Dead and Open


Everyone would like to think that they are special. I know this, because I am like everyone. Yes, this applies to games as well. Once upon a time we could think that we were special because we were the hold outs on something: the only person who spoke Esperanto, the only soul with a Gloria Swanson-milk carton fetish, the only one still playing a Boot Hill campaign.

Everyone would like to think that they are special. I know this, because I am like everyone. Yes, this applies to games as well. Of course that has been the problem with the World Wide Web. Once upon a time we could think that we were special because we were the hold outs on something: the only person who spoke Esperanto, the only soul with a Gloria Swanson-milk carton fetish, the only one still playing a Boot Hill campaign. Then we all got our internet hookups and set up our glory web pages, and discovered there was a web ring for every single thing that we held privately dear.

Yet still we felt special, because instead of being the lone souls holding something out, we were the real dedicated fans. It was our group that kept the dream alive. Our little cult was the true one, because we still had the fire. We, the people playing Star Control Two or collecting bagels from all over the world were the true underground. Our love was pure. There were things that were good, and we could see them, and all the others we now came upon justified us in our vision. Things were still good.

I have come to the conclusion only recently that no one group is more dedicated than one another. We are all cultists of something, and if we are all fanatics, then there is no justifiable way that we, anyone, can call their cult better than the others. Now that the World Wide Web exists, no game can truly die. A cessation in publication is almost more of a boon than a disadvantage. After all, when a main line still exists the information published as holy writ is more important than what is put on-line by some nerd in Bowie, VA. Once the publisher stops publishing, the only way to receive any new information is through other holdouts. I do not think that I would pay much attention to anything from a web site that put up new information for Fading Suns, but I hold every site of TNE information that I come across as dear. It is a new idea when no more will come, and so the unofficial ideas are just as good as any other. Nature abhors a vacuum.

This is perhaps one of the most interesting things about the D20 move by WoTC. They have opened the playing field of the generic fantasy game to everyone and their sister's dog. In effect, the situation created has been to make it so anyone can participate legally in the type of system created by the internet naturally. Calling it "open source" may be a misnomer for a variety of reasons, but the basic premise still shows. It would not exist without the power of the internet to keep things open.

The biggest problem with it is the initial flaw of an internet-based design still shows. Anyone with a day to spend writing up a game, Adobe, a web page and PayPal can become a game publisher. With the creation of on-demand printing, the possibility for published material exists too. Many of these are just simple and cheap adventures, often just worth their cost, but the point is that WoTC and the internet has opened up the possibility by making the entry cost next to nothing. Produced material can afford to be junky because the intense energies needed to create items for a game previously have been mitigated.

Since things can be done for money there is a great desire for things to be done. And since the people want to try and make money, the one who are making money will keep doing it, and those that don't... well, there need to be those in any brilliantly capitalist society. Some will create systems and game worlds that are just as beloved as anything that WoTC produces, and WoTC will still get theirs. Everyone gets something.

But what I want to propose is that the idea that motivates WoTC to go ahead and do such a thing should motivate our friendly defunct companies. Too many brilliant games are just being kept on respirators. Too many bad games are as well, but if there are enough players who should say that they are bad? But I want to think on the good games. Cybergeneration is a game that should have never died. In my opinion, it is one of the finest role playing games ever made. Right now it is dead and stuck dead. As many people put out things there is no hope of it ever coming back to life.

However, with an Open Gaming License mentality, there would be hope. Not a surplus of it, but hope. If there were a profit to be made, more people would be interested in trying. More importantly, some of the good might drive out some of the bad. Those people who were good at creating the world would have more desire to team up, work together, and create even better work. With a slim chance of some profit being made, R. Talsorian might have more of an impetuous to publish some of its hidden away works that have yet to see the light of day.

It is a silly dream, fraught with risk. Most likely nothing at all would change. Most likely most dead games would stay as dead as they already are. Right now, there is nothing happening. I can only bank on chances.

I agree!! Especially since I am one of those "next generation" people trying to get a copy of a game that was on it's way out when I was just born! So the people of yesterday didn't like the game, how about the people of today or tomorrow? How does one get a copy of a game that was retired so long ago? Where ARE all those Boot Hill Rulebooks?? I'm still looking!

Not sure about this ....

I have 2 objections to keeping dead games alive (in principle) not in actuality ie if people want to keep games alive then more power to them but:

(1) I believe in evolutionary process ie survival of the fittest. in the long run, the best resourced, best financed, best designed, most user-friendly game systems will tend to survive. And every 20 years or so the technology will probably improve to the extent that old systems are no longer relevant.
Let me give you an example. In the 1970's I briefly got into wargaming with solid minatures. The rules were well developed and generally excellent. Even nowadays many enthusiasts still use them, but logicaly there is no reason to do so. Instead you should pick up a computer package that realistically simulates wargames rules. Thats what I'll do if I ever go back to it.

(2) My second objection is the emphasis on the game system. Assuming that D20 and other existing systems are reasonably good, then the emphasis should surely be on the qualty of the stories , campaigns and adventures designed.
To follow this logic, A much more profitable avenue to exploit would be to buy up the rights to the thousands od 1E adventures designed in the past, and update them for 3E, repackage them and resell them to a different generation.

Thoughts ..?

I think point one has some merit in general. That well financed, well supported games that are playable will survive. But many less well financed games are remarkably playable and well designed, but have not survived the market in which they were introduced. That, I think, is the point of the article, that the market has changed.
Let us say that a mostly defunct publisher has an old dead game that there is still some small interest in, but not enough to launch a D&D3.5 style publishing monster (which the defunct firm could not afford to do anyway). A scanner, PDF software, and a bit of editing would be all it would take to ready a manuscript of the core rules for on-demand publishing. Some small profit could be wrung from a dead game in this manner. Further assuming that the company does not have the resources to fully support the game, but can get a website up, , it could tap into the creativity of the fans through some sort of OGL, and maybe even devote a little bandwidth on its official website to sell "approved" or "official" OGL PDF adventures supplements etc, which are then part of the game canon, and "unofficial variants" that are not canon, while splitting the take with the authors.

In the current environment, the fixed costs of keeping a niche game "alive" are pretty low, so a new business model could be developed, and may or may not be successful.

Your second point, I think, is a matter of taste. This is a hobby where personal preference plays a big part. I don't know if 3.5 is good enough, and I am unwilling to spend the time or money to find out. The games I play ARE good enough (at least for me) and I already own and understand them. Some of them are also out of print for 20 yrs now, so the author's point resonates with me.


I have to throw my two cents in on this as well.

I also have a love for the weird and obscure games, my Twilight 2000 collection is a testament to that. The greatest internet innovation to help keep obscure games alive is file sharing. Yup the ever controversal P2P. I have downloaded so many books that I either can't afford to pay for or simply would never find in print regardless of how hard I searched. Again my Twilight 2000 collection is testament to this.

Some folks may knock it and some folks may try to sue people over it's use but I still stand firmly by my acts of piracy and copyright infringment. Some people would say that immitation is the sincerest form of flattery but as a writer, both by preference and profession, I say that theft is the sincerest form of flattery.