 5, 2001 Fine Print, Part I
  • May 8, 2001 Pushing Limits
  • May 4, 2001 RPGnet State of the Union special feature
  • April 6, 2001 The Other Magic: Niche Hobbies and Other Markets
  • May 9, 2000 Running a Business as an Old Style D&D Party
  • April 14, 2000 First to Market
  • March 20, 2000 Labor Pains
  • February 15, 2000 One Trick Pony
  • January 6, 2000 Creativity is Bad, Hard to Sell, and Great for Business
  • December 14, 1999 Oranges versus Bananas: Entertainment Costs
  • November 2, 1999 Why Editors Lie
  • October 5, 1999 How to publish a quality game, accept criticism gracefully, and lead a happy life: Pick Any Two
  • September 7, 1999 It Takes a Village (to publish an RPG)
  • August 3, 1999 All Gamer Money Isn't Equal
  • July 6, 1999 Tides of Cash Flow
  • June 1, 1999 Ad-itudes
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  • March 2, 1999 Roleplaying would have saved Millions
  • February 2, 1999 Games That Won't Suck
  • January 5, 1999 Dangerous Games
  • December 1, 1998 Making Gamers the Old Fashioned Way
  • November 3, 1998 The $1K Company
  • October 1, 1998 So You Want to Start Your Own Company...
  • September 1, 1998 Holy Grails and Marching Morons
  • August 4, 1998 Gamers Must Die!
  • July 7, 1998 Profit versus Prophet
  • June 2, 1998 Acquire! Acquire!
  • May 5, 1998 Power
  • April 21, 1998 The GAMA Trade Show Report, Part 2 (eventually)
  • April 7, 1998 Schroedinger Games, or, the GAMA Report
  • March 3, 1998 Culling the Herd
  • February 3, 1998 Horatio Hornblower's RPG Company
  • January 6, 1998 Double Feature (Us and Them/A Clash of Images)
  • December 2, 1997 "How to Scam Games for Free"
  • November 4, 1997 "Women in Gaming?"
  • October 2, 1997 "Fear of a Gaming Planet" (Welcome to the RPG ghetto?)
  • September 2, 1997 "Rush" (fame and adoration in lieu of pay)
  • August 2, 1997 "For the Money" (convention mating rituals)
  • July 2, 1997 "Good Deeds" (the dearth of evil game companies)
  • June 2, 1997 "Dirty Laundry" (copyright and slander on the net)
  • May 2, 1997 "Communications Breakdown" (company and player schisms)
  • April 2, 1997 "The Quick and the Dead" (dying companies versus new ideas)
  • March 2, 1997 "It's All in the Timing" (on hype and late deliveries, and on genres)
  • February 2, 1997 "Insiders and Outsiders" (who's who and who uses the web)
  • January 2, 1997 "Fits and Starts" (web presences, print runs, live roleplaying)
  • December 2, 1996 "Procastination Season is Over" (delays and new products)
  • November 1, 1996 "Best of Times, Worst of Times" (on rumors, survival, and larps)
  • October 1, 1996 "Post-Con fallout and not that many new games"
  • September 1, 1996 "Our launch, news from GenCon, demos, new LARPS"
  • Our reason for existence

    Other columns at RPGnet

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