Breaking Waves

I’ve been thinking about this “wave” business a bit more. Not with the view to putting things in boxes, but more what it means as a pop-sociological analysis.

  1. Waves of things are characterised by peaks and troughs; they’re frequently discontinuous (q.v. first, second and third-wave feminism).
  2. Waves mean a resurgence of interest, after a period of low activity. The OSR itself is a second wave.
  3. A wave can be a response to the deficiencies of the previous wave (or the trough that came after it).

It looks like the “second wave retroclone” monicker was coined as early as 2011.

‘Second-wave’ retroclones is a name I made up for those systems that a) are built on the work of the original wave, which used the OGL and reverse-engineered the d20 SRD to make it possible to publish stuff that emulated older editions and b) are now focused on supporting a specific style of play rather than a particular edition. I will repeat this term until it sticks.

(Matt Finch’s article appears gone but a lot of the other links work. Later Tavis Allison calls back to this post here)

Anyway, if you want to stick to this kind of “wave” analysis, the period we’re looking at is around 3 years for the OSR. Compare that with the 5 year cycle of design evolution proposed by Vincent Baker (Narrative Control ep. 82). Compare that with how long games are generally in development.

What is the rate-determining step for these changes? Games aren’t designed in a vacuum, so it may be the social component — how quickly ideas propagate through forums, get support and willing playtesters. That’s a separate issue from the logistics of getting the thing made.

Who benefits from calling these first, second and third wave products? Allison is an advocate of the transition from first to second wave products, with the benefits of better product definition, commercial focus and higher professional standards. But if the design cycle’s rate determining step is social propagation then talking in these terms is also likely to reduce those barriers, lubricating the wheels of design and shortening the interval. By that analysis, a 3 year cycle may be a credible proposition.