Friday, September 20, 2013

Favorite Humanoid, 4e, Rebecca Black, and the Power of Marketing

Day 20--Favorite Humanoid: Hob-gobel. 

What the hell is that? I don't expect you to know. I have properly marketed that term. Hob-gobel were once human, according to the Word of Virtoaa, but they've been cursed by God for their sinful ways. They degenerated into more beast-like forms which plague mankind. Now, I anticipate, that whenever I get going with publishing materials for Domikka, some critics will howl: "Hob-gobel are just orcs and goblins with a different back story."

That's fine by me. If critics say this, then I know my materials have reached the wrong market. Some people aren't looking for anything new. Let's take this a leap further.

What do Rebecca Black and D&D 4e have in common? 

Both have huge audiences who revile them, despise them, think they're inferior and wish them the worst. If you didn't know, in 2011 Rebecca Black created "Friday" both the song and video about teenagers celebrating the start of the weekend. D&D 4e, of course, caused a huge schism among gamers. Oddly enough, both Rebecca Black and D&D 4e have core followings.

Yes... people bought into Rebecca Black's repetitive lyrics and digitized voice, just as people bought into 4e's concept of bringing World of Warcraft to the tabletop and having generic magic items in the Player's Handbook. Believe it or not. For Black, "Friday" was a success. She donated a lot of her money to her school and later the Japan Earthquake relief fund.

As for 4e... well, WotC will never tells us the numbers. But we know that Pathfinder surpassed 4e in sales. We also know that D&D Essentials came out in 2010 which seemed to appeal to older gamers. I attribute 4e's lack of desired success to botched marketing. WotC was trying to target a younger generation of gamers, but instead they got the older generations howling for blood (hence the launch of the OSR and Pathfinder success).

Certainly, 4e was a break from what had gone before, but I think it would have worked better had not WotC (either intentionally or unintentionally) excluded older generations. Their 2007-8 marketing campaign basically said you're a moron for playing older editions. 

At least, that's what I got from it. And I didn't like that message. Yet I still ran 4e for about three months and ended up dumping it. What happened? It said was D&D. It still had d20s, but it played very different from what had come before. Even worse, I felt old. I got the impression that 4e was supposed to bring younger people into the game (more on that another time). 

I just don't think 4e appealed to younger people (and video gamers) as much as WotC hoped. This goes back to marketing. Somehow, they'd missed their target market demographic (or maybe they were dead on but thought the market would be larger). But they did piss off a lot of people outside that market. Something similar happened with Rebecca Black's "Friday."

From both the examples of 4e and Rebecca Black, I've learned something: If I find something new rather odd or strange, or gives me gut reaction of dislike, then I'm probably not the target audience.  

Which is fine by me. It helps explain why companies sometimes do what appear to be screwy things. At least it makes it less personal. Businesses have to strive to reach new markets, new target demographics, to survive as older markets become saturated or spent.

So, if and when 5e comes out and you don't like it, or you hear a brand new song on the radio or Youtube that's stupid, just relax. You're probably not part of the target audience. 


  1. I never really got the chance to play 4E outside of two 1st level demo games. As an "older gamer" I like some of the concepts and I'd really like to play through several levels to see what it's like on a larger scale. Alas, it seems like it will be gone before I can even give it a chance.

  2. I feel like it was the result of the struggle between more abstract systems and more concrete systems and the merchandising of both in the White Wolf vs. WotC rivalry. D&D had always been more concrete; WotC decided to take their game to an iteration that was nearly absolute in its concreteness. Why? Because concrete gaming requires lots of purchases in the form of miniatures, battlemats, etc. and it opened new revenue avenues not fully tapped by older editions. The more abstract systems of White Wolf, to maximize merchandice, present incomplete games, incomplete worlds and incomplete systems that are strewn across dozens of books (you need at LEAST 6 'core' books to actually play Exalted with all of the basic races). Really, neither of these sales/marketing strategies are optimal for players. WotC probably felt the need to stigmatize their earlier properties which didn't require as much ancillary stuff to play at a basic level to encourage adoption of a system that did.


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