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.
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stevekenson

July 2011

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