stevekenson: (go-play)
[personal profile] stevekenson
It seems that the boxed set game is the new trend for RPGs, perhaps following the growth of board game sales in the gaming industry. New games like Dragon Age, the D&D Starter Set, and Gamma World all come in boxes like RPGs of yore, and some of the Old School elements of the hobby are also looking to bring back the boxed set.

There are, or seem to be, a number of reasons why boxed sets are on the rise once again, in a business where hardcover rulebooks have dominated for well over two decades:

1) Nostalgia. A lot of the RPG biz these days is selling to gamers like me, who got their start in the hobby 10-20 years ago, and look back fondly on that “golden age” of gaming and the sense of excitement and wonder of opening that first boxed set (whatever it may have been). Certainly, the D&D Starter Set builds on this, using almost the exact same design and art as the old D&D “Red Box” that started so many playing the game. As Hollywood and numerous other purveyors of media have figured out, there’s a lot of money to be made in repackaging people’s childhoods and selling them to them again (and again).

2) Marketing. Another idea about boxed says that nothing conveys “this is a game” quite as well as having it all come in a box. After all, the boardgames folks are more widely acquainted with all come in boxes, with dice and rule booklets, and so forth. Stores that sell board games (including more mainstream toy stores) know how to handle, shelve, and display boxes, but they’re often not set up to deal with books, especially not the weighty and numerous tomes of RPG lines.

3) Accessibility. Along the same line, packaging an RPG “like a game” (in a box) might make it more accessible and user-friendly to a potential new game-player. It might be an easier transition, say, from a board game like Descent or Castle Ravenloft to a boardgame-like D&D Starter Set box than it would be to make the leap to three hardbound core rulebooks packed with text. Once they’ve taken the bait and understand how the whole RPG thing works, players can potentially move from boxed sets to those larger rulebooks. (Assuming you believe the RPG “acquisition” product is something other than eager alpha-gamers teaching their friends how to play. Even then, a more accessible boxed-set might still facilitate the process.)

4) Piracy. This last one is pure speculation, but I’ve wondered recently: can properly constructed RPG boxed sets combat electronic piracy? After all, it’s one thing to distribute a PDF of the entire rulebook (and its supplements) but quite another to duplicate all the components found in a box. Sure, you can scan and distrubute copies of things like map tiles, cards, counters, reference sheets, and other components, but it definitely raises the bar in terms of using your pirated copy to effectively play the game. It seems like at some point, some would-be pirates might decide it’s easier to invest some money in the actual game, in which case the pirated copies are serving as promotional advertising. Of course, the same arguments have been made about the pirating of more traditional print and even electronic-format only products, so who knows?

Should be interesting to see if a few RPG boxed sets will turn into a trend for the industry, fulfilling their implied promises, or if they are just a passing fancy that will soon be collecting dust with those boxed sets from twenty-plus years ago.

The Boxed RPG

Date: 2010-10-18 03:51 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] steve pacey (from
Without knowing the actual marketing strategy Wizards is using, I'm going to assume you have hit the nail on the head. The two points I most agree with here are accessibiltity and piracy. The ability to get giants like Toys R Us to shelf your product can't be discounted. These people are not book sellers as we traditionally understand them. A simple, cheap, easily shelved product is a much easier sell for Wizards, who are after all distributors, not retailers.

Piracy? You are exactly right. If I want to steal something off the internet, it is primarily because I get instant gratification, not because I save money. 2 hours(or less) after I start my download, I have the product. If I have to go through a complicated printing and crafting process to recreate the products I get in a box set, why wouldn't I spend the money and just buy it, ready to go, from a retailer. Preferably your local game shop readers!

Lastly, your point of appealing to the older gamer is very valid. Look at me: I am in my thirties. I have a wife, a full time job, two dogs and I study full time at university as a mature student. When I look at a product like Gamma World that let's me and a small group of friends start playing ten minutes after we crack open the box, I get very excited. At this age and stage in life, I am looking for a quick, low prep, easy access gaming experience. Add to this the fact that a product like Gamma World has excellent replay ability straight out of the box(if you don't mind running new PCs through the same adventure)and I am sold!

This is exactly the kind of delivery I am looking for. I get to game with my friends for less than it would cost for us all to go out for a beer, and(I shamefully admit)doesn't ask me or any of them to make a long term commitment to the hobby. We are already committed to the hobby anyway, we are just looking for a way to include it in busier adult lives.

All in all, a great post that was very insightful. I don't think I have heard the case for boxed sets put more succinctly, and it was nice to come across an author who looked at it objectively, sans the usual nerd-rage about how things are changing!


Date: 2010-10-18 09:06 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
can properly constructed RPG boxed sets combat electronic piracy?

Maybe some kind of paper "computer", with cunningly arranged holes and tabs could work as a difficult to reproduce component. Modern engineering and combinatorics could give you something that produces hundreds of distinct results with zillions of variations with a handful of moving parts and a couple of grommets. And it's possible someone has found a way to cheaply hack large numbers of cheap digital watches or something similar.

Date: 2010-10-18 04:42 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
I imagined piracy was one of the motivators behind Warhammer Fantasy 3's luxurious components and packaging, as well. That game just doesn't play without the bits, as I understand it, and 4E and Gamma World are similar in some ways. It makes for a difficult-to-pirate product *and* a difficult-to-counterfeit play experience.

I don't know if this component-driven product actually, you know, works at discouraging piracy, but I can see how piracy can factor into the equation that says to release such products in such formats.

If board-game success was another motivator—and it may well be—then it only took RPGs a few long years to try and get on the shelves next to them. I feel like the board-game boom started years and years ago. Maybe I'm wrong. But, anyway, marketing these things as *games* in a format that says "game" rather than "textbook" to the maximum number of people makes sense to me. I just hope it's working.



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