Proclamations from the Crown (August 2012)

Iron Crown

Aurigas Aldebaron’s Address
Aurigas Aldebaron Happy Thirtieth Anniversary!

There was a number of items I wanted to talk about this quarter, and was struggling how to start which is why I’m a bit late (that, and the day job ), but a book I have been reading with my daughter, Charlotte, combined with some ranting over on RPG.Net, gave me some inspiration. I came to be constantly tumbling this word in my mind, for which I now provide a formal definition:

com•pa•ny n. pl. com•pa•nies
1. A group of persons.
2. One’s companions or associates: or guest or guests.
3. The state of friendly companionship; fellowship.
4. 13 dwarfs, a hobbit and occasionally a wizard in search of dragon treasure.
5. A business enterprise; a firm.
6. A troupe of dramatic or musical performers: a repertory company.
7. A subdivision of a military regiment or battalion that constitutes the lowest administrative unit.

OK, I’m sure you have guessed which book I have been reading with my daughter – The Hobbit. This will be the 16th time I have read it. I still find it to be one of the best written stories I have ever read – really, every sentence is a joy to read, not just because of the story but the actual English words and their flow. It was the first fantasy book I had ever read, given to me by my 5th grade teacher (shout out to Mrs. Wendel), for whom I was a pest. But I think she realized I had something in me that would draw me to such a world and, like all great teachers, she was right – I became an avid reader not only of fantasy, but of science fiction, horror, and history (esp. military).

I’m mentioning this because I have noticed a trend from public boards, our own forums and in publication, a trend of parents looking to play with their kids. An example – Knights of the Dinner Table – Bob playing with his niece and nephew, Nitro with his daughter and the pee wees. And also my situation – I have been waiting for my two girls to be old enough to game with me and now they can!

This is important because I think it is a reflection of the demographics of the RPG fan base which as game manufacturers we need to understand, and a hope for the future. On the demographics, I suspect that the population of table-top RP gamers is aging, and we have our own “player boom” from those of us who were teens to twenties in the late 70s, 80s and early 90s. Those that came to “gaming age” after the mid 90s were mostly lost to electronic gaming. I don’t think that means the fan base has shrunk much, but it is unlikely to have grown. Certainly the revenues are down, probably because older players have less time to play and are buying less product. However, as the player boom ages, we may have more money and time to indulge in our hobby (even if it was dropped for multiple years) and, given the importance put on family time these days, to do so with our children – and I think we are seeing that expressed in gamer media. If so, it means that we should be focusing on products that continue to support the player boom and that might include products that help them get their kids interested. In fact, I have this need – and I can’t start out with RM (too heavy and gritty) and even HARP is too big a bite for kids around the age of ten. Hence, a project was spawned which you can follow over at the forums [LINK] where hopefully I will find the time to post regularly about my journey in developing a game for my kids (with the help and input of Thom). I’m not aiming really for the game itself to be commercialized, though maybe that will be a result, but more to provide an experience and example that will hopefully inspire others to sling dice with their kids and where they can learn from all the mistakes I am sure to make! On the hope angle, perhaps these gaming parents will produce a “baby gamer boomlet”!

Now, back to the definition…
I was surprised how virtually every entry relates in some way to gaming (OK, I made up the Hobbit one – but it should be there as the most famous example, right?)

A group of persons…sitting around a table having fun! RPG’s are all about people and people being social with one another. And we need more of that. All too often I see examples of how as a society we are dehumanizing our interactions with some sort of electronic device in between, and if not that, some physical or social barrier – gates, walls, fences, income gaps, race further separating us. It drives me nuts when the kids are on the iPad playing games and can’t even respond to me when I ask a question they are so immersed. A recent Newsweek article, to paraphrase, stated that people who play games or use social media several hours a day exhibit brain functionality similar to schizophrenics! My fight back? (Yeah, first I need to lose the iPad) – game night! Fortunately, we do play a lot of games in our home. But I expanded recently to running a game night at our church in central London. We had a huge turnout – people loved it! Old people who live alone were so thankful (I had no idea) to have some fun and companionship, and to make new friends. Adults were just happy to get out of the house, with their kids in tow but to socialize in a neighborly fashion with adults without the need to get “dressed up” and pay for a sitter. Kids made new friends, learned new games, achieved bragging rights. People are clamoring for me to do another…why…?

I was surprised by the level of excitement, but my explanation on reflection is that we all really do want to socialize, have a little fun in a personal, “face-to-face” way, and exercise our brains (math, English, strategy skills) together. That tells me I am doing the right thing – that there IS demand for games and that it is “good for people” ( the more social the better) – if only we can get people to exit the rat-race treadmill of over-work and Matrix-like brain-control of our electronic devices.

One’s companions or associates or the state of friendly companionship. Look, we are NOT just playing games – it’s a hobby! And at that level of commitment, with those hours involved, the people you game with BETTER be your friends! My best game groups were with people who were my friends first, but I also made friends with people I met through gaming. The idea this activity is best enjoyed amongst friends and family, or at least like-minded acquaintances, is an important distinction to many of the newer forms of entertainment on offer. Even compared to going to the cinema, it is better. I don’t know about you, but when I go with my wife to the cinema, we don’t really get to talk much or literally even SEE each other…because we are watching a movie…in the dark! And for that privilege, it cost us about $40 for 2 hours of fun (with snacks), not including the sitter – another $30! So for 2 hours of entertainment I could have bought TWO RPG rule books that will last me hundreds of hours of much higher quality entertainment…and some people complain RPGs are too expensive?! I don’t get it – these people must either be very bad at math or never do anything for entertainment other than take out “free” books from the library.

A troupe of dramatic performers…a military unit…Perfect! Yup, you have your acting (my youngest will love that, I think as long as she can be a faerie or an elf) and you got your military/strategy (get out those swords – my oldest, Georgina, will dig this – the only one in my family like me that is entranced by medieval weapons when we go to a museum). There is something for everyone – boys and girls, fighting and diplomacy, charades or strategy – you name it. I think this is one part of role playing games that just never makes it to the outside world – the flexibility and diversity of the role playing gaming concept for it to be what you want it to be.

And lastly…

A business enterprise; a firm. Where does this come from? Well, it takes a company of people to create a business enterprise, hence “company”. Companies don’t exist without some group of people to run and work in it. Today, “companies” seem to be bad things to many people, but every single mom and pop shop you buy a sandwich from to an Apple or Dell that sells you your computer is actually just a group of people working together for a common purpose to create something that other people want. Usually, but not always, this is done for profit. Let’s think about what they are actually doing – a group of people organizing themselves to create what they, or a larger group of people, want.

I left this for last because it’s the one that stands out from the others. Mainly, it is not the one that describes the end product of value in an RPG where the other sub-definitions seem to capture that well; for it is really the people, usually friends – the players and the GM – sitting around creating fun. They by far, are the most important element of the whole gaming experience. The next is the fact that being a gamer is a hobby where there is a group of like-minded “fans” (versus just individual “customers” or “audience members” as compared to virtually all other leisure pursuits) – a group of people who see the fact that the value of the whole is greater than the sum of the individuals in terms of the additional social, intellectual and entertainment benefits in being a part of a “fan-base” or “network” provides.

BUT I feel fairly confident in saying that high quality gaming as we know it would not exist without game products. Otherwise it’s just collaborative storytelling. We need the rules to define the challenges and measure the risk of success or failure with the added element of the unpredictable outside of human control (the dice) to “replicate” real life experience. Some “group of people” needs to do this and it also needs to be standardized so that it will provide the “network benefits” to the fan-base. It’s no surprise that D&D is so dominant despite its many flaws simply because so many people play it now and that you can always find someone to game with.

Furthermore, we need to support game products to add value to the gaming experience. Particularly in today’s time-poor world, we need these products, at reasonable prices to reduce the time players and GMs spend on preparation so they can maximize their time on gaming fun. For a group of fans in multiple game groups, this has a huge amount of efficiency and value-add as compared to each GM making their own.

So, who is this “group of people” at the “company” of ICE? Well, I believe it is not just the Aurigas Aldebaron team and the GCP team and the moderators, editors and freelance writers, artists and e-support developers, all of whom are doing this part time (generally, in excess of full time day jobs!) or for free. Nope, we have to move beyond that way of thinking. The “Company” includes YOU, the fans: The “Company” I am talking about is all of us who play Iron Crown products and have done so over some time frame during the last thirty years. We (the collective we – fans, GCP, Aurigas, freelancers) are a “company”, a group of people, with a like-minded goal – to play gritty, real, deadly RPGs of varying levels of detail and/or complexity in a social, face-to-face, fun environment.

We need to all think like this because there is no point in any of us working on this (you on your home games, and us on the products) unless we have your full support and can actually grow the fan base or the “network” to add incremental value. Either the products produced work for us all as gamers and do so in a way that is different and generally better than what else is on offer, or we should all just drop it and go play something else. I don’t want to waste my time and you don’t want to waste yours. That does not mean that we are going to take everyone’s individual recommendations for rules changes, for example, but it does mean we need to listen and produce products that meet the needs of the greatest number of fans.

And let me be clear so it is not misconstrued: In the very first instance, the products MUST stand on their own. They must be of high quality at a fair price. I do not make this call to arms without understanding that the product must be something worth supporting.

At the same time, while producing games is enjoyable and rewarding in and of itself, that only goes so far. It’s hard work and time away from family and friends. For some, it means not spending time working more hours elsewhere to earn money (Jeeze, I’m doing that right now!) In essence, it’s a sacrifice to the collective effort. The more people with the needed skills we can cast a charm spell on to do this, the better! But we also need a sacrifice from the fans – and that comes in the form of paying money to cover all the costs of production, including creative time.

Now, I know some of you are starting to glaze over as I go into the business aspects of this – its certainly not fun to discuss. But by understanding it, I hope you can see that by helping to ensure products are not pirated, and that paying a full and fair price is actually to the “Company’s” benefit – and by that I mean all our benefit. If we, the managers and designers, can see that its working, and the freelancers see its working, they will work all the harder to get you more for your game. And when there is a profit, you know that it’s going to go back into making more product. In one way, its good we all have day jobs – we don’t need to take any money out of the business and we don’t need to have “business decisions” override what is best for the game (a la Gary Jackson in KoDT, if you know what I mean). Put it another way – the money you use to buy a product will go about 85% for the actual production and delivery of that product to your hands, and 15% will go essentially as an investment in the next two or three products, or spent on marketing to other role-players to convince them to join Iron Crown.

I hope I have explained this well enough to convince you to join me in the “Company” of Iron Crown for the next thirty years!

OK, someone start a thread on this post and let’s get some commentary!