Will Open Gaming Destroy Itself?
Open source software works because not everyone in the world can code software; you still, in the end, have raw consumers. But an open source game system is different, because anyone who can read and write can now design their own game system based off the core rules. And that dilutes the product. And that's not good.
Let me play Devil's Advocate here for a moment. I don't necessarily support the following position, but it's one I've not heard yet, and someone needs to say it. It may as well be me.
I believe that the d20 open gaming system is going to dilute the product to the point of meaninglessness.
The reason nobody, in the past, just made their own homebrewed system was that the quality sucked. Nobody could come up with a good system. It's not easy designing a game system. I know. But now, bam. Everyone has access to the same system, a system that works. So everyone immediately designs their own game worlds and adventures around their custom port of that engine. It's like dozens of versions of Dungeons and Dragons for sale. Which do you choose? Why choose at all if you can make your own? And if you do make your own, how do you market it?
It's like trying to sell snow to a village of Eskimos -- they've seen it, they can get their own elsewhere, for free, and yours doesn't look any different.
Because it's open gaming format, any small two-bit company, or individual, can write up a 20 page adventure, scrawl some maps, and sell it as a Dungeons and Dragons compatible adventure. 15 years ago, there were maybe 50 or 60 good core modules, and maybe a few hundred in total, all by fairly large companies. But now, already, there are hundreds of them on the Internet, some free for download, some for sale.
And when every moron 15-year-old with a computer can come up with gaming systems and offer them online, everyone has their own rules and nobody buys anything any more. There is no longer any one central website you can go to in order to find all d20 game products. Instead of one top-notch product you get a thousand fourth-tier products. Quantity over quality. A ton of bricks versus an ounce of gold.
What this means is D&D players now have too much choice from a pile of product that is likely, for the most part, inferior quality. Throw one good apple in a barrel of 100 apples. Now pick one. There are so many, you aren't likely to find the good one.
This might be different if people were using the d20 system in different ways, but they're not just writing stories and modules and adventures. Everyone is taking it upon themselves to reinvent the wheel.
From what I've seen, most of the chatter about d20 is about rebuilding the system in special custom ways, much like MUDders all recode pieces of Circle: adding classes, adding skills, redoing magic. And if you're at all familiar with the way MUDs work, it's like this: One person makes a mud. It's cool. A few hundred people play it. Then, everyone realizes they can make their own muds. Thousands of muds spring up, each draws a few hundred players. Then there are thousands of MUDs. Then no one MUD can draw a big enough audience to make it worth keeping alive. So MUDs start to die. And the MUDs as a whole die off.
Don't believe me there? Check out the listings on Mud Connector. Why are there a thousand fewer MUDs this year than there were just a few years ago?
Everquest is not a mud. You can't do what they did by yourself. You'd need a team of graphic artists and coders and marketing people and a network of servers and so on and so forth. And because they are the only ones doing what they do, the way they do it, they don't get hundreds. They get hundreds of thousands. They make money.
The way Dungeons & Dragons used to do it.
But now, it's as if Everquest gave away their codebase, so that every kid with a Pentium III and enough RAM could run his own Everquest, with his own friends. And if that were to happen, the Everquest behemoth would crash to the ground.
Why pay a monthly fee when you can do the same thing for free?
Why buy rulebooks when you can invent your own game system for free?
Why play Dungeons & Dragons when you can create Monsters & Mayhem?
Wizards has given away the keys to the treasury here, and there are thousands of greedy adventurers ransacking the castle as we speak.
Unlike the movies, this one doesn't necessarily have a happy ending.
What do you think?