How Did We Get Here?Role-playing games have steadily been increasing in popularity and media attention. Several factors are likely at play, ranging from older players returning to the hobby (as evidenced by the Old School Renaissance ), to an increased media awareness of role-playing games (Stranger Things being one example), to a wave of nostalgia as 40-somethings now have enough buying power to introduce their kids to the hobby.
The rise of video and podcasting has also introduced gaming to a much larger population on the Internet. Conventions are more popular than ever before -- to the point that they have difficulty keeping up with the demand. Wizards of the Coast has released a new Open Game License and a distribution platform via DM's Guild. It helps that Dungeons & Dragons has also broadened its audience, with millennials (ages 25 to 34) the largest group, followed closely ages 35 to 44 and 18 to 24 — 30% of which are female.
Six Million an Hour?According to WOTC, six million people are playing D&D at any given hour. UPDATE: I asked Nathan Stewart to clarify this number. This was his response:
There was more context given, wasn't supposed to mean every hour, but yes the aggregate was videogames/boardgames/TRPG (not novels)
The "per hour" seems to be egregious, and is inclusive of D&D-branded video games and board games. Ethan Gilsdorf, author of Fantasy Freaks and Gaming Geeks, said :
For those in the know, for those who follow popular culture, the game has gained a kind of legendary status. It's almost like a badge of honor. People who used to play D&D in the 70s, 80s, and 90s are now reaping the benefits.
The data backs up the RPG renaissance, as per ICv2:
The number of people playing hobby games, the number of people shopping at game stores, the number of stores, and exposure of hobby games at major retailers were all up in 2016, reflecting the now-mainstream nature of the hobby.
Mike Mearls, senior manager of D&D research and design, confirmed ICv2's findings:
We're seeing a bigger audience than we've seen in a very long time—in decades. It's so easy to cast this idea that technology will be the death of D&D, but it's been really interesting to see how that has been absolutely incorrect.
Will the Bubble Burst?Rob Salkowitz at ICv2 predicts that mainstream geek culture will affect other industries, as they take notes on what works for geek fans and apply it to other forms of fandom like sports :
It’s been clear for a while that the fan convention template that we’ve known since the 1960s is fraying at the edges as geek culture becomes mainstream consumer culture. On one hand, this means outside players who smell the money are making their play for the fan audience, with increasingly mixed results. But on the other, it means that longtime convention organizers within the space are looking to push their shows into neighboring territory.
Salkowitz calls this "peak geek" and it has consequences beyond geek circles:
The danger is that, even with a fresh infusion of smart nerds in strategic spots, mainstream media is still more liable than their niche counterparts to credit know-nothings on an equal basis with informed sources, misinterpret nuances, impose faulty narrative frameworks and just plain get stuff wrong when it comes to covering the business of pop culture--especially if they are taking their cues from some of the more excitable fever swamps of online fandom. The result is a much more treacherous environment for the big companies and big name creators unaccustomed to attention from these quarters.
For tabletop games, the primary concern is that eight straight years of growth is unsustainable:
For 2017, there’s widespread concern that the number of releases is going to be greater than the market can support. "I think we're facing some challenges coming into the new year, just on the basis of the breadth of releases," one distributor told us.
But for the moment, things have never looked better for gaming. As more and more media launches -- from videos to streaming to podcasts to television shows to movies -- geek culture will become so normalized that it may well lose some of its identity. Chris Perkins, principal D&D designer, summed up the current state of affairs:
Geek culture and nerd culture is now just culture.
Whether or not that is a good or bad thing will be determined by us.
Mike "Talien" Tresca is a freelance game columnist, author, communicator, and a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to http://amazon.com. You can follow him at Patreon.