Growing the Hobby Wrap-up

Thanks to everyone who participated in last month’s RPG Blog Carnival, “Growing the Hobby.” Be sure to follow the caravan to Evil Machinations for this month’s carnival, “Teaching the Game.” It just happens to be a great follow-up topic! I do apologize for this round-up taking so long to be posted, but we had a little event called GenCon happening down the road from me.

Before I get to the participant round-up, I want to present my own thoughts about growing the roleplaying games hobby. I want to make it very clear that these are just my observations and hypotheses and that I really have no hard data to back it up with.

Hobby Hindrances

I think that currently both the hobby and industry are strong and healthy. I do not think the hobby is expanding at any significant rate, but do believe that it is at least capturing new players at the same rate as old player drop out. It is sustaining. Like many things, I think the hobby is cyclical, and over time you can see patterns of small expansion and shrink, but hardly ever is there a colossal boom.

I think this is because there will only be a small percentage of the population that roleplaying games appeal to, ever. The most popular roleplaying games require a large investment of time in order to understand how the game functions and then even more to play the game. Most [popular] RPGs are not created for casual gaming. It’s my opinion that even “rules light” games such as Savage Worlds still require quite a bit of investment.

Keep in mind that technology is cultivating an instant-gratification society. As nearly everything becomes on-demand and instantaneous, each successive generation is going to be even more unlikely to invest the amount of time required by roleplaying games. That’s assuming they get past the social stigma surrounding roleplaying games…

Beyond the buy-in and social risks, the themes and genres that roleplaying games cater to are very narrow. Fantasy, Sci-Fi, and (supernatural) Horror are the current staples of the hobby, but these genres have limited appeal beyond passive entertainment (i.e. movies & books). I do think Hollywood (actually great CGI and S/FX) has been instrumental in increasing the visibility and acceptance of these genres, but I’m not convinced that this translates into increased interest for roleplaying games.

Industry Options

Right now, it is my observation that the industry is fighting over the same target audience. Pathfinder, Savage Worlds, Dungeons & Dragons, Dragon Age, Warhammer… all of these games are targeted at mostly the same group of people. A Venn diagram of how the games’ target audiences overlap would look like this:

Current Target Audience
Current Target Audience

Unfortunately, the current roleplayer demographic only has so many resources available. So, if the industry wants to grow, it needs to create new market space. Expanding the customer base requires creating games that appeal to a wider audience. Publishers will have to blur the lines between traditional roleplaying games, computer roleplaying games, social media games, card games, and board games. Games with dead simple rules and almost zero time investment necessary.

The industry will need to approach genres that are not the traditional fantasy tropes. An Emergency Room RPG where players can be doctors or nurses. It could be a detectives (think Advanced Clue), military, super models, race car drivers, mafia, or sports star game. How about something like The Sims, but in a table top (or LARP?) format? Make the stories easy, but variable (scripts or plot cards) with simple resolution (spinner or single d6).

I say this in spite of myself, because I’m actually somewhere in that current roleplayer demographic I mentioned earlier. These new games probably won’t appeal to me, but they might appeal to my wife, daughter, or grandmother. However, there are still avenues for capturing the attention of the traditional roleplaying gamer.

I think transmedia and cross-promotion between media is something missed by the industry. What if some treasure recovered in Dungeons & Dragons Online gave you access to D&D Insider or allowed you to print off some kind of unique power card. A monthly comic could have codes to redeem online for equipment in DDO as well as the stat block for use at the table. A unique code could be given to the purchaser of the core books to give him access to locked classes or abilities in the computer game. The opportunities are limitless.

I think organized play can be vital in building a player base. Both Paizo and Wizards have done some great things with organized play. I think the Encounters format is a smart beginning to being able to peddle the roleplaying experience out in small, manageable chunks.

The Hobbyist

So far, I’ve only talked about the publishing side of roleplaying games. What about the hobbyist? I think the most important thing a gamer can do for the hobby is to play. That’s it. PLAY.  The second most important thing is probably distancing ourselves from the smelly, socially-awkward stereotype. Brush those fangs, shower, use deodorant, speak intelligently, exercise and eat healthy… I know it’s an unfair image, but it’s there none-the-less (I could lose a few pounds myself).

Some final things the hobbyist can do are to talk, recruit, and mentor. Talk about gaming (in a non-spastic manner). Ask non-gaming friends if they would like to play. Mentor and teach fledgling gamers. These tasks are for those that want to go the extra mile, because the bottom line is:

If you’re playing, the hobby is doing fine.


Thanks to everyone who participated in this month’s RPG Blog Carnival:

Listening to: Clockwork Dolls – Dramatis Personae – Maiden Voyage

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