Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Game Nuttery!

Some listening music, this is a long one....

Money ruins everything. It really does. It's a damn shame we need it to live.

Before raging over $60 gaming books it is probably best to take a look at this article I ran across while trying to find the production cost of a pistol verses how much it retails for. The amount of money wrapped up in firearms is staggering and makes everything we have been bickering about seem astonishingly trivial.

What I found is that the average Glock costs $75 to manufacture and retails for $500. This is an amazing mark up that makes its parent company globeloads of money, enough to cause the white collar guys in its upper office to hire assassins and try to kill each other. Gaston Glock was assaulted by a killer wielding a rubber mallet who had been hired by one of his most trusted associates/embezzlers. Amazingly, despite being hit seven times in the head, Gaston managed to fight the man off with his fists.

You would think he would have something better on hand to defend himself with? Something made of plastic and more commonly associated with self-defense.

Hmm, what could it be....

Anyway, this blog post isn't about guns. This post is about products. Two very different products with very similar problems. Guns are made to work and made to last. Unlike television sets, dishwashers and computers they cannot play obsolescence games. There are guns manufactured decades ago which are just as dangerous today as the day they rolled off the assembly line. This has always been a problem for the gun industry which - believe it or not - was struggling to survive all throughout the 19th century, even in spite of the Civil War and the Wild West.

Back in the 19th century, the gun was marketed as just another tool in the house. It was priced reasonably and treated no different from an axe, shovel or lantern (all of which you may need if you had recently been using your gun). It wasn't until the 20th century that gun manufacturing truly took off. Partly this had much to do with the world wars being fought, fear-mongering and growing racial tensions, but it also had a lot to do with people leaving the countryside for cities and suburbia. People growing nostalgic for a time they never knew. Apparently the wild west was settled with rifles. Pistols were not trusted and only used as a weapon of last resort, but thanks to the wonders of product placement no cowboy would be seen as complete without a six shooter on each hip and a ten-gallon hat on his head.

A hat - BTW - which was neither worn by 19th century cowboys nor holds 10 gallons of water.
Go figure.

Somehow gun manufacturers managed to move from struggling to survive during a time when guns were used on a regular basis to selling millions of massively overpriced guns during a time when people had very little use for them. Face it. These days most guns just sit in a gun case, are occasionally cleaned and polished, maybe dreamt about a little bit and then put back in the case. On rare occasions they are taken out to the firing range to kill box of ammo and that's about it.

Just like RPG's!

Only we operate on shoe string budgets and store all of our worldly possessions in stolen shopping carts while the gun manufacturers drive their Maseratis in circles around us laughing loudly as their swimsuit model girlfriends make us dance by taking pot shots at our shoes.

So? It is deal with the devil time. What can we learn from the gun manufacturers about the secrets of success? Those bastards who constantly use the word utilize when they should be using use? For the record, I am not a gun nut, but I have been around enough of them to know....

The Gun is Who You Are

In the twentieth century the gun manufacturers stopped selling guns as tools and started selling them as souls. If you didn't own one you didn't have one. If you were a man the gun was a measure of your manliness. If you were a woman the gun was a symbol of your heritage. For those who love guns they are much more than just portable execution machines. They are the symbols of all that is just and right in the world. If you are an American then the more guns you own the more American you are.
Don't be a commie! Arm yourself to the teeth!

Tabletop RPG's are a bit like that but not in a good way. The worst among us have gotten far more attention than they should. Think of it this way, when you explain to someone who isn't into table-top role playing games that it is "totally not what you think it is." That is the sign of a serious reputation problem. Being involved in table-top role playing games is something you should be proud of. It shouldn't feel like coming out of the closet any time you mention it to someone who doesn't play them.

Secret Forces Want To Destroy What You Love

That's right. Nothing has spurred more gun and ammo sales than the specter of liberal government agencies sending their flying monkeys to take it all away.

It is good to remember that D&D was popular, but never insanely popular until someone accused it of satanism. I'll let Tim Kask explain the rest.

If only we could get tabletop RPGs listed as a controlled substance, or somehow bring SATAN back into the picture. That's right, not just any old satan but all-caps SATAN. Church lady where are you when we need you most!

Only the Coolest People Wield Our Weapons

Ever notice that the hottest people in action movies wield all the coolest guns while the bad guys (the uncool bad guys at least) get cap guns? We don't even recognize it as product placement anymore.

RPGs? When people are shown playing a tabletop RPG's it is pretty much a minstrel show done in geekface. Most of us are cool with that because it is funny and we all secretly believe that nerds rule the world, but this isn't exactly helping the situation. Movies such as the Dungeons & Dragons films from a few years back were so bad they did more damage than good.

Know what did do RPG's a world of good? A two minute segment in the movie ET showing normal kids playing an unnamed RPG while Eliot goes to get pizza (who I was approximately the same age as when the movie released).

It wasn't even a proper product placement since D&D is never mentioned, but I remember right after seeing it my friends and I ate some pizza of our own and tried to place what it was they had been doing at the table. None of us knew the answer but soon we would all find out.

Where we could get a pizza guy who actually puts the toppings on the pizza in his Datsun? That remains a mystery to this day. "Hey kid! I've got some candy covered anchovies if you want 'em! Was keeping them in the glove compartment with my pop-rocks when it got too hot out and...."

Hey! I just noticed something, playing gently in the background of that clip is Jim Carrol's "All the People Who Died." A punk rock classic, how did that ever get in there?

Features Sell

This article is interesting, even if it does discredit some of the things I have already said about the sale of firearms. It could be that the core audience of gun buyers are already so deep into the scene they don't need to be sold on the matter of gun ownership.

"The majority of gun ads (91%) emphasize the things that make one gun different from the next. For example, they discuss the quality of the gun (61%), its accuracy (38%) and reliability (35%), and its innovative features (27%) and uniqueness (21%)."

We really don't see RPG's advertised the way they used to be, possibly because without magazines we just don't see them advertised at all. Instead, most of us rely on positive reviews and word of mouth. Groundswell matters. Still though we don't often talk about what one system does differently than the rest. Instead we spend a lot of time harping on the similarities they share with past successes and deriding the differences. Then we get blase about a stultifying sameness shared across the spectrum. Maybe we should spend more time praising innovation than condemning it.

Cheap Guns Are Not Worth Owning.

You can actually MacGuyver a very cheap gun using nothing more than a block of wood, a copper tube, a .22 rim fire cartridge, a nail and a rubber band. Back in the 1970's they were known as zip guns and notorious for blowing kid's fingers off. A real gun the Glock company can make for $75 but it will cost you closer to $500 at market.

Are we cheapskates?

This has been the question of the week.

I really don't know the answer. I routinely buy PDF games which I know I will never play just to see what people have done with them, but the sad truth is that the last set of big game hardcover books I purchased was for AD&D back when AD&D was the only D&D around. I have the players handbook for D&D 3.0 and 4.0 and a printed copy of the D&D Next package but that's it. The enthusiasm for big game products just isn't there for me. I think I may have become too hip to their tricks with rule bloat and encyclopedic systems and the endless cycle of one version after another. I may have come to realize that less is truly more when it comes to table top RPGs.

Sometimes I do feel bad about that. When Venger Satanis came out with Alpha Blue he had originally asked for around $15 and it felt like too much. I think I may have suggested somewhere around $7 which is what I ultimately paid for it during one of his sales.

Alpha Blue isn't a game that excites me, but I have flipped through the pages and Satanis has done an admirable job of going the distance to pull together his delightfully perverted Field of Dreams. A PDF of it is actually worth $15 if not more if that is the kind of kink you are into, but my gut reaction was to say no. It was $7 or no sale.

But that's the player's perspective. From the manufacturer's seat there really is no question. If you want to stay in business you need to sell to as many people as possible as often as possible. If you can't do that then you mark up what you do sell to compensate for the lack of sales. You also need to get on the drum and beat out a constant rhythm which says that cheap games are not worth owning and old games are not worth playing (I did say this was deal with the devil time, didn't I?)

In this direction the gun manufacturers have it far easier than game manufacturers. Legally you cannot buy guns the way people buy games. There is a very narrow channel through which such transactions can be made and this has allowed a handful of established companies to monopolize the market. I am sure they do not get together to discuss what would amount to price fixing, but I am sure they are business savvy enough to know not to engage in a price war. If anything, the real war for them is probably on the manufacturing side of things. Is the Glock a successful gun because it is so well made? Or is it because it is both well made and cheaper to produce than the competition's guns? Something that would grant its parent company more capital to work with and use to out maneuver its competitors.

I often wonder about Supply & Demand and whether or not it is actually a load of Bull & Shit. I mean, the concept is simple enough, but when I go out to buy something the prices are non-negotiable and often seem to be set to an amount that has very little to do with how much it costs to manufacture the item and everything to do with what they expect me to be willing to pay. But what controls my willingness to see something as a good price? It is the history I have had with paying what I have always paid. I expect to pay over $100 to take the family out to eat, but only because we have always paid ridiculously high amounts to eat out. No one ever stops to think that it probably costs a place like Red Lobster less that $20 for the actual food that hits the table (Red Lobster? Make that $10 and blow a fog horn).

As much as I don't want to pay more than a few bucks for a game book. Perhaps it doesn't matter what I think and the manufacturers should be slapping higher prices on their games for the good of all.

I should be forced to pay $60 for a high-end RPG.
But don't expect me to be happy about it.

And don't you dare try it at gun point.