Thursday, September 08, 2011

Balkanization of the rpg industry, pt.2

My previous post on the fragmentation of the tabletop rpg industry was picked up in this post over at one of my favourite gaming blogs, Whitehall ParaIndustries (someday I'll work up the courage to ask what the name means). Gleichman and I are in general agreement about the state of the industry, although I sense he is somewhat more pessimistic than I. However, we disagree about the relative importance of the D&D edition wars to the overall state of things. I actually believe the divergence of D&D 3.5/Pathfinder and D&D 4e is, on the whole, beneficial to the industry. I don't believe the rpg industry lost very many customers as a result of this. D&D fanboys got a whole new line of gamebooks to buy with the emergence of 4th ed. People like me, who were more or less satisfied with D&D 3.5 got Pathfinder. The beauty of Pathfinder is that for many gamers who didn't feel the need to either move to 4e or the Pathfinder Role-Playing Game, they could still purchase the adventure paths and use them with their old D&D 3.5 rules with only a small amount of tweaking. As a result, you have D&D 4e fans, Pathfinder fans and D&D 3.x fans still spending money on game materials.

This brings us to the OSR. I think the big question that needs to be asked is when did these guys drop out? Gleichman believes this exodus resulted from the release of D&D 4e. That doesn't ring true to me. Sure, the OSR movement seemed to coalesce sometime around 2008, judging from the start dates of many of the most high-profile old-school blogs, but these guys seem no more enamoured with 3e than 4e. If the OSR is a response to 4e, why scurry all the way back to '74 or '77? No, it appears more likely that the old school guys were lost to the rpg industry for much longer and there is not much the industry could do to keep them spending. The one big mistake WotC did make with respect to the grognards was to remove the old edition pdfs from circulation. Selling out-of-print games doesn't keep game designers employed, but giving up an easy revenue stream makes no damn business sense whatsoever.

So where do I think we're heading? Well, I think eventually WotC will abandon the traditional tabletop rpg industry altogether, leaving Pathfinder and maybe Warhammer as the flagship games. The Dungeons & Dragons brand still has some value, so I think it will still exist in some form. The real carnage I think will happen among the second teir companies. There are simply too many of them selling too many products to a market that is not growing. Many of the casualties will probably not die completely, but will contract into one- or two-man operations selling pdfs and POD or turn into living dead companies like Palladium Books, selling one popular game over and over again to a small, but fanatical following. The industry won't die, but nobody is going to get rich either.



Gleichman said...

Thanks for the notice Rognar.

Yes, I'm a bit more pessimistic, although I do think the hobby will continue and for those not paying much attention- it will seem to do well. Print on Demand will ensure that.

It will be an illusion, but from what I see that's all most people online need.

I think WotC and D&D's future is up to 5th edition. It won't be easy, but one never knows.

And the OSR guys...

Some that I consider OSR are really pathfinder 3.x (or something similar) which would make them middle school or something. It's clear that these people make up the largest group in gaming currently given Pathfinder sales.

The ones that have gone even further back in time I think fall into three groups.

Those that got fed up not with 3.x, but the mess that 3.x turned into after a few years (driven IMO by the OGL). Rather reactionary.

Those that got fed up with 4th edition and decided that returning to the roots was the only thing to do. Very reactionary.

Lastly those who were still playing the old editions in the first place. I don't think there were many of these.

The release of the PDFs by WotC and then their removal played to all three of these groups. It gave them reason to buck to buck the Man. And buck they did.

Timing here was important too. The old school editions are now old enough that there was a daydream nostalgia to them. I watch them talk about these games, and it's not D&D as it was played back in the day. It's what the imagine it was.

It's like the aging guy listening to the same music he did back in the day. Not a indicator of taste or knowledge (like listening to, say classical), but one of a man attempting to regain his youth.

But RPGs are at their core fulfillment, so I can't really fault them for that.

Jeffrywith1e said...

It's strange. At the very same time I dread these days to come, and I'm eager for them.