When is a Game Good Enough?
Hello all. Recently, I’ve been looking at a set of rules I self-published several years ago under the name Rack and Ruin. Although it was very popular among my friends and a few others who still speak of it fondly, certain things about the game never felt quite right with me. So, I made changes, and then more, and then more. We are not talking about game-balance, discovered through play testing changes, just changes to try and get that game I wanted it to be.
And my dedicated player base rolled their eyes. They liked it as it was. Now I felt each time it was becoming a better game, but I was often asked why I was making these changes when my players were happy with it.
Big game companies do the same thing. Wizards of the Coast discovered that just because they release a new edition, players won’t necessarily come along. Players who liked D&D 3.5 continued to play D&D 3.5 or switched to Pathfinder.
I am currently running a game of Mutants and Masterminds 3rd edition. Most of my experience with M&M was with 2nd edition, and I expected 3rd would be mostly the same. I was wrong. 3rd edition is very different, and in many ways far more confusing and complicated then 2nd. Even as we become more and more used to the new edition, I find a new reason I would rather be playing 2nd edition almost every week. Don’t get me wrong, not every change was bad it just seems the counter-intuitive and confusing rule changes outweigh the beneficial ones. I will resist the urge to rant about the changes to character creation.
World of Darkness 2.0 was another example of a failed attempt by a game company to drastically change their game and have the players follow along. Speaking as one of those players who did follow along, at least for a while, I was amazed at how much better the mechanics of 2.0 were. Especially when it came to the “losing my humanity” systems which were actually a huge threat, rather than a side note system in the previous World of Darkness games.
However, once I got passed the system the games began to feel rather meatless (except for Changeling which seemed like the game they meant to make in the first place). My group and I stopped playing, and stopped buying the books. Now I am not saying that old WoD didn’t need a reboot of some kind. There were way too many silly options and White Wolf had grown so bereft of ideas they just starting putting out books ramming their meta-plot down our throats. But, having said that, I liked the cold war over conceptual reality, the unwinnable battle against the elemental force of corruption and the Antediluvian chess game pitting immortal against immortal. It was good, the new system could have made it better, everything did not need to completely change. While I have no specific numbers to base this opinion on; I believe it cost White Wolf dearly.
There is a school of thought that game companies sometimes release new editions simply as cash grabs. Then they can re-hash old books, making loyal fans buy another game screen, gamemaster’s guide, player’s guide, etc. Honestly, though, I think far too much effort goes into producing an rpg book for that to be the main reason.
From my own experience I can say that game designers, like most of us, are our own worst critics. When I look at Rack and Ruin I see a flawed game; I want to make it better. And the next time I self-publish the game it will probably be too different for those few but wonderful souls that bought my last edition to use their copy. I hope against hope I am not making it worse.
Thanks for Reading,