On Facebook recently, my friend Miranda Horner — an accomplished game editor who works primarily on Dungeons & Dragons for Wizards of the Coast — posted this:
I want my chosen industry, the tabletop gaming industry, to be so successful overall that it can afford to take people away from the computer gaming industry instead of keep feeding them in to the computer gaming industry.
How do we, all the gaming professionals out there, make that happen? Is it even possible?
The assumption behind her observation and question goes to the question of making the tabletop business more “grown-up” — a place where real, gainful, fulfulling careers can be had. Setting aside that there are some tabletop jobs like that even now, I think that making those opportunities even more widespread is absolutely possible. Three key ideas come most forcefully to mind.
First, most of the publishers I’ve worked for in the past do very little to establish and follow good creative and publishing practices. Editorial change-tracking, disciplined end-to-end text styling (character and paragraph styles, please!), sensible data organization and archiving, solid file-naming conventions… All of these practices are well-known among professional creative organizations across the world. Disciplined processes eliminate friction from the publishing process. They make the products better and they make publishers more nimble as new opportunities that arise from technological advances and market changes. Small publishers, especially, in the tabletop industry, should be better than this.
Second, the tabletop gaming industry doesn’t do a very good job of sales and marketing, especially compared to other businesses run by grown-ups. The number of publishers with detailed — and useful — databases of their fans, customers, and retail outlets is very small. The number of those companies that use them effectively is even smaller. The tabletop game industry should get a lot better at this. “Salesman” does not mean “order taker,” and “marketer” does not mean “blogger.”
Finally, the tabletop business should be aware of and promote the advantages that it has over other creative businesses. Unlike the computer game business, the tabletop business can bring real, playable products to market quickly, and each contributor can make a much more substantial contribution, than anything that all but the smallest mobile app publishers and Facebook-style Flash publishers can match on the digital side. Designing tabletop games can be promoted as much a creative and lifestyle choice as a financial one, even while diligent and disciplined publishers strive to make the financial rewards more competitive.
Long, deep treatises and business plans could be written to answer Miranda’s question much more fully (and a deeper debate could be had about whether some of the assumptions that are part of it are completely warranted), but these three ideas would be an excellent beginning to the question of how to make the tabletop game business a more grown-up industry.