December 2nd, 2003


The Gaming Industry and the Tragedy of the Commons

Many people, around the Internet and elsewhere, talk about the "d20 glut" and, more generally, the "supplement treadmill" -- what others have referred to as the "frontlist" problem, which was exascerbated by the CCG boom and didn't disappear despite the CCG bust.

I'm starting to wonder if this isn't a version of the tragedy of the commons. That is, in this situation, the "commons" is your Friendly Local Gaming Store (FLGS). Many in the industry are engaged in pumping out supplement after supplement, diluting the market -- and making it impossible to make a profit unless you do the same, thereby making the situation worse. Direct sales, advocated by some, only fixes the problem somewhat, because you lack the traditional FLGS ability to expose people to new stuff -- the only people who buy through direct sales are ones that already know they'll like the product, and then only to the extent that marketing can inform those people that the game exists.

The problem is, the original solution proposed for the tragedy is to "abandon the commons" -- that is, regulate. But I'm not sure that's even possible in this situation, even if you agree that's how to stop the tragedy...