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.
Supplement II: Blackmoor on Save or Die Podcast
27 minutes ago