Wednesday, September 30, 2015

OSR: Venger Satanis getting busy on Kickstarter

With apologies to Mr. Elmore for my mashup...
Venger's purple pen is constantly moving. (See what I did there?)

For those of you who like a little more edge in your gaming, +Venger Satanis has a new adult-oriented gonzo sci-fi title about a traveling brothel city in space called Alpha Blue (link slightly NSFW).

If you always wanted to play an RPG that's a bit off-kilter and somewhat like a mad love child of Star Frontiers, Space Quest, Leisure Suit Larry, and Leather Goddesses of Phobos, then Alpha Blue may be right up your back alley.

Venger has some nice Kickstarter add-ons including his other titles, some sweet dice and leather dice bags. I'm particularly interested in his Crimson Dragon Slayer softcover as that looks like a real hoot and a good companion to Alpha Blue.

Also, keep your eye on this space for my review of How to Game Master like a #@$%ing Boss which will coming in early October.

Friday, September 25, 2015

Why Fan Outreach Is Critical to D&D's Success

This owlbear is on the charge!
Rage, my friend, rage.
So, in my post the other day about Gen Con and the WotC forums, some of the key points of my message was lost within the nerd rage.

Based on the comments, people were like "No WotC at Gen Con? Big whoop..." or "Forums? They suck; who needs 'em?" but that misses a major point to the problem I see with these decisions which I may not have clearly expressed in my rant.

Fan Outreach


D&D is one of those games that a consumer does not just go out and buy.

If I'm not an RPG gamer, and I'm wandering the aisles in Barnes & Noble and I see D&D, I might be vaguely curious about it, but unless I already know what D&D is all about, I'm probably not going to randomly purchase it.

So where does D&D get new customers?

In a podcast with Mike Mearls and David Noonan several years back,  the metaphorical "older cousin" D&D sales model was explained like so:

"The primary means by which new players enter the D&D hobby is through an existing player who drags them to a game and teaches them the ropes. That existing player is the “older cousin.”

Take a moment to consider that fact. Existing D&D players are the primary means by which new D&D players enter the hobby.

This is the single most important consideration to keep in mind when Wizards of the Coast makes these kinds of sweeping decisions. Why?  Because the hardest of hardcore fans are the ones attending Gen Con (or Origins, or other large RPG conventions). These are also the same people who inhabit the forums on Wizards.com or EnWorld or RPG.net, etc...

These are the people who run D&D Encounters as a volunteer at the local game store on Wednesday nights. These are the people who are inviting friends, family, neighbors, etc to their Saturday home game. These are the people running local MeetUp groups for D&D players to find one another locally. These are the front line hard core evangelists for the D&D brand.

These are also the people who Wizards of the Coast need reach out to the most in order to continue the success of the brand. I'm not talking about surveys. I'm not talking about podcasts, press releases or random tweets. I'm talking about direct face to face or keyboard to keyboard interactions between the community and representatives from Wizards of the Coast.

This is what you lose when you stop attending Gen Con (and other cons) or close your forums. You lose that direct community connection to your hardest of hard code fans who bring new customers to your products.

When I attended Gen Con this year, I was able to personally speak with a lot of industry luminaries. Kenneth Hite, Randall Bills, Joseph Goodman, Shane Hensley, Stephen Chenault... If I'd made the effort, I probably could have included Monte Cook and Jonathan Tweet in that group. Hell, I even saw Margaret Weis and Larry Elmore (who signed my 2e PHB!).

But with no booth or official presence at Gen Con (like in the Adventurers League play area), there was no way I could seek out any Wizards of the Coast representative. This kind of fan outreach and access is a million times more important than a Survey Monkey URL.

Back in 2009(ish) when the 4e Dark Sun book was released, Wizards did this awesome marketing push. They were at Gen Con, Origins, D&D Experience (Winter Fantasy), PAX, and about a 1/2 dozen other major RPG cons. They even made a "world tour" style concert t-shirt for that convention season (which is totally cool, by the way) listing all the dates and locations. D&D is having its most successful year since the acquisition of TSR. Use this opportunity to expand your fan outreach, not contract it. Now, I'm not saying Wizards has to do a dozen major cons a year, but asking for a presence at 3 or 4 big cons to cover the East Coast, West Coast and central part of the country is really not asking too much.

Asking for an official forum to interact with other players, DMs and Wizards.com employees is not asking too much. If there is a problem with the forum traffic, toxic personalities or other forum issues, then fix them instead of saying "@#$% it. We give up." This shit is not rocket science.

By the way, to put this in perspective, the 5e Rule Questions forum has FIFTY TWO THOUSAND posts in it. That forum isn't even the largest on the site. This is not an insignificant swath of the hard core audience. (There are about a dozen other forums with at least that many posts).

By closing down these avenues of access, Wizards of the Coast is communicating to the hard core fan, "You are no longer important to us." D&D is not the only RPG out there. It's no longer even the only D&D-like RPG out there. If you treat your hard core fans with disrespect, they will evangelize for a competitor who listens to their needs.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Wizards Flips the Bird at D&D Fans

So, Wizards of the Coast has really "given it" to their fans in recent weeks... and I don't mean "given it" in the good way.

Gen Can't


Remember when Wizards use to do cool shit at Gen Con?
Me neither.
First, WotC doesn't show up to Gen Con in any official capacity. Sure, there were some WotC people present at the con itself, but not specifically as a part of their job duties. There were no WotC events or any real effort at community outreach. 

I get it. I understand that WotC does not sell direct to consumers, but even a 10' x 10' booth that is there for people to "press the flesh" so to speak would have been something. It might help to meet and talk to fans once in a while, because Lord Ao knows they don't listen to them very well.

Not only that, but they've officially announced that they are no longer attending Gen Con ever again in any official capacity. PAX is now the convention of choice for any product announcements or media news, so eat it Gen Con!

So... Apparently, the world's largest RPG convention is no longer good enough because D&D is no longer just a table top brand. Well, #@&% you too, Wizards.

So, yeah, I get it. PAX is in their backyard (so they don't have to pay for employee hotels and such) and it covers a wider array of media, but it's still a shitty move to not even bother attending the major RPG convention of the year with any official presence. It's a big ole bird to convention fans who contribute a significant portion to their revenue stream, I might add.

Edit for clarity: While this particular turn of events is specific to Gen Con, the larger picture and point of this rant is not really about Gen Con. It's about Wizards of the Coast having an attitude that the table top player is becoming less and less importing in their "brand promotion" train. Wizards of the Coast should be expanding its convention presence to other large regional gaming cons (like Origins, for instance) instead of pulling out of Gen Con because they'd rather promote movies, video games or other efforts they believe will generate more revenue than the table top game (the jury is still way out on the movie front).

[ Update: This post was written before WotC announced its presence at Origins 2016, Winter Fantasy, Gary Con, etc... Kudos to WotC for listening to the fans and supporting other regional conventions. ]

D&D Adventurers League at Gen Con 2015

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forums


This past week WotC also announced it is closing down its forums. In the announcement, they state, "we feel that we must adjust our communications structure to reflect where conversations about Wizards of the Coast games are taking place."

So the subtext actually reads, "Because we suck at digital initiatives, we kept breaking the URLs and #@$%ing up the forum threads every time we switched the website design, so now the forum community is nearly dead. Also. our fan community outreach is so shitty, we're have not been able to fix our past mistakes and attract our users back, so #@$% it... We ain't paying for no servers no more."

This is clearly a cost cutting move, but it's a bullshit one. For the amount of traffic they have to manage, these forums could have been put on a relatively small virtualized environment in the cloud. By leaving the server management up to the cloud vendor, you can cut down on IT staff and still maintain an official forum presence on the Internet for a relatively small cost.

But Wizards has shown they can't manage their way out of a paper bag when it comes to online strategy and the forums are a casualty of their digital dump stat.

At the very least, they should have maintained an official Rules Q&A forum somewhere. Having Mike Mearls answer random shit on Twitter doesn't do anyone any good. I challenge anyone here to find recent tweets of his that have rules Q&A. I'll even give you a lead. He did one on Thunderwave some months back. If you can find that tweet, I'll email you a lolly pop.

The point is, you need an easily searchable place where any player or DM can visit to quickly find official rules Q&A content. An official forum is really the best place for this kind of content. Sure, one can ask a question on EnWorld or other random places on Facebook or Google+, but you're guaranteed to get 3 or 4 or 5 interpretations by random people (like yours truly) none of which may actually be correct. A revamped Sage Advice forum is the great way to fix your audience issues. You could even use a Stack Exchange "best answer" system where the most correct or most complete explanation gets top position in the thread responses.

They should be using their own forums as a way to rally the troops to evangelize the game even further than we already do. Instead, we get the middle finger.

Final Thoughts


This all just goes to show that for the D&D brand, table top truly is the red-headed bastard step child. While Hasbro/WotC sees huge dollar signs in movies and video games, they're giving less and less of a shit about the girl who brung them to the dance in the first place.

For months I've been defending their actions in this regard because I didn't think that was the case, but #@$% it, I'm done. 

Hell, even Paizo has a D&D forum. Seriously, Wizards? Should we all go over to Paizo's site to discuss D&D 5th Edition?

FAIL.

Monday, September 21, 2015

DRAGON+ Issue 3: Is it actually getting better?

Uhm... maybe.

If you read my last two posts (here and here) on the new Dragon+, you'll quickly realize I do not hold this advertisement-disguised-as-a-magazine-slash-app in very high regard (to put it nicely). To summarize, my reviews say "it sucks" and "it still sucks" respectively.

So, to cut to the chase, do I still think it sucks?  Well, kind of maybe, but perhaps a lot less.

I'm not sure if I've already lowered my mental bar, or if it actually is improving, but I think it sucks a lot less. Does it actually not-suck enough to be good?

I'm not certain it is good, but I didn't want to scratch my eyeballs out like I did after the first two issues, so that's a definite improvement. Perhaps I'm suffering a kind of Stockholm Syndrome. I was mentally abused by the first two issues so badly, that even the slightest hint of potential has made me soften toward issue 3.

Technology


Ok, so here's where it definitely still sucks. I'm not sure what's going on with the app. Issue 1 was buggy, but it at least worked ok most of the time. The update that came with Issue 2 was bad. It crashed often and was a chore to actually read because of the instability.

Baphomet say your app no run!
Issue 3 is actually worse.

I don't know how they could have possibly made the app even more unstable, but it freezes constantly on my iPhone 5S. It's not even like I have an old phone. It's a 5S, for Pete's sake. It may not be the newest generation, but it's not old and I don't have problems with other apps. I don't know how this app has so many 5-star ratings in the app store. It literally boggles my mind.

I was able to read issue 3 when I first downloaded the update, but then it took repeated attempts to re-read it for this review. The app constantly froze at the first screen. I couldn't view the new or old issues, or even scroll down to see their weak efforts at social media. Force quitting the app and even restarting the phone proved ineffective. The app seems to work only when it feels like it, which is infrequently and intermittent.

Even when I was able to get to the magazine content in one attempt, the navigation was largely unresponsive. If you clicked to an external link (which is easy to do accidentally from one of the many ads), you may as well force quit again because the built-in web browser included in the app is utterly unstable and generally guaranteed an application freeze. Even when working, its mostly useless since it is completely feature limited. There is really no excuse for how crappy the app runs after 4 months in production.

Contents


Unfortunately, I don't have time to run through the entire contents as I did in the prior articles, so I'll try to just pick out a few highs and lows. I may come back to this article to update the parts I need to leave out for brevity.

Cover - In the prior reviews, I didn't make a note of the covers because Issue #1 was just boring and Issue #2 was like a Guns and Roses cover band logo that made me shake my head. Neither of them lived up in any way to the amazing run of covers in the print edition of Dragon. Even the digital 4e Dragon/Dungeon PDFs had some quality cover art. 

The Issue #3 cover is the first to live up to the name Dragon Magazine. The pictured sculpture is an amazing pieces of art and the cover doesn't do justice to the actual 3-dimensional piece (but there are more pictures inside). But bravo to Wizards of the Coast for taking a chance on commissioning this sculpture. It is an amazing work.

Adventurer's League - Sometimes I think +Robert Adducci is the only WotC representative that gets community outreach... and he's basically a volunteer, not an employee. Anyway, this issue's download of the D&D Expeditions' series of mini-encounters DDEX3-1 almost made me fall off my chair. Somebody listened. We actually got some RPG content in the magazine for people running a home game!

BUT... I think I need to moderate my excitement because as Mr. Murphy put it so well, 
"If you're starving and somebody throw you a cracker, you gonna be like this: Goddamn, that's the best cracker I ever ate in my life!"

There also was a small background-related download in the Out of the Abyss advertorial, but it was really quite short and could definitely have had some more meat added to it. I would have loved to see some kind of article about adventuring in the Underdark (for DM's or Players). Another missed opportunity.

As for the other articles, they were all advertorials similar to the last 2 issues, but somehow they bothered me less. I don't know if the writing is actually getting better, so they are at least somewhat entertaining despite being advertorials, or I just got way too excited about the adventure download. 

Even though I'm not a Drizzt fan, R.A. "Bob" Salvatore's interview was interesting. Like the Greenwood interview from the prior issue, it was there to promote the book coming out, but I did at least get some entertainment out of the anecdotes (although some of these same questions have been printed in other interviews). The Rage of Demons introductory articles (also thinly disguised adverts) as well as the Sword Coast Adventurers Guide were actually decent reads. Not a whole lot of content useful to the home game, but it did give some insight into the design of the story line and they had fun little "bios" for each of the demon princes. I didn't even mind the Sword Coast video game preview (pre-order click bait) that much. 

I must be going soft.

Final Thoughts


So it's not as terrible as the first two issues. But they set such a low bar, that almost anything could be seen as an improvement. I'd give the content a C-, but lower the grade to a D for the instability of the app.

There is still massive room for improvement as the "magazine" is still pretty weaksauce. It would be an excellent use of this medium if more D&D Expeditions content were released through the app.
 

Monday, September 14, 2015

Owlbear Days of Summer

The Owlbear posting frequency has been extremely slow of late, which somehow turned August into my best month ever.

The Raging Owlbear broke 10,500 views for the month of August. I had been flirting for months with 10K views per month, but had not officially topped it according to my blogger stats. That trend broke in August which is odd since that has been one of the worst months in my posting history.

It seems some of my more evergreen content is helping keep the readership high, so thanks for those of you visiting from time to time.

Hopefully, the dry spell of posts should end soon. I have moved into a new home in Maryland, so I should be getting back some of the occasional free time to comment on RPG-related news of the day.

Until then, thanks for reading.

Marty -- The Raging Owlbear



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