December 2, 2009

The RPG Service Industry

This may be a stretch -- a great big stretch -- but it's a "what if" that I'd like to explore: What if the a game company offered custom content for your campaign? What if this content includes all the usual features of standard RPG game supplements? What if it was awesome. Better than anything you could get from WotC, Paizo, or dare I say White Wolf... just for you. What it be worth to you?

RPG companies follow a model where a group of people sit around who are "experts" and think of really cool ideas and then put then into action. They create what they want, or what they believe will sell well (read: what their customers want) - generally - and they may get feedback from the community, tweak things a bit, and eventually publish their product(s). The end result is that you, as a gamer, are faced with either taking what they produce and ADAPTING IT to fit your own home brew or variant campaign; or buy nothing at all.

More often than not the adapting part happens just about every time. Even with new campaigns. This has happened to me countless times: I buy some cool book; try to plug it into my game and then.. ding; I end up tweaking things to make it work. Endlessly. Not that I hate this part that much... sometimes this can be the most fun of a campaign build, but...

Do I have the same amount of time for campaign development as I did when I was 20? or even 30?

No way.

What if the tables were turned and you, the gamer, could go to an RPG company and ask them to produce something for you? Custom content is created all the time in other industries for very small venues. Heck, even in my industry (biotech), companies thrive on being one stop shops for nothing but custom solutions for their customers.

Imagine for a moment the following scenarios:

Scenario 1 - The Store Bought Campaign Became Your Home Brew Campaign
Mike & Jan co-DM a campaign that has been running for several years. It started out as a Forgotten Realms campaign, but over time it morphed into their own thing. Sure, the world map is the same and there are lots of things that stayed true to the FRCS canon, but there's also tons of new, custom content that makes it their own. Now, Mike and Jan are busy people. In college they had tons of time, but now with Real Life knocking on the door - time is short, but they still want to game. They have tried shoehorning store bought adventures - but they really don't fit well. Plus, who has time to slog through the hundreds of published adventures out there?

Scenario 2 - The Genre MashUp
Bill has a campaign he's recently started with some friends that mashes up Cthulu with SciFi and Western genres. Nothing, barely, is available to purchase anywhere that fits this bill. Time is short, and adapting store bought material to this unique setting takes time. What can he do?

Scenario 3 - Your World vs. Your Player's World
You've built a great new campaign setting from scratch. You've mapped it out, designed a few cities, jotted notes about a few important groups or factions, set up various story lines, plot hooks or HEX nooks (more about those another day). You're ready to play, and play you do.. and then your players head in the opposite direction you were hoping.

OMG... your rigid campaign has suddenly turned all sandboxy on you!

Fast on your feet, you adapt your world to meet the needs of the game. Your players don't know the difference, but between game sessions you're spending hours pushing out the envelope and rolling out the campaign carpet so that no matter where they go.. there you are. Isn't this exhausting though? What if you could phone or send an email to a team of game developers and say "Hey... I need your help! I've got this game going great, but I need an adventure for next week's session and I don't have the time to put it together!"? Would you?

I know this all sounds ridiculous... but with today's super-social-networked-crazy-crowd-sourcing-meta-mind it should be possible. Right? Why hasn't any company TRIED this?
We outsource your needs to build the campaign you want for the game system you want.

How valuable would a custom RPG gaming product be for your game? How much time do you spend prepping for gaming each week? What if you could reduce that time to ... oh... and hour? Less?

I'm not asking 'how much would you pay' -- that's a different question. This is not about price.. because this is a ridiculous idea anyway.. it's about VALUE. What would a service like this be worth to you?

OK. You have a number in your head. Let me know in the comments.

Of course... you could also always take this approach, which I'm sure is what we are all basically doing now anyway.

Oh.. and.. it's good to be back. and.. this post is dedicated to Paul King @ Creative Kingworks. He has a mind reading machine... so he's easy to talk to. Oh, and this idea was inspired by this post which linked to this post.


  1. I humbly submit my resume for this new company. It's a killer idea.

  2. Jonathan, have you heard of or checked out Open Design? It's WotC alum Wolfgang Bauer's design company, and their business model is patronage, where customers sign up for an adventure before it's written and actually shape the development of the adventure. I was a patron of the last two projects, and I can attest that patrons have A LOT of influence over the course of the adventure. In fact, the patrons even write some of the material! I got to design some of the monsters for the last project, and had I been more familiar with the process, I might have tried out to write a portion of it. And Wolfgang's very accessible throughout the entire process.

    This sounds very close to what you're describing here, so it might be right up your alley.

  3. XERO -- oh.. i'm very familiar with Open Design. Michael Brewer, Quinn Murphy and I collaborated on a piece that was published in KQ last summer -- and Nevermet Press (another project I'm involved with) has produced content for Open Design's KQ website (four part series in September). So.. yeah.

    And OD's business model is probably the closest thing to what I'm suggesting in this post to be _possible_. Although their projects are not from the mind of single customer - they are VERY customer driven in the sense that patrons can have direct input in the design process. Very high quality products results. So.. you could say I'm a huge fan of what Wolfgang is doing (he actually wrote the Foreward to Open Game Table vol. 1... a fact I'm quite honored by).

  4. Shhh! The Mind Reading Device is a secret! How else am I gonna prepare for the crazy things my PC's are gonna do next?

    Seriously, though, I think I'd really enjoy producing custom gaming content. The real question is what kind of pricing structure to build it around. I can look at what others are charging for Web & Graphic Design services and follow or adjust accordingly. But I don't know if I can do that with RPG content.

  5. First: Welcome back to this outlet for your brainmeats.

    Second: Thank you for sharing the KK article with all of us. It's really intriguing, and just the sort of thing I think we all need to consider if we wish to stay 'valid' while selling intellectual property.

    Thirdly: I am so on board for a shot at 'custom content built just for...'

  6. I would love to do this as a job. However, working in the consulting industry has taught me a lot about the issues of selling billable hours, which, I imagine, a venture like this would revolve around in some way. I will formulate my thoughts into something more coherent a bit later today.

  7. This idea does nothing for me.

    What I love about GMing is the writing, the creative process of producing the adventure. In fact, I probably enjoy that side of things more than actually playing the games.

    When I run someone elses material, I just want to pick it and play it. I don't want to have to put time in explaining what I want to some team of writers and then get something back that is a pale reflection of what I would of wrote.

    Published adventures have many faults, not least of which is that they tend to be generic. But they do have at least one major advantage - polish. The writers and artists etc can playtest and improve the adventure over time.

    But this is just me and I can see why custom content would appeal to many people.

  8. Chris makes an excellent and obvious point - that I alluded to in the post -- Creating new stuff is FUN. It's why we love to GM, yes? The tag on this post pretty much captures what I think about this idea -- but given that so many gamers are getting grey; and time becomes scarce as incomes generally increase - I'm surprised that game company hasn't at least tried to offer this sort of service. Yeah.. it would be expensive; so the customers would likely be the same people who could afford to fly to Hawaii and game for a week straight with a hired DM at the table (see here). But it would still be cool to know such a service existed.

  9. You know Jonathan, I completely forgot about your articles in KQ! I'm really sorry about that too, because I enjoyed both of them when they first ran.

    I didn't know about WB's intro to Open Game Table, though. That's not too shabby at all.

    My apologies for the oversights. That said, welcome back. I've missed your posts.


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