Tuesday, June 15, 2010

General Rant - Fixing What's Not Broken

I have a review already written for tonight. It's pretty good, too, with plenty of crude, base humor and some truly tasteless nods to cultural insensitivity. I actually had it ready to post last night, and then something happened.

Wizards changed the HeroScape bases.

OK, that's not the end of the world. Hell, it's not that big a deal on any level. But it pissed me off, and now instead of writing lewd jokes about people I don't know, I'm going to rant loudly about game publishers with their collective heads jammed up their collective assholes.

For those of you who don't know yet, Wizards of the Coast has decided to alter the look and feel of the HeroScape bases. For five or six years now (I can't be bothered to check a calendar), HeroScape has had large, unique bases with a bevel. Now the bases are one inch across, and the bevel is gone. The reason we were given for this change is that Wizards wants to appeal to RPG fans who don't want to put those larger bases on their one-inch grid battlemaps. That's a really stupid reason, by the way.

Follow me here. For a very long time, we've had one size base. Now we have a base that doesn't even look like it belongs with the same game, which we're doing so that the miniatures will appeal to people who want to use them for D&D. Only at this point, the only miniatures being made are repurposed D&D minis, which means that the figures already exist, and they already have smaller bases. So Wizards has made a decision that will alienate and confuse thousands of HeroScape fans in order to appeal to D&D fans who are now able to buy a product that they could already get because Wizards made these once already.

They're counting on us wanting to play the game even if the new figures don't go with the old figures. Apparently they don't think the visual appeal is all that important to us. Apparently they forgot that the reason most of us picked up that first set is because it looked freaking awesome. If I didn't care about the visuals, I could play a game on a paper board with cardboard cutouts. It's not just about the game play - though it still has all the great game play that it always did. It just doesn't look right any more.

I could go on about this at length, but I think what I would like to do is bring up a broader point. Hopefully some game company big-wig is reading, so that they can get this relatively simple message. The message is in two parts. First, if it ain't broke, don't fix it. And second, listen to your fans.

Anyone else remember the Mutant Chronicles CMG? I would still love to find out who was the marketing genius (by which I mean dumb-ass) who decided to make those 54mm. Every other game uses 28mm figures, but FFG decides to release prepainted miniatures for a game with a huge, loyal user base, and make them all look twice normal size. Good luck using those with Warzone now, huh? And where is that game now? Yeah, the discount bin, because it died, because they tried to fix a miniature size that wasn't broken, and they didn't listen to the fans.

Another example would be Doomtown. I used to collect this Deadlands CCG like it was gold-plated. I had every card for the first two story arcs, even the promos. It won two Origins awards in 1998, one for best trading card game. It was a blast, and if you were a serious collector, you could get everything. But then it moved to Alderac, who messed with the distribution. This game was making money and selling like hotcakes, and suddenly you were paying more for more commons and fewer rares, and some cards were only available in Canada. Doomtown died so fast, the last set was a one-of-each-because-they're-already-printed special. It went down like a broken space shuttle, and now you could pick up whole sets of these cards for a fraction of what they used to cost.

I could keep going. Nearly every game company has made these stupid mistakes, especially the ones who specialize in expandable games. It seems like there comes a point when some executive up the chain decides that he wants to pad his annual bonus by screwing the fans and cutting himself a little bigger slice. That's the only possible explanation I can see, because the mistakes I'm talking about here are so obvious, so stupid, that any game nerd on the planet could have pointed them out. But greed throws blinders on the jackasses at the top of the food chain, and they start ignoring that basic, two-part message.

I have talked to several fans who are not too angry about the base change in HeroScape. Some of them are just kind of rolling with it. But I have yet to talk to one fan who thought this base change thing was a good idea. There were two basic principles here - they fixed something that wasn't broken, and they ignored their fans. That's the kind of stupidity that comes back to bite you in the ass, and in the case of the people making these idiotic decisions, could result in head injuries. Because, you know, their heads are up their asses. Yeah, it's not funny when I explain it.

It's not like this is a new trend for Wizards. They excel at fixing things that aren't broken, and they suck at listening to the fans. The fourth edition of D&D is widely reviled. I play D&D with my family, and although I have the books for 4e, we still play the old 3e stuff, because the new edition blows. Lots of competitors are stepping up to fill in the gaps, and Wizards is losing market share to a comparatively tiny competitor because they wanted to make everyone go buy new books.

But they're not alone. Nearly every company that gets too big for its britches makes this bone-headed mistake at some point, usually because decisions start getting made by people who are businessmen, not gamers. We could point to dozens of companies who have forgotten those two basic rules and cost themselves lots of money. If I have one goal with this post, it's to get someone in charge to go, 'Hellfire, maybe we should listen to the fans, and stop fixing things that aren't broken.' But I'm not optimistic, because greed hollers a lot louder than one pissant game reviewer in his cranky corner of the Internet.

I don't particularly care what people do about this base change thing. Buy more, don't buy more, sell your collection, or buy everything and convert the bases so it looks right. I don't care. I won't be buying any more HeroScape, because I want all my stuff to match, but I certainly don't care if every other gamer on the planet keeps picking up their plastic crack. But I'll tell you right now that they won't. Sales will take a digger on this one. Maybe Wizards can change back before they ruin the entire franchise, and maybe Joe Corporate will end up taking his golden parachute and leaving Wizards to wonder where they went wrong.

And if that happens (and that's what I think will happen), then I'll be able to get tons of HeroScape, really cheap. So it's a win-win... for me.

For the fans, not so much.

19 comments:

Joe said...

Fuck yeah! I agree with you 100% Alot of people over at Heroscapers don't seem to mind, but this is about principle, damn it!

Grand_Lancer said...

"But they're not alone. Nearly every company that gets too big for its britches makes this bone-headed mistake at some point, usually because decisions start getting made by people who are businessmen, not gamers."

Actually, I think the problem is that they are gamers with and elitist view, who's only focus is MtG and DnD proper. Looking at any of their other lines (most recently, Star Wars Miniatures/RPG) you can see a clear trend (as you mentioned) of disrespect and disregard for their customers/comsumers.

Matt Drake said...

Joe, it's more than principle. These new bases don't match the old bases. The table won't look right. That sucks.

But yes, also principles.

Lancer, I think you'll find that as you get closer to the designers and farther from the businessmen, you find real passion for keeping the fans happy. I've known lots of people at WotC and Hasbro, and you might be shocked to discover how many of the decision-makers never play games of any kind.

Anonymous said...

Unrelated but I wasn't sure where to post this.

I was listening to episode 4 of The Little Metal Dog Show podcast today and there was an interview with Bruno Faidutti, who mentioned that Drake's Flames is one of his favorite review sites. Very cool.

-paul
(nyys on Scapers)

Greyweather said...

"Lots of competitors are stepping up to fill in the gaps, and Wizards is losing market share to a comparatively tiny competitor because they wanted to make everyone go buy new books."

I'm not tapped into the market. Who is the comparatively tiny competitor who is taking WotC's market share?

ninthdoc said...

Greyweather, that would be Paizo with Pathfinder, which is sort of referred to as D&D 3.75 in some circles since it is a revision of 3.5. Also, more recently, I've been seeing a lot of folks playing the new Dragonage RPG by Green Ronin. Both two solid companies that are much smaller than WotC, but knowing to strike when the iron is hot.

I'm so pissed at WotC over this, that they are literally saving me $100s of dollars. I hope to never buy anything else by them again, unless their latest game performs fellatio on me on demand.

Bevel this! said...

I laughed pretty hard at most of this.

But I disagree on the "greed" thing. If it were simply greed, they'd realize there is more money in not killing off a game by fixing things that don't need fixing. I'd offer an alternative hypothesis: the only people who want to be in charge are jackasses, and thus you get a lot of jackasstastic decisions.
In this case, a hard-core D&Der (or several) at Magic explain that they hate Heroscape because the bases are too big, then one of them says, let's make them smaller to fit with our game! Since no one at WotC is a Heroscape fan, no one mentions how stupid this is until they inform the designers of the decision, and by then it is too late.

Grand_Lancer said...

I didn't mean to say that everyone at Wizards was that an elitist. What I should have said was those who're in decision making positions care nothing for any of their games except MtG and DnD and as such, the customers of any of those products either.

Like you said, I'm sure those who are involved with the actual development of Heroscape are passionate about their work, as evidenced by the fact that the game is still going and the new army cards are still exciting...

Anonymous said...

Wait, so you didn't like Mutant Chronicles because the miniatures were too big and couldn't be used in other games? And you hat the decision to make Heroscape... useable in other games?

Matt Drake said...

No, anonymous ass-hat, I didn't like Mutant Chronicles because it was a shitty game. But I would have bought cases of it at 28mm.

And even if you don't get it, not having the bases match is a big deal. If I want minis that I can use in other games, I'll buy DnD minis. Because, you know, they're the exact same figures.

Also, you're a nob.

Now go back to BGG, where you can act like an arrogant cock and they'll only get mad at the people who call you on it.

Jason Smith said...

Matt,

You make some great points however there is one additional point I would like to make. EGO. Human ego destroys just as many games as greed. For instance, if you have a game that is rolling along, doing well, and you assign a new version to a new designer. What does he/she do? THEY HAVE TO CHANGE THINGS. It is their ego. The games works fine. But they want to put their stamp on it, so they change it. Happened with D&D 4th Edition. That was one big Ego Mess. The new designers had a game that was working fine, but their ego said they had to change it.

Same with great restaurants that get new owners. New owner feels he needs to change menu that was working just great, and joint goes down the drain, and they wonder why...

Same with software. We get new versions of Word every few years that changes crap but doesn't actually make it better. Because by now a Word Processor has probably peaked in technological advancement.

Thanks for your rant. Wizards destroyed two of my beloved games, D&D, AND D&D Miniatures. So I hear you!

-Jason
Dogstar Games

CitizenBen said...

As someone who uses Heroscape as a "gateway" to other games with my nieces and nephews I have to agree, changing the bases smacks of cost cutting measures in order for WotC, aka Hasbro, to continue to repaint old DDM minis and sell them to a different market. Until they get back to giving Heroscape players non-reprints all this becomes is a cash grab.
As for the base differences we use plenty of different base sizes in our D&D games, and as much as I'm sure I'll get blasted for it, I'll admit we play 4E. Again 4E is a 'gateway' to things like Pathfinder. I don't think I'd ever have roped my wife or her friends into a monthly game if I tried to get them started with 2nd Edition, 3.0, or even Paizo's wonderful Pathfinder. While 4E is seen as an abomination of epic proportions in some circles, I just try to look at it as a way for me to convince people who I like to set around a table, use thier collective imaginations in ways they never thought of, laugh, eat junk food, and generally have a good time with a game that I've loved since I was 7.
So blast away if you must on 4E, but remember out there in the world right now there are people playing D&D for the first time who are making this thier D&D, for better or worse.
Thanks for the kick-ass blog!

Matt Drake said...

"Bruno Faidutti, who mentioned that Drake's Flames is one of his favorite review sites"

Holy crap! That's awesome! How did I miss this comment before?

You hear that? Bruno likes me! I'm practically a celebrity!

I'll be picking out an entourage shortly.

Anonymous said...

I can see how the base change bothers a lot of people - but me, I could care less I just want more an more HS, I am someone who uses cowboys and indians as proxies so different bases are the least of my concerns. I really don't ever remember seeing or worrying about the bases while I play -- but as a hardcore scaper I can see where it will let people move a figure around the hex more to get line of sight more often so in a sense it will have a bit of effect to the actual game?

Nice rant as always!

Hendal

Pete Miller said...

If the smaller bases were bevelled, I'd be 100% ok with this. After all, there are already 4 base sizes in scape.

If the plastic is the same color and the stickers are the same color I am eh with this. I still haven't bought DnD wave 2. But this really isn't a disaster. At first I thought they were just using the D&D figures as is - black bases. They could have gone there.

bad dog said...

I used to be a manager for a multi-national corporation. I hated the job. My employees were lying weasels that smelled really bad. My customers were ignorant ass-hats with an incredible sense of entitlement.
I finally landed a better job but couldn't start for six months. My job had crappy pay but I received 15% of everything above 125% of the P/L. Since I was leaving shortly I took a scorched earth attitude to profits. Anything that made me money now was good. If it cost the company customers in the long run tough shit. I did, in fact, cost the company to lose Walmart and McClain's as customers and it resulted in quite a big lay-off. I might feel bad if I didn't hate each and every one of them.
Perhaps the people making these decisions feel the same way I do. Pissing off people like Drake is just a nice little side benefit.

Michael said...

Hey guys - Michael from Little Metal Dog here. Just wanted to say that yes, Bruno does indeed say that Drake's Flames is one of his favourite reviews blogs on episode 4 (amongst other things). I must say, I agree with him - you always write entertaining stuff, Matt!

Keep it up, sir.

David N. said...

This is the third irritating change that WotC has made to Heroscape. Here's how I enumerate them:
1) Loss of new sculpts/use of rehashed existing D&D sculpts.
2) Change of scale from 25mm to 15mm (pretty much part and parcel of number 1).
3) Change of bases.

I wish they'd made change 3 at the same time as changes 1 & 2 so I could draw a clear line and say "classic 'scape stopped here" and stop collecting. However, the thing that most annoys me most about this is not it reflects a cost-cutting diminution of the quality of Heroscape; instead it's that it belies a management attitude that Heroscape is primarily a recruitment tool for their main brand, D&D. That's what really pisses me off: from WotC's perspective I'm not a Heroscape player; instead I'm a potential D&D consumer.

Eirikr said...

I see the base change as an indication that WotC sees some long term potential for heroScape and that, to me, is a good thing. The fact that they are considering changes such as the size of the bases, which has no cost saving benefits, shows me that they want heroScape to continue and to thrive and they are looking for ways to ensure that is the case. Will it work? I don't think it will have a big impact on sales but it may and I have no basis for that judgement other than my rather large gutt. I don't forsee it having a significant impact on gameplay and the figures will fit better in my tackle boxes so that's a bonus.
Will the smaller bases look out of place? Ya probably, but not any more than the smaller DnD figures which is where the real problem lies in my opinion. So far I have been pleasantly surprised by the DnD figures. All that being said I can see my days of buying new Scape slowly coming to an end, partially because I am having a harder time finding playmates lately and have beein putting more of my time into board games, and partially because I really miss the 'Everything in the toybox' feel that heroScape once had and the move to all fantasy will bore me in the long run.
In any case I have really enjoyed your blog Drake. Keep it up.