Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Changing Times, Changing Tastes: New Editions

As I'm sure you all know by now, I am a huge fan of most professional wrestling. So when the WWE Network went live, I subscribed the first day, and have been spending far too much time watching it.

My best friend is a huge MMA Junkie. A few moths ago, he loaned me Shooters: The Toughest Men in Professional Wrestling. A book that is all about professional wrestling, with a focus on its roots - when it was real in all respects.  The book was fascinating - and eye-opening.  But it got my friend interested in some of the current state of professional wrestling. Especially as a number of MMA fighters have started to utilize some of the traditional elements of wrestling in their game.

But that's all beside the point.

The point is this: We've been watching a _ton_ of old PayPerView events. Most of what we watched was from the "Attitude Era" of the WWE.  This was pretty much an "anything goes" era.  A week or two ago, we watched an event in which there was a matchup between Jamie Noble and Billy Gunn in which if Noble won, he would get to sleep with Kidman's valet/manager/friend. A woman who was repulsed by him.

I turned to my friend and said, "Wow.  That just wouldn't fly today."  Because it wouldn't. The WWE moved from the "Attitude Era" into what is being called "The PG Era." In some ways, it's dumbed down a few of the storylines and made some characters less interesting. But in a lot of ways, it's strengthened the product.

But - because this is me, it made me think about games. Because the WWE's transition from one era to the next is - more or less - a new edition of the same thing. The Golden Age of the Eighties became the "New Generation" era of the early nineties, which became the "Attitude Era" of the late nineties into the early oughts. And now we're in the PG era, which is functionally similar to the "New Generation" - only with a handful of innovations (new match types, more high-fliers, etc.)

Through each era, the focus has been the same - athletic showcased presented as a competition with some "behind the scenes" work to create a consistent story for each character. They even managed to transition characters from one edition to the next.

The reinvention was necessary to keep the product form getting stale. "To keep sales up," essentially. When viewership drops, something needs changing.

Each "edition" has borrowed something from one of the other (smaller) competitors out there, too. The "Attitude Era" was, for example, clearly influenced by the old-school ECW product. Which is not surprising, as several of their top names had worked for ECW.

I used to play Dungeons and Dragons, 3rd Edition.  When it first dropped, I enjoyed it.  Mind you, it was clear that a great deal of the system was "borrowed" from Talislanta. But this was not surprising, as Jonathan Tweet was the Lead Designer on both.

As the d20 era continued, however, I was one of those who grew disaffected with it. Around the time 3.5 dropped, I realized that it'd become more-or-less an exercise in optimization rather than what I looked for in a game. They lost the interest of this audience. Pathfinder took that optimization exercise and turned it up to 11. I played it a bit, and really disliked the game.

I am one of the folks who didn't hate 4e. It wasn't 3e. It wasn't a flexible game at all, in fact. The skill system was overhauled and turned into something that was oddly similar to 2e's proficiencies. The gridded combat of 3e remained firmly in place - but if you read 2e, it was there, too.

4e was the first time D&D felt different to me, with its list of specific powers for the various classes. Even the Feats of 3e didn't significantly change the "feel" of the game for me.  But these Healing Surges and Daily Powers and Encounter Powers were all unlike anything I'd seen before. It wasn't a step back for the game - but it wasn't a step forward, either.

And now, here we are, about a month away from the new starter box for 5e. By all accounts, 5e is (in many ways) a callback to the days of 2e. Only with some innovations (high AC values are good, saves continue to be 'roll high').

It's as though Wizards of the Coast has decided it's time for its own PG Era.

I wonder how long before the audience grows bored with this one ...


  1. I still have fond memories of 3rd edition, mostly because we had a great group of players. I went back and forth on 4e. It didn't 'feel right' (and 'feel' is EVERYTHING) , but when we accepted it on it's own terms we could have fun with it.

    If the new game proves to be a true throwback to 2nd edition's style, then I will commit dreadful acts of violence to possess it.

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