Wednesday, July 25, 2018

The Eye of Providence Closes

If you follow my blog more than you follow the GURPS Facebook group or the SJGames forums, you might not have heard by Pyramid is closing down.  It's been, what, nearly 30 years?

My own first pyramid was an actual magazine plucked from a store shelf.  I began following it back in the late 90s, and so I've had at least part of all three iterations of Pyramid, and fond memories of all three.  This is definitely a major blow, and I have quite a mix of emotions and thoughts about the announcement, as I'm sure you do as well, so I thought I would share some of them here.


Is GURPS Dying?!?!

Every time someone makes a change, any change, to GURPS, there's always someone who comes out of the woodwork to cry doom and gloom.  Going to PDF? GURPS is dying. GURPS DF kickster? GURPS is dying.  Going to the free-to-play model with lootboxes? GURPS is dying. Pyramid closed? GURPS is dying.  Is there any merit to this doomsaying?

Yeah, I think so, depending on how you look at it.

Look, there was a time when SJGames could produce several hardbacks in a year and Pyramid, then a time when they could produce about a PDF a week and Pyramid, and then a PDF a month and Pyramid, and then a PDF sometimes and Pyramid, and now, Pyramid is dead.  There's a clear line here, and it's not on the up-and-up.  Pair this with the GURPS DF success-failure, and I would be worried.  I am worried!

But there's dying and then there's dead.  Things go up, they come down, they go around and around.  Bigger RPG companies, like White Wolf, went belly up years ago.. but White Wolf books are still made, just by new people (mostly old writers and fans).  It takes a lot to kill an RPG, because they are the most distributed sort of game.  If, for example, an MMO dies, you just can't play it because the server is gone.  If a board game goes out of print, you can only play it as long as you have the board and chits.  But a role-playing game is a weird beast, as most of its content is not created by the company, but by individuals using their material.  I don't mean fanmade supplements, though those are definitely part of it. I mean the fact that every time a GM sits down to write up an adventure and run it for you, that's game material created by someone outside of the publishing company.  There are many GURPS experts who have never graced the halls of SJGames, and that will be true probably after Evil Stevie himself has passed into the grave, just like Gygax before him, because we keep these things alive.

Is GURPS dying? In the sense of SJGames losing money on it, probably.  Is it dying in the sense that less people are playing it? My modest research suggests that this is not the case.  GURPS occupies a pretty unique niche in the market, and while it has never been top 10, it definitely maintains a presence.  I don't think that will go away soon.

Adapting to Changing Realities

One poster claims he spoke to Steve Jackson at a panel about Pyramid, and Steve claimed that Pyramid was a money sink.  That's a shame, and if that's so, I can see why Pyramid is being cut.  In fact, I think SJGames has made a lot of mistakes, but companies usually do, and it's only the bad ones that don't recognize it.  If SJGames did nothing and let GURPS slip into oblivion, then I'd be worried.  Acknowleding mistakes and changing markets is vital to surviving the game.

Let me ask you this: How many of my Pyramid articles have you, dear reader, read? Can you even name any of their titles? I'm guessing you can't, because I haven't written any.  I thought about it, but it seemed like such a hassle, and it's intentionally so, because they wanted to weed out the weaker writers. SJGames acted as a gatekeeper on its material, to ensure the quality of its product.  But this is also an older mentality, one that doesn't really fit anymore, and I can prove it by pointing to the fact that you are here, now, reading this post.  In fact, a lot of you pay me money to write these posts, some of you at least as much as a Pyramid issue is worth.  The world is no longer made up of "Official" RPG writers who get published in big, glorious books, but each RPG ecosystem is a rich cornucopia of authors, bloggers, vloggers and fans, whether it's D&D, White Wolf or GURPS.

I don't mean this as some kumbaya statement about how we're all in this together, but as a hard statement of fact.  I get a lot of my extra material for ultra-tech stuff from Pyramid, sure, but I get at least as much from GURB.  I have a mess of links to blogging material that I draw on.  I'm also a patron of Christopher Rice.  I write a lot of what I write because people ask for it, and they can't get it, for whatever reason, from SJGames.  Given all of this... why would you continue to subscribe to pyramid? Think about it for a second.  If the bloggers who blog too much really ramped up their game, would you even need Pyramid?

You might say something like "I want to support GURPS and their writers."  For example, every pyramid you bought helped put money in Christopher Rice's pocket.  But... why not just put it into his pocket?  Patreon offers entirely new avenues for sponsorship, and given that you're not paying SJGames $8 a month for Pyramid anymore, why not pay the authors you like better that money?  I might talk to Chris about that, but I'm seriously considering upping my bid if it increased the chances of more complete articles from him (and I'm telling you this in an effort to convince you to do the same!)

So, from at least one perspective, it make sense to kill off Pyramid.  Pyramid belonged in the  era of the FLGS, and then in the era of dial-up and BBSes.  In the era of social media, youtube and blogs, I'm not sure it still has a place.  I think it actually makes more sense to encourage the bloggers to continue their reviews, their campaign summaries and their mini-supplements, and use the broader internet as your proving ground for new writers, and then focus your official muscle not on small articles, but on big, official works that will fuel that community.

The Silver Lining of the Storm Clouds

Times change, and change is scary.  Change often brings a lot of bad with it, but I would argue that the change has already happened.  It was happening before Pyramid's closure was announced.  I'm not happy about it at all, but if I stop and I think, I'm forced to admit it's probably overdue.  If I look back at what I consider to be SJGames's big missteps, most of them seem to center around wanting the world to be as it was in the 90s and early 2000s, making efforts to cater to retailers and the three-tier supply chain that just isn't there anymore.  Magazines were part of that model. Holding onto it wasn't helping GURPS. Closing Pyramid acknowledges reality as it is, not as they would have it be, which is the right move.

So, what comes next?  Without the shackles of Pyramid, what can SJGames do?

Well, as Phil Reed points out, they can focus on bigger things.  Maybe Vehicles 4e, finally?  They mention consolidating the best rules from Pyramid (you could easily get an Ultra-Tech 2 out of that, I've nearly consolidated all the major tech articles into a single work just for my own purposes), and consolidation might mean a push for a new edition.  At least, not having to maintain Pyramid makes such a shift easier.  If they're genuinely moving towards a more internet-oriented model, then an OGL for GURPS might be in the offing.  There are some indications that they're more open to "third-party" GURPS products than before so.. maybe. 

Of course, they might just kill off Pyramid, continue to release a handful of small PDFs a year until the trickle dries up and GURPS blows away.  This is all speculation. The point is that killing a money sink frees up resources to tackle other things.  Those things might be all of your GURPSiest dreams, or it might be Munchkin, who knows.  But Pyramid was, evidently, a dead man walking. In retrospect, this was inevitable.

Together, we can save GURPS!

So, maybe you're worried.  What can you do to help GURPS?  Well, I say you keep doing what you're doing.  I think people who blog GURPS, or patronize GURPS writers, or set up discord channels, or even just run games, are "saving GURPS."  That's what a living, vibrant game looks like.  I've been a little out of the scene because I'm busy, but whenever I poke my head into the GURPS sphere, it's always bustling.

The way we relate to games, whatever games, has been changing over the past few years, and a lot of gaming industries are in turmoil, from the rise of the indie game to the lootbox debacles of the AAA gaming industry to the collapsing golden age of the Eurogame to the rise of numerous RPGS (D&D is doing better than ever, apparently), from Tabletop Simulator to VTTs to social media RPG groups and RPG vloggers, everything is different now.  This is part of that difference.  We're going to have to change how we relate to GURPS, just as SJGames evolves, we'll have to evolve too.  In particular, we have to be less dependent on "official supplements" and be more proactive as a community.  This is true of all modern successful RPGs.

As for me, will I keep writing for GURPS?  I think so.  I will admit somethings about it really frustrate me (the lack of an OGL that means my work could be shut down with a single e-mail; the lack of a decent Vehicles book, etc), and I do go through moments where I consider moving on (Fudge/Fate looks like it'd be great, if I can shake off some of that community's biases against the sort of gaming I like, and I keep flirting with EABA), but I keep returning to GURPS because it lets me explore a lot of the things I'd really like to explore.  There may be some changes in the future, but that's always the case. For now, Psi-Wars remains on course.

Still, as much sense as it makes to kill it, I will very much mourn its passing.  Pyramid gave us Kenneth Hite's Suppressed Transmission and introduced me to John Wick.  It gave me about half of my Psi-Wars material.  It gave us Christoper Rise and Douglas Cole.  Ahh, and how I will miss you, Murphy's Rules.  Time marches on, but, allow me nostalgia for just this moment...

If you want to join me in supporting GURPS Bloggers, here's a few you can check out (if you know more, or blogs of note that you want to comment on, leave a comment!)

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