Geek Culture

Fixing Dungeons & Dragons – The McPizza Fail

McDonalds changed the way we eat hamburgers. In the late 80′ they expanded their menu to include pizza. Special ovens were installed at a cost of 50 grand a piece. (1) Burger flippers were trained as pizza chefs. And marketing teams prepared to roll out the McPizza.

Epic fail.

McDonalds is a burger joint. It has always been a burger joint. When we see the golden arches we think “burger and fries”. Nobody was interested in eating sub-par Italian food. (That’s what Little Ceasers is for!).

McDonalds rolled back the changes and tried to forget the McPizza debacle. The monetary loss was tremendous. But, the damage to their brand was almost as bad. Why am I telling you this story? Because 4th Edition D&D is Wizards of the Coast’s McPizza.

A Gamer Scorn

For years, players formed an expectation about D&D. The release of 4th edition created a schisim in the player base. Why did all the gnomes suddenly disappear? (2) Aren’t thieves supposed to suck? It’s not the game geeks grew to love. The D&D brand has been damaged.

The mistake with 4th edition D&D was not in publishing it. Many loved the changes and accepted it with open arms (and open wallets). It is a great game and I’m glad it exists. The mistake was calling it D&D.

The Missed Opportunity

Suppose they published 4th edition as a completely different game – while at the same time they continued to support 3rd edition.

  • The D&D brand would remain intact: beloved by geeks everywhere.
  • WotC would have two great product lines for them to promote and sell. Instead they abandoned all revenue related to 3rd edition. (And basically wrote a phat check to Paizo.)
  • 3rd edition players would not feel ripped off. Instead they would be given alternatives.


Publish 5th edition! (let the nerd rage begin!)

Just kidding. Actually, I would love WotC to reprint the 3rd edition core rule books and publish some amazing modules. 4th edition should continue to develop – at a much slower pace. Stop ramming ten 4th Ed books per year down our throats. Instead publish five different products for each edition. It would seem less overwhelming split across two different product lines. (Note: I’m not suggesting they print the same product for both edition.)

If McDonalds truly wanted to serve pizza, they should have launched a new restaurant. The name McDonalds should never have been associated. They would have maintained the integrity of their brand and grown their business.  The same holds true for the D&D brand.

The brand can be repaired. Amazing content is key. Slowly rebuild player loyalty one product at a time. Find a way for both editions to co-exist. Monte Cook has rejoined the D&D development team. (3)  I’m looking forward to the creativity he adds to the mix.  Maybe he is working on the next great 3rd edition campaign setting.  OK.  That’s a long shot.  But, it would be interesting news.

2) Gnomes made their comeback in the Players Handbook 2.

Geek Culture

The Bella Sara Mindset

I stumbled upon a post by Dr. Nerdlove titled Nerds and the Male Privilege.  In his article the good doctor explains what we already know.  Geek culture treats women as sex symbols.  It’s easy to recognize.  Heroine s’ bosom must always double as a floatation device in the event of water landing.   Costumes are always held in place by sheer will power.  Standard issue for most products marketed in geek movies and hobbies.

For a moment let’s move past the sex symbol side of the disparity.  We all know it’s there.  I want to focus more on the social side of geek culture.  As a game store owner I want all people to feel welcome.  Are you gay?  So what.  Racial or religious minority?  Don’t care.  Gaming as a way to bridge gaps.

What does this have to do with female gamers? Game and comic shops are key to bringing new players into the games we love.  They are the gateways to geek culture.  The attitude of many store owners dictates that some games are geared towards boys and others are meant for girls.   Last year I attended a marketing seminar for fellow store owners.  Someone asked how to attract more female customers into their stores.  Several owners yelled out “Bella Sara!”

Really?  Bella Frickin’ Sara?  That’s the best the gaming industry has to offer little girls?  Magical Horses, Pegasus and Unicorns.  No wonder it’s difficult to keep girls interested in gaming.  “The Bella Sara Mindset” has a negative effect.  Girls are segmented from the boys in the games they are encouraged to play.  Separate is not equal.  If you push girls into crappy games.  They won’t play.

Here is a novel idea: Teach girls to play Magic, Pokemon and Catan.  They’ll love it.  Just like the boys.  Two things will happen:

  1. Girls will become women that love gaming.
  2. Boys will become men more inclusive to women in geek culture.

It would be amazing if there was a switch to transform geek culture into a more geek-girl friendly environment.  It simply doesn’t exist.  But, we can make an effort to actively include girls and women in and not pigeonhole them into games that are “designed” for girls.