The Writers' Room

The Writers' Room
Complete Mike Mearls D&D 4th Edition Essentials Interview

Alexander Macris | 16 Sep 2010 15:00
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Mike Mearls: I think it gets back to what we were talking about before. In terms of giving people more different options, a great axe vs. a sword and shield. You have beginning players, they need that level of differentiation and that just naturally leads to something that is more grounded in the setting, more grounded in the fantasy world where you're talking to people without using a hint of jargon. With Attacks, reflex and AC, how do you say that to someone who doesn't play D&D? They have absolutely no idea what that means. They don't know what AC is, they don't know what Reflex is, and they can't make a value judgment of exactly why one is better than the other. That just naturally leads to more focus on the setting first, and then move outward. How would a fighter act in this world of fantasy? It's really about getting that experience so it's more visceral.

The Escapist: Ryan Dancey, who was the former OGL Wizards of the Coast guru, was recently on the record on some blogs I read saying tabletop RPG's business model is over. The business model of selling books is dead. What is Wizards answer to that? What is your answer to that? How does 4th edition keep this hobby that we all love alive? On a certain level, we all have to cheer for Wizards, you guys are the flag bearers in the fight to keep the flame burning.

Mike Mearls: It gets back to what I talked about before. The time from buying a game to playing a game has dropped dramatically. Even looking at console games, if you play Halo, you put the game in and basically under the guise of "Let's test your armor," you're learning the basic moves of the game and immediately playing. When you boil it down to - as far as books or whatever delivery mechanism you're using - I think it really comes down to this idea of - I think gamers nowadays - I've used this analogy before, but it's like they're a swarm of piranha. They know exactly what they want, they're gonna go out and get it, if it's not what they want, they're just going to move on and strip the next thing to the bone. You see this with MMOs; the company releases some new content, it should take a month to play through it and within three days, someone has cleared through it. There's just this conflict. Gamers are more connected nowadays.

I remember when I was 12, I bought Car Wars. Great game. In the box set, it's got the big long rulebook and I remember I went home and was like "this is my new game for the next 2-6 weeks." I have to read through all the rules and digest them slowly, cut apart all my counters and play some games by myself to learn the rules and design some using paper and pencil. Back in the 80s and early 90s, before the net really rose, that's kind of how people approached tabletop games. Even with digital games. PC gaming has taken a lot of hits over the years.

In some ways, PC gaming and tabletop gaming are similar in that for PC games, you have the casual market but I'm not going to touch that because that's a different animal. You have games with a lot of depth to them, like people bought StarCraft 12 years ago and they're still playing it today. Whereas console games and the new generation of gaming, there's always this sense of chasing the next thing. You play though Halo, you burn through it, you play online for awhile and then you move on to Gears of War, you burn through that and you play online for a bit and you move onto the next title. There's this constant churn.

I think, in tabletop gaming and PC gaming, you saw the opposite where it's more "Here's the game I really like, I love playing Counter-Strike, I'm just going to play Counter-Strike, that's my game." Or D&D. Or StarCraft. Or whatever game. And you have the modding community to keep the game going. The challenge is now you have this generation of gamers and they are always looking for the new thing, they always to be wowed, they're wired, they're connected, they don't put up with bad games. They don't put up with experiences that are getting in the way of fun.

Even going back - to draw a bigger picture thing. Kids today - kids and adults - I think the divide is bogus when it comes to games. It's all one market. It's all one group. People have less free time. They work more hours, they have lives, soccer practice, or Homeowner's association meeting or whatever you're dealing with. So for a lot of gamers, when they sit down, they want to be in the action as quickly as possible. If you were to give someone a 300 page book, before you can play, you need to read this, there's an entire segment of people that are like forget it, I'm just going to pop in Gears of War 3 and play that because I can start playing that immediately.

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