Thursday, August 8, 2013

Five Ancient Kingdoms: Relative Value

[no this is not a post about the pricing for Five Ancient Kingdoms…that topic is scheduled for tomorrow]

Tonight the Seahawks will be in San Diego playing their first preseason game of the year. For the slavering football fans of the Pacific Northwest, they’ve been waiting for the advent of this season since…well, since about the time the ‘Hawks got knocked out of the play-offs by the Falcons in 2013. People are hot to see this game. An exhibition game that is of utterly no significance to the regular season…unless a player gets some sort of season-ending injury (*knocks on wood*).

These days, football fans are often intrigued to see these preseason games, despite their lack of meaning, because the football thing inspires so much passion and excitement that folks are like junkies…they’re jonesin’ for a fix. They’ve been doing painful withdrawal since the end of the last Super Bowl. They’ve been watching off-season moves and drafts and training camps with interest just trying to get some sort of football in their lives.

And yet, when you actually get down to watch the preseason game, most people get bored and lose interest before the end of the first half. Once the first-stringers are pulled and it’s clear you’re watching neither the best talent nor the “real team” and tactics that will be on display in the regular season…and when it’s clearly understood that the outcome of the game means utterly nothing…the attention starts to wander, and most folks start checking-out.

I’m like this…and I’m a fairly rabid fan. I still watch, and I like to see how the new guys look…but I’m not the person making the cuts on the roster, and besides can you really tell anything watching 3rd stringers go up against 3rd stringers? The excitement of watching the rookies and back-ups beat up each other fades pretty quickly in the first few weeks of the regular season when the veteran pros burn these guys…again and again and again.

It’s enough to make people say, “Why bother?” Even the rabid fan will take two or three preseason games off…after getting that initial fast-breaking fix of football, the later preseason games generally become pretty “meh.” I mean there’s still baseball to watch (well, outside of Seattle)…and there’s still a lot of summertime weather left to enjoy instead of hanging out in front of a television set. The stars of the team, the first string, aren’t bothering to suit up for more than a quarter or two, so what’s the point of watching?

But that’s a fan’s perspective. For the players taking part in the preseason…those rookies and back-ups and walk-ons that are just trying to make a roster spot…this is their play-offs. These games are life-and-death; these games mean everything.

For an athlete of any sport, the chance to play the game at the highest level is the ultimate justification of the time and effort and years of sacrifice they have made for their craft. There is no Olympic event or “World Cup” for American football; there are only the various pro- and semi-pro leagues around the world. And of those leagues, it is the American NFL that is the pinnacle of achievement. Only a small percentage of players in the world are given the opportunity to play in the NFL, and even fewer will actually do so. Players that would be super-stars in the CFL or WFL or other pro-leagues can’t make it in the NFL, even as a back-up’s back-up.

There are 32 NFL teams. By the end of the four week pre-season, teams are required to have their rosters cut to a maximum of 53 players. That’s a total of 1,696 players. There are a couple thousand Division I college seniors that will be eligible for the NFL draft every year, of which only 224 will be drafted (except for compensatory picks, a maximum of 32 per year). That’s a small percentage even for Division I (the premier American football programs)…and Division II players have about the same number of eligible players as Division I. And the number of American college football players are only 3% to 4% of the total number of high school football players in the U.S.

Which is all to say this: for those select few players who are fighting for roster spots in the preseason…after making it through high school and college, getting noticed, getting drafted, and (hopefully) not getting seriously injured…for these players just fighting and scrapping for a 2nd or 3rd string role (forget about starting!), for these players these preseason games may be their only chance to sniff the experience of the NFL. Many will be cut even before the final week (assuming they don’t get injured first)…these four games will be their only taste of the biggest stage of the sport they’ve given their lives for. For them, the preseason isn’t just a throwaway thing. Being a pro back-up on a terrible team (like last year’s 2-14 Kansas City Chiefs) is more desirable than being out of the league…because if your number DOES get called, perhaps it will be you that helps turn the team into a winner with your skill and tenacity and play-making ability. Just putting on the uniform makes you one of the elite.

The point here is one of relativity: the value of the NFL preseason depends on your perspective, the place from where stand. People who don’t care about or watch football might not even register the kick-off of the new season…how different that is from a player desperately wanting to get on the field and get the chance to impress the team’s coaches. The value is relative…as are all values.

Now I know readers are all smarter than the average bear, so saying that “value is relative” is a “duh” kind of statement to make. But it’s something we sometimes forget when we get “caught up in the moment” (i.e. caught up in our relative perspective), and I want to emphasize it for the moment…just bear with me a bit.

Yesterday, I was down at Gary’s putting together books (Tim was giving me a hand with his shrink-wrap machine) for fun and profit. While we were doing that, a group of players were sitting at a table playing a session of D&D Next. No, I didn’t bother shopping my game around to their table…I was busy shrink-wrapping (and they were busy putting down a single encounter…for two hours). But as they breathlessly enjoyed themselves…and then excitedly talked about the next iteration of combat they wanted to run next week…I found myself thinking, “why do I even bother?” Here I entertain fantasies of distributing a thousand copies of my game (that’s the goal for the year, by the way), and what I’m up against is the incredible marketing/publishing machine that is Hasbro’s WotC. Hell, what I’m up against is the brand name recognition that is Dungeons & Dragons.

It’s like I’m fighting for a roster spot when all the fans want to see is the first string starters.

The part that I need to remember (and which applies to other folks working on their own version of “D&D Mine”) is that the work if of value to me. I’m not writing for accolades…I’m really not. I’m writing this for a lot reasons, not the least of which is to prove to myself that I CAN do so…that I can put in the time and effort to write a complete game that people can pick up and play and enjoy. Something that doesn’t require the owning of an out-of-print book, like my last two game “supplements.”

Proving myself to myself is one thing. Proving that I can make a complete game in a small scale (that still includes illos and style and substance) unlike “quickstart” versions of larger games is another. Making good, easy mechanics available to players is a third thing. Having a useful rule-set for my own table (as far as ease of use and reference) is a fourth. As a one-man publisher, the EXERCISE of doing 5AK has been valuable…this project was much more fun than frustrating, I have to say. Heck, just dealing with Chessex has been a learning experience in the process (and shrink-wrapping is a new thing for me, too).

So there is VALUE here…value for me, which is really the only value that matters (since at this point, there’s not much danger of Running Beagle Games usurping the thrones of WotC or Paizo in the gaming world).  Whether or not I can follow-through with my distribution goals…or manage to convert D&D Next players to 5AK…well, those are challenges that I’m happy to take on. However, accomplishments (while nice) are not going to be the determination of whether or not the game is of value. The act of producing the game, the outlet of creative expression it represents for me, IS the value.

And that’s why other folks thinking of doing their own version of D&D Mine…however it looks…shouldn’t be put off by the existing conditions. If you want to “hobby up” your own rule set…or just print a specific world setting along with the house rules used ‘round your table…you should do so. Because the act of creating the thing is of value. Yes, there are a lot of D&D Mines…small and large…floating around the internet; too many to possibly play all of ‘em. Making any kind of serious profit is probably out of the question. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do it…it doesn’t mean you should devalue your creative expression (whatever form that takes). You need to identify the value of your own work to yourself…after you do that, most of the anxiety and worry goes away.

Most goes away. At least the questions of “am I wasting my time” goes away. Just “suiting up” (i.e. writing your fantasy opus) puts you in a certain circle of elite individuals. Don’t underestimate the pride of accomplishment that comes with that.

: ) 

1 comment:

  1. There are so many levels to the old saying "nothing ventured, nothing gained." BUT I think our society has made most people afraid to even make an attempt at things in their lives, for fear of failure. I think our pop culture has lost sight of the risks one must undertake in order to succeed, and has made "failure" into a boogeyman that paralyzes people. All the media shows us is the end result, rather than any repeat failures and false starts that might have led to a certain person's success.

    We seem to have forgotten that you need to put yourself out there in order to court success. Part of it might be the fact that our instantaneous media and our ability to comment on things just as instantly has given the court of public opinion a gigantic and ubiquitous voice. Those who are self-stymied in their own aspirations have a powerful venue for attacking those that have gone the next step into the realm of attempting! But I say, screw that noise, F the court of public opinion, and take that chance!

    So, my point is: good on ya for making the attempt for your own personal gain, if not monitarily then from the perspective of knowing that yes, you can and did create an RPG! All other gains, such as gaining a fan base for the game, etc. is all just gravy from there, IMHO.