The Answer to Everything

The Answer to Everything
The Revolution Began With Paper

Greg Costikyan | 25 Apr 2006 12:01
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DesignerTabletopDigital
Jeff BriggsEditor for West End GamesPresident of Firaxis
David "Zeb" CookD&D 3rd EditionCity of Villains
Paul JaquaysD&D adventuresQuake III Arena, Age of Empires Series
Sandy PetersenCall of CthulhuDOOM II, Age of Empires Series
Bruce Shelley1830, TitanCivilization, Age of Empires
Warren SpectorToonDeus Ex
Mike StackpoleTunnels & TrollsBard's Tale III
Jordy WeissmanBattleTech, HeroClixMechWarrior series

While the movement from paper to digital is long established, we're starting, perhaps, to see a motion in the other direction, too, as videogame budgets rise and it becomes harder and harder to get anything original funded: Jordy Weisman, who started in tabletop with the Star Trek RPG and BattleTech, then founded a computer game developer and sold it to Microsoft, went back to tabletop a few years ago, founding WizKids, and releasing the HeroClix line of collectible miniatures games ... a big success in the hobby market, if not at the level of D&D or Magic.

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Games, of all sorts, have always been fueled by passion. George Parker designed his first games because he loved the boardgames he played as a child, but rebelled against the soppy religious and self-improvement themes they then promulgated - he wanted games that grappled more with the realities of life and the concerns of the day-to-day. H.G. Wells took time away from his career as a writer to produce a commercially pointless little exercise in game design because he liked to play with toy soldiers. Jim Dunnigan stole telecommunications equipment from the warehouse where he worked to sell on the black market to fund SPI - never really believing that a viable business was in the offing, but just that he wanted to create better wargames, and by God, he could do it. (I wouldn't normally say something like this, except I've been at conventions where Dunnigan has said this, flat out - and when questioned by the audience, has simply said, "Well, hell ... the statute of limitations has expired." Sometimes, an entrepreneur's gotta do what an entrepreneur's gotta do.)

Gygax and Arneson didn't create D&D with the idea of making millions, but simply came up with a very cool idea that they had to share. Nolan Bushnell, playing with breadboards in the office carved out of his young daughter's bedroom, could not have known that his little tennis game would spawn a multibillion dollar enterprise that, as long ago as the early '80s, was being ballyhooed as "bigger than Hollywood." Richard Garriott, coding on his boss's time while handling the few customers who wandered into a little hobbyist computer store, just wanted to put a little bit of his roleplaying experience into software. Ken and Roberta Williams wanted to put some graphics into the adventure games they loved, and never imagined that someday they'd sell Sierra to a publicly traded company for eight figures (and have doubtless suffered considerable heartache since, at how badly it's been managed). Peter Adkison was running a little third-rate publisher of roleplaying adventures when one of the freelancers he worked with showed up with this strange little game based on collectible cards that was so bizarre it couldn't possibly sell, but so cool that you had to publish it.

The central problem with the conventional game industry today is the problem that every other creative industry - maybe excluding book publishing - has utterly failed to solve. As budgets rise, you have to manage risk, and that means not taking risks. But risk-taking is what spawned the modern industry and gave it life.

The future of games? The future of games does not lie with the EAs and Ubisofts of the world any more than the future of music lies with the BMGs or Sonys, or the future of film lies with Disney or Universal.

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