Sunday, September 17, 2006

Net Peeves, vol. 1

Now, mind you, I'm no Mike Mearls, but every once in a while I manage to build up a head of steam over something that boils over into what I think of as a rant, even if those around me are inclined to view it as something more akin to a minor complaint. So here we go, James' rant of the month.

It has to do with the sorts of things that people say about Wizards of the Coast on the Internet—although they usually call us Hasbro in this context, as if trying to make some comment about how we've become a corporate entity. And that's really the gist of this rant, such as it is.

So here's the thing: Wizards of the Coast is not Hasbro. It's a subsidiary of Hasbro, but it's not like there's a bat-phone on the desk of anyone at Wizards that rings when someone in Rhode Island (Hasbro HQ) wants to tell us what to do with D&D—or any other property. The people who make decisions about D&D are, almost entirely, people who play D&D. Chief among those is Bill Slavicsek, the director of R&D RPG, who has been at the company for at least a dozen years. You might know his name from 2nd edition Dark Sun products, the Council of Wyrms campaign setting/option book, and, oh, I don't know, maybe the Eberron Campaign Setting? Not to mention Star Wars stuff—he wrote the Guide to the Star Wars Universe as well as a gajillion Star Wars books when he worked at West End Games. Here's something you need to know about Bill: He's a gamer. He runs a D&D game every week. He plays City of Heroes and D&D Online. I don't think I've ever seen him wear a suit. And he's the single most important person in the chain of command that determines what D&D products get made. 

So anyone who proclaims on the Net that the course of D&D is being decided by a bunch of "suits" at Hasbro just doesn't know what they're talking about. 

So I saw a comment on Gaming Report to the effect... no, I'm not going to try to paraphrase it, I'll quote it:
considering Hasbro's seeming desire to get as far away from producing "free content for anyone to use" as possible?

i doubt there will be anything like the OGL for a 4th edition.

I want to know what the heck this guy is talking about. What company does he think created the OGL? Hasbro owned Wizards in 2000 when D&D 3E came out, why is Hasbro now all of a sudden the stingy company that would never release any "free content for anyone to use"? Huh???

Now the one that really gets my goat. Folks were talking about my novel (among other Eberron novels) on the WotC message boards. Someone referred to the recent DRAGON article about a visit to WotC, and mentioned the meeting that took place to plan out my next novel. I don't remember how the article described that meeting, but the way it was reported on the message boards was basically this: I sat down in the office while marketing people told me what would sell, and told me to write what would sell.

Nothing could be farther from the truth.

The people at that meeting were me, Bill Slavicsek (remember him? the gamer?), Chris Perkins (the Design Manager for D&D and thus my manager, who runs like three D&D campaigns), and Mark Sehestedt (the books editor in charge of Eberron novels). In other words, it was Bill and three people who work for Bill. There was nobody whose job description includes any kind of marketing in the room.

We were talking about my original idea for a novel, which involved focusing on the changeling character from my first novel. Mark and Chris both expressed some concern that a changeling might be a really hard character to write about, and I do remember Mark saying that we generally seem to have a hard time with novels that feature main characters who are anything but humans or elves—not because they don't sell well, but because readers have a hard time identifying with dramatically nonhuman characters. Now, it's also possible that someone in the room pointed out that dragons sell novels—ideally, the title of the book should have the word "dragon" in it and the cover art should feature a dragon. That's pretty basic marketing, it's true. But whatever. The most important things we talked about were hammering out a compelling set of characters, a pulse-pounding plot, and a story that would show off the best that Eberron has to offer.

OK, that's all the rant I've got in me. I know, it was pretty tame. Yesterday I apologized to one of the directors of the show I'm in for being cranky with her, and she said, "You were cranky?!?" That's me. 

A final note: I realize this is now the second time I've made what might be perceived as a slam on Mike Mearls on this page. I want to make it absolutely clear that I really like Mike. I think he's been a fantastic addition to the team in the last year, and I consider him a good friend as well. I really like his rants, too. And he also said something both funny and relevant to the matter at hand in the first D&D Podcast: He said that GenCon is like the anti-Internet. People on the Internet, he said, are there because they're bored at work or don't want to study, so they're in a bad mood, and they tend to grouse about things. Like, they're on the D&D message boards because they can't play D&D at that moment, which makes them grumpy. On the flip side, people at GenCon are taking a vacation from work or school in order to go play D&D, so they're much more positive, enthusiastic, and excited. That's certainly what I've seen, and it helps me to think about the Internet that way, too.

I mean, just look at me. I spent the weekend playing games at GwenCon and rehearsing my show, but now I'm on the internet, ranting.

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