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Dear WotC: Why Do You Suck at Selling Games?

September 17, 2014

Hey guys. Quick note. The second part of the second part of the combat thing needs another pass. So I’m swapping next week’s article that was mostly done for this week and pushing Combat Part 2 off to next week.

This article is a little different. It isn’t filled with great advice to make your game better. It is half op-ed piece and half screaming rant and it is mostly directed at WotC. Because we need to address a serious problem in the gaming world in general and in D&D in particular. This doesn’t reflect a permanent change in tone for me. I’m still 100% devoted to helping people run less worse games. But this little digression is sorely needed and I think you’ll see why.

Over the last few weeks, I’ve noticed we have a major problem in the RPG community. We SUCK at selling our games. Now, when I say “selling,” I don’t mean the physical act of taking money in return for a gaming product. I mean making people want to buy – or even just play – the damned things. And when I say “we,” I don’t mean me and I generally don’t mean most gamers. Lots of gamers are pretty good at selling their games. The people who suck at convincing people to play (and buy) their games are the companies who are making the f$&%ing games. I’ve got bones to pick with a lot of folks after this convention season, especially Catalyst Game Labs and Pelgrane Press, but today, I’m going to pick bones specifically at Wizards of the Coast. Because “what the f$&%, WotC?”

Before I launch into what will basically be a screaming rant at the creators of the most popular role-playing game in the world (their words, not mine), let me explain where I am coming from to defray some of the hate mail I’m going to inevitably get from hurting poor WotC’s feelings.

I love D&D. I love RPGs in general. A lot more than is healthy, probably. But I love D&D specifically. That’s why I call myself a Dungeon Master and not a Game Master. Because whatever game I’m running, I’m only running it because D&D made me run games and D&D taught me how. I have been running games for nearly 75% of my life, for almost three decades now, and many many many of those two-and-a-bit score years have been spent behind the D&D screen. And that’s not all. I don’t just love running D&D.

Most of the people who have ever sat at my table are people I brought into the game. I did a rough count once and figured I’ve brought about fifty people into the hobby just through inviting friends and friends of friends into my home group. That’s notwithstanding games I’ve run at game stores and conventions and people I’ve convinced to pick up the game or given the game to so they could start their own groups. And I also love introducing people to new games. And because I tend to keep in touch people, I know, for example, how many 13th Age rulebooks I sold last year between GenCon and RetCon alone. People who sat at my table, played 13th Age, and then went off and bought the book or the PDF because I sold them the game. I keep track of this s$&%. Because I give a f$&%.

I mean, even the fact that you are reading this shows that I give a f$&%. I am willing to spend hours typing long, long articles helping people run better games or just entertaining them. I don’t make money for this, I lose money doing it. Notice how there are no ads on this site? Yeah. There never will be. The main reason I do it, apart from having a massive ego and loving the attention is because I keep getting e-mails, private messages, and comments thanking me for it. My favorite are the messages I’ve gotten saying “I would never have DMed until I read your stuff and you convinced me I could do it.” Seriously. I keep those. Because I give a s$&%.

The point is, I’m passionate. Sometimes, I’m very passionate and I realize that turns some people off. I realize I’ve made folks from some companies nervous because I’m passionate and honest and frank and don’t seem to have any tact and sometimes I joke about throwing bricks through windows or punching people in the groin. And even if I never threatened you with a comical groin punch, I also tend to be snarky, sarcastic, and critical. I make fun of things. I point at things and laugh. And sometimes that comes off as mean spirited. And, fair enough. I’m not for everyone and I know that. But I wouldn’t do any of that if I didn’t love the game. I spend so much time on gaming because I love gaming. And I love D&D most of all.

Okay? I need you to understand that because I’m going to seem very, very angry at D&D in just a moment. And, I am very angry at D&D. Because I love it. And because it is f$&%ed up. And because I’m tired of doing all the hard work.

A Chat With Mearls: Steady Growth and A Tanker Full of Fish

When the 5E open playtest thing started up, I got to have a short conversation with Mike Mearls, who is the co-lead designer of Dungeons and Dragons for Wizards of the Coast (along with Jeremy Crawford). The conversation was public. It was on Twitter. If you care to dig back through the feed, you can find it. It was about two years ago. But I’m going to give you the short, paraphrased version so you understand why I was really hoping not to be pissed off right now.

We were talking about the growth of D&D over the various editions. And Mearls explained to (without giving any solid numbers) that each edition of D&D had been successful. D&D had enjoyed a steady growth over all the various editions. More people were playing D&D every year and with each new edition. And that seemed like good news, so I asked the question that came naturally to me. “If that’s true, why are you scrapping 4E so soon and moving on to 5E?” I didn’t want to keep 4E, mind you. I’m not a fan of 4E. But if 4E had been successful and maintained the steady growth of D&D, it seemed like mothballing D&D for a two-year development cycle so quickly was weird decision. And here’s what he explained to me.

Mearls said that, even though the growth of D&D had been steady, something else had changed. In the prior five or ten years (remember, this was two years ago), there had been an explosion of people in geeky hobbies. More people than ever before were playing video games and MMOs, reading comics, watching comic and sci-fi and fantasy movies, watching anime, playing card games, playing board games, doing cosplay, attending conventions, and all that other crap that we gamers do aside from playing games. It was suddenly cool to be a geek. There were huge numbers of new geeks in the world. And every one of those new geeks was a potential D&D player.

But D&D wasn’t nabbing them. Somehow, D&D’s growth remained as steady as ever.

It’s like, imagine you have a fishing boat. And every day you go out and drag your net behind you and you catch some fish. And each day you catch a few more fish than the day before. Today you catch 100. Tomorrow, 105. The next day, 111. The day after, 118. And so on. That’s a steady 5% growth (approximately). But then, one day, imagine a tanker filled with thousands and thousands of fish crashes in your lake. And suddenly there are a thousands and thousands and thousands of extra fish swimming around. You’d expect your net to be a lot more full the next day, wouldn’t you? But the next day, you pull up 123 fish.

And that, Mearls explained to me, was what they wanted to do with 5E. They wanted to grab all those new players. They wanted D&D to be a simple gateway drug into role-playing games. To catch all those thousands and thousands of extra fish in the pond. They wanted to cast a wide net.

Another Chat with Mearls: Older Cousins and an Overwhelmed Toll Plaza

To understand why the fishing nets weren’t getting any more full (and why 5E probably isn’t going to do any better), we have to go back to another conversation with Mike Mearls. Actually, this one happened about five or six years ago and it didn’t involve me. It was between Mike Mearls and David Noonan, a designer at Wizards of the Coast during the 3rd Edition era whose credits include the Dungeon Master’s Guide (ver. 3.5). He has since left Wizards of the Coast and helped start Sasquatch Game Studios with industry veterans Rich Baker and Stephen Schubert, also heavy hitters from D&D Editions past.

Mearls and Noonan hosted the Official D&D Podcast together until right around the release of D&D 4E. And in one episode, they were discussing marketing D&D. And David Noonan explained what he called “the older cousin” sales model.

Essentially, Noonan said, 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.”

And that makes sense, right? I mean, lots of people get into D&D simply by playing D&D with someone who is willing to teach them. After all, D&D is a social game, but is also a complicated game. It has a high barrier to entry, there’s a lot to learn, and it’s unlike any other game in the world. The best way to get in is to sit down and play it. Right?

Well, let me take over here. Because all Noonan did was describe the “older cousin” and admit that D&D used the “older cousin” as the primary means of marketing. Sometimes, the only means of marketing. The thing is, though, the older cousin model has a couple of pretty serious limitations. But they aren’t immediately obvious unless a tanker full of thousands and thousands of fish suddenly crashes in your pond. Let me explain.

Under the “older cousin” model, if you want to bring a new player into the game, you need an “older cousin” (who does not literally have to be cousin). The “older cousin” is a friend or a coworker or a friend of a friend or someone running a public event or someone who finds you online and drags you into an online game. Whatever. Now, not everyone in gaming is an “older cousin.” An “older cousin” is someone who is willing to teach the game to a newbie and make that gaming experience a good one. It is someone who has an open seat or is willing to run an extra game just to bring new people in. It is usually going to end up being a DM. Even though players can bring other players TO the game, it is almost always going to fall to the DM to be the teacher and mentor and to provide a positive gaming experience.

The point is, not every gamer is willing and able to be a successful “older cousin.” The “older cousins” are a fraction of the gaming community. So, if you have a 1,000 gamers in a given region, say 10 of them are actually reliable older cousins (1%). I don’t have any actual numbers, I’m just trying to give an example.

Beyond that, though, older cousins can only bring in so many players at once. Some of them only bring in new players when they run events or when a seat opens up at the table or when a friend mentions needing a new hobby or whatever. Some actively seek new players, but even then, they can only bring in so many. So let’s say each older cousin brings in 1 new player that “sticks” every 6 months. So, your population of 1,000 gamers in six months is a population of 1,010 people. And after a year, it’s 1,020. After five years, you’ve added 100 new players, which is enough to net you a new older cousin. So now, five years and six months in, you now have 1,111 in that area.

But the thing you might notice, if you’re smart like me, is that the speed at which you can convert people into D&D players is limited by the size of the community which determines the number of effective older cousins you have. And then a tanker full of fish crashes.

Let’s forget the fish thing. Let’s talk about toll booths. Imagine D&D is a highway and there’s this onramp. But to get on the highway, people have to go through a toll booth. Those toll booths are run by the older cousins.You can make the highway as big and wide and fast as you want and you can make the onramp as wide and impressive as you want, but anyone who wants to get on the highway has to go through a toll booth. Now, somewhere down the highway is the Department of Transportation where you hire new toll booth employees. But people can’t GET to the DoT and get a job at a toll booth unless they are already on the highway. And imagine everything is chugging along at a nice, steady speed.

And then one day, there are suddenly thousands and thousands and thousands of extra cars.

See, no matter what you do, you can’t get them on the highway any faster than the tollbooths can let them on. You can widen the highway, you can put up signs to make the highway easier to find, you can widen the on ramp, but those toll booths are always going to be the chokepoint.

As long as the older cousins (the toll booths) are the primary means of converting people into players, you can only convert players at whatever steady rate the size of the current community can absorb. It can’t do anything about a sudden pile of new cars or new fish or new potential players. The older cousin model limits the speed at which the community can grow.

Three Identical S$&%ty Lanes on the Onramp

So, let’s talk about three products that have been released for D&D 5th Edition now: the Player’s Handbook (PHB), the Starter Set (SS), and the Basic Rules (BR). And before I get started, here’s another caveat. I LIKE the game that D&D 5E is. It is a fun game. I am not talking about the game, now, though. I am talking about the products that sell the game, that describe the game, that facilitate the game. I’m talking about the physical things. And why they are basically s$&%.

Let’s start with the PHB. It is a very pretty book. I like the art. And the game it describes is a fun game provided you already know how to play it. Because the PHB is a rulebook. It does not teach the game, it simply lists the rules and describes the game’s features in dense mechanical terms. And it leaves stuff out in places. For example, check out the descriptions of alignments in the game. What do they? What are they there for? What does “good” mean? What does “lawful” mean? On their own. I mean, if you are Lawful Good, you get a sentence that tells you how to behave. But what is “law” and why is that a part of it? As opposed to “chaos?” If you already have a sense of what alignment is and what it has always meant, you can make sense of it. But if you don’t, well, it’s just kind of this thing with some definitions to memorize. Check out the equipment section. If you don’t know what a scimitar actually is, or a galive, the book doesn’t tell you. You get damage dice and some mechanics, but what IS a glaive? What is my character holding? It’s kind of funny because the book insists that every part of the game is about “roleplaying” (in the adventuring chapter), but so many details just get glossed over. Class and race are described well. Kudos to them. But once you get past backgrounds, the book goes steadily downhill as if it’s in a rush to finish and can’t be bothered with details. It just needs to rush out the mechanics. And honestly, I don’t care. I’m willing to bet most people didn’t even notice. Because we already know what “lawful” means as a concept and what alignment is and what a glaive is and we know the details about our favorite gods. The point is the PHB is next to useless for anyone who doesn’t already know a lot about how to play D&D. And honestly, other choices in the book show that too. The race and class chapters are constantly yanking the nostalgia chain, mentioning other settings and campaigns and a page on Forgotten Realms ethnicities for humans and a sidebar about Tika Weylan’s personality traits. The PHB is steeped in history and nostalgia. If you know D&D, it’s great. But if you don’t, well, it’s not for you.

Fortunately, we have the Basic Rules, right? A free PDF that people can use to try the game. Maybe that’s better for people who aren’t already steeped in D&D? Well, no, It is basically a stripped down, miniature PHB without the lore and the nostalgia, but still lacking in any sort of evocative detail. It is 100 pages of pure mechanics.

What about the Starter Set? Well, the SS has two books in it? First, it has a 30 page collection of rules that is, you guessed it, a stripped down PHB without the character generation. And the second is a 60 page, four part module that, to be fair, is a fun module (if very unbalanced in spots) of the sort I, as an experienced DM, would be willing to buy off the shelf and run for a group of players. But it is also a complicated module that, aside from one page at the very beginning, does not attempt to teach or explain anything. It’s a module I would buy, because I already know how to run a game and how to run a module.

The most telling, damning thing about these products is that they are identical to all the PHBs that have come before them. They present all the same information in roughly the same order. They have the same dry, mechanical structure. The most interesting parts of the book to read (classes and races because they are filled with lore) are also the parts not everyone has to read. Everyone has to understand how to roll an ability check. But if I’m not playing a tiefling or a bard, I can skip those sections. A brief mention is made of the basic rules of the game and then all of character generation is poured out without any sense of real context. I can choose a power than grants me a bonus action, but I don’t know what a bonus action is until two thirds of the way through the book.

AD&D 2E, D&D 3, D&D 3.5, D&D 4, and now D&D 5, if you put those PHBs side by side, the chapters practically have the same numbers. They are so identically laid out. I have a suspicion that when they started writing the first draft of the PHB, a paper clip popped up on their computer and said “It looks like you’re writing a player’s handbook. Do you want to use the wizard to save time?”

Which means either TSR stumbled on the perfect format for a Player’s Handbook 25 years ago and no one has been able to think of one improvement since, or no one is actually giving any thought to it. They really are just using a document template.

The problem is, WotC doesn’t expect the PHB to teach people how to play the game. The PHB is a reference. No one reads it, except crazy people like me who actually read every word even though I can practically sing along. It isn’t a handbook anymore. It’s a Rules Compendium. WotC has me and the legions of older cousins to teach their f$&%ing game. They have me to sell and market for them. They don’t need to make an effort.

Except they kinda do.

How to Get More People on the Highway

So, everyone who wants to get into D&D has to go through the toll booths. And you only have so many toll booths. What do you do?

Well, there are a couple of things you can do. You can open more toll booths. Or you can create alternatives to toll booths. Like those automatic toll booths for people with exact change or those electronic EZ Pass things that let you get on without slowing down. The trouble is, this toll booth analogy is just an analogy. So what does it mean to say “open more toll booths” and “automatic toll takers?”

Opening More Toll Booths: DM Conversion

You can’t make your community any bigger right now because you’ve got a bottleneck of people who can’t get into the community through the older cousins. But the older cousins are a fraction of the gaming community. So, if you can increase the number of people in the gaming community who are willing and able to be older cousins, you can get more people into the community. This comes down to something I’m going to call DM Conversion. You have to find a way to convert players into DMs. Make them want to run games.

Now, frankly, this should be a hefty priority for WotC anyway. It is the nature of their stupid game that if there are no DMs willing to run the game, nobody gets to play ever. And if there are no good, high quality DMs, nobody wants to play ever. The health of D&D is directly tied to the willingness of people to run games and get good at running games.

And I’m going to tell you this, as someone in the trenches, as someone who actually spends a lot of time working on DM Conversion (as I mentioned). When I wrote my first article about running games, I was intending to write a series about designing mystery and investigation adventures and just felt I needed to help some DMs work with the action resolution system a bit (5 Simple Rules for Dating my Teenaged Skill System). But the responses that I got from that article were not about mystery and investigation. I kept hearing from new DMs or non-DMs who were going to try DMing. They told me my article had helped them understand how to use the dice and how to use action resolution. And that’s why I followed it with an article that was basically how to resolve actions using dice like any DM would (How to Adjudicate Actions Like a Motherf$&%ing Boss). And that’s how I got trapped into teaching people very basic DMing skills. And that’s also when I came to realize there’s nothing out there to teach these skills. There’s no DMing Tutorial product. There’s no book. No module that says “this is how you do it.” The DMG seems like it should do that, but the DMG is all over the place. It seems to have become a dumping ground for options and ideas and magic items and bits and pieces of how to do things (like how to build an encounter), but the various DMGs are poorly organized messes and, again, they’re mostly just rules and dry procedure. They don’t teach or explain anymore than the PHB does.

And the thing is, the older cousin model doesn’t really handle DM conversion. I’ve never in my life taught someone how to DM at the table. I’ve never had a DMing apprentice or protege. Sure, I’ve had players want to try running games and they have asked my opinion after the fact, but that is always on them to decide they are ready and that they can do it. And then it is on my willingness to give up a session of my game to a fledgling DM.

WotC doesn’t take DM conversion seriously. I mean, for f$&%’s sake, the DMG is the last book released, it’s being released three months after the PHB, and it’s been pushed back. Sure, there are modules, but players don’t learn to run games from modules. They don’t learn from anything except for sitting at a table long enough to think they can do it or except for my f$&%ing blog. And I shouldn’t have to cover this s$&%.

Do you still have Gwendolyn Kestrel’s phone number? I ask because she f$&%ing got it. In 2006, she wrote a neat little 1st-level adventure for D&D 3.5 called Scourge of the Howling Horde. It was a pretty good tutorial, if slightly hampered by still being stuck in the same basic adventure format as all the other modules. Of course, it was crammed on the shelves next to all the other adventures so no one knew what the f$&% it was! But Kestrel gets DM conversion. And she cared about it. Just listen to her interview with the official D&D podcast.

You need to prioritize turning players into DMs somehow. You need to make it easy. Your Basic DM Rules? That shouldn’t be a pile of f$&%ing monsters and magic items. That should be a free PDF with a tutorial about how to run a game and then a short straightforward adventure. And then offer another adventure in the same adventure line that continues the lesson. Maybe for pay. But cheap. Just like your Basic Player Rules should be a goddamned tutorial. But we’ll get to that in a second. In fact, there should be a f$&%ing link on your website next to “Start Playing” called “Start DMing” or something. Give away a free f$&%ing tutorial module, a couple of other resources, and the DMing Basic Rules – real ones. Take DM conversion seriously. You can’t grow the community without lots of DMs willing to run GOOD games.

Automatic Toll Booths and EZ Pass: Empower People to Convert Themselves

Let’s talk for just a second about how I learned D&D. I’m one of the weird ones, actually. I don’t fit the older cousin model, even though I’ve been an older cousin many times myself (literally in several cases). See, my older cousin who knew about D&D, he dumped a box of RPG stuff on my floor and ran off to college with no instructions. I was on my own and had no clue. Eventually, I hunted down a Mentzer Red Box at the B. Dalton Book Store and that thing made me a gamer. Two weeks later, I was running my first game for two people who had never even heard of D&D. I had never even played the goddamned thing, but I was already running it. In that one box was everything I needed to turn myself into a player, to turn myself into a DM, and, MOST IMPORTANTLY, to WANT to do that.

I know beginner sets don’t sell well. And I know they haven’t traditionally had a high success rate. As for the first point, the idea isn’t to sell beginner sets. The idea is to use beginner sets to sell games. So who cares. They are loss leaders. As for the second? Well, the reason, in my opinion, that beginner sets don’t have a great reputation, is because most of the D&D beginner sets are s$&%. They are steaming piles of crap. I’ve seen a lot of them. AD&D 2E and D&D 3E were LOUSY with beginner sets and board games and boxes and man were they kind of awful. I mean, Dragonstrike was neat, I’ll give it that, but it wasn’t even called Dungeons & Dragons. But 3E was obsessed with making D&D look like a board game. The 4E Beginner Box was inexcusably awful. It was soulless. And the current Starter Set? We covered that. It’s garbage.

You need a product that turns someone who knows nothing about D&D into a DM so they can create a group out of nothing. It is something that can sit on store shelves in WalMart and Target and Toys R’ Us. I mean, if they can sell Pandemic and Munchkin and Settlers of Boringness in Target, they can sell D&D. Make it flashy, make it exciting to see, make it cheap. Don’t make it a board game. Don’t include a board. People aren’t stupid. If you teach them, they can work it out.

And personally, I want a Starter Set even more now that I’m so active on the f$&%ing Internet. I keep meeting people online who are curious enough about D&D to want to try it. I met them through Big Bang Theory discussions on Twitter, through video game discussions, through the GamerGate activist hashtag, through my Twitch channel where I play video games but talk about D&D, and so on. I can’t run games for all of those people, even using online tools. But I sure as hell could point them to a $20 or $30 box that gets them started. If such a thing existed. I get the “where do I start” question a lot. And I still don’t have a good answer. Because you can’t put out a product I’m not embarrassed to recommend. I don’t want to have to say “try this. It’s confusing and it’s boring, but if you stick to it, eventually it’s great!”

But for a Starter Set to work, it’s got to do things right. First of all, don’t try to disguise D&D as something it isn’t. 2E and 3E were obsessed with disguising it as a board game. People WILL play D&D on its merits if you give them a chance to. They just have to understand what it is. You need a couple of books and some dice.

The number one thing a Starter Set must do is get you doing something the moment you open the box. You have to engage people. The first passage should be “YOU are an adventurer in a world of adventure having adventures. You set out from your home town one day and go to an old ruined tower. The door is stuck. Now, find the 20-sided die. It looks like this. Good. On your paper write Strength 16 (+3) because you’re very strong.” Get me rolling some goddamned dice on page one. Teach me ability checks and saving throws and advantage and disadvantage in the prose. Just do something.

Next give some choices to make. A choose your own adventure style thing. Or imagine a deck of cards that does the same thing as a choose your own adventure. But it also teaches the rules and flow of the game. Sure, they are cheesy, but they get the player DOING something while learning how to resolve actions and what the various terms mean. That’s a hell of a lot better than asking someone to read 30 pages of boring-as-s$&% rules.

Next, character generator. Making characters is another form of engagement. The rules don’t have to be complete, complicated, or cover more than a few levels. Like five levels. But let people make some f$&%ing characters. That is something else fun to do. And give enough options for people to make a few characters. So they can have fun playing with different options. Again, you don’t need several, they don’t need to be too complicated. Hell, you could dump race from the mix all together. A few classes and backgrounds cover more than enough. And race is a nice thing to sell the PHB with (if you want to play an elf or a dwarf, get the PHB)!

Then, round the thing out with a few rules. It doesn’t need to be big or complicated, again, and all encompassing. Just enough to teach the basic concepts of how the game works and the basic rules of action resolution, combat, and magic.

And then, it’s got to convert someone to a DM. You’ve got to sell DMing. Say to the player “hey, if you want to get started, you’re going to need a couple of friends and you’re going to need someone to create the world and make the game happen, are you a bad enough dude or dudette to be that person!? Cool! Read on…”

And then teach and sell DMing. And give the DM enough material to run a good, fun, linear starter adventure that teaches the ropes of playing AND DMing. And give the DM enough material and enough instruction to create their own follow up adventures. Two or three or four. That’s enough. See, if you give them one game and nothing else, it’s easy to walk away. But if they get three or four good adventures out of that box, they get hooked. They want to keep playing. There’s got to be enough material in the book that they can’t use it all in one game, but after three or four, they start to feel like they’ve used up all their options and it’s time to seek more.

While we’re on the subject, a good tutorialized starter book that presents prose and dice rolling and choose your own path style gameplay is also easy enough to do electronically. Look, I can go online right now and learn how to play f$&%ing Magic: the Gathering and Yu-Gi-Oh! from a robot while playing an actual f$&%ing game! All of the basics of D&D can be taught the same way.

People talk about using multimedia to indoctrinate new gamers, and they immediately jump right to “example of play videos.” F$&% that s$&%. You do not sell an INTERACTIVE F$&%ING HOBBY with a NON-INTERACTIVE VIDEO that shows the fun you “could” be having if you were playing. People want to do things. Especially kids. Especially f$&%ing 12-year-olds.

If you do a good Starter Set and a good Web App and maybe you’re willing to give away PDF Starter Sets for free (and a dice-rolling app) for people who don’t want to drop $20 on a box that has some books and dice in it, you’ve got s$&% you can link to. Want to learn to play? Click here! Download this! Kidnap some friends and make a dungeon! Give people options to create tables of their own! Shove it on store shelves. And advertise the f$&% out of it. Get BBT to do another D&D episode and do a product placement or buy an ad. Put ads on Hub and Cartoon Network or whatever. And you know all those Minecraft videos that kids are obsessed with on YouTube? Yeah, guess what? The Minecraft generation probably has a lot of potential D&D players in there. For f$&%’s sake, Let’s Play videos are currently the biggest single classification of videos on YouTube right now.

But that’s marketing and I’m not a marketing expert by any stretch. I’m just a guy in the trenches who watches gamers and has nieces and nephews and spent twenty-five years dragging new people kicking and screaming into the hobby. And that isn’t sarcasm. I mean that literally, I don’t know marketing. Your sales and brand and marketing teams or whatever have to figure that s$&%. But I do know this: THEY HAVE TO HAVE SOMETHING TO MARKET!

I’m Tired

Look, I’m getting old. I’m not going to be around forever. I’ve sold your game for years. And I’ve bought your game for years. Through me and through people I have converted to the game, I have provided your company thousands of f$&%ing dollars. I have been your primary marketing strategy for 15 years and TSRs for 12 before that (give or take). And I’m tired. I need you to do something to sell your game without me. I need you to make an effort here. Because, you’re right, there are more potential players out there now than there ever have been before. And you don’t seem to know how to sell them an awesome, awesome game. Your Basic Rules are a joke. Your Starter Set should be called your Starting Again Because You Already Know What You are Doing Set. Or We Miss You, Please Come Back. And if your DMG isn’t good, we’re going to be doing this again. Because I’m furious. I’m going to be dead someday, as my doctor keeps helpfully reminding me, and you’re going to need a damned good replacement for me and all the other mes like me.

More importantly, you need to find other ways to get people on the highway. You need a product that let’s people get themselves past the toll booths. Probably several. You need to get them in front of people. You need to get people looking.

Hell, at this point, I’d write the damned thing just to get it out. E-mail me. We can talk. Or figure out what your goddamned licensing rules are so I can write it myself and sell it myself. Because I’d do it at this point. I give that many s$&%s.

But you’d better hurry. At my last appointment, when my doctor took my blood pressure, I noticed she was very puzzled. I asked what my blood pressure was and she said: “you know how your car can go faster than 80 mph but your speedometer only goes up to 80?”