Hey everyone! Apologies all round for missing this update last month - there was a lot on and I was a little too stretched to cover it all properly. That's still the case, alas, so here are the major headlines from the last couple of months!
Gen Con 2014
Gen Con bills itself as "The Best 4 Days in Gaming", and speaking from personal experience I can attest that it's not a far-fetched claim. Of particular interest to us in library land is that we actually get the best five days in gaming: for the last few years, Gen Con has featured a trade day on the Wednesday before it starts (it normally runs Thursday to Sunday), with streams for retailers, teachers - and librarians. Having attended in 2011 with my partner (a primary teacher) we can vouch for two out of the three! It is an excellent professional development and networking opportunity. Plus you get early entry into the dealers' hall on the following day... and given that Gen Con is the biggest tabletop gaming convention in the US (not the world - that honour goes to Essen Spiel - but with over 55,000 unique attendees, it's pretty big), that's kinda like getting early entry into BookExpo America... if it were twice the size.
Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition
Of particular interest at this year's Gen Con was the official release of the 5th Edition of Dungeons & Dragons. Honed in a massive public playtest over the last couple of years, the new edition is - to my eye, and based on a preliminary skim rather than a deep engagement with the rules - a solid distillation of the core elements of the game as it's manifested over the past 40 years and 4 editions (though fans of each previous edition will not find the more outlying features from that edition; it's very much about finding the unifying thread rather than the best individual elements), with a few nice modern design touches thrown in. It's still basically a swords-and-sorcery adventure generator, of course!
Readers with keen memories may recall the discussion of the licensing shifts around previous editions of D&D in the Paizo sponsor profile. It's not yet entirely clear how the third-party licensing will work for this edition, though the fact that this license isn't yet available is already a departure of sorts from both 3rd and 4th editions (as is the fact that only the Player's Handbook has been released - the other two "Core Rulebooks", the Dungeon Master's Guide and the Monster Manual, come out later this year). However, they have already taken a novel step with the release of a freely reproducible "Basic Rules" document which contains enough rules material to start playing with typical builds of the four best-known classes in the game - fighter, rogue, cleric and wizard. While the material in this PDF is more generic and has fewer customisation options than experienced tabletop roleplayers would like, as an introduction to the basics of the game it works perfectly well. And its price point makes it viable for any library looking for an interesting activity... or, given the potentially endless stories the game enables, an ongoing series of activities.
I'm looking forward to seeing how this edition of the game (and the license for others to contribute to the ruleset) develops!
The ENnie Awards
ENworld.org is... hard to describe, actually. It's the kind of sprawling undertaking - part community forum, part semi-official news site and gossip mill, part collective archive - that seems to spring up disproportionately often among gamer circles; the combination of tech-headedness and a proclivity towards user-creation seems to provide particularly fertile terrain for their growth. Since originally starting back in 1999 as an unofficial clearinghouse for news about 3rd edition D&D, it's gone on to become all the above and more: most noticeably a publisher in its own right (with several substantial publications, both in print and electronic, under its belt now), and - from quite early on, starting online in 2001 and hosting at Gen Con since 2002 - the host of the premier awards in the English-speaking tabletop roleplaying game world, the ENnies.
In the table of nominees below (which was lifted from enworld.org's announcement of nominees), the Silver Award recipient is bolded and the Gold Award recipient is bolded in red - yellow being too hard to read!
PAX Prime and (vs.?) DragonCon
The other biggest gaming convention in the USA - this time focused on videogaming, though in reality both conventions feature plenty of overlap with each other's focus - PAX Prime took over from E3 when that convention made the fatal decision to shift from being open to a general audience towards a more industry-insider event. This year it also expanded to four days, Friday 29 August - Monday 1 September, making it one of the major contestants for Gen Con's "Best 4 days" title - and also placing it 100% in competition with (fellow contestant for best 4 days) general-geek-culture convention DragonCon, which ran on the exact same dates.
(Crowdfunded MMO-in-beta Shroud of the Avatar - Ultima creator Richard Garriott's latest project - cunningly played up this rivalry by running a PvP test pitting players from the two conventions against each other. Despite being the smaller and nominally less game-focused convention, DragonCon won convincingly, 34 to 14.)
More news to cover, and all three conventions have received plenty of other coverage, so we'll move on.
Microsoft buys Mojang (makers of Minecraft) for $2.5 billion. Yes, with a "b".
You presumably know that Minecraft is kind of a big deal. It's sold upwards of 33 million copies, and occupies a healthy chunk of the planet's attention at any given time.
Even so, $2.5 billion seems like a lot. As a point of reference, Oculus, the folks who are likely to be bringing the world a whole new mode of interacting with technology and imagined worlds (they rekindled the push towards head-mounted virtual reality displays with their Kickstarted Rift device), were bought by Facebook not long ago for $2 billion - i.e. less than Mojang.
It seems a little excessive, especially since it can only be a matter of time before the next craze starts, right...? But, as many commentators before me have pointed out, what Microsoft has bought is not just the game, nor the company that made it (indeed, the founders of Mojang are all leaving), but the userbase. An audience - or, to a corporation, a market - of that size is a significant commodity. (An interesting word to apply to a collection of actual humans...)
Minecraft Hunger Games
Before anyone asks - we have no indication that this will have any effect on our plans for the Minecraft Hunger Games. Naturally, if there is any sign of anything changing, we will let you know! But barring the unforeseen, those of you who expressed a desire to participate should be hearing from the good folks at Ann Arbor District Library shortly - and those who have not yet registered should do so pronto - it's not too late until we tell you it is!