D&D 5E Are we at, or close, to peak D&D? Again?

Snarf Zagyg

Notorious Liquefactionist
So, how do YOU feel about provocative titles?

Forget it, Jake. It's Zagygtown.


ahem

Noodling around after a recent needed break, I was again marveling at the resurgence and success of D&D. As has been discussed ad nauseum, success has a thousand fathers, and there are many reasons that D&D is now enjoying levels of success, both as a product and in the zeitgeist, that arguably surpass the early 80s.* There are a number of reasons for this- an edition that has been popular and is reasonably easy to pick and play, a number of older players returning to the fold for nostalgic reasons (and many of them bringing younger players with them), the success of youtube/streaming/podcasts for D&D, responsible shepherding of the product, the prevalence of internet tools that make the game easier- especially playing remotely or finding groups, and the general success of "nerd culture" in the mainstream.

And yet- perhaps this is as good as it gets? Wait, what???!!!???!! I know what you're thinking- typical doomcasting! Grognard hatin' on the popularity! To channel Hairspray, YOU CAN'T STOP THE BEAT!

But here's the thing about enjoying success. For the most part ... it ends. Success is similar to cruising down the highway doing 90 passing all of the traffic and feeling all happy inside and then you accidently shift from fifth to first instead of to fourth and watch your engine leap out out of your hood.**

As such, I think it's helpful to remember both that D&D has previously had this unprecedented success, and that it "ended." It doesn't mean that D&D (or RPGs) go away; we are still playing them. Simply that certain hobbies will have boom/bust cycles, and that these occur for a reason. I expect that this will also be thoroughly uncontroversial. :)


1. A nuke for a nuke will make the whole world bow down to me. -Gandhi, probably.

The prior golden age of D&D was the late 70s to the early 80s, and while you could date it different ways, it definitely included the time period from 1977 (publication of Monster Manual) through the end of 1983 (publication of the last classic modules, Monster Manual II. Mentzer's Expert Set). As D&D continued to grow in popularity in the early 80s, it was "popular" in a way that is difficult to fathom at a later time. Back before the Amazon, or even before the internet***, D&D could be found everywhere. Not just in local hobbyist stores (which carried D&D in addition to the usual stalwarts like Avalon Hill), but in the malls (Kaybee Toys, B. Dalton, Waldenbooks), in department stores (Sears et al.), everywhere. Even scholastic book sales at schools had D&D books! And given the mass-market constraints at the time (try finding a bagel outside of New York, or remember that sushi was some weird thing in California), the omnipresence of D&D in the early 80s helped it spread far and wide.

Which was reflected in the popular culture as well. For a period of time, you had a Saturday morning cartoon (when that was a huge thing) that ran from '83-'85. You had movies (like E.T.) portraying D&D as a common thing ... of course the "cool" older siblings are excluding the younger kid from playing it ... and did not need explanation.

Of course, the popularity also caused a backlash (the Satanic Panic ... ugh) and the over-expansion of D&D caused retrenchment (the Lorraine Williams era). Saying the golden age was a "fad" isn't accurate- it built a lasting empire, albeit one that has had ebbs and flows. But it was, in a sense, a fad in the way that it captured a moment in time and exploded in popularity only to recede again.


2. History may not repeat, but it does rhyme. Like orange. - $ki Mask "The Slump God", indubitably.

Now we are in a new era of unprecedented popularity for the D&D brand. This, overall, is a good.... GREAT thing. Every person who gets exposed now is a potential player not just now, but years from now; and not just D&D, but all RPGs. But I wonder whether this is a burst of popularity (similar to the early 80s) that will plateau and dip, or if there is truly a new paradigm shift that means that D&D has become a mass-culture item destined for continued rocket-fueled growth? To examine this, I'd throw out the following three possible scenarios, and then examine which I think is most likely.


A. Resentments are the rocket fuel that lives in the tip of my saber. - Charlie Sheen, actually.

Scenario A is that things have changed. Maybe it's the prevalence of on-line systems to find games, or to have "virtual" games, or twitch, or how nerd culture is taking over the world. You can put in your favored theory here. But regardless of why you think things have changed, they have. D&D specifically, and RPGs in general, will continue to become more and more popular. The younger kids that are playing will continue to play, and keep bringing in new generations of players. It will be nearly unheard of for any town to not have a sizeable population of D&D players.


B. I am a serious actor. I just like to collect houses. Big, big, big houses. -Robert Downey Jr., breathlessly.

Scenario B is the Marvel/DC scenario. Now, if you're familiar with this thing called "comics," you might be aware that Marvel and DC (owned, respectively, by the House of Mouse and the Warner Brothers .. and their sister Dot) make massive buck on Superheroes. Movies. Television shows. Animated stuff. Licensing. The brands are YUGE! It's practically a license to print money and/or write checks for Zack Snyder's ego to try and cash.

But what about the comics? You know, the things that started it all? Well, the pandemic didn't help. But the comics themselves are still struggling along. They aren't the focus of the brand. They are more akin to the vestigial tail. Both DC and Marvel make for more from entertainment (film, TV, games, other multimedia) and licensing (anything you can stamp a Wolverine or a Batman on) than they do from the comics.

Which is the likely Hasbro-approved scenario for D&D. Get that Chris Pine movie going. Get the TV series out there. More twitch streaming. More games. Start licensing so people can show their D&D affiliation. Watch the money roll in. Maybe put out some rulebooks too- I guess people might want to play?


C. All things end badly; otherwise, they wouldn't end. -Billie Bob Thornton's Divorce Attorney, knowingly.

Scenario C is the 80s scenario, repeated. In effect, the brand itself has no real multimedia staying power (in terms of blockbuster movies or multiple TV shows). Sure, maybe it generates some book series and some merch here and there, or a few games, but it's not a huge player. And the game itself continues to be played and supported, and continues in the popular consciousness, but retreats from its current popular culture peak. It's cyclical- like any number of things (especially hobbies) that attract intense interest, and then retreat back into comfortable niches.


So what do I think? Personally, I'm torn between B and C. I think that B is the best-case scenario. And there is nothing wrong with that! It would be awesome to have D&D merch and computer games and movies and TV shows; the more, the better. But it's also possible that these don't take off, and we end up with C. Which, again, is not a terrible thing. D&D isn't going to die off. But D&D- the playing of D&D, is a massive time commitment. It requires a group of people. It requires a large investment of time. As fun as it is, there are very few hobbies that are similar that maintain "mass appeal" for long periods of time. If you look back through history, you will see all types of similar pastimes (such as bridge, which was HUGE, or bowling leagues) eventually move to the smaller subset of people after being in the zeitgeist for a period of time. Simply because people move on to other things- we only have a limited amount of time.

Now I'm throwing it out for general comments and/or rubbishing. On a scale of 1 to 10, how wrong am I?






*I would say that the current popularity does surpass it, maybe, but it's very hard to measure ... given both that the difficulty in determining some numbers and the difficulty in translating "pop culture" zeitgeist between eras- how do you measure the number of youtube and twitch streamers compared to the number of schools that had sudden D&D clubs in the 80s? It would be like comparing a wacky wall walker to grumpy cat, or the Rubik's cube to fidget spinners. Or something like that.

**First, apologies to the great writer of .... Dr. Who. Yeah, you didn't expect that, did you? Second, "shifting" is this thing that people used to do in "gas" cars with manual transmissions.

***Yeah yeah yeah, DARPA and universities. Look, if you had a 300 baud modem in the 80s and knew of a BBS, you were likely an CS engineer of some type. "Shall we play a game?" was, for all purposes for almost all people watching it, science fiction.
 

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TwoSix

Unserious gamer
C, but with the caveat that the current growth will lock in an installed base (much like the 80s boom did) that will follow the game even during more fallow periods.

Personally, I think turning D&D into a real multimedia empire is probably a pipe dream. But I thought turning Iron Man into a big movie was a huge stretch, so what do I know?
 


Probably C. Once something becomes popular enough, people get sick of it.

I think as TwoSix has said you'll probably have people continue playing it once it gets unpopular again (that other thing that got people scared in the 80s and had some nerd following, heavy metal, never really went away), and there may even be a revival.

Heck if I'm still around in 2060 I may be around to see that second D&D revival, with 9th edition games being popular on the VR networks, and wave my old Monster Manual at the kids who visit the nursing home. "You know we had four base classes in my day? Seven if you were playing the basic game, and three of those were races, sorry, ancestries. Though if you count the AD&D options there were eleven... and we didn't have computers, so we had to calculate all our rolls by hand! And that virus-looking-thing you see on older role-playing stuff...sorry, gotta use the bathroom...where was I? Did you know young people used to like rap? No, that wasn't it... Oh yeah, the thing that looks like a virus was a twenty-sided die, and we used to roll those to see what our results were. And we had tables, and you used to look up the result in the table. No, not that kind of table...it was a big bunch of numbers, printed on a page...you've seen physical books, right? on paper? Never mind. Anyway, you had to look up stuff in these tables, and where are you going? Kids these days. I don't know what this country is coming to."
 
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jgsugden

Legend
A.5.

D&D is a more secure hobby in terms of popularity than ever before, with deep fandom of it as entertainment added to the appreciation of it as a game. It will rise and fall in popularity over time, but it is going to be a pervasive element in entertainment and gaming for a long time.

I think their best move is to take their most well known IP and make movies about him - Drizz't.
 

S'mon

Legend
So, how do YOU feel about provocative titles?

Forget it, Jake. It's Zagygtown.


ahem

Noodling around after a recent needed break, I was again marveling at the resurgence and success of D&D. As has been discussed ad nauseum, success has a thousand fathers, and there are many reasons that D&D is now enjoying levels of success, both as a product and in the zeitgeist, that arguably surpass the early 80s.* There are a number of reasons for this- an edition that has been popular and is reasonably easy to pick and play, a number of older players returning to the fold for nostalgic reasons (and many of them bringing younger players with them), the success of youtube/streaming/podcasts for D&D, responsible shepherding of the product, the prevalence of internet tools that make the game easier- especially playing remotely or finding groups, and the general success of "nerd culture" in the mainstream.

And yet- perhaps this is as good as it gets? Wait, what???!!!???!! I know what you're thinking- typical doomcasting! Grognard hatin' on the popularity! To channel Hairspray, YOU CAN'T STOP THE BEAT!

But here's the thing about enjoying success. For the most part ... it ends. Success is similar to cruising down the highway doing 90 passing all of the traffic and feeling all happy inside and then you accidently shift from fifth to first instead of to fourth and watch your engine leap out out of your hood.**

As such, I think it's helpful to remember both that D&D has previously had this unprecedented success, and that it "ended." It doesn't mean that D&D (or RPGs) go away; we are still playing them. Simply that certain hobbies will have boom/bust cycles, and that these occur for a reason. I expect that this will also be thoroughly uncontroversial. :)


1. A nuke for a nuke will make the whole world bow down to me. -Gandhi, probably.

The prior golden age of D&D was the late 70s to the early 80s, and while you could date it different ways, it definitely included the time period from 1977 (publication of Monster Manual) through the end of 1983 (publication of the last classic modules, Monster Manual II. Mentzer's Expert Set). As D&D continued to grow in popularity in the early 80s, it was "popular" in a way that is difficult to fathom at a later time. Back before the Amazon, or even before the internet***, D&D could be found everywhere. Not just in local hobbyist stores (which carried D&D in addition to the usual stalwarts like Avalon Hill), but in the malls (Kaybee Toys, B. Dalton, Waldenbooks), in department stores (Sears et al.), everywhere. Even scholastic book sales at schools had D&D books! And given the mass-market constraints at the time (try finding a bagel outside of New York, or remember that sushi was some weird thing in California), the omnipresence of D&D in the early 80s helped it spread far and wide.

Which was reflected in the popular culture as well. For a period of time, you had a Saturday morning cartoon (when that was a huge thing) that ran from '83-'85. You had movies (like E.T.) portraying D&D as a common thing ... of course the "cool" older siblings are excluding the younger kid from playing it ... and did not need explanation.

Of course, the popularity also caused a backlash (the Satanic Panic ... ugh) and the over-expansion of D&D caused retrenchment (the Lorraine Williams era). Saying the golden age was a "fad" isn't accurate- it built a lasting empire, albeit one that has had ebbs and flows. But it was, in a sense, a fad in the way that it captured a moment in time and exploded in popularity only to recede again.


2. History may not repeat, but it does rhyme. Like orange. - $ki Mask "The Slump God", indubitably.

Now we are in a new era of unprecedented popularity for the D&D brand. This, overall, is a good.... GREAT thing. Every person who gets exposed now is a potential player not just now, but years from now; and not just D&D, but all RPGs. But I wonder whether this is a burst of popularity (similar to the early 80s) that will plateau and dip, or if there is truly a new paradigm shift that means that D&D has become a mass-culture item destined for continued rocket-fueled growth? To examine this, I'd throw out the following three possible scenarios, and then examine which I think is most likely.


A. Resentments are the rocket fuel that lives in the tip of my saber. - Charlie Sheen, actually.

Scenario A is that things have changed. Maybe it's the prevalence of on-line systems to find games, or to have "virtual" games, or twitch, or how nerd culture is taking over the world. You can put in your favored theory here. But regardless of why you think things have changed, they have. D&D specifically, and RPGs in general, will continue to become more and more popular. The younger kids that are playing will continue to play, and keep bringing in new generations of players. It will be nearly unheard of for any town to not have a sizeable population of D&D players.


B. I am a serious actor. I just like to collect houses. Big, big, big houses. -Robert Downey Jr., breathlessly.

Scenario B is the Marvel/DC scenario. Now, if you're familiar with this thing called "comics," you might be aware that Marvel and DC (owned, respectively, by the House of Mouse and the Warner Brothers .. and their sister Dot) make massive buck on Superheroes. Movies. Television shows. Animated stuff. Licensing. The brands are YUGE! It's practically a license to print money and/or write checks for Zack Snyder's ego to try and cash.

But what about the comics? You know, the things that started it all? Well, the pandemic didn't help. But the comics themselves are still struggling along. They aren't the focus of the brand. They are more akin to the vestigial tail. Both DC and Marvel make for more from entertainment (film, TV, games, other multimedia) and licensing (anything you can stamp a Wolverine or a Batman on) than they do from the comics.

Which is the likely Hasbro-approved scenario for D&D. Get that Chris Pine movie going. Get the TV series out there. More twitch streaming. More games. Start licensing so people can show their D&D affiliation. Watch the money roll in. Maybe put out some rulebooks too- I guess people might want to play?


C. All things end badly; otherwise, they wouldn't end. -Billie Bob Thornton's Divorce Attorney, knowingly.

Scenario C is the 80s scenario, repeated. In effect, the brand itself has no real multimedia staying power (in terms of blockbuster movies or multiple TV shows). Sure, maybe it generates some book series and some merch here and there, or a few games, but it's not a huge player. And the game itself continues to be played and supported, and continues in the popular consciousness, but retreats from its current popular culture peak. It's cyclical- like any number of things (especially hobbies) that attract intense interest, and then retreat back into comfortable niches.


So what do I think? Personally, I'm torn between B and C. I think that B is the best-case scenario. And there is nothing wrong with that! It would be awesome to have D&D merch and computer games and movies and TV shows; the more, the better. But it's also possible that these don't take off, and we end up with C. Which, again, is not a terrible thing. D&D isn't going to die off. But D&D- the playing of D&D, is a massive time commitment. It requires a group of people. It requires a large investment of time. As fun as it is, there are very few hobbies that are similar that maintain "mass appeal" for long periods of time. If you look back through history, you will see all types of similar pastimes (such as bridge, which was HUGE, or bowling leagues) eventually move to the smaller subset of people after being in the zeitgeist for a period of time. Simply because people move on to other things- we only have a limited amount of time.

Now I'm throwing it out for general comments and/or rubbishing. On a scale of 1 to 10, how wrong am I?






*I would say that the current popularity does surpass it, maybe, but it's very hard to measure ... given both that the difficulty in determining some numbers and the difficulty in translating "pop culture" zeitgeist between eras- how do you measure the number of youtube and twitch streamers compared to the number of schools that had sudden D&D clubs in the 80s? It would be like comparing a wacky wall walker to grumpy cat, or the Rubik's cube to fidget spinners. Or something like that.

**First, apologies to the great writer of .... Dr. Who. Yeah, you didn't expect that, did you? Second, "shifting" is this thing that people used to do in "gas" cars with manual transmissions.

***Yeah yeah yeah, DARPA and universities. Look, if you had a 300 baud modem in the 80s and knew of a BBS, you were likely an CS engineer of some type. "Shall we play a game?" was, for all purposes for almost all people watching it, science fiction.

Well I think as long as WoTC keeps to the slow release schedule & ease of entry, the game will continue to build adherents. Ironically (B) is the biggest threat to (A) - a bad film and cheesy over-exposure (which was an element of the '83 crash) could make the game itself 'not cool' and eat the seed corn.

WoTC are producing more and more stuff I'm not buying, yet I'm spending (or receiving) more D&D than ever - the reason being (a) third party stuff and (b) rebuying on Roll20 the stuff I already own in hardback. A Roll20 version of a monster book I own in hardcopy & like is much more useful to me than a Roll20 version of a book I'm unfamiliar with. Same for scenarios, to a large extent. Definitely true for rule books (though I've seen no need for a Roll20 DMG, I bought the PHB + XGTE again).

I think currently WoTC are in the sweet spot where both newbies and vets are buying stuff. OK I didn't buy Tasha's, but I re-bought a bunch of stuff I already owned. There seem to be a ton of new players seeking GMs every day. WOTC may be near Peak D&D but unless they do something silly (again) I see no reason for a precipitous decline.
 


TheSword

Legend
Market share growth can’t last for ever, but market share can be maintained. Which in itself would still keep D&D exceedingly popular even if it stopped now.

My prediction is that growth from new players will slow in 2-3 years. That will be balanced by an increasing expectation to leverage existing players and we’ll see the publication schedule grow instead. Over 3-5 more years the game will become saturated, a new edition will be laid out. That was cause a rift. Popularity will drop off. Other companies will gain market share that either cater to 5e junkies or do a new edition better.

Little bits of history repeating.

Edit: Translations could be a deal breaker here. Good quality, rapid translation could open the market at a level never before seen. Drastically extending the popularity of the game and the market.
 
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I do have an uneasy feeling that Tasha's represents a shift and that anything after this will someday be referred to as "late 5E." But I'm not sure I can put my finger on why I feel that way.
There's been a fundamental shift in how WotC sees 'tradition' as a reason to do things. In early 5e development, it was seen as really important, because they wanted to make sure the existing fans were all on board. Fragmented fanbases are bad for IP. History seems to have validated this approach.

But by now, due to the explosion of popularity, many people with no nostalgia for the old game are looking at it, and even if they accept it as fair for it's time a number of elements are... currently 'not cool.' Taking those away might upset a few grognards (not enough that they'll stop playing, mind you, although they might buy less), but it will help them bring in a lot of new people who were otherwise not interested because they felt excluded or were unwilling to do anything they perceive as exclusionary.

Hasbro crunched the numbers they have and decided to go this new route. It's all just a dollars-and-sense calculation, but it's a major, radical (as in 'at the root') change in how the game will be developed going forward. It's a big deal.
 



Snarf Zagyg

Notorious Liquefactionist
Hasbro crunched the numbers they have and decided to go this new route. It's all just a dollars-and-sense calculation, but it's a major, radical (as in 'at the root') change in how the game will be developed going forward. It's a big deal.

Maybe!

I don't mean to be dismissive, but the idea that Hasbro has "crunched the numbers" on this is ... well, probably not correct.

People generally mistake the aggregate for the individual. Which is to say-

All companies are trying to make money.
Not all companies make money.
That's because the heuristics we use (companies "crunch the numbers" or "have good information" or "make rational decisions") works great in the aggregate and explains, for the most part, successful companies, but doesn't work so well for all companies, or all markets, at all times.

It is generally more accurate to say that most companies are risk averse. And most companies prefer good PR. Because bad publicity, or alienating customers, tends to be bad for business. Unless your brand is controversy. shrug
 



The next two-three years will determine if it's B or C, frankly.

The quality of various D&D-based multimedia products - games, TV, movies - will have a huge impact. And Wizards needs to be ready to leverage their brand, not just D&D, if they want staying power. I suspect their bizarre logo change is part of this. They're going hard with the AAA games studios and hook-ups with various studios and so on to push into that digital space. The first in-house effort is looking increasingly "hmmm", unfortunately - Baldur's Gate: Dark Alliance. I think that's going to be, at best, a forgettable 6/10 AA game instead of the memorable 8/10+ AAA game it absolutely needed to be.

Based on D&D's history I tend to suspect the other multimedia stuff will also not do great. I hope it does awesome - best chance is with the TV show I suspect.

So C seems more likely.

However, regardless, as others have pointed out, the sheer number of people who will have played D&D will have an impact, and will probably boost the entire RPG industry for at least a decade, and people's kids are playing it, too, and you can pretty much bet that in 20+ years from now that will lead to another revival of some form. Be interesting to see if Wizards still exists and has the licence then of course. I suspect that they will not on either count, because some new management wave will have come in at Hasbro during the era when sales are declining, and broken them up/sold them off.

EDIT - The only way we haven't reached peak D&D is if Wizards releases a significantly-better-than-DNDBeyond digital space replete with a VTT so good it can barely be called a VTT, and has a very favourable pricing model, and does so in the next few years.
 


S'mon

Legend
Taking those away might upset a few grognards (not enough that they'll stop playing, mind you, although they might buy less), but it will help them bring in a lot of new people who were otherwise not interested because they felt excluded or were unwilling to do anything they perceive as exclusionary.
I think 5e already achieved that on launch - felt inclusive, & attracted players who might have been deterred by eg 4e dwarf boobplate. Although far more I think were deterred by 4e's heavy crunch feel. I haven't seen any sign of anyone coming in due to Tasha's; a supplement hardly ever has that kind of power.
 


Burnside

Space Jam Confirmed
Supporter
EDIT - The only way we haven't reached peak D&D is if Wizards releases a significantly-better-than-DNDBeyond digital space replete with a VTT so good it can barely be called a VTT, and has a very favourable pricing model, and does so in the next few years.
Somebody is going to come up with a game-changing VTT. The market's there for something that looks much better than Roll20 with a much less steep learning curve.
 

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