D&D General As of 1998, 4,007,685 people played AD&D in the US, as estimated by Ben Riggs.

GreyLord

Legend
I think it's impossible to estimate those numbers without international numbers.

I think the posit is not exact simply because I KNOW there were many groups that did NOT use a DMG.

The most popular form I saw that didn't use the DMG were those that started with the BX sets or the BEC sets. These groups used the tables from BX or BECMI and got an AD&D PHB in many cases and continued on with that. Sometimes they got the MM in addition.

I've seen some of those sets get a LOT of use from DM's, some having gone through two, three, or more groups with each group being 4-5, and sometimes larger (I've seen groups up to 8-10 on the regular back then among really young gamers).

It IS interesting that the number is specific for 1998. I think other numbers have posited 1/10 that number (so more, like, half a million).

I don't know how they arrived at that number either (TBH).

I'd agree it is probably controversial. Interestingly high. I'd imagine based on that, the assumption of the number of players would be lower than the estimates for the mid 80s to mid 90s, but higher for the mid 90s to the 00s if we use a similar guessing game for the other years?

Of course a counter argument could be that if they were using the BX box but using the PHB and MM, were they REALLY playing AD&D...or was it actually an enhanced form of BX or BECMI?

Edit: Of course, it is ONLY the AD&D number, not D&D in general. 4 million in 1998 seems...high, but 4 million BY 1998...seems kind of low as well. I'd probably favor a number more akin to 8-10 million overall for the entire period...BUT...who really knows!? At least for the total AD&D player base. I'd imagine the D&D (BX and BECMI) numbers would be far greater though, if we are basing these on overall sales...especially when tossing in international numbers.
 
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Parmandur

Book-Friend
Well, the beauty of the Fermi Estimation is that your assumptions don’t necessarily need to be accurate, as long as you’re “in the right ballpark.” And as long as you understand that what you’re getting is not an accurate answer, but a reasonable range. Some of your estimations will be too high, and some will be too low, but as you multiply these factors, the over-estimates and the under-estimates tend to cancel out and you end up with a result that’s “close enough” (that is to say, within about an order of magnitude), which makes it a useful tool for checking your calculations that are meant to produce an accurate results against. If the calculations you use to try and find an accurate answer produce one that’s off from your Fermi Estimate by more than about an order of magnitude, there’s a good chance that there’s a flaw in your methodology.
Very interesting. Reading up on this new-fangled black magic practice, I found this following quote on the Qiki lage that gets at the heart of whybIndeel a couple of these assumptions could be improved:

"Although Fermi calculations are often not accurate, as there may be many problems with their assumptions, this sort of analysis does tell us what to look for to get a better answer. For the above example, we might try to find a better estimate of the number of pianos tuned by a piano tuner in a typical day, or look up an accurate number for the population of Chicago. It also gives us a rough estimate that may be good enough for some purposes: if we want to start a store in Chicago that sells piano tuning equipment, and we calculate that we need 10,000 potential customers to stay in business, we can reasonably assume that the above estimate is far enough below 10,000 that we should consider a different business plan (and, with a little more work, we could compute a rough upper bound on the number of piano tuners by considering the most extreme reasonable values that could appear in each of our assumptions)."
 

Zardnaar

Legend
Well with the WotC 5.5-6 million number late 90's/early 2000's I assume they guesstimated an attach rate to PHB sold via surveys I suppose.

There's also a difference between active players vs everyone who ever tried it.
 


Charlaquin

Goblin Queen (She/Her/Hers)
I think it's impossible to estimate those numbers without international numbers.

I think the posit is not exact simply because I KNOW there were many groups that did NOT use a DMG.
He isn’t claiming to posit an exact number though. He’s pretty explicitly making a guess that is almost certainly not correct, but is also very unlikely to be off by that much. Were there actually 4,007,685 people playing AD&D in 1988? Almost certainly not. But on the other hand, it’s similarly unlikely that there were fewer than 40,0768 people or more than 40,076,850 people playing. In fact, I would even dare to say we can safely assume an even tighter range than that! Perhaps between 2,000,000 and 8,000,000?
 


GreyLord

Legend
He isn’t claiming to posit an exact number though. He’s pretty explicitly making a guess that is almost certainly not correct, but is also very unlikely to be off by that much. Were there actually 4,007,685 people playing AD&D in 1988? Almost certainly not. But on the other hand, it’s similarly unlikely that there were fewer than 40,0768 people or more than 40,076,850 people playing. In fact, I would even dare to say we can safely assume an even tighter range than that! Perhaps between 2,000,000 and 8,000,000?

There was another discussion a few years back that posited that in the late 90s there were only about half a million active D&D players (that's for that time period, not all of the players ever).

I think the 4 million is total players (which I think is a bit low, 8 million is still on the low side of what I'd think ,but it falls within the 8-10 million AD&D players of my own thoughts).

However, off the top of my head now, I do not know where that half a million D&D (that wasn't just AD&D, that's D&D players total during the late 90s) number comes from. I know the late 90s were a bastion for other RPGs that were taking AD&D's thunder, the high point for Werewolf/Vampire, but also you had GURPS, RIFTS, Champions, and a few others eating D&D's lunch.
 

John Lloyd1

Explorer
They used to do surveys no idea beyond that.
Those surveys something about the players, but not the number of players. You could ask a bunch of random people if they have played ad&d, but that would be expensive. Or fermi estimation. I'm not sure what other options there are.
 

Zardnaar

Legend
Those surveys something about the players, but not the number of players. You could ask a bunch of random people if they have played ad&d, but that would be expensive. Or fermi estimation. I'm not sure what other options there are.

Ask them how many players you have get enough responses and extrapolate.

Altit of political polling is 1000 responses or so.

I have no idea how they did it but this is one possibility.
 

Charlaquin

Goblin Queen (She/Her/Hers)
Very interesting. Reading up on this new-fangled black magic practice, I found this following quote on the Qiki lage that gets at the heart of whybIndeel a couple of these assumptions could be improved:

"Although Fermi calculations are often not accurate, as there may be many problems with their assumptions, this sort of analysis does tell us what to look for to get a better answer. For the above example, we might try to find a better estimate of the number of pianos tuned by a piano tuner in a typical day, or look up an accurate number for the population of Chicago. It also gives us a rough estimate that may be good enough for some purposes: if we want to start a store in Chicago that sells piano tuning equipment, and we calculate that we need 10,000 potential customers to stay in business, we can reasonably assume that the above estimate is far enough below 10,000 that we should consider a different business plan (and, with a little more work, we could compute a rough upper bound on the number of piano tuners by considering the most extreme reasonable values that could appear in each of our assumptions)."
This is where we get the Fermi Paradox from. Even given extremely conservative estimates it seems absurdly unlikely for the number of planets that host intelligent life in the universe to be 1. But also given similar estimations it seems absurdly unlikely that we wouldn’t be able to see any evidence of other intelligent life if it existed. So, clearly our estimates are flawed in some way or another, and we must ask ourselves wherein the flaw(s) lie. Is intelligent life far rarer than we would assume? That’s possible, but it would make us an extreme outlier, which is yet another sign that there may be a flaw in your methodology. Is intelligent life inherently unsustainable? That’s also possible, but a rather depressing thought. Similarly, it could be that interstellar travel is actually just impossible, but we’d like to hope that’s not the answer. Are all the aliens hiding from us for some reason? Maybe, but, like, why?

Another interesting piece of the puzzle is that statistical modeling can be used to demonstrate, pretty much inarguably, that we are more than 90% likely to be among the first 10% of intelligent species to arise in the universe. This, again, marks us as an exceptional case, which is always cause for skepticism about one’s assumptions. One interesting proposal that resolves this problem, while being much more hopeful than the possibility that all life goes extinct before achieving interstellar travel, is that life forms which do achieve interstellar travel are likely to take control of large portions of the universe and prevent other spacefaring life from developing within that territory. In other words, if we assume most aliens would be colonialist, then it becomes more likely that, as intelligent life forms, we would be among the first to have developed, since later in the universe’s life, all the territory in which new intelligent life might develop will have already been colonized. And we would likewise expect not to see aliens, since if they were close enough to see, they would probably already have colonized our system and prevented us from developing within it.

…What were we talking about again?
 
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Zardnaar

Legend
This is where we get the Fermi Paradox from. Even given extremely conservative estimates it seems absurdly unlikely for the number of planets that host intelligent life in the universe to be 1. But also given similar estimations it seems absurdly unlikely that we wouldn’t be able to see any evidence of other intelligent life if it existed. So, clearly our estimates are flawed in some way or another, and we must ask ourselves wherein the flaw(s) lie. Is intelligent life far rarer than we would assume? That’s possible, but it would make use an extreme outlier, which is yet another sign that there may be a flaw in your methodology. Is intelligent life inherently unsustainable? That’s also possible, but a rather depressing thought. Similarly, it could be that interstellar travel is actually just impossible, but we’d like to hope that’s not the answer. Are all the aliens hiding from us for some reason? Maybe, but, like, why?

Another interesting piece of the puzzle is that statistical modeling can be used to demonstrate, pretty much inarguably, that we are more than 90% likely to be among the first 10% of intelligent species to arise in the universe. This, again, marks us as an exceptional case, which is always cause for skepticism about one’s assumptions. One interesting proposal that resolves this problem, while being much more hopeful than the possibility that all life goes extinct before achieving interstellar travel, is that life forms which do achieve interstellar travel are likely to take control of large portions of the universe and prevent other spacefaring life from developing within that territory. In other words, if we assume most aliens would be colonialist, then it becomes more likely that, as intelligent life forms, we would be among the first to have developed, since later in the universe’s life, all the territory in which new intelligent life might develop will have already been colonized. And we would likewise expect not to see aliens, since if they were close enough to see, they would probably already have colonized our system and prevented us from developing within it.

…What were we talking about again?

My theory is in 13 billion years it's unlikely that two intelligent lifeforms would evolve close enough and have the same tech levels in the same timeframe to communicate with each other.

A species evolving at the same rate as us could have evolved 9 billion years ago.

The math suggests it's almost guaranteed life exists elsewhere, intelligent life probably but how intelligent or how far down the tech tree so to speak and how close they are....
 

Charlaquin

Goblin Queen (She/Her/Hers)
My theory is in 13 billion years it's unlikely that two intelligent lifeforms would evolve close enough and have the same tech levels in the same timeframe to communicate with each other.

A species evolving at the same rate as us could have evolved 9 billion years ago.

The math suggests it's almost guaranteed life exists elsewhere, intelligent life probably but how intelligent or how far down the tech tree so to speak and how close they are....
But the fact that we’re so early is just coincidence?
 


Charlaquin

Goblin Queen (She/Her/Hers)
13 billion years is early?
Incredibly so. It will be trillions of years before the last stars burn out, and far, far longer than that before the last black holes finish evaporating to Hawking radiation. Again, it can be proven, pretty much irrefutably with simple statistical models that we are over 90% likely to be among the first 10% of intelligent life forms in the universe. No complex physics even required.
 
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Zardnaar

Legend
Incredibly so. It will be trillions of years before the last stars burn out, and far, far longer than that before the last black holes finish evaporating to Hawking radiation. Again, it can be proven, pretty much irrefutably with simple statistical models that we are over 90% likely to be among the first 10% of intelligent life forms in the universe. No complex physics even required.

I'm saying anything evolving at the same rate could theoretically have evolved 9 billion years ago. And gone extinct in a few million years.
 

He isn’t claiming to posit an exact number though. He’s pretty explicitly making a guess that is almost certainly not correct, but is also very unlikely to be off by that much. Were there actually 4,007,685 people playing AD&D in 1988? Almost certainly not. But on the other hand, it’s similarly unlikely that there were fewer than 40,0768 people or more than 40,076,850 people playing. In fact, I would even dare to say we can safely assume an even tighter range than that! Perhaps between 2,000,000 and 8,000,000?
Well.... that's not entirely true. There is a claim being made here that depends on the value being pretty close to the listed value, and not merely within an order of magnitude of the actual value.

That claim is implied in the graph shown which compares the expected number of players in different eras. Because, as it stands, it is communicating the idea "there are ten times as many D&D players now as there were in 1998." That claim is...dubious. Given some of the assumptions that are questionable (such as only 4 players per DM and not 6 or more, and assuming a very high re-buy rate, among other things), it seems this is specifically aiming to he a low-ball estimate of yesteryear's player count and a rather inflated estimate of current player counts, leading to that dramatic comparison when the actual comparison is likely to be much closer together.

Given further things, we expect high retention and low attrition. That is, US population growth (e.g. we've gained about 60 million new bodies since the late 90s and about another 60 million between 1974 and 1998) means there are literally millions of young people who could join up. Further we expect a comparatively slow rate of losing old players by death: someone who was in their 20s in 1998 is in their 40s-50s in 2022, attrition by death is going to be fairly low. Further, major growth is likely with three new product lines (or four, it you count 3.5, or five, if you count PF1e, both of which I do). That means whatever numbers we claim for 1998 should mostly stick around and be part of the current numbers today. If the actual values are closer to 8 million and 20 million, that would be more than double, but far far less than over 10x as much.

That graph is really where the claim is being made that we should take this estimate as actually representative and not simply a plausible guess.

Incredibly so. It will be trillions of years before the last stars burn out, and far, far longer than that before the last black holes finish evaporating to Hawking radiation. Again, it can be proven, pretty much irrefutably with simple statistical models that we are over 90% likely to be among the first 10% of intelligent life forms in the universe. No complex physics even required.
I have seen these "irrefutable" claims. They suffer from the same faults that tell us that the "Doomsday Argument" does, which asserts that, by the Copernican Principle (that is, "you are probably not a special observer") and a few other things, humanity is essentially guaranteed to go extinct within the next ten thousand years, purely based on average human lifespans and the estimated number of humans that have ever existed. The "irrefutable" nature of these claims is not nearly as ironclad as you imply. Merely choosing the wrong kind of prior (one of the main objections to DA-type arguments) is enough to trash the entire approach.

There are also issues like addressing the "grabby alien" hypothesis which can explain the divergence between the Drake equation estimated value and the actual amount of intelligent life observed, among other concerns.
 

I think he's trying to justify a wild guess...and not doing great.
 


John Lloyd1

Explorer
Well.... that's not entirely true. There is a claim being made here that depends on the value being pretty close to the listed value, and not merely within an order of magnitude of the actual value.
I wasn't 100% clear on what your concerns were. Correct me if I'm wrong, but I think you were concerned that the proportion of 1st and 2nd ed. players is underestimated compared the 50 million figure. Is that correct?

Comparing the 4 million with the 50 million figure is going to be problematic:
  • the 4 million has a big margin for error because of the Fermi estimation
  • we may have introduced unconscious bias that systematically skew the estimates (possibly based on our own play experiences)
  • we don't know the methodology used to produce the 50 million. For all we know, there could have used Fermi estimation as well
I see your point about 4 million would still part of the 50 million and could be better represented in the graph.

BTW, I the original slide (I think) and it was in 2020:
more than 50 million players to date
I assume that is "TTRPG" players, but I can't be sure. Does it include CRPG players?
 

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