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