The Business of RPGs
GAMA Recap
The Role of Computers in RPGs
Beyond the Game Table
Who are these people, anyway?
D&D and Novels: How Do They Work Together?
Just What Is the Open Gaming License?
The Role of Organized Play
Tools Rule!
The Role of Market Research
Focusing the New Forgotten Realms

The Business of RPGs
The Role of Organized Play
By David Wise
RPG Clubs and Subsidiary Rights Director

If we lived in the worlds of our characters, the game designing wizards here at Wizards of the Coast would use psionic abilities to know exactly what customers want, employ spellcasting powers to create perfect products overnight, and teleport the games directly to players who want them. But until "game designer" becomes a new prestige class (hey, we're working on it!), the process of planning, developing, marketing, and distributing roleplaying products remains a little more complicated. This monthly feature offers insight into the business side of fun and games.

You may have heard the term metagame before. To the business management types at Wizards of the Coast, metagame has a different meaning than the one you might already have in your head (especially if you're a member of the RPGA Network). In a phrase, we define the metagame as "Everything connected to the game that is not the game itself." For example, when you're munching pizza and talking about last week's gaming session with your buds, that's metagame; when you're reading Dragon Magazine, that's metagame; when you're debating rules interpretations on a message board, that's metagame. To members of the RPG business team, everything that makes D&D more than just a game you play is metagame, and they care a lot about it because they want you to make D&D a part of your lifestyle, not just a game you play.

One of the most important components of the roleplaying game metagame is organized play (OP), which Wizards offers in the form of the RPGA. Wizards is so keen on this concept that the company even created a separate department dedicated to it. Indeed, many consider the Organized Play Department the secret of Wizards' success -- without OP, Magic: The Gathering might well be nothing more than "that card game people used to play five years ago." Meanwhile, those who have been running the RPG business over the last 20 years have intuitively understood the importance of OP, even if they never went so far as to name a department or build a formal business plan around it. TSR's managers created the RPGA back in 1981 understanding that D&D is a very social hobby and that a community could grow around it. Sure, the old guard clearly wanted to market D&D by creating the RPGA, but they also realized that playing D&D is not like playing Monopoly: You don't do it simply to pass the time for a few hours, you do it potentially for a lifetime.

Without OP, there might still be a few roleplaying clubs here and there, but virtually all gaming would take place in the private home among closed circles of friends. RPG campaigning would largely remain limited to isolated player groups in constant danger of disbanding if even one member were to drop out. Worse, D&D would be little more than a periodic activity engaged in for a few hours at a time and often forgotten between sessions, like visiting an in-character chat room on the Internet. Potential new players would have a lot more trouble locating a game, and different gaming groups would have less of a common experience, both in terms of mechanics and story. To a game as socially oriented as D&D, such isolation is poison in the long run, and the dispersal of each player group is a nail in the RPG business coffin. On the other hand, the D&D game gathers great strength from the growth of a player network, and the player network grows as the D&D game gathers strength. The symbiotic relationship that forms through organized play benefits everyone.

In short, if you want to see the RPGA from a business point of view, don't think of it as a "club" or "the place where you play Living campaigns" or even as part of "D&D Marketing" -- think metagame, and you'll better understand why the RPG business team sponsors the RPGA. Rather than a club, think of it as a network of gamers brought together so that they can mutually support and increase access to their common interest in gaming. Rather than thinking of Living campaigns as another kind of D&D game, albeit with thousands of players, think of them as a globally shared experience. Rather than think of the RPGA as a part of D&D Marketing, think of it as the direct connection between the company and the customer, where both sides influence the game's development and play it together. What raises the RPGA to the level of metagame is that it connects us all together where the rubber meets the road: at the gaming table.

Of course, there's no real need to see the RPGA as metagame, because it certainly functions as a Living campaigns club that helps to market D&D. If you play D&D and like Living campaigns, then the metagame need only mean that your character can become a member of the Ravens Bluff City Watch (for instance) as far as you're concerned. Joining the community and having a good time is your part in the RPG business metagame. The rest is academic.

Did you catch last month's Business of RPGs article?
Find out more about how the new D&D game emphasizes tools, not rules!


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