Monday, August 3, 2015

[UPDATED] Was the Dungeons & Dragons Adventure League Event a Debacle at Gen Con 2015?

Gen Con 2015 is over and like many people who didn't have the opportunity to attend this year's convention I've been reading dozens of reports from the convention. Among many of the positive reports from the convention one glaring negative became apparent: the Adventure League games were a complete fiasco that left many players feeling as though they wasted their money and were taken advantage of by Wizards of the Coast and their proxy, Baldman Games.

From the start the event was maligned with poor communication issues, mismanagement on every level, and a complete failure to provide the feel of an epic adventure that previous years had accomplished. 
". . . There was absolutely no sense of "epicness" in tonight's (sp) epic. Last year there was a PA system with a master of ceremonies type guy who kept things exciting all night with status reports and count downs and the like. Tables were interacting with HQ and then HQ would (sp) interact with the players. There was a sense that each table really was contributing to something big going on . . . This year, it was just go to your table and play a D&D scenario. No PA, no big story setup, no fanfare, no nothing. Our DM didn't even really know when it officially started as there was no big announcement. He had ot wing it. I saw absolutely nothing to suggest that our table was working to any sort of larger goal. We just played our little scenario like Thu and Fri . . ." (Thu).

". . . [T]here were two epic sessions, season 2 ending and season 3 launch. Neither made a player feel like he or she was involved in something that impacted or was impacted by anything else. In other words, we just blew through a module, hacked some demons and went home. At the end of the first epic, the lights went out in the hall at midnight before there were any announcements (GenCon and the convention center are at fault for this, I'm sure) so I guess I'll be kind and give them a bye for that. But at the end of the Saturday night Epic some BMG captain tried to shout over the noise of thousands of people to the 300 or so participants. Yes, I said shout. He didn't have a microphone. Nobody heard squat . . ." (Neptune0923)
While individuals who paid the modest $40 for the basic package experienced issues that stem directly from Baldman Games mismanagement of the event it was nothing compared to the experience of people who paid the $150 dollars for the VIP Experience with the D&D Adventurers League Epics game. Both tiers of players received the exact same reward for playing in the games. There was no benefit to paying the higher cost. ". . . The level of disappointment in the execution, value, and even appearance that was put forth for not just All Access . . . All access players paid $150/ea when just doing $40 in normal events would have netted the same gear, exp crawl, and entertainment. To be honest, i feel pretty cheated . . ." (Killian Tealeaf). Another commenter on the Gen Con forum stated  ". . . We did get a couple Cetrificates, but none were worth anything. No book, no souveniers, no 2015 commemorative dice, no coupons for future purchases, nothing! I got more swag for ordering a sandwich at Scotty's . . . I myself will never pay for all-access! I may not play D&D at GenCon ever again . . . This year was a complete amateurish operation . . ." (wmgccandless).

Baldman Games is taking a lot of abuse for their handling of the event with even people who knew the Baldman Games crew being unforgiving of their complete mishandling of the event. 
". . . I have many close friends in both DDAL admin and Baldman games. However I do not sympathize with the excuses being thrown out. If you set an expectation on an event and learn that the company that produces the game won't support you and determine that you will just go ahead, (because after all, you didn't actually 'promise' anything) instead of communicating the issue with those that paid for a premium event., you are in essence deciding to screw those people. All for the purpose of covering your expenses . . . So I'm feeling screwed mostly because I was screwed . . ." (joshua.oconnorrose).
As joshua.oconnorrose mentioned it was suggested to several people, who voiced their displeasure and who repeated the accusation in their forum posts, that Wizards of the Coast failed to donate any significant swag for the events so there was no opportunity for Baldman Games to provide a difference in what they did give: certificates for Adventurer's League games. One poster on Wizards of the Coast's forum stated things even more clearly saying ". . . The All-access pass which cost $150 was a complete swindle. It was, effectively, the combination of 4 events. If you purchased the 4 events separately, you paid $40. The difference between the two options last year was that players who signed up received the brand new Player's Handbook and an advanced copy of the Monster Manual (both retailed for $49.99 at the time). This year we received 4 certificates for adventure's league. That is 4 cardboard sheets which many people left on the table. Based on the math, each sheet of cardboard cost me $25 . . ." (Neptune0923)

Time and again the event's poor management has been brought up as a major source of frustration. One commenter on Gen Con's forum stated: ". . . I was so excited to do this event. It sounded like so much fun. Smaller group, one DM through out, one storyline and potential for cool swag. What a disappointment. Every single game started late. Thursday night I showed up at 7:30 for an 8 pm game that didn't start until 9:30 . . ." (IndyGator).

If there is a single complaint that continues to be brought time and again it's the lack of value that players felt they received for the $150 they paid for a VIP Experience:
"If you are going to charge $100 over the ticket price of events for a premium experience you had better provide that value to the customer.  In prior years there were books, autographs, a roped off dedicated area away from other games, a die roll for a magic item cert, etc.

This year?  I can't even identify what I paid an extra $100 for.  We could not even start play until mustering was over and lost close to an hour of play time each session.  The benefit of locking down a GM, players, and a table number is you should be OUTSIDE of the mustering process and have extra game time.

The fact that the company did not overtly share that this years All Access would be drastically reduced, reeks of false advertising.

The "Faire" was also so wide open that my "special time" access was completely irrelevant.  I walked up at a random time and was able to trade items like any con attendee could. We received 4 certificates that bordered on meaningless for most people.  If if I was not comparing this to the excellent job done in prior years, I am wondering exactly what $900 per table went to?  I got the same basic experience that others at Gen Con got for $40." (Bdbrutus)


". . . I thought for $150 I would get some sort of swag (any of the books, dice, dice bag, an exclusive miniature, anything). At this point I think my Gencon money could be spent better elsewhere. I feel like Baldman games stole money from me. . . ."(tserof)
This morning Baldman Games released the following statement in regards to the event:
This year at Gen Con we made some changes to the wildly popular All-Access program that we debuted at the show in 2013. Our goal was to bring it back to a more sustainable long term level while still providing a great value and experience to our players. From the feedback received by myself onsite, and on the message boards over the past few days, we missed that mark with some of you and for that I apologize.

Our goal was to provide a premium gaming experience and while I firmly believe we hit that on some marks, we obviously missed on others. We tried some new things that went over well for some and were viewed as worthless by others. Some valued their great DM’s highly and did not care about additional items while others rated them lower and wanted more ‘stuff’. Others ranked a separated play space with a barrier as the things they valued most and for many the noise of the hall was just too much for any amount of additional perks to overcome. At no point did we intend to deceive, trick, or pull a switch-a-roo. Every year the program has provided different things and the attendees have each valued them in their own fashion. Things change each year on what we can and cannot provide. Many want to know why we could not do this or that, or why something changed. At the end of the day those details do not matter. BMG thought we had a pretty good line-up this year within the framework we had to work in but once again we obviously need to relook at the program from the ground up.

Part of the program has always been the mystery of what you are getting. So players are putting their blind trust that the program is going to be worth it to them. Each year the items were better and better and that is just not a sustainable program. With that in mind I’ve spent most of the past two days brainstorming ways to make it better across the board for all those who choose to put their trust in the program. The one thing that is happened for sure right out of the gate is the mystery part is gone (for any type of event I run going forward). It is not worth it. Each person values their time and resources in their own fashion and should be able to make a 100% informed decision about what they spend their convention time and dollars on. The program will have its own website linked from the event description with all the details on it. Due to the fact I cannot contact those that buy tickets, the website will also contain a mailing list, to allow updates to go to all members if anything were to change. I want to be transparent and communicate as well as we can about exactly what the program is and the player it is aimed at.

Some other ideas we have been kicking around and want your feedback on are:
  • A completely separate room away from our play area for the program (players would move back into main hall for Epic event). Could be in the ICC or attached hotel.
  •  More of a concierge type service when checking in (small goodie bag, checking name off list, badge ribbon, name plate to claim your spot at a table, etc.)
  •  A custom adventure track for the show (written especially for the program by a handpicked elite author for participants of the program only).
  •  Snacks (maybe Pizza Day Saturday even) and water station.
  •  Special Guests (maybe have Mearls or Crawford visit and hangout at each table for a while).
  •  ?????
We have a lot of other cool ideas from our post show meetings but we also want to hear from you. I have received a lot of feedback already but I want to create a central place for those who want to provide it to do so. The form below drops directly into my inbox. I will be reading all the responses and going over them with my team over the next few weeks to formulate a plan that will hopefully bring this program back to where we want it to be.

David Christ
Baldman Games

Personally, I find it hard to imagine that Baldman Games felt that providing the same rewards to players at both the $40 and $150 price tag would be agreeable to anyone but that is their contention. Only time will tell if the trust in them as an organization will be healed or if they will ever be able to provide the sort of services that they've suggested bringing on board.

********** UPDATE 8/10/2015 **********

Baldman Games have released a new press release on August 6, 2015 that states the following:
I first want to thank everyone for the excellent feedback so far. We are gathering comments and discussing ways to improve all Baldman Games’ offerings going forward. We will have further posts this Fall asking for more specific feedback.

Baldman Games and Wizards of the Coast realize that we did not meet your expectations with our All-Access Program at Gen Con this year. The way production schedules lined up, it was difficult for us to provide the new products that had been offered in previous years. But have no fear! We want to make things right. We value your support of D&D and our programs at Gen Con and other shows. To that end, we have some stuff to offer to everyone who played in the All-Access program at Gen Con 2015.

Here’s what All Access Players will get:
  • One hard copy of Out of the Abyss, the TRPG adventure in the Rage of Demons story, before it hits store shelves, mailed directly to you
  • One code for a digital copy of Sword Coast Legends, the party-based RPG coming out on PC, Mac and Linux, on September 29th, sent to the email you provide.
If you are an All-Access player from Gen Con, please make sure to fill in the form below completely. The information provided will only be used to ship the book to you, send the code, and/or contact you if we have a problem doing so. It will be destroyed once shipping is completed.
Once again, we apologize for not meeting the expectations of the program this year, and we will work hard in the coming months to build a bigger, stronger, and more transparent program in 2016 and beyond.

David Christ
Baldman Games

UPDATE (08/07/2015): This offer is valid through August 24th at Midnight EST. Please spread the word. Thanks

If you participated in the All Access program, or know someone who did be sure to let them know about this as soon as possible. Time is limited on this offer. 

25 comments:

  1. It's not just disagreeable, it's also illegal. Anyone who paid the higher amount has grounds to file a complaint with the Indiana Attorney General (fraud) and possibly the US Postal Inspection Service (mail fraud), plus the attorney general of their home state and the attorney general of Ohio (home of Baldman games). You might mention these facts in the refund request.

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    1. Seriously? I am an attorney. Your suggestion that this is a fraudulent situation is not supported by facts. Look at the description of what was offered in the Gen Con Event guide and tell me how you make a case for fraud. Good day, sir.

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    2. Also an interesting comment.

      Anonymous does make an interesting point Kitchen Wolf: how does this meet the standard for fraud?

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    3. Fraudulent concealment, which applies where the defendants
      concealed a material fact they were otherwise under a duty to disclose - namely, that the more expensive package was identical to the cheaper option. A situation that has since been remedied with the later addition of other stuff. Whether said stuff is worth it to the consumer or not is a separate matter.

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  2. Dayyum, that makes me so happy I don't play high profile GenCon games. Perhaps they should cut down on the number of people who are able to sign up for the VIP so that they are actually VIP. I saw a similar thing with the VIGs (and myself among them as press) allowed to get into the exhibition hall a bit early on Thursday. The lines were so long to the point of not being worth paying for the extra privilege.

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    1. http://www.gencon.com/attend/vig

      The super expensive Gen Con badge.

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    2. Ah! Thank you Orc Stomp Runner!

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    3. I'm sure glad I did not pay an extra $100.

      I did play in the Thursday night "Epic" when the lights went out. The adventure was not too bad, but it was loud and chaotic and the DM's didn't seem to know what was going on with the larger group.

      The problem I had was the shitty DDEX 3-2 adventure I played the next day. God awful adventure, and the DM was losing his voice. He should have tagged out an gotten a sub. As it was, he was a sub-par DM and we couldn't hear a @#$%ing word he was saying most of the night. Just terrible.

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    4. I've heard that DDEX 3-2 was terrible. What made it so bad Marty?

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  3. Sounds like I didn't miss anything after all. Think I'll try smaller Cons, when I get the chance.

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    1. Hard to say because a lot of people had good experiences with the Paizo group and with other, smaller, press operations - Palladium.

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    2. Perhaps, but I'm not "big" on Paizo . . . and "beauty" is in the eyes of the beholder. ;)

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    3. I don't know if you're up to discussing it but what don't you dig about Paizo? I'm genuinely interested because I have issues and I don't know why.

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    4. I like Paizo as a company. From a customer service perspective, they have been excellent. I've ordered directly from them a few times and whenever there was any kind of issue, I was informed by email, given the option to cancel the order if I wanted (which I generally didn't), and when the issue was resolved, they would put some kind of bonus swag in the order. Nothing big, but enough to say "Hey, thanks for your patience!".

      I'm not super keen on Pathfinder, but I think they make great products.

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  4. A good fight the power article. Nice that the bad publicity from the internet can potentially lead to change.

    Two words.

    Gary Con.

    Bigger is not always better. Most of the time "more awesome" is better.

    David S.
    Minnesota, USA

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    1. Man, I have got to get to Gary Con someday. It always sounds like so much fun!

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  5. I had heard good things about the previous year's All-Access pass event and paid a lot of money for my wife and I to participate. She is not a regular gamer and came away with a less than stellar view of the event.
    Personally, I see All-Access as a great stepping stone for new players if it is run well; dedicated party makeup, one DM and a smaller table are helpful to overcome the angst of 'messing up' and general shyness around new people.
    Well... that idea fell flat. This year's events were poorly run and poorly written. My DM put on a game face, but you could tell he was not happy with the 'railroady' elements of the adventures and difficult organization overall.
    I fully understand All-Access is designed for a more hardcore experience, but our industry should also consider where new players can receive the best we can offer. All-Access can be one of those elements.
    If David Christ is looking at being more transparent up-front, then maybe a 'swag pack' selection could be presented to cover more interests. For example, new players might be more interested in the 'Explorer's Pack' - (custom dice, PHB, character record sheet pad, Starter Set Miniatures, one magic item cert). The more experienced players might go for the 'Dungeoneer's Pack' - (MM and DMG, DM Shield) or the 'Scholar's Pack - (New book release, cool swag item or some such). Maybe even offer a 'Burglar's Pack' which would be really mysterious - but be cool (you could even up the price a tad for one of these and it would have a limited number available).
    Selecting the pack ahead of time would allow for sufficient quantities to be ready and eliminate a TON of negative feedback.
    As to the adventures.... well... These need better playtesting and organization for the DMs. Put monster stats on a single page to make tracking easier, Add some hints about actions the villains may take - The Incubus should have had some tactical information (for example). Make sure there is a player version of a location so no time is wasted drawing it. Do something to make sure the DM has ALL the tools to make things run smooth.
    That's my $0.02

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    1. I really like the Pack suggestion Steven. You should go over to their website and suggest it because it's a winner!

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  6. http://baldmangames.com/2015/08/gen-con-2015-all-access-update/ All Access participants should check out this link and see how Baldman Games worked out a deal with WOTC to give 2015 purchasers a copy of a forthcominngk and a video game.

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    1. Thank you for the link Anonymous. I'll be updating the article shortly to reflect this new information.

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  7. "Part of the program has always been the mystery of what you are getting."

    Sometimes you find a treasure chest with gold in it, but you should be just as happy when it's a poison gas trap or a Mimic.

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