The Alphastream Game Design Blog
Wizards of the Coast has invited a few people to attend a “Content Creator Summit.” What might this mean for the community, for Wizards, and for One D&D?
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In late 2011 I was one of several folks invited to the WotC offices to discuss organized play. While there we were told surprising news: they were hard at work on the fifth edition of the game! We were under NDA, as is typical, so we all kept this quiet for several weeks until we were allowed to share that we had been there, but our NDA prevented us from sharing many details.
The event involved several outings, including a trip to a game store and a trip to the Seattle needle. We had meals together. We playtested, with all of us in one room at three tables with designers like Bruce Cordell running the game for us.
Who attended? Bloggers, convention and store organizers, and folks who had established a reputation for building community. Many attendees overlapped categories. They might run a major gaming store, but also organize play for many tables each week. They might run a blog, but also be involved as writers and game designers. These were smart attendees who understood the history of the game, beyond the current edition. (It’s worth noting that WotC had a separate meeting with members of the gaming press to also share goals, solicit feedback, and prepare press releases.)
We did talk about organized play. We reviewed the early concepts for the Adventurers League, and had a good round-table discussion where we provided feedback on the program. I took extensive notes (all under NDA, sorry) and provided feedback both on site and after the event.
We also had presentations by Wizards where they walked through their reasons for a new edition and what they hoped to accomplish. The staff making these presentations sounded really prepared, really passionate.
Was it a success? I think so. We provided a lot of feedback, and we saw tweaks based on that feedback. The event also left a strong positive impression on us. Here is what I wrote on my blog when I could finally talk about the event: “I can share that when WotC says the goals are to create an edition that speaks to the soul of D&D and that takes the best from every edition, that is absolutely the goal I saw in play.”
In preparation for One D&D, Wizards is again inviting a small group to visit its offices on April 3rd. Perhaps due to the leaks around the OGL fiasco, Wizards is allowing the invited to talk about what takes place. I am one of the folks invited, and I am thankful for that invitation. As in 2011, I take the opportunity to provide direct feedback to WotC very seriously. It’s a responsibility that weighs on me, and I will try to do the best I can for the game of D&D and the larger hobby.
As those invited shared the news, it naturally stirred up strong emotions in those not invited. Why are some chosen and not others? What is the definition of a content creator? How is one person noticed and another one not?
I don’t have certain answers to this, but I can take some guesses based on the previous event and other occasions where WotC has asked for feedback.
There are many types of content. For many RPG creators, “content” has a negative connotation as a term that cheapens the high expenditure of time and effort made by writers, editors, layout experts, and artists to create print and digital RPG products.
Content is also used to discuss podcasts and videos – including livestreams such as actual play of RPGs. These can involve very different skills, and also require tremendous effort ranging from audio-visual technical experience to scripting and editing to create compelling work.
It’s hard to say if WotC has a particular definition in mind. But it is likely that WotC wants to make the most of limited time. They want feedback, but just as critical is to have a chance to win over folks who have a large reach and to whom others look for guidance. Blogging is still important these days (you are reading this, right?), but podcasts and YouTube are now widely recognized as critical to that effort. Many fantastic community members may have extensive industry knowledge but limited reach. Or great reach, but by stirring up anger for clicks. Or maybe they really wanted to invite you, but really needed to fill a slot with different strengths.
The process of choosing people is likely imperfect. There is limited time and limited knowledge. In busy companies, it is often better to run an event decently well than to spend a lot more effort to do so flawlessly.
If you were left out, I’m sorry. I’ve been there. As I wrote here, there isn’t a creator I know that doesn’t at some point feel left out. To be effective, events like this can only have a few people participate in meetings, out of many scores of possible attendees.
This event may have been scheduled without the OGL fiasco, but the fiasco clearly makes it more urgent and important. The stakes are high when creators who usually help DMs run 5E well are now stating they won’t be talking about 5E or One D&D due to the OGL. There is work to be done, and WotC knows it.
WotC has been listening, and one of the messages they have finally heard is that they are seen as distant from the larger community. Both 4E and D&D Next involved playtests at conventions, with WotC staff running events and playing at tables with everyday gamers. The last few years tended to have staff up on podiums, not down on the ground (with a few exceptions).
In the letter to creators, WotC promises more chances to see Wizards staff at events and more ways to provide feedback. There is a D&D Creator Relations Team charged with improving this, and the Summit is one of the first steps they are taking.
It’s a great idea. Sure, this is WotC trying to win us over. And they should! This really should have happened months ago. And it should also happen months from now. It’s absolutely fair and smart for Wizards to hold events like these. Attendees will be critical to provide critique, as we were in 2011, but also have a chance to hear and consider what Wizards shares. Such conversations and events are good for the hobby.
I hope that WotC staff will once again be seen at tables at conventions, playtesting new content, hanging out afterwards, and reminding us that the Design Team is made up of real people who love the game just as we do.
The summit will allow attendees to see the upcoming D&D VTT and the D&D Rules Update (unclear whether we might see more than is in the current playtests). Members of the Studio and Content teams will meet with attendees.
Any information provided can be shared by attendees. I would actually prefer this not be the case. I’m a fan of NDAs. NDAs would allow WotC to share more information and have more frank conversations. Because of the earlier leaks, they are smart to treat this as open… but it means anything they say has to be public-facing and therefore limited in scope.
I also worry that allowing for open information creates even more FOMO. Our hobby could use fewer videos like “You Won’t Believe What I Heard at the Creator’s Summit.” Yes, those are great ways to juice algorithms. But juicing algorithms isn’t what helps One D&D become a great game.
One of the strengths of the 2011 event was that Wizards invited people who genuinely wanted D&D to be awesome. The feedback they gave under NDA was great feedback. I hope this summit can provide the right balance of critique and praise, from folks who can clearly see both (ideally with an understanding of the hobby’s history).
There may be some fun surprises at the event. One I can share from 2011 was later shared publicly by Wizards, so I can talk about it. The Wizards team had commissioned art capturing what all the species look like, all the diverse people’s from the Forgotten Realms, and many iconic monsters. That art hung on hallways and cubicles, inspiring the staff. It was really cool to see. And it reinforced the care and passion with which staff approached their work.
D&D Next went through some rough patches. While the passion and goals were always clear, there were times when the rules did not work well. It took many iterations of playtesting to get it right. The design team was great at communicating progress and discussing their approach. They clearly listened to feedback.
One D&D has had a rocky start, even before the OGL fiasco. It hasn’t had a clear message or goals. Until recently, it hasn’t shown that it is listening or asking the right questions. The Creator Summit is hopefully the start of a much better process that will allow many more community members to speak and be heard.