Friday, January 20, 2012

The 1e Re-release is a Census

News that the 5th edition is in the pipe has arrived. On its heels is the news that Wizards of the Coast is releasing 1e with original interior art and new covers in a special direct to game store printing with a charitable donation to the EGG memorial fund for each copy bought.

There can be no doubt that this is absolutely directed at the OSR. Here are the reasons why:

1. There is a huge connection between the OSR and the GGMF. A quick surf around the OSR blogs will show that the GGMF is the generally the favored charity of the OSR. This can be seen in the 2011 GenCon announcement for the GGMF:
The Gygax Memorial Fund will be hanging out at the Old School Renaissance Group, booth 1541 in the exhibit hall. Gail Gygax, Gary's widow, will be there, and she will also be presenting the 2011 ENnie Awards on Friday night.

2. The sale of these things is being listed as a hobby channel exclusive.
Given this I am led to think they are tracking these sales with care. Number sold will not be simply the number sold into distribution, but the number sold to each game store.

3. Given that there is a donation attached to the sale it behooves Wizards to track sales more carefully.

4. The audience are people who would buy a 1e book. This indicates that it is someone who probably is not into the latest iteration of the game or at least would enjoy an older version of it.

5. The audience are people that actually keep up with what Wizards does, but still don't keep up with the current iteration of the game or at least enjoy an older version of it.

6. The audience is made up of people who want to patronize games stores.

I would wager this fits 90% of the OSR population.

For a long time we have had the ear of The Mearls, and at least the attention of Monte Cook. However we have not had the attention of sales and marketing. I think that this is an attempt to measure the probable size of the OSR. Its a census. The designers and developers will respect us because (generally) the OSR is kinda fun. But sales and marketing are only going to respect hard numbers that without a doubt translate to sales. The nature of this release is one that can be written off as a charity if it turns out that we are 1000 dudes with really loud keyboards. But if sales indicate that this segment is in the 10s of thousands, Wizards is going to rethink some things, I guarantee it.

I think we might be a whole lot bigger than we think we are, both in voice and in number.


Brendan said...

Very astute observation.

anarchist said...


Apologies for the off-topic comment, but I couldn't find a contact email for you.

I've recently put out an ebook of my writing, called The New Death and others. It's mostly short stories, with some obvious gamer-interest material. For example I have a story inspired by OD&D elves, as well as poems which retell Robert E Howard's King Kull story The Mirrors of Tuzun Thune and HP Lovecraft's Under the Pyramids.

I was wondering if you'd be interested in doing a review on your blog (either a normal book review, or a review of its suitability as gaming inspiration).

If so, please let me know your email, and what file format is easiest for you, and I'll send you a free copy. You can email me ( or reply to this thread.

You can download a sample from Smashwords:

I'll also link to your review from my blog.


akfu23 said...

Excellent reasoning, hadn't occurred to me but in hindsight it's quite obvious. I would say you're probably spot on...

trollsmyth said...

I doubt we've got 10+ k amongst us (but I won't be disappointed to learn that we do). But yeah, this is at the very least a census, and possibly bait. Could be both. If it's bait, I'm really curious to see what the hook looks like.

Del Johnston said...

I can't believe the proposed memorial would just be located on the streets of Lake Geneva, instead of behind a series of deadly traps, bottomless pits and 2d20 female or immature Kobolds.

As Gary would have wanted.

Rich Franks said...

Well, there are two possibilities:

1) The so-called OSR is much bigger in terms of numbers, and therefore buying power, than we/they know.

2) The number of 4e players and sales is much smaller that WotC would probably cop to.

I made a crack on G+ the other day about this. I referred to old-school guys like me as the expanding foam crack filler of the D&D market, meaning that WotC hopes we can at least plug the hole left by upset 4e defectors.

One number I'll toss out: 57,912.

That's the number of downloads of OSRIC, the AD&D 1e (and original) retroclone. Mind you, this is just at the official download site. That doesn't count the torrents and downloads form Lulu. Even if 1/5 of that are actual unique downloads, we're still talking over 10K.

How does that translate to sales? Who knows.....

Del Johnston said...

I do want to point out the error that almost every highly technical field makes (like LINUX users and hardcore PS3/360 gamers) that their experiences and needs are typical. While you see 10,000 strong OSRIC users coming together online, realize that you all are a very vocal, very active, very involved community.

There are tens of thousands of kids, groups of middle-schoolers, getting together and having dreadful fun with 4e in Mom's dining room. But they don't post on OSR-themed blogs because they aren't advanced, involved gamers channeling an ancient code. They're casual. And they buy a LOT more books, on the aggregate (ie PHB1 showing up on the NYT bestseller list for nonfiction on release)

trollsmyth said...

Del Johnston: Yep, what really matters, at the end of the day, is people willing to slap down cash for product.

The number of people playing an Old School game? Probably six figures, all around the world.

The number of product any particular Old School product can expect to sell? Less than 1k.

What makes this interesting is that these are books that have been out of print for decades. My PHB is holding up great, but I've had to replace my DMG and I'm considering buying a new PHB as a "stunt copy" so my original can enjoy a well-deserved retirement. But I'm already one of the buying OSR crowd, with a copy of Vornheim and The Dungeon Alphabet and a few issues of Fight On! on my bookshelf. Will people who don't buy bother? Will the tens (hundreds?) of thousands not plugged into the OSR's network even know this happening?

Philo Pharynx said...

The OSR has some decent numbers. They have the enthusiasm. But the question is - how much do they spend? A lot of OSR followers are still using books they purchased decades ago. Others use free or cheap retroclones. In several discussions I've seen people that are asking for WotC to release the entire TSR backcatalog on PDF for free. Many OSR bloggers don't like the steady stream of books that most modern games rely on. All of this in anecdotal, but it it implies that the OSR market is a relatively frugal slice of the gaming marketplace. This book will quantify this.

From what's been released so far, 5e will be modular and support old-school as well as new-school play. Which means that the OSR will only use a portion of the 5e rules. I can see several ways to format the books to accomodate this. If the OSR is a big enough market, I can see there being a basic rulebook that only covers the simplest layers of D&D. I don't think that will be the default, because it's not convenient for people using more than the basic layers.