Thursday, August 11, 2005

Watching another "Big Boy" fall.

A commonly occuring theme on this blog is the ever shrinking comic book market, but while that market is indeed shrinking it seems to have redefined its role as a loss-leader for movies. As a loss-leader, I imagine that comic books will be able to subsist at current levels for some time. The same cannot be said of the Roleplaying/Collectible Card Game market.

Roleplaying Games (RPGs) and Collectible Card Games (CCGs) are both media which can tie themselves to any given intellectual property, but with rare exception RPGs/CCGs are not the "origin" of the intellectual property. For example, the Dungeons and Dragons RPG is the oldest and most successful Roleplaying Game ever made. Yet, when New Line Cinema, and Joel Silver, decided to make a D&D movie it was a huge disappointment. Why? Frankly because D&D is a product made to "simulate" a type of intellectual property that pre-existed the game, chiefly "heroic fantasy" and "epic fantasy." Pick a fantasy story, from Tolkein to Jordan, and I can use that as the basis for a great D&D campaign (or series of games). But to take a "genre simulator" and try to make a film based on it is a daunting task, in fact I would argue it is too general to be successful. A much better idea would have been to base a movie on a narrative created for the D&D game, like Dragonlance or the Assault on the Slavers modules (Slave Pits of the Undercity, Secrets of the Slavers Stockade, Assault on the Aerie of the Slave Lords, and In the Dungeons of the Slave Lords), or one could have based the movie on one of an abundance of novels.

In a brief restatement, RPGs and CCGs are dependant on other media for inspiration/market appeal because they are simulations of that media. A great example of this phenomenon are the recent troubles at Decipher. Decipher makes RPGs and CCGs based on a number of intellectual properties. Chiefly their games are (and have been) based on The Lord of the Rings, Star Trek, and Star Wars. Three huge intellectual properties with large fan bases, fan bases with a great deal of crossover appeal into the RPG/CCG world. For some time this lead to great success, but as this article points out that success may be short lived.

In the case of RPGs, as opposed to comic books, the alternate intellectual property is the market lead in. As interest in the Lord of the Rings movies tapers, so tapers interest in products related to it. This is essentially what has happened to Decipher, who went from good sized company to a company on the verge of collapse. The rapid growth/retraction of products based on specific IPs is a danger that Decipher didn't seem to properly take into account, and now they will probably cease to exist.

Dungeons and Dragons, on the other hand, simulates a genre and its fans will keep buying the game and other products from the genre even if the D&D movie was among the worst films ever made. Surprisingly, a sequel to the D&D film awaits. Tragically, like with Deuce Bigelow, some unseen cosmic force will pull me into the theater. Even though I know only doom awaits.

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