Dungeons and Dragons, Henry’s horse and Wendy’s fruit

5th Edition Dungeons and Dragons has decided to borrow another idea from the software community. After the debatable success of using open-source principles. Wizards of the Coast has decided to turn to the community for suggestions: it’s crowd-sourcing. This is great, right? This will provide the gaming community with a better game, right? Well, hopefully the question marks have tipped you off that I’m going to say no. So, no. This is where Henry’s horse and Wendy’s fruit come in. Bear with me, I will explain those very soon, but first some caveats.

Caveat time

The first caveat is that I work for Nightfall Games and am ex-Wizards of the Coast. The second is that I know Henry Ford probably never said the quote I attribute to him. The third is that I know it’s not really crowd-sourcing; it’s market research. Crowd sourcing is about using a crowd as a data processor, not an idea generator. Finally, while this article purports to be about D&D, it’s a much broader stroke than that and is really about having confidence in your talent and not playing it safe, in any field.

Wendy’s Fruit

Hidden in this 2006 article about big burgers was a wonderful quote from Wendy’s about their market research:

Wendy’s experienced the discrepancy between what people say and what they do last year when the chain put a fresh fruit bowl on the menu. Despite a $20 million marketing push, the fruit did not sell. “We listened to consumers who said they want to eat fresh fruit, but apparently they lied,” said Denny Lynch, a spokesman for Wendy’s. “On paper it sounded great, but it didn’t work.”

Your customers will lie to you if you ask them what they really want. This is due, in part, to the observer-expectancy effect and other such stuff. It’s a cognitive bias thing, basically, but if you’re asked what you want, you will usually answer with what you think an ideal version of you would want as opposed to what you really want. You want fruit options instead of fried potato produce right up to the point they get to the counter and order the Double Fat-Bastard with fries.

Henry’s Horse

It may be true that Henry Ford never actually uttered the following quote, but it certainly fitted in with his philosophy.

If I’d asked customers what they wanted, they would have said “a faster horse”.

This is how Steve Jobs ran Apple. How did that work out?

Conclusion

Your audience will lie to you. Your audience doesn’t know what they want. Your audience will feel a sense of self-entitlement if you give them what they ask for instead of something better than their wildest dreams. If you think you need your audience for ideas, it’s even worse because, and this may surprise a lot of you, good ideas are easy. Good ideas are cheap. I bet you have good ideas every day and know someone who has a great idea for a new movie, game or book. Good ideas are ten a penny, but execution is the key. You can turn to your audience and ask them for all the perspective in the world and what you’ll get is more perspective, and that’s not a good thing.

It’s too easy to get caught up listening to the people that want to share their opinion, but if you do that, you’ll just know what the sort of people who want to share their opinion think; You’ll get a skewed view. My advice is to nut up or shut up. Stick with what you know, in D&D’s case, it’s hit points, character classes, levels, etc., and they’d best serve their audience by giving them a system they know and adding something I’ve obviously not thought of that makes it magical. They can do that, right?

“A person is smart. People are dumb, panicky dangerous animals and you know it.” – Kay (Tommy Lee Jones), Men In Black

Comments welcome. I’m not a comments off blog.

Jared Earle is a writer, photographer and systems administrator. You can find him on Twitter most of the time.

Posted in geek
  • Lbutlr

    This is the mistake that Blizzard is making with WoW. Never ask your customers what they want, tell them.

  • Yep, I agree. I think this is more of a PR though, the rules etc already being much in place. Much like the Pathfinder Playtest the rules are already set down. The only place in which people might have an impact (Hasbro willing) is in licensing etc.

    The hint is that it’s going to be more modular, a toolkit game where you can include or exclude elements is a good idea, but harder to write modules for (not that they’re a big seller anyway).

  • How about … for every idea you get from the mushroom-crowd-source, you pay the guy who said it a royalty.

    Or, you know, have your own ideas, you lazy bastards.

  • Colin Speirs

    You see that in Film/TVmedia, listen to the fans you get the extremists and alienate most of your customers.

    Ubuntu was successful by having a guiding hand. Feedback came back at testing but the bloke with the money made the rules. Don’t like it? Fork, which is what happened to D&D originally.

    I’m the wrong target, but if it were up to me I’d strip it back to basics, made sure the system works together, and make a game people can have fun with. Let them mod it afterwards, don’t try and made it all things to all nerds out of te box

  • Neil

    Yes. I predict that “Moar Ways To Customise Yore Character” will be a popular request, which will be interpreted as “More Power-Up Add-On Rules”.

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