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Edition Wars and Microlite74

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I've just been asked a question that at first seemed silly to me, but after further reflection seems to deserve a public answer. The question was "Since Microlite74 3.0 is the current edition, why are earlier editions (back to 1.0!) still available for download?"

The answer is simple, with the exception of Microlite74 1.0, there is nothing wrong with the earlier versions. They are all playable and they all work (well, except for 1.0 after third or fourth level) as a version of 0e with some modern rules features. They are still available because some players/GMs prefer one of the earlier versions or started playing with version 1.1 or version 2.0 and see no reason to go to all the trouble to change rules in the middle of a long running campaign. I don't see any reason to make life hard for people who prefer an earlier edition of Microlite74 just because I produced a newer edition that I believe is better -- at least for some values of "better". A number of people like to use Microlite74 1.1 for convention and open club games because the rules are very short: 2 pages of rules, 1.5 pages of spells, a bit over a page of monsters, and a page or so of notes on old school games and the copy of the OGL. Perhaps the rules aren't as polished or complete as the second or third edition rules are, but they still work.

Many people see editions of tabletop RPGs as some type of evolution where each later edition is obviously better than the previous version -- so much better that it should drive all the previous versions away. Unfortunately, that makes no sense. Games do not evolve -- random changes aren't made and the best of those random changes (as determined by use in actual play) don't become the next edition. Games are designed by a person or group of persons to at least try to meet the designer's goals for the game. Each edition of a tabletop RPG is just the current designer's current thoughts on how the game should work -- and that's not something that every player or potential player is going to agree is objectively better than what came before. Why should they? No set of rules is objectively better as what is better or worse in a tabletop game is a subjective judgement -- just like what flavor of ice cream is best or what color is going to look best on the walls of a room.

Therefore, I see no reason to try to force people to play the latest version of my games by removing the previous versions form the download area. What version of Microlite74 someone uses really does not matter to me. Even if I were selling them, it would not matter to me. It does not cost me anything to keep the old versions available in PDF (or even POD) form, so whether someone gives me X dollars for edition A or edition B would not really affect the bottom line. However, removing earlier editions could affect the bottom line as people who like them but do not like the current edition would not be spending any money with my games at all.

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Andreas Davour said...
January 31, 2014 at 1:53 PM  

If I could do just one thing about how the rpg hobby/business is run today, that is to remove the computer software habit of numbered editions with fractions. It makes that "newer is better" thinking so natural. I hate it.

Randall said...
January 31, 2014 at 3:45 PM  

Andreas: I guess I'm guilty of that, but I've been doing it since the late 1970s -- long before it became popular for computer software or even movies. I honestly can't think of another good way to do it. I certainty would not want to have rename the game for every edition. Not only would that be confusing, but I suspect people would hate the names I came up with. At least going by my experience with NPC names. :)

Andreas Davour said...
January 31, 2014 at 4:21 PM  

Nah, I don't blame you, nor do I think it's possible to go back now. I do think it has helped underline the "newer is better" meme, though.

DerKastellan said...
February 1, 2014 at 12:14 PM  

Well, one could say MicroLite 74 (2014 edition), but would that be helpful to the people trying to pick one? I think it would have the same feel than a 1.x, 2.x numbering scheme.

Anonymous said...
February 13, 2014 at 8:20 PM  

Chaosium found this out when they tried to rewrite Stormbringer, had a revolt, and rereleased the 1st edition again. The reason was pretty simple: Stormbringer was the 1970s version of Elric, and Elric was Moorcock's modern Elric, which had been rewritten to fit ideas he'd hash overt the 40 years since. As these are quite different visions of the setting and character there was no way to please everyone, and the best option was to make both available.
The analogy breaks down, since Chaosium no longer had the rights to Elric at all, but the point that editions are variations and not improvements! Very few games gain unilateraladoption of the new edition, Mongoose RuneQuest second edition being the only example I can think of, and that's because the first edition was basically unplayable.

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