2009: A Year of Fear and Wonder in Gaming

I know I am a bit early for the “exciting things in the new year” posts that appear around December 29th every year on most blogs.   I am posting early to beat the year end rush.

2008 proved eventful to the gaming community. Gary Gygax, creator of “Dungeons and Dragons,” co-founder of “TSR” and the public face of role-playing left us.  I doubt he had any inkling in 1975 that one day tens of thousands would play his games and millions more could play in shared virtual worlds based on his ideas. He will be missed.

Gary also founded the legendary Gen Con gaming convention (in his basement!) that is still the largest gaming convention in America, if not the world. Gen Con branched out into other conventions in 2007/2008 and precipitated a financial crisis, culminating in a bankruptcy filing and a hostile take over attempt by the departing head of GAMA.  Although Gen Con weathered the storm so far, it is not over until the bankruptcy is discharged.

2008 also saw the release of “4th Edition Dungeons and Dragons.”  The hotly anticipated release landed in the summer and instantly polarized the “D&D” community. Some argued it was a necessary cleanup of 3.5’s complicated rules set. Others, myself included, thought it was an attempt by “Wizards of the Coast” to pander to the MMORPG/CCG gamer community with less setup time and faster game play. Regardless, it was very popular and sold widely.

There are dozens of other game-related items I am forgetting, but the past is done, so let us move on to 2009. The title of this post “A Year of Fear and Wonder” was not chosen lightly. There are many things to fear in 2009 for the gaming community. Gen Con is still in bankruptcy and a group of outside investors is trying to take it over. Should Gen Con change hands or disappear into Chapter 7 liquidation, the future of the convention may be in jeopardy. Gen Con is more than just a convention, it is a trade show and prime marketing opportunity for smaller companies to display their wares.  That exposure is crucial to small start-up companies.  A year without Gen Con is a dark thought to contemplate for the game industry.

Beyond Gen Con, the miserable state of the economy threatens many game companies. Oddly, I think that “mom-and-pop” game publishers will survive the recession. They just stop producing new books and hunker down in their garages for the duration.  Home-based operations have such low overhead that they can go into hibernation easily.  Large companies like WOTC or Kenzer have sufficient reserves to continue operation in a poor sales environment. There might be some layoffs or product releases canceled, but the company itself will survive.

No, the most vulnerable companies are retail game stores and mid-sized companies that have limited resources and relatively high overhead to income ratios. Some might survive by downsizing, but I am expecting a wave of shutdowns and canceled product.

2009 is not entirely doom and gloom. There are several companies producing new products that arrive in 2009 that I am anticipating with held breath. The mysterious Eoris project promises some fascinating art and story lines. Fantasycraft brings a fresh take on the “cinematic” fantasy game. Perhaps most exciting is the Paizo “Pathfinder” project that offers a  fan “fixed” version of the 3.5 OGL rules with Paizo’s usual high production values.  I hope the “open source” aspect of Pathfinder rules license  influences the pending GSL release from WOTC.

Wizard’s original  “Game System License” proved  so unpopular that an “edited” version is due out in 2009.  A new, more open version will go a long way to increase the number of third-party products on the market and erase some of the ill will that the original GSL generated. Am I the only one that noticed that the number of non-WOTC 4th edition compatible offerings is slim in my local game store?

As I said, there are both reasons to fear and wonder in the new year. 2009 promises to be interesting!

Before I close, I would like to make a few prediction and get them “on the record” for 2009.  Feel free to add your own and next year I will review them and see how we did.

1. The Dungeons and Dragons Digital Insider will go away.

I think that the subscriptions will not be enough to offset the high development and maintenance costs. That, combined with a recession and Hasbro looking to cut costs will doom this project.

2. Gen Con emerges from bankruptcy unscathed.

I read the documents and their plan seems reasonable. I think they have a good shot to move on from this nightmare

3. Gen Con 2009 will lose money.

High plane ticket costs and hobbled consumer spending will keep attendance low. Since Gen Con 2008 went off, then 2009 is all but assured. I cannot say the same for 2010…

4. Trask will keep blogging for another year!

Happy Holidays!

Trask, The Last Tyromancer

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trask

Trask is a long-time gamer, world traveler and history buff. He hopes that his scribblings will both inform and advance gaming as a hobby.

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