Gary and Dave Didn’t Change Gaming by Working at Milton Bradley

Dave Wesley, Dave Arneson and the rest of the Twin Cities gamers wanted better rules for miniatures war games, so they experimented. They developed. They made Strategos N. Then Dave Wesley created Braunstein which led to Blackmoor and led to Dungeons and Dragons. They wanted better games to play with their friends so they made them.

When Gary and Dave designed Dungeons and Dragons they shopped it to various publishers in the game business. Nobody wanted it. The publishers didn’t think it would make enough money to be worth producing. Gary and Dave believed they had something so they published it themselves. They wanted better games to play with their friends, so they made them.

Not long after D&D came out, fans came up with their own ideas about mechanisms, monsters and spells. They published them in ‘zines and amateur press associations. Gary disparaged, and wouldn’t publish a lot of the material that found its way into ‘zines and APA’s. Their creators published it on their own. Arduin, Tunnels and Trolls, and many others were conceived this way. They wanted better games to play with their friends, so they made them.

Once a game company is established, they fall into producing the same sort of stuff over and over. That’s with good reason; it’s how they feed their families. They come up with a brand or product that sells in numbers sufficient to make enough of a profit that seems worth the work involved. Doing something different is a risk. It might not work. It might loose money. If money is the point of the business, then creative cowardice is going to become part of the institutional culture.

Which means, if you think you have an idea that is going to make gaming better, whatever that may be, the best thing to do is to make something yourself and find a way to spread the idea. Gary and Dave didn’t have the internet in 1975 but the idea of heroic fantasy adventure gaming spread through sword and sorcery fandom and the war gaming clubs of the universities. In my opinion, the invention of the role playing game was the biggest idea in game design in millennia. Milton Bradley and Parker Brothers weren’t going to sell it. It was too risky. It might not have worked.

If you want better games to play with your friends, you’ll have to make them.

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