This month’s article was inspired by D&D’s special announcement. Unless you’ve had your head stuck in a dice bag, you might have heard that Wizards of the Coast announced their plans to reinvest their energy into Dungeons & Dragons. (You can read What We Know About 5th Edition on ENWorld for the latest updates.) The news was picked up by several major media outlets including Forbes, The New York Times, and Yahoo! News.
From a gamer’s perspective, this news shook tables and shattered pencils. Some people are excited. Others? Betrayed. Most players either had (or have) an opinion about the news regardless of whether or not they read the articles. Then, the edition wars started. 4th Edition versus 3.5. Why Pathfinder is a better game than Dungeons & Dragons (or vice versa). From an industry perspective? Same thing happened.
The fate of Dungeons & Dragons affects everyone in the hobby on some level. For me, it often serves as a point of reference when I’m explaining my freelancing efforts. Most non-gamers haven’t heard of Pathfinder or Vampire: the Masquerade. They don’t know the difference between 4th Edition and GURPS or Savage Worlds. What they do know, however, is the essence of Dungeons & Dragons from either a “we sit around the table, tell stories, and roll dice” or a fantasy perspective. It’s entirely understandable that opinions are rampant, speculative, and emotional. Unlike other hobby games, millions of people play this game. Millions. The reality of D&D’s marketshare is exciting, depressing, and a punch to the gut for anyone on the industry side of things.
Gamers aren’t the only ones who get upset when something changes. In sports, there are people who know stats, play fantasy football, or bicker over calls from referees. There are rules on different levels (high school, college, pro) and for the most part it’s easy to understand what the game’s about and dig deeper if you need to. Tribalism occurs in football around specific teams. Some are tried-and-true fans and others are fair weather who’ll only support a team when they’re winning. A player screws up? People lose their minds. They yell and scream and get pissed off. The interesting thing, though, is that most fans aren’t on a team. They’re bystanders. So, if someone pisses you off when they’re talking about your beloved Packers, all you have to do is stop watching or have another beer. Right?
Hobby game edition wars exist because tribes form up around systems and settings. No matter how hard you may try, there is no possible way to convince someone who loves their twenty-year old system that it sucks. Companies know and understand that edition wars take place. Some turn a blind eye; others embrace them. However, companies have legitimate reasons why they want to update a game that has nothing to do with intentionally hurting fans. Maybe they want to modernize a setting. Maybe they’re hoping to engage existing players in crowdsourcing, like what White Wolf Publishing did for the twentieth edition of Vampire: the Masquerade. Or maybe? They want to attract new players. Regardless of why they’re doing it, there’s no possible way a company will make every player happy. (Anyone who’s worked in customer service knows this.) Without players, this hobby will stagnant. Without new players? It’ll eventually crumble into dust as we get older. Hobby gaming will become “grandma’s game.” For all these reasons and more, public visibility of games — whether they’re Dungeons & Dragons or Zombie Dice or Monopoly or whatever — is a good thing.
In hobby gaming, we have something special. Something unique. We — freelancers included — are the players. We’re the guys who go out on the field and toss the ball. Why shouldn’t we put our game face on and encourage spectators or ask new players to come off the bench?
As a freelancer, you have to balance your love of a game with the work that you do. I’m not going to preach to you or demand that you watch what you say. We all have to make our own decisions about what we can reveal publicly. Love ‘em or hate ‘em, speculate or participate, the point I’m trying to make here is that becoming a general in an edition war is not necessarily a good thing. That level of animosity literally scares people for several reasons, especially if you’re overly negative or trying to be sarcastic and it isn’t received well. If you don’t see anything wrong with your comments? Awesome! That’s your deal. But I have to ask: when was the last time you invited someone new to sit at your table? What was the last game you picked up that wasn’t your usual fare?
Companies love freelancers who hand assignments in on time and who are willing to promote their efforts. In my experiences, they also like a freelancer who knows when to set aside the fan and be professional when they need to. You’re the master (or mistress) of your own destiny. Own it. All I suggest, is that you abandon the edition wars and keep your eye on the prize: making good, playable games. After all, is that what freelancers are supposed to be all about?