Sunday, February 21, 2010

"How Many Games Can the OSR Sustain?"

Last month I found out Goodman Games was doing their own sorta-retro game, and that news seems to have gotten out this past week.

And again there are the concerns of "How many companies and products can the Old School community support?"

It's irrelevant, and after a few days' thought my response is now, "Stop acting like lepers or victims of some sort of gaming apartheid."

"Niche of a niche" is bullshit defeatist phrasing, and I keep reading it. It should be what detractors say about us, not how we describe ourselves, for fuck's sake.

It's good now, because it's good. It's not good just because it's like it was 25+ years ago. "Play Swords & Wizardry/Labyrinth Lord because it delivers this awesome fucking experience," not "Play Swords & Wizardry/Labyrinth Lord because your 1974/1981 boxes are too valuable/worn to actually handle during game play!"

Our games can stand proudly next to anything ever done for this hobby (because they largely are the games that laid the foundation for the hobby, untrademarkedly speaking). The trick for anyone releasing material is to stand your ground and release only material which reflects and reinforces your gaming principles, not adjusting those principles to any sort of movement/philosophy and not for the sake of appealing to the larger market.

Build it, and build it well, and they will come. It won't spark a new Golden Age, you're not going to outsell WotC or Paizo or whoever else is on top of the mountain right now, but there is a whole damn lot of space between "failure" and "#1" that anyone should be proud to inhabit. And there are a shitload of modernist, state-of-the-art games that don't get the attention that "our" games get, so quit whining. If people don't go for your project (because there is never any guarantee that people will give a shit no matter how spectacular you feel it is), well, be bitter and disappear for a little while (you've earned it if you've put in the blood sweat and tears), then get over it, and come back.

Don't accept a ghetto. You want that house on the hills? "Market conditions" are not an excuse. "The economy" is not an excuse. There are people who are making good money in RPGs, and people that have been gainfully employed and increasing their standard of living during the current recession. This will be what we make of it, not what prevailing conditions will allow us.


  1. '"Niche of a niche" is bullshit defeatist phrasing, and I keep reading it. It should be what detractors say about us, not how we describe ourselves, for fuck's sake.'

    Damn right.

  2. Take another 'Damn right' from me.

  3. Whenever people say "niche of a niche" I hear "elite of the elite". ;)

  4. Damn right! I decided a third, was in order.

  5. I am glad there are so many games and supplements being published. But many in the blogosphere are attempting to make money at it. That's the position they are taking when they say that the OSR is getting saturated. For normal gamers, the more, the merrier!

  6. >>But many in the blogosphere are attempting to make money at it.

    The horrors! :P

  7. jim, as long as you know your niche the size doesnt matter much. Give the consumer what he want and he will buy it.

    Part of the problem with the OSR is that many of the rules are freely available. Great for the gamers... not so great for the publishers looking to make a living.

  8. Wow, my saying that really got under your skin, didn't it?

    Why is that?

  9. It's not something I would have thought to do, but I think the rules being free has helped everything along immensely.

    And these free rulesets have still sold many, many hundreds (EACH) of copies. BHP's recent box was made up of material otherwise freely available. Labyrinth Lord's latest rules and expansion are available as just-text free PDFs but they still sell lots of copies of the not-free with-art PDF, in addition to the books.

    Obviously presentation, and not just content, matters.

  10. A- I didn't know you said that. I was reacting to someone else. It's an all-to-common sentiment bandied about.

    B- Because I have a rather personal stake in the matter. :D

  11. Economy? Well yeah the economy is tough so I'm picky about what I buy. Barring a recent charity purchase 90% of my game purchases since the summer have been OSR products.

    Niche ? RPG started as a niche of a niche, it's hardly remarkable for OSR to be classified as a niche today. Bad mouthing OSR for being a niche is like saying I'm wrong for liking skiffle over ska.

  12. Well, I said it too three weeks back. Its not a bad thing if it helps you define and take proper aim at your market.

    I have purchased most of the OSR rulesets, both in PDF and dead tree. Actually, 5 copies each of dead tree, because I like to give gifts out at our quarterly "Gathering of Fools". I am, I think, the exception that proves the rule, as none of those I give these books to would have bought them on their own.

    I'll be the first to pony up and grab a copy when James gets ready to ship - tho it won't be 5 copies, even my pockets arent that deep ;)

    The issue is growing the OSR market. Selling to the converted is easy... selling outside the "niche within a niche" is the challenge.

    I'd guess from the effort and package design James is looking to go beyond the OSR boundaries. I expect Goodman's marketing will attempt the same

  13. "Our games can stand proudly next to anything ever done for this hobby..."

    The Truth is spoken!

  14. I agree with James that our products will find an audience on their own merits regardless of how many "competitors" are out there. I have the impression that people buy all sorts of stuff from various sources. Sure, they don't play it all, but the idea that one takes sales away from another (as far as I can tell) isn't based on actual buying habits. I'm not at all concerned about a glut of new systems, all pseudo-clones to one degree or another. I saw that handwriting on the wall from the start. The thing that does continually surprise me though is that some people keep looking for an "authority figure" to publish one of these games. Some publisher people can look to who lends some sort of street cred to the game. If it isn't WotC then some other known publisher. Someone said that maybe Goodman's game could be the "clone to rule them all," but, no offense in any way intended toward Goodman, but people do realize he's just one guy running a game company as a hobby right? Just like all of the rest of us? Sending the books into distribution through the same channels as the rest of us? When he prints this thing he'll start with a few hundred copies and hope they sell within a few months, just like the rest of us. That's not a knock at all, just a reality. The point being, there is not ever going to be an "authority figure" to take up the moral mantle of True Old-school Inheritance to usher in a time of unified rejoicing. We already have a bunch of good games, with more coming out by various sources, so why not just find one you like and go with it? Do we really need some self-proclaimed "true inheritor?" Man, I hope not. I can't imagine who that would even be. For the record I wish every success with Goodman's efforts. But it's nothing to get fired up about. His game will be marketed as first edition, but it will likely be about as 1e as C&C is, and will attract people who like that sort of 3e hybrid, and we'll all go on as ever before. No biggee.

  15. I'll just add my name to the list of people who agree with Jim. I also think Dan's post is dead-on WRT to the sub-conscious quest many have for an "authority figure" to place his imprimatur on this game or that as the True Successor of D&D or whatever. That's not going to happen and I see that as a very good thing. The more, the merrier, I say.

  16. I don't find niche of a niche detracting. We who roleplay are already a niche. Roleplaying supers is a niche of a niche, roleplaying post-apocalyptic is a niche of a niche, roleplaying spies is a niche of a niche, roleplaying old-school fantasy is a niche of a niche. IMO, the only real non-niche of a niche in the roleplaying world is the current incarnation of D&D - that's just a niche.

    Niche isn't a statement of on quality - it's a statement on quantity. I have no derogatory or negative connotations to the phrase.

  17. >>I don't find niche of a niche detracting.

    Eh, I read it as saying "You/We/They should know your/our/their place! Stop that wave-making, right now!"

  18. The trick for anyone releasing material is to stand your ground and release only material which reflects and reinforces your gaming principles, not adjusting those principles to any sort of movement/philosophy and not for the sake of appealing to the larger market.

    Hear, hear. Precisely the attitude I'm taking with CotMA and Emprise!™. I'm writing the game I want to play myself, organized and produced the way I want. I'm just willing to let other folks have a copy if they want to see it, too.

  19. As someone who has used the phrase "niche of a niche" quite a few times, I don't see it as either defeatest or critical, but rather a statement of fact. I've always used it when talking about our OSR niche growing and expanding - something that is far from defeatest. I've also used it when trying to bring a touch of realism when countering anti-OSR critics.

    I'd go further, I think "niche of a niche" can be used as a statement of pride. We are tiny, but look at the impact we as a community have had over the last year or two, an impact that goes well beyond our small numbers. This has got nothing to do with elistism, but once again a simple statement of fact. Those outside of the OSR are interested, they are influenced, and our numbers are growing as a result. Though I understand what you're saying James, I see nothing to be ashamed of.

  20. "I'd go further, I think "niche of a niche" can be used as a statement of pride"

    I'm with David. Take the phrase and make it work for you. In the case of our old school con (NTRPG Con) we use it as a point of pride in what we are doing, but also as a realistic anchor point. Running a Con I've found is hard work, but you can do it if you plan ahead. If I expect 1000 people at the con I'm only going to be disappointed when it only attracts 65 people (as it did last year). So "niche of a niche" to me is a realistic thing I use to temper expectations and plan ahead and try to estimate how many gamers will be attracted to our agenda of pre-1999 gaming (and planning accordingly).

    I will agree with you James that all the waiting and hoping for a "leader" in the OSR is self-defeating. Sieze the day and come out with the best damn product you can.

  21. This "niche within a niche" of ours has the ability to do something most of the rest of this hobby does not... bring back players from the days the hobby's beginnings, who left for one reason or another. I don't see them returning for 4e or Pathfinder, but a well marketed retro clone could return some of them to fold.

  22. I will say one thing about the "niche" idea.

    In some ways it can be a good thing. Understanding that you are in a niche can help you keep focused and deliver the best product possible.

    Imagine somebody trying to come up with a role-playing game or supplement with "broad appeal" as defined by appealing to D&D players, sci-fi RPG players, White Wolf players, online role-players, and so on. It would probably be a big hot mess ... and would appeal to nobody.

    Hell, enjoy the niche. Embrace the niche. Delve the niche and understand it. And then make kick-ass products.

  23. All I have to add is... Preach on brother, preach on....

  24. Frankly, I'm surprised that anyone who sits around a table prentending to be an elf cares what anyone else thinks, really.

  25. Right on.
    I can't understand people complaining that they have too many options now. If you don't want other games to choose from don't buy/download them. Sheesh.
    Could we please move on to a real problem, like the dearth of 25mm hireling figures being produced? There are like three different OSR blogs featuring Grenadier's set from the early 1980s...

  26. Right on. Preach it. People should realize that there's a huge difference between Back In The Day, and now. What is working today is valuable and worthwhile and we ought not forget that.

  27. We don't have a leader in the OSR?

    BTW, if anyone can succeed it's Jim, with that attitude. Keep working.

  28. I'll add my voice to those who realised that 'Niche of Niche' was not meant in a derogatory manner, but merely a market-share of the entertainment industry's Dollars/Euros/what-have-you.

    Videogames, music, theatre films, DVDs, boardgames, hobby-crafts (trains, planes, etc.), all still hold a vast share of the profits, with RPGs amounting to a drop in the bucket, in comparison. Then, the Indie RPG still has more pull than the OSR.
    --While the actual standings in this regard, and only this regard, is what I meant when I stated it, and I accept that these may change slightly in the coming months and years (mainly due to the low production/manufacturing costs versus the other media), the OSR still has very little pull.
    --That's all I meant by it.

    As far as having a personal stake in it: Ditto, so please, let no one think I am wishing for anyone's products to fail, or that I am --and this really flips my lid that some claim this is being said in sub-text-- that the glut is bitching about too many choices.
    --If the games are not substantively different save a few tweaks here or there from EACH OTHER, let alone from OOP materials (which I agree are not going to sustain future growth of our collectively beloved hobby), then it will have its day before being surpassed by something else --and that something(s)-else may very well be crafted by others of the same group creating simulaclones at present. Again, not a dig or slight, just an attempt to jar something different/innovative from some damn fine creative minds, all of whom I admire and expect to rise to greater heights.
    --I demand the same of myself, too, BTW.

    So, rather than get all militant or defensive, I'm merely asking the community to think outside the proverbial box (not the boxed set, mind you) and bring the same passion to new rules-sets and G-d-forbid, settings, if that's what surfaces in their fevered dreams. ;) :D

    -Kyrinn S. Eis / Timeshadows

    p.s.: We don't need _Leaders_, we need _Innovators_ and _Inspirers_.
    --Down with Fascism and Group-think, up with Individuation and Creativity. :D

  29. *applauds in Citizen Kane fashion*

    Put out content that makes it easy to pick up and play well.
    Find a receptive audience.
    Let the content do it's job.
    Make it easy for others to follow us.

    What else, really, do we need to do?

  30. I'm with Timeshadows:
    "We don't need _Leaders_, we need _Innovators_ and _Inspirers_ --Down with Fascism and Group-think, up with Individuation and Creativity. :D

    Death To Tyrants.
    Let's Kick Some Ass and get Innovating; this whole OSR-thingy is supposed to be a frickin' RENAISSANCE, isn't it? Most of us aren't likely to become Borgias, but we can sure as hell try our best to be curmudgeonly painters struggling against oppressive restrictions to realize our respective artistic genius, or something like that...

  31. Very, very thought provoking.

    Putting on my market researcher hat for a second, niche of a niche does not exist any more in the world we live in now - the very existence of this blog and the interconnectivity is astounding. Pre- online, such "niche" interests only had a chance in the large cities of the world that had enough addressable market where even a small fraction leads to significant numbers of shared interest. Now, talking about the world... there is plenty of room to network and find shared audience and propagate the message.

    However, putting on my consultant's hat, admittedly we need a value proposition that is clearly articulated, and differentiates from the droll that is out there now - e.g., what can the OSR offer that is non-duplicable; an experience that one cannot get from existing systems?

    To me, that does remain unclear; but in fairness I am just getting my feet wet in the movement.

    And in this vein, it appears arguably that construction of novel or tweaked rule sets for OSR products is almost a farcical formality, or hygiene factor, just to prove you have DONE SOMETHING...

    ...When the true value prop lies in the atmosphere - the unique, raw and primal talent at prose and setting creation - and the love for the weird, extraordinary, uncanned, inscrutable game from the types of folks who watched Heavy Metal, Excalibur, and Nightmare on Elm Street when they were too young for it by current standards.

    Frankly, who cares what 14 dexterity means in AD&D versus Pathfinder, versus the soul-less railroad track known as four-oh.

    What I do care about is a pretty good yarn that has the right mix of the right conventions, strategy, balanced capriciousness, satire, problem solving, pizzazz, and horror... Those are the gaps.

    Anyway, that's enough!

  32. niche of a niche does not exist any more in the world we live in now

    bear-sophie, you might think differently if you talked to the various OSR publishers about sales figures. Items that sell over 200 copies are fairly rare. Even free items rarely have more than several hundred downloads. Compare that to the rgp gaming market as a whole and I think you'll find we're pretty niche of a nichey. But we're growing steadily. :)

  33. Not only in agreement but find it kind of funny that this has been going on for years. This is just the first time we have been able to share it amongst the entire game community.

    Folks have been re-working and re-writing rule sets since day one. Seems there has always been plenty of room at the table. And if any players are like me I read 90% more material than I actually play. I have always viewed rpg books as their own form of literature. I enjoy watching other people's imaginations at work and it inspires me on my work.

    This has nothing to do with the 'industry' works because we work. Everyday. At community, design, teaching new comers.

    That's why it will always be a huge hobby and a small industry.

    If every major game company closed down today it wouldn't effect the hobby in the least. Might make more room for us :)

  34. As a G.M. I agree with James there is no excuse for the niche of niche defeatist barf that we have been accepting let me say this I was only scheduled to run one table yesterday at my local game store and wound up doing three, how the heck is that DEFEAT IT SOUNDS MORE LIKE VICTORY. We have the world by the short hairs, all we have to do is WORK to get the message out. look old school is like a heavy metal concert full of life and passion this new stuff for the most part is like a therapy session clinging to a therapist waiting for him to tell you what to do and to follow someones rules for and you will be happy.