Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Whither White Wolf?

I’m working on some Q&A questions for a couple of publishers (a few days late as usual), but while considering publishers, my thoughts went to White Wolf.

Here’s a clear caveat: I am not really a White Wolf fan. Neither am I an ill-wisher, they just don’t make a lot that interests me. For a long time, their games were too angsty, and then they were just dull. Modern/urban horror was never a big draw for me, and much of the “edgy” fiction rounding out each product reminded me of those kids in high school who wore all black and smoked clove cigarettes outside the gym (not that there is anything wrong with any of those activities by themselves or in tandem, but they don’t seem to produce superior verse, if you follow my meaning). Werewolf was ok, but not much else scratched that itch.

Do not get me started on Exalted, which….ok, let’s just not get started on Exalted, yeah?

I’ve read Ryan Dancey’s opinion on it all, and I’ve seen the threads at Big Purple detailing the apparent demise of White Wolf, and if you think about it, it is striking. Of course, White Wolf’s decline is only compared to where they were. This is a company that owned the 90’s. Even if they go Print-On-Demand and pdf only, there are likely still many more active players of White Wolf games than of all the small-press games reviewed here combined.

I think White Wolf is one of those companies that a certain subset of people want to see fail; they never could get past the whole Storyteller “Roleplaying, not ROLLplaying” stuff and the existence of Mark ReinDOTHagen. So if they’re perceived as not as strong as they were, people are going to jump all over that.

Really, what we have this point is less titles being put out and a widespread perception that the company’s market share/player base has dwindled. We aren't insiders, so that's what we have to go on.

Well, a lot of companies aren’t as strong as they were. The 4th Edition of D&D hasn’t seemed to have made the splash of 3e (though, as a side point, the guy at the FLGS last week said the D&D Encounters program is going very strong). Of course, those of us online tend to have a slightly skewed version of the gaming landscape, anyway. (A novice wandering into RPGnet, for example, would think that Exalted was the most popular RPG, far above any other one).

White Wolf is now part of a company making video games. If they can find a reduced publishing model to work with that, great. If not, well, they’re hardly alone on the list of gaming companies that have fallen by the wayside. The impact to me is probably a somewhat decreased likelihood of getting drunk again at Gen Con and stumbling into the middle of a Vampire LARP. The impact to their fans would depend on what sort of production schedule was allotted to White Wolf’s remaining employees.

If nothing else, it would be nice to see more of what a writer/editor like Jess Hartley could do with some of the other games that are out there.

15 comments:

STUFFER SHACK said...

I have played too little of white wolf to have an opinion, though that little experience was not a good one. I have always wanted to try it again in a diffeent group.

-Tourq

Zachary The First said...

@Tourq: Yeah, most of their stuff was just never really my speed. But they definitely created a dedicated fanbase, and for a while challenged D&D. That’s no mean feat.

Mike Schulz said...

The thing about the doom, gloom and demise threads about WOTC, WW or just about any other RPG that annoys me is that any comparison to their 90s or even early 00s output is ludicrous.

PDFs, File Sharing and MMOs have totally changed the RPG landscape. Whether you think the changes have been net positive or negative, they've happened.

And its not just the RPG industry. There are scores of film, television, publishing and music corporations that will never, ever, approach the level of business they were doing 20 years ago; regardless of the quality of their output.

And as someone who works in TV, all I can say is c'est le guerre.

And just to make my comment overly long... On the whole, I find that I like the a lot of White Wolf games better in theory than in practice. Their mechanics just don't tend to really support their proposed style of game play, in my opinion. Then again, hordes of gamers disagree with me.

That said, I'm digging the 30s LA Vampire game I'm currently playing in.

Zachary The First said...

@Mike: I think you’ve hit it pretty well there. The current situation is not like it was in the early or mid-90s. People wanting production along those lines are bound to be disappointed.

Theeo123 said...

I have opinions on White Wolf that are... a bit on the passionate side, try to bear with me.

part of my problem is that the current white-wolf Team, hs Zero, count them Zero of the original members who developed the game. Rein-haggen, Greenburg, many of the big names you saw in the credits of the early works, are not there anymore. the guy, who invented the system, is not there anymore. It reeks of a Gygax/TSR type situation.

mind you this is all my opinion. But the game stopped being what it used to be a long time ago, and the "new" world of darkness, I hate with a passion unlike most.

Now I'm not one of those fanboys "Oh my favorite clan is gone" or "this isn't as cool as it used to be" although in many cases valid points. I have problems with the base mechanics, and rules presented, the overall tone of the game.

The original game was supposed to be about a certain modern Horror, but it wasn't necessarily all this Emo, sitting in a corner moaning & wailing about lost humanity stuff. Sure, that was an option, and if that's what you wanted, more power to you, but there WERE other options, other WAYS for character to deal with his condition. and these other methods, were well supported by the ongoing meta-plot and the rules.

Now... Frankenstein has Babies, and they have to feel really really bad about existing at all.... I'm sorry Promethean, but WTF?

The moderns games/rules, do not give you really the option ,of playing a character that has come to terms with what he is, or god forbid, someone who was happy bout being immortal in the first place. Is this how everyone wants to play? no, of course not, but I'd rather have the choice, than to have a certain outlook and moral rightousness, pounded into my head by force.

The whole company, in general seems to have a different tone. in the beginning ,it was a game, developed by gamers, they had fun, they put joke nicknames for each other in the credits of their books they WERE gamers.

Now, they sue anyone using their name, and they charge, their own players, to use the products they bought. (yes read the Camarila guidelines, you have to pay them if you run a LARP with more than about 5 people)

The whole company now, seems to be more about the business of RPG;s and less bout the games themselves.

Amanda said...

I've played a lot of White Wolf. I played ad&d 2nd edition and Shadowrun pretty much exclusively for my first years as a pen and paper gamer. I think the fantasy adventure and wanton violence was just more fun for me because I was younger. But I don't really remember doing a lot of what I now consider roleplaying some 18 years later. I found internet roleplaying and an mIRC run Vampire the Masquerade game right before I went to college and it was an entirely new gaming experience for me. There was a lot less action and a lot more character interaction and when there was action it was really deadly. I think they are genres that maybe just don't appeal to everybody, but years later I'm still playing many systems, with some iteration of those three games being among them. I was really pleased with the nWoD system itself in particular, which runs much more smoothly and is based off of a slim core rulebook that you can use by itself without ever even bringing in Vampire, Mage or any of the other traditional WW products. I'm actually going to be using that little core book to run a post apocalyptic Fallout style sandbox game pretty soon because it's easy to use.

My biggest issue with White Wolf and all the big rpg companies right now is the sheer volume of product they are putting out. Before the economic troubles I didn't think twice about dropping a hundred bucks on 2 shiny new books but now my family is struggling just to make ends meet. We're not alone, yet companies like White Wold pump out supplement after supplement and I wonder is that really necessary? Is what they're putting out really adding anything to their game or just some extra fluff? A lot of people are I'm sure having to budget what money they have among many different forms of entertainment; movies, books, video games, dvds, etc.

Now, I'm more interested in buying games that you don't need a huge pile of books to run. A good example of one game we're playing the hell out of right now that doesn't have a million books is White Wolf's Scion. They only ever made 4 books and one of them we probably could have done without but we had the cash and bought anyway. The 3 books, Hero, Demigod and God are all you need and they never made any more and don't seem to be planning to in the future. It's a great game, self contained, fun as heck and we played the game for 6 months before we even bought the other books because we didn't need them until then.

Zachary The First said...

@Theeo: Thank you for your comments. It doesn’t sound like a fun time for a long-time fan.

I profess that WW is not one of my areas of expertise, but definitely somewhere along the way, the angst and the pity party seemed to take over the perception of the game. I can’t tell you when it was.

BlUsKrEEm said...

I am one of the angry fans that was really put off by the years of silence from White Wolf. I used to buy a White Wolf book every month, but then releases started getting pushed back months I started buying more OSR material. When books started getting pushed back a year or more I pretty much gave up. I'll still pick up any Requiem or Forsaken material they releases, but where the hell is my "Signs of the Moon"?

White Wolf used to be one of the more open RPG companies out there, but not anymore. This PoD / PDF initiative caught me totally off guard. My experience with the OSR doesn't put me off of the concept, but it would have been nice if the PoD infrastructure was in place before they abandoned traditional print.

Oh yeah and if anyone tries and argue the more time on a product = better quality, I'll remind you of the criminally long errata for Geist.

I really thought Changeling the Lost might mark a turn around for the company, but it feels like they have taken a a nose dive since the line ended.

Zachary The First said...

@Amanda: I like RPGs with “optional” supplements. You shouldn’t feel a RPG is incomplete without this supplement or that. Thanks for the comment!

WalkerP said...

Annoying grammar pedant time:

Zach, 'Really, what we have this point is less titles being put out' should be fewer titles.

Mike Schulz, c'est la guerre, pas le guerre.

Okay, my apologies. I can't help myself. On to the topic at hand. I think as others have suggested that times have simply changed. The hobby is evolving into a new form, both in terms of demographics and technology. The culture has changed. Goth is dying out (I'd say that today Anime is kind of the new Goth in that it is the thing to do for lots of non-mainstream youths). And finally the original people behind White Wolf have moved on or out.

I played in a one-shot of Werewolf and it was really a blast. No angst, just our little group trying to defend our territory in the city. We had some awesome butt-kicking moments. I like the mechanic that lets you get seriously badass when you turn into a werewolf.

Mike Schulz said...

Conceptually, I really support the step the NWOD took away from the overly convoluted meta-game madness of the mid to late 90s.

That said, I don't think it has really succeeded in balancing a tight focus with a true tool-kit approach (much in the same way that I think 3rd Edition D&D designers failed to balance its roots with their urge to make it GURPS).

For instance: I really dig V:TR. But I think the way character creation is still hard-wired into clans, and the way clans work, undermines the tool-kit approach of the game. If a GM wants to disconnect bloodlines from clans, so that a pretty Ventrue to be able to sire a nasty Nosferatu, they need to do some kit-bashing, whereas a real tool-kit game would support options like this out of the gate.

Moreover, it still assumes that all GMs will want to maintain the masquerade and a whack of other holdovers from the OWOD days.

The end result is that V:TR is great at making vampire games that are sorta like V:TM games, but it doesn't really support other approaches to the genre.

And given the popularity of True Blood, Twilight, et al, I think this is a real failing on the part of the NWOD.

Mike Schulz said...

@Walker

In my heart, I knew that war was feminine. I feel great shame because of your bilingual pendantry...

Zachary The First said...

@walkerp: Oh dear. Grammar: The Correcting. ;)
Werewolf was a pretty decent time when I played, as well.

Thanks to all for the comments!

Norman Harman said...

Having been a huge EVE fan I've read much of what they have said regarding purchase of WW. Here's what they've said on purchase and what they've want from WW.

1. Eve fiction both in game, on site, and print novels was picking up in big way. They saw WW as a pool of experienced writers to expand that.

2. They also hoped WW designers would help them craft more(Eve's growing faster than it can hire creatives), and more compelling missions (aka adventures) and dialog for Eve.

3. They very, very strongly hinted at a MMORPG based on WW property. WW have mentioned "secret project" since.

4. Gaining an "office" in USA was small part of it too.


I'm fairly certain any "decline" has been intentional as the parent company has retasked WW employees onto projects it deems more profitable than churning out more angsty game supplements dead tree or otherwise.

Amanda said...

Maybe it's because my Storyteller is really awesome, but our Vampire games have never been really goth-y. They've all been focused on themes like horror and politics. There's not a whole hell of a lot of room for angst when you're a small fish in a tank full of sharks. But I think that any game system gets labeled depending on the experiences of the people who play it. For instance, if you only ever played d&d and it was only ever a hack and slash kill things and take their stuff game, that's what you would think it's about. Where another group might run a d&d game in which dice hardly ever get rolled, there's a lot of roleplay and combat is rare and there's a sweeping epic storyline.

I do kind of agree that it's still very much tied to a class like system. All of the branches of the White Wolf tree are except the very bare bones core book. I've come to the conclusion that I in general want to play games without classes/clans/schools/tribes etc whatever at all. I'd rather come up with a character concept or idea that doesn't require being pigeon holed into some kind of labeled template.