Growing the Hobby

RPG Blog Carnival
RPG Blog Carnival

This month’s RPG Blog Carnival is concerned with Growing the Hobby. I had originally pegged the topic to be Disconnected Gamers but decided that it was too narrow of a topic and really part of a bigger discussion.

I think this carnival is especially appropriate with some recent articles[1][2] and discussions[3][4] about toxic fans and target audiences making some ripples on the web.

While, I don’t think the hobby is disappearing, by any means, I don’t see it expanding by leaps & bounds either. I’d personally like to see it grow, and I would like to hear what the RPG Blogosphere has to say.

Growing the Hobby is a pretty broad topic and it can be approached from the community/gamer or industry/publishing perspectives. I have a few questions that might help spark discussion:

  • How would you like to see the hobby grow?
  • How can the community or publishers help grow the hobby?
  • What are you doing to advance the hobby?
  • What is hindering the growth of the hobby?
  • Is technology a key component of growing the hobby?
  • Is the hobby fine the way it is?
  • What are some pitfalls in trying to grow the hobby?

I’m looking forward to reading everyone’s contributions.

The wrap-up can be read here.

Listening to: Kingdom of Sorrow – Behind the Blackest Tears – Enlightened to Extinction


[1] Why You Can’t Have Nice Things – Mob United

[2] Killing Demand – Neogrognard

[3] Companies Staying Away from RPG Gamers – EN World

[4] Companies Staying Away from RPG Gamers – The RPG Site

35 thoughts on “Growing the Hobby

  1. I would like to see more pre-teens and teens getting into RPGs. It was a big part of my teen years & I’d love to share the fun, the creative outlet and the social aspect; all three of which I desperately needed.

    Community can help grow the hobby by not being ashamed of being gamers. Let your geek flag fly; give young geeks some pride and maybe even a role model. The publishers can help by promoting intro versions of their game. Giving a taste of a game so that young gamers, who don’t have as much money as those of us who work for a living, can try out different flavors until they find out which one is right for them.

    I run family friendly games at conventions. I have had players as young as 11 and 14 at my games. I adjust my plot and my language to prevent an uncomfortable experience for the young gamer & for the gamer’s parents.

    One stumbling block are the outmoded ideas that gaming is linked to suicides, violence and other anti-social behavior (devil-worship, really?). Another stumbling block is the public perception of gamers as socially awkward guys who still live in their parents’ basement, because they are incapable of having real lives.

    Technology can help. It makes it easier to find other players, via sites like Pen and Paper, and to find conventions; via sites like Warhorn. People can read reviews of games and to share game resources with people all around the world.

    The hobby, especially the publishers, need to remember that there are a lot of women who play RPGs. Focusing the art and the games on the male demographic to the exclusion of women is detrimental to attracting those women. Try having a mix of beefcake and cheesecake, as well as practically dressed adventurers.

    With any increase in population, you’ll get more of the sub-populations: the trolls and other less-than-desirables. We always have to worry about a few bad apples spoiling the barrel.

  2. I think the single biggest thing that people can do to grow the hobby is to simply make the effort to introduce new people to RPGs. There are so many games and so many people out there that relatively few people couldn’t find something that they wouldn’t at least be willing to try once. There may well be something that publishers/designers could do with different kinds of games and/or technology, but to me those all pale in comparison with people simply being bold enough to talk to people about games and ask if they’d like to give them a try.

    Last month a friend and I went to A-Kon, an anime convention in Dallas, Texas. There’s some inevitable overlap in the fandoms, but a considerable number of people who’d never played RPGs before were at least willing to listen to our spiel about Maid RPG and roll up characters. Other people I know have had equal or greater luck at other anime conventions and at PAX. I don’t know if there can ever be enough to regain the kind of commercial success that RPGs enjoyed in the 80s, but for small-press publishers there are a lot of potential markets that are ridiculously wide open to people who know them well enough and are willing to put in the effort.

  3. @Sewicked: You’re comment about stereotyping is interesting. How does a group overcome labels? That’s a long hard road to trek and I’d be interested to hear more about how to do that (as a group).

    @Gleichman: Hehe. I had a good idea what you were going to say before I got there.

    @Ewen: I agree that exposing people to hobby is important. Need to be proactive vs. reactive. Unfortunately, most of my friends who don’t already play are 1) intimidated by the investment of time required and 2) the social stigma.

    Thanks for the comments!

  4. Here’s my contribution to the Carnival. It’s not as dark as many of the other replies; it’s actually a retrospective on how I ended up running three campaigns during an Iraq combat tour, increasing the size of my player pool by converting non-gamers into dice-rolling fiends like the rest of us. Enjoy!

  5. * How would you like to see the hobby grow?

    In the direction of positive numbers?

    * How can the community or publishers help grow the hobby?

    This is a bit harder. Right now the internet and videogaming attracts the brightest and most ambitious designers that haven’t already settled into tabletop rpging. Many experienced RPG designers have also moved into working for the game industry. And when I say game industry, most people think computer/videogame industry. No need to specify except in present company. Same with potential players. That’s where the numbers are for people that design game systems or engage in interactive storytelling.

    Older players have less time to learn or prep for games as well given adult responsibilities. More and more they’re also drifting off.

    Complicating things is the direction some MMOs are moving to accepting player created content (adventures) so it’s entirely possible to run something like a conventional, if very simple, roleplaying campaign entirely in an MMO.

    Usually this takes much less prep work, depending on the scale or approach to the campaign (huge storyarcs or events can be a large amount of work but on the other hand they can engage hundreds of players and a squad of storyteller assistants and collaborators), than a commensurate tabletop RPG campaign. Prepping stat blocks, for example, ceases to be an issue.

    How do you compete with that? Well, you can play to the strengths of the hobby which is maximum creativity and flexibility in adventure/campaign design. The huge variety of settings and systems available. There’s also the intimate nature of gathering around a table with a handful of friends. The value per dollar of investment. The economic downturn, for example, might get folks digging old books out of their closet after canceling online game subscriptions.

    Online games advertise with banners and the like on RPG gamer sites. I’d fight fire with fire. I’d get the deep pockets in the industry to coordinate a response to online games. Focus as an industry on a message which would target particular MMO player dissatisfactions with some humorous advice that points in the direction of tabletop RPGs. This would be easier to do, of course,if the deep pockets weren’t already looking to online gaming as part,and in some cases perhaps future, of their business models.

    When there are more WoW players that farmers in the US you know where our potential demographic is hanging out. They’re not at cons.

    * What are you doing to advance the hobby?

    Little. I just returned from being an online only gamer recently and am now having huge fun playing a game called “Does anyone play any decent RPGs in my area or am I actually going to have to run something myself for players that may not even exist?”

    Hopefully when this mini-arc wraps up I’ll have more time to think about how to approach these issues.

    * What is hindering the growth of the hobby?

    See the above.

    * Is technology a key component of growing the hobby?

    Likely. I think the big thing will be electronic networking so players and gamers can find each other more easily. Love it or hate it or fear the little black helicopters as you will, Facebook is networking central and only growing. Figuring out an app to take advantage of it and get gamers who live in the same location together would help. I’d almost set it up along the model of an online dating service so people could see who likes what games, has the same schedule and so on.

    GM aids also will help out. Many older gamers just don’t have prep time that they might have in ’82. I’m less sold on online facilitator apps (that allow players to play a tabletop game online in real time). That said, a couple I’ve looked at are pretty tight and have active forums. The main draw of tabletop for me is actually proximity with other gamers. There are better ways to roleplay online (MUSHes and the aforementioned MMOs with player generated content).

    * Is the hobby fine the way it is?

    Doesn’t look like it from here but, then, I just thawed out from ’95. My first pass at seeing what the local community is like leaves me thinking the good days are behind us without some radical change either in actual tabletop gaming or, and this works too, far better designed and more flexible systems for player generated content in commercial MMOs. Then the direction our hobby goes might concern me less.

    * What are some pitfalls in trying to grow the hobby?

    None. If this is the hobby you love, go down fighting.

  6. @OddjobXL: I’d love to see some entity with deep pockets go on an advertising spree; unfortunately I don’t think anyone (even Hasbro-backed WotC) can afford it.

    What would be cool is some sort of partnership and cross promotion. D&D could easily do this with DD0… but imagine if a publisher partnered with World of Warcraft (more than a licensing deal ala White Wolf with the d20 WoW) and Blizzard made in-game marketing for the Pen & Paper game and the publisher helped market the MMO with stuff like codes for special pets in their books… just the tip of the iceberg.

    Thanks for everyone’s contributions so far!

  7. I’ve just posted my first Carnival contribution – it seems to me that the issue my group has is keeping players and maintaining momentum.

    I don’t think the industry can do much to draw new people in; new systems and products will appeal to existing gamers much more easily than new ones, and it seems we’re reaching (or have reached) saturation point. The same applies to the technology, in that it’s great that we have awesome play-aids and can play games over networks and vast distances, but the people taking advantage of all the shiny gubbinz are gamers anyway.

    It’s great to have the blog networks, and it’s great to try out new stuff, but maybe we should be happy with who we’ve got, get on with enjoying ourselves, and see if people drift in out of curiosity?

  8. @Tom: Momentum seems to be a facet of a larger problem to me: consistent scheduling. Be able to commit to have every X day open to gaming is constant battle for most post-college gamers.

    Thank you to everyone who has contributed so far!

  9. @MadBrew: Thanks, I think you may be right there. We do have weekly game night consistency at least, but not a consistent group, system or setting… But we’ll get there in the end!

  10. Something for the carnival here.

    I think both customers can do more by playing and conspicuously breaking the Comic Book Guy image. Worse. Stereotype. Ever.

    MadBrew mentions partnerships though we may have to think laterally about the gaming dollar and mutually-beneficial marketing.

    I’m hopeful Mobunited’s next post has some good solutions…

  11. I hope this formats properly…it is my response I posted on enworld…

    * How would you like to see the hobby grow?

    I’d like to see more brick and mortar shops dedicated to tabletop gaming, brick and mortar shops that embrace the fact that while they cannot compete with a guy working out of his garage, offering 30% discounts on books, they can offer so much more – a clean, well-lit, friendly gaming environment, for example. There are very few places like that any more, and I’d like to see the hobby grow in that direction.


    * How can the community or publishers help grow the hobby?

    We need more independent publications – and I don’t just mean niche fanzines – out there in people’s hands. More stuff that hearkens back to THE SPACE GAMER and what WHITE DWARF used to be.


    * What are you doing to advance the hobby?

    I have plans, but they’re niche at best. A ‘zine, a gameday/con, taking my massive dwarven forge OD&D/AD&D extravaganza on the road (to local hobby shops).


    * What is hindering the growth of the hobby?

    Corporate infighting, the idea that THERE CAN BE ONLY ONE! It needs to stop. We should all hang together or we will all surely hang separately.


    * Is technology a key component of growing the hobby?

    This is too vague a question. “Technology” is a lot of things. The dice, paper, and pencils themselves are “technology”. If the question means “iPads and DDI mandatory at the table” then GOOD GOD NO. There are things that can be done to streamline and unify; THE DRAGON and THE SPACE GAMER both featured type-in computer programs nearly thirty years ago. There’s room for technology. The key is to not rely on it to the point that you’re racing to the bottom (see “pitfalls” below)


    * Is the hobby fine the way it is?

    Probably; or at the very worst it’s not as bad as some would suggest. There’s a danger of having a Cassandra Complex about the whole thing but everything is cyclical. Everything. Books, movies, all hobbies. RPGs are still an order of magnitude bigger than they were in say 1977. It’s easy to forget that when you see the mountain of dross created by the d20 licensing system, and witness the number of game shops closed (in no small part by that very mountain) between 2000 and now.


    * What are some pitfalls in trying to grow the hobby?

    Becoming convinced that you must compete with computer games or computer experiences to be successful. That you must ignore the “greying market” and only try to grab the attention of (and I apologize for the get-off-my-lawn seeming term, but there we are) kids to be successful. Remember, D&D was an adult-aimed hobby game. Really, until BASIC D&D (not Holmes’ D&D!) hit, can we even consider that D&D was aimed at anyone but adults, the AVALON HILL game players, the sandbox wargamers…

    Trying to convince someone to play a pen and paper RPG versus buying a new video card, STARCRAFT II or wasting a day on TWITTER by trying to make your pen and paper game like, or interface with, those things is a death spiral, in aviation terms. When an inexperienced pilot enters IFR conditions, and begins to heel over, they ignore their instruments and go with what they “feel”. They see the altitude drop, so they pull back on the stick. G-forces push them back in the seat, convincing them that they are going up against gravity rather than being subjected to ever increasing centrifugal forces. They ignore all of their instruments, except the altimeter, which is winding down. They pull harder on the stick, feel more Gee, and the altimeter winds down faster still. They ignore their instruments, and pull harder on the stick until at last they hit the ground or the water.

    This is what the hobby must not do. Don’t enter that death spiral of trying to keep altitude by applying pressure on computer games and applications! This hobby came from the table top! Unless the leaders want to just give up and say “We’re only making a computer game called D&D (or EXALTED or ATOMIC HIGHWAY or CASTLES & CRUSADES etc. ad infinitum),” don’t do it at all.

    Stay true to what makes the games great: adventure participation, facetime, friendship, imagination.

    Abandon those things and you’ve lost the plot, and then the hobby is doomed.

  12. @Bill: I definitely think you touched on an important point concerning brick & mortar shops. They are going to need to evolve, not only because places like Amazon sell things cheaper (and ship it to your door) but because there is definitely going to be a shift to digital sales.

    Thanks to everyone for their contributions so far!

  13. This is going to be an upcoming topic on our podcast, Flagons & Dragons. To me, the industry and the hobby doesn’t necessarily need to grow. It does, however, need to thrive. There is a difference I think.

    The games and the products need to be of quality, fun and affordable. The number of players needs to remain at a level that can support the companies providing these products. Even if growth is marginal.

    As an older gamer who started back in the earlhy 80’s, I had a fear that computer games might squash the tabletop industry. I can’t predict the future, but I think the industry is healthy. There is good competition among companies and the players I know are sharing their games with non-gamers.

    I agree with the above poster who said that FLGS’s do need to evolve. It’s the face-to-face connection that makes the tabletop games so great. The stores need to become more service based, offering great places to play these games, easy ways to coordinate games, and even organizing local events.

    Anyway, we’ll talk more about this in a future podcast. Stop in if you get a chance. Cheers!

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