A recent comment over on our Atomic Think Tank forum about how the Power Profiles for Mutants & Masterminds made the commenter feel like he was part of a "living game" got me thinking about the products we put out, the ways their perceived by all of you, and how our philosophy has changed over the years.
There are a few different meaning to the phrase "living game." The first is a game that is currently in production. It’s available on store shelves (real or virtual) and you know there are going to be new releases in the line at some point. Classically, this is how we at Green Ronin have supported our games. For the first edition of M&M we released the core rulebook, then a few months later we released the Freedom City setting, which was followed by other books. During the time between the release of the books the game was "alive" but the development of the game all took place behind the scenes and you only got to see how things were progressing when a new book was released.
The other definition of a living game is one in which some of the design and development takes place in the public eye and changes based on your input and ideas. This is how we run things for the M&M line now. It’s much more dynamic compared to the other way and is only made possible by things like email and the Atomic Think Tank.
Before the Internet, the only way to get that sort of instantaneous feedback was by going to conventions and talking to fans or holding panels, which usually include some kind of question and answer session. But now we get feedback on almost every product we produce.
When M&M Third Edition launched, I knew we wanted to do a "monster" book, which in super-hero terms means "a villain book." Somehow Steve and I convinced the folks at Green Ronin to try a series of weekly PDFs. Every week we’d release a new villain with a complete backstory and writeup for the new rules. For our purposes this was great because it allowed us to show off some of the new setting, Emerald City, that first appeared in the art in the Third Edition rulebook, but it also gave us the chance to put power examples in players’ hands, and give the GM some fodder for their games.
The living part of a series like the Threat Report became obvious to us, if not to the people buying them, was when we started reading the comments on the forum. Every week a new thread was posted that discussed this week’s villain, how it was or wasn’t what you expected, and what sort of villains you wanted to see that we hadn’t already released. All those comments allowed me (and the writers) to revisit the list of villains we had, massage them, or swap them out for something else all of you seemed to want.
Some good examples of that were when we started releasing our first villain team, the Cybertribe. Initially we thought releasing a new villain in a team every week would be cool. Every week you’d get a new bad guy and see how they added to the team as a whole… but it became clear very quickly that paying $7 for a single team of villains was too much to ask. In addition, if the theme of the team didn’t appeal to you, then you knew the next month or so of releases wasn’t going to be of interest to you. We responded by changing all future team releases so all the members fit into only one or two PDFs.
When we started seeing comments about the fact that there weren’t any lower-Power Level or higher-Power Level villains, we revised our list of villains to include characters like Facade and Eris. When people mentioned a lack of magical or high-tech characters, we revised again to add some. Over time it became clear that although we were the ones creating the characters and doing the day-to-day work, the overall M&M game line was definitely being shaped in a much more organic, or living, way.
The same thing is happening now with the Power Profiles series of PDFs. We’re just over halfway done with the series and during its run we’ve received fantastic comments not just from our playtesters who review the Power Profiles before they’re released, but also from the ATT forum. Based on the comments we’ve learned the sorts of things you’re most interested in seeing in the Power Profiles and we (especially Steve) work hard to make sure each one contains cool tidbits that help to explain the game better and make it easier for you to dive into and create the sort of character you want.
The process by which we develop our books has definitely changed over time, and from the responses I’ve seen on the forum, it appears to be for the better! We’re very happy and excited to be able to have an ongoing discussion with all of you about M&M and where it’s going because it makes the game that much more interesting and dynamic for all of us.
By the way, if you’ve heard of Threat Report or Power Profile, but haven’t checked them out yet, both series are available in the Green Ronin Online Store and I encourage you to check out a couple of each. Also, until July 5th, the PDF of the Threat Report collection is still only $10; on the 6th it goes up to $16. You should also see the print edition of the Threat Report collection start showing up on store shelves very soon!
— Jon Leitheusser
Jon Leitheusser spent several years as the developer for the Mutants & Masterminds game. He started gaming at the age of 12, has worked in the industry at a game and comic store, two distribution companies, as a publisher (where he originally published the Dork Tower comic book), as a game designer for HeroClix, as a freelancer, and then for Green Ronin. He’s originally from Burlington, Wisconsin and now lives in Washington State.