Thursday, December 01, 2005

Wizards of the Coast "Reorganizataion"

The report:

Edit: Somewhat ironically, I originally posted a link to a layoff notice from 2002, which gamingreport has listed as the "most read story" regarding Wizards. Oops!

This bums me out. Partially because I still have a lot of friends that work there, and I'm sure they're bummed out. Partially because I still see 'ol time Wizards though rose colored glasses. From my perspective, which is hopelessly skewed, Wizards has become a game production machine. Cold, efficient, effective, but it's hard to feel the love. I know the people who make the games still really care about the work they do, but it's tougher and tougher to see that through that ever thickening corperate shell they've self-imposed upon themselves. That press release is rubbish.

"Today’s organizational changes are designed to help drive our business into the future to improve our performance and our long-term profitability."

Improve performance and long-term profitability? Talent makes capital dance, and Wizards has scuttled several members of the band. Wizards paid a lot of money to send me to a customer management seminar back in 2003 (it changed all my views on business). One of things that stuck with me from the event was this statement: "Take care of your employees first, your customers second, and ignore the bottom line because it will take care of itself." This came from the a Vice President at T-Mobile wireless, and while she seemed like a nightmare to work for, I believe she was right on target there. Point of note, I lost my job less than a year after hearing those words.

Hasbro never 'got' Wizards. Now, Wizards was no bowl of peaches before Hasbro. There were layoffs and product shortages and all sorts of nonsense. When bad things happened back then, it was really was just as bad. It just seems like it was "Wizards bad" and not "Hasbro bad", and "Hasbro bad" seems worse.

The people who have lost their jobs are all amazingly talented and I really believe they'll find success just as quickly as they choose to. Regardless, I wish them all luck. I'm better off without Wizards (obviously), I think they will be as well.

I'm still bummed though. I'm just not sure why, anymore.


The Rise of the BoardGame

Board games are back. If they’re not yet, they will be. I went looking on the internet to see if there is any sales information published that would back that statement up, and I couldn’t find any. Sales information on board games compared to other sorts of games isn't readily available. My guess is that hobby board games as a whole compare favorably to a single successful trading card game. If it hasn't happend already, I predict that soon each sub-category of board game (Eurogame, Wargame, ect.) will catch up to the successful TCGs. I do not predict that any one board game will ever sell as well as a single successful TCG because of the genres format just doesn't support that sort of situation. Not super news for board game publishers. That doesn't mean a thing to the board game players, who'll still be getting better and better games to play.

Why do I think this?

First, the remarkable website, which I am proud to be a new member. I am consistently knocked out by not only the website itself, which is tremendous, but the amount and quality of the user comments, which the site is elegantly crafted to support. If you do a google or blog search for most any game, multiple hits from BGG come up. Even non-board games are covered, to some extent. The information provided there often well written and surprisingly impartial. And there’s lots of info. Tons.

Now, having worked for Wizards of the Coast for so many years, I’m a fan of trading card games. That's not so much a trend on BGG. In fact, being a ‘trading’ game to the BGG crowd is generally considered at the very least a shortcoming, and at worst a vile affront to the nature of gaming. That’s a shame because the tools and support provided by BGG are so powerful that similar tools would be a huge boon to the trading card game fan. In theory TCG players could invade the BGG website, but it wouldn’t be welcome and besides, it won’t happen. Here’s why:

Trading card game players are largely monogamous. The fact is, the games are expensive…and time consuming…and require a dedicated fan-base single mindedly devoted to just that one game in order to be successful. Those factors not only feed the genre’s critics, but are also the cornerstones to their success. A game you’ve invested in is a game you’re likely to be loyal to. The time spent is worthwhile, fun time. The dedicated fan-base provides a network of opponents, play-locations, and events that support a successful and engaging community. This is why trading card games can be so successful, where other types of games struggle. Almost no non-trading game can generate a user base large enough to support a community on its own.

Enter BGG. Its very strength lay in the massive variety of games that are reviewed, discussed, played, and generally enjoyed by the membership. Click on any member’s user profile and you’ll see their top 10 (!) games, the number of games they own, usually in the dozens…or more, and other general info all pointing to the fact that this person plays a lot of different games, often. Click on any game, no matter how obscure and you'll find that BGG members have played it and rated it. Most games have at least one fully written review, some have several.

Trading card game sites, like their players, tend to focus on a single game. The games require that sort of attention, and if you have a great TCG site, the people going to that site won’t care if you’ve also got information on something else. They want info on their game and their game only. You won't find reviews, because everyone there already knows about the game. You won't find comparisons, because there's only one topic.

For years, board game sites followed a similar model, a site dedicated Blue Max, or a site dedicated Civilization. They failed because the interest level wasn’t high enough to make it worthwhile to keep the sites updated. The sites are still there, but most haven’t been updated for years. There weren’t enough players for any but the most successful games to support an active forum (IMHO, the litmus test for a successful site.) Since it didn’t appear anyone was reading the pages, their authors sensibly abandoned them.

Now, with Blogs taking the stage, the general board game site or blog (BGG supports several Blog lists, I subscribe to two) are popping up. Typically run by game stores, they talk about what they played recently and how it went. Reviews and general game impressions abound. It took natural selection to come up with how the internet can support board games, but it happened. I think it's happening big. I predict big things for board games.

Other sites with multi-game information: - Covers all sorts of gaming, from a manufacturer’s perspective. - Great example of a retailer Blog. Well written.
and a new one I’ve got high hopes for: - They’ve got a nice start, but they better come up with something to set them apart from BGG.


Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Open Development - Legal Trouble?

While talking with one of my Hidden City Games R&D associates yesterday I mentioned a "new ability" thread on our Forum, and how interesting some of the ideas were. He quickly responded "My lawyer informed me I shouldn't read those. I don't want to get sued by somebody who says I stole thier idea."


The very notion that we must be afraid of lawsuits from our fans...our the point where we must ignore them on certain topics is frightening. What if a fan said we should have bigger boxes? What if they request a 1-800 customer service number? Do we risk legal action if we listen to those ideas?

Has any game company *ever* been sued by a fan for taking a suggestion and publishing it?

In the last decade, the open-source model on the internet has set up a healthy precedent of idea sharing for the mutal benefit of all. I suspect any non-protected concepts we 'lift' from our message boards would be safe, provided we don't claim exclusive rights to them.

Where's a lawyer when you need one?