I think that the companies which respect the Hobby, as opposed to the ones that try to grow the Business will ultimately prove to be the most successful.
EDIT: The most successful not necessarily in terms of money, but at being a company which has the respect and trust of fellow hobbyists.
D&D started as a hobby which was itself an offshoot of a hobby. An essential element of a hobby is that the person who participates in it seems to feel a sort of ownership towards it. If I like to garden, they are MY plants. If I like to put together plastic model cars, they are MY cars. I can do what I want with them.
With D&D, it seemed to start out with more of that attitude. It was a game company created by hobbyists, owned by hobbyists, and run by hobbyists. There was still that sense of comradery between the game producers and the game players.
When in the 90's T$R began to close down FTP sites, claiming ownership of all the materials on them, people were pissed off. Rightfully so. It’s the equivalent of a company that sold you tomato plant seeds coming by in the summer and claiming ownership to the tomatoes you grew.
Thank god for the OGL. It put into writing in a legally binding way the fact that the hobby belongs to the people who play it, and that all players have the rights to the products of their hobby. It’s sort of like a Bill of Rights for D&D’ers.
As we’ve all seen in our everyday lives, the direction of a company is often not set by the people that work there who know the ins and outs of the product and people who buy that product, but by the bottom line considerations of people far removed from the nuts and bolts of the products and the customers. When you have a situation where you have a lot of creative people who can, and have, put out good products, but have been given marching orders contrary to their own best judgment, but which is based on the company’s bottom line, they have to go along with those orders and do the best that they can. We all need jobs. We all have kids to feed and bills to pay.
It’s easy to see a situation wherein the people within a company respect the hobby, and are true hobbyists and great at the hobby, but who work for a company which only respects the bottom line.
When a company produces products which are used by hobbyists, there are many different considerations to take into account than if the company just produced a “widget”. For one, like I said before, you can’t treat the hobbyists as a consumer pool that buys YOUR product to use in YOUR game. You need to view them as fellow hobbyists, and you make THEIR tools for them so they can play THEIR game.
You can’t come by a person’s house every month and sell them a new and improved gardening spade, guaranteed to add more spice and variety to their garden. You can sell them seeds, however, which they can plant in their garden and grow in the way they want to.
You can’t sell them new seeds which when planted in the already prospering garden, overrun the already planted tomato plants and cause havoc and chaos in the garden. You can sell them seeds of plants which complement their garden, which perhaps help them grow their garden in new and unexpected ways.
Lastly, you can’t walk up to a gardener once he’s in the heart of the growing season and tell him that the garden he has been growing is dramatically changing, so much so that by the end of the growing season he won’t recognize what he grew. You can’t have him dig up part of his garden, plant all new seeds, and grow plants and flowers he doesn’t like. The gardener will just basically tell you to go to hell, and stay out of HIS garden.
If the salesperson tell the gardener that he will no longer be able to buy the old seeds from him unless he grows the garden in the new style, the gardener will once again say “You know, we’ve had a great relationship all these years, but you’re pissing me off now. It’s MY garden. You don’t own the seeds. If you won’t sell me the seeds I like, I’ll just go down the street to the Paizo or Troll Lord or Kenzer market and buy the seeds I’m used to growing. Hell, I even heard there was some places that were giving away free seeds!”
Regardless of the kind of seeds you are used to buying, and the sort of plants you like to grow, I think we can all agree that when a company which produces the seeds either screws up your garden so as to make it no longer recognizable, or fun to garden, or behaves in such a way that it shows it doesn’t respect the gardener, it will leave people angry. No matter how many hobbyists, gamers and gardeners a company employs, no matter how we may like those people and appreciate their hard work as fellow gardeners, it still doesn’t get that bad taste out of our mouths which comes from a company acting as if they own the hobby and can do what they want with it, regardless of what the other hobbyists say. To the extent that it feels like a company is taking away OUR hobby, or changing it so much that we no longer recognize key elements which we consider to be staples and cornerstones of the hobby, we get pissed.
To the extent that game companies are owned by gamers, with gamers setting direction, developing products, and respecting the hobby and behaving as if the Company didn’t own the Hobby, that company will be successful.
Think of all the companies you like out there and I bet you they fit this description.