Is the average RPG campaign only six sessions long?

Alzrius

The EN World kitten
I recently came across the following video, which references some data (which I've been unable to locate) suggesting that the average RPG campaign lasts for a grand total of six sessions. Needless to say, that struck me - and the guy in the video below - as being wildly low. Since I couldn't find a thread on this topic, I wanted to ask if this matches with the experiences of people here; what do you guys think?

 

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prabe

Aspiring Lurker (He/Him)
Supporter
I was thinking something similar to @TwoSix in that if you have sessions that don't get past Session One (or in come cases maybe Session Zero) that'll skew the averages some. Also ... even if they are asking people like me (I myself don't remember answering any surveys on this) there probably aren't many folks running campaigns for 55 or 90 sessions, the way I am.
 

Sir Brennen

Legend
If you include campaigns that aren't completed, I can see that average being accurate-ish. Just this past year, my online group, with a single DM, went through four different "campaigns", but none were really complete. This was due to either it being centered around a single published adventure, and we wrapped up, or the new campaign wasn't shaking out like the DM or players hoped. I know I've played in many other abruptly ended campaigns over my time in the hobby.

As a GM, I often suffer from having the itch to play the new idea I have for a game while running my current campaign. Sometimes it's system fatigue, sometimes it's just impatience. I usually resist, though.

That said, my other group is alternating between two different campaigns on a bi-weekly basis, one D&D 5E and one Savage Worlds. So each game gets played and average of once a month. The D&D game is going on probably around 50 sessions, and the SW is closer to 30.
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
I recently came across the following video, which references some data (which I've been unable to locate) suggesting that the average RPG campaign lasts for a grand total of six sessions. Needless to say, that struck me - and the guy in the video below - as being wildly low. Since I couldn't find a thread on this topic, I wanted to ask if this matches with the experiences of people here; what do you guys think?

Imagine one campaign that runs once every other week for five years, and 24 campaigns that go for one session, and never get any farther.

The average will be about six sessions.
 

pogre

Legend
Imagine one campaign that runs once every other week for five years, and 24 campaigns that go for one session, and never get any farther.

The average will be about six sessions.
That totally makes sense.

I think if online games are included that would certainly affect the average. I have sustained a weekly online Traveller campaign for the past several months, but it is harder IMO.

I don't play on VTT's, but my sons tell me ghosting and campaign collapses are prevalent on most platforms.
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
I think if online games are included that would certainly affect the average. I have sustained a weekly online Traveller campaign for the past several months, but it is harder IMO.

For ever weekly game that goes for three months (12 sessions), you need only one game that has one session and flops to bring the average down to about six.

Short-run failures crop long running game fast in the averaging.
 

Sir Brennen

Legend
That totally makes sense.

I think if online games are included that would certainly affect the average. I have sustained a weekly online Traveller campaign for the past several months, but it is harder IMO.

I don't play on VTT's, but my sons tell me ghosting and campaign collapses are prevalent on most platforms.
I think it depends on whether you're playing with an established gaming group of people you know, or strangers from the internet. The latter is definitely more likely to have a campaign peter out, or not really take off to begin with.

As an aside, how are your online games run if you're not using a VTT? I'm using roll20, and I find it actually makes prep and running encounters easier with less prep time, and no delay to layout/draw a map during combat. Plus there's a wealth of images out on the internet that you can drop in for your maps.

That said, I've probably been the biggest proponent for in person play for our group ealier this fall, but looks like we're going back to all online for a while.
 

Parmandur

Book-Friend
Imagine one campaign that runs once every other week for five years, and 24 campaigns that go for one session, and never get any farther.

The average will be about six sessions.
This. A lot of people seem to confuse what "average" means.

IIRC, back when 5E came out, WotC said that the typical long running campaign met once a week or every other week from August to May before ending or being abandoned: in other words, the school year. Hence their Adventure books being placed so as to fit in thst school year time frame.
 

pogre

Legend
I think it depends on whether you're playing with an established gaming group of people you know, or strangers from the internet. The latter is definitely more likely to have a campaign peter out, or not really take off to begin with.

As an aside, how are your online games run if you're not using a VTT? I'm using roll20, and I find it actually makes prep and running encounters easier with less prep time, and no delay to layout/draw a map during combat. Plus there's a wealth of images out on the internet that you can drop in for your maps.

That said, I've probably been the biggest proponent for in person play for our group ealier this fall, but looks like we're going back to all online for a while.
I use zoom. We have extra cameras (phones) that we use for miniatures and terrain layout.

It is not so much the prep that I find harder. I just find running the game online more exhausting. I guess because I don't get the same energy back from players that I do in my in-person games.

The key for keeping the Traveller game going for me has been shorter sessions (about two hours). I always run four hour sessions for my weekly in-person D&D games. That just is not doable for me online.

Totally agree about playing with people you know helping with campaign stability.
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
This. A lot of people seem to confuse what "average" means.

Yeah. Mean, median, mode, and "typical" are not the same.

IIRC, back when 5E came out, WotC said that the typical long running campaign met once a week or every other week from August to May before ending or being abandoned: in other words, the school year. Hence their Adventure books being placed so as to fit in thst school year time frame.

This makes a lot of sense considering the college crowd. The group is only in physical proximity over the school year.
 

Sir Brennen

Legend
For ever weekly game that goes for three months (12 sessions), you need only one game that has one session and flops to bring the average down to about six.

Short-run failures crop long running game fast in the averaging.
Yeah, I think the tweet the vlogger mentions of gives the wrong impression. It's not that most campaigns go six sessions before ending, just the average. The average is pretty meaningless. It'd be more interesting to know what the median is. For datapoint clusters, I'd guess you'd probably have a bunch of games that only go a session or two, another larger group that lasts 9-12 months (school year) and those that go for multiple years.

EDIT: ninja'd like, twice over, on statistical terms
EDIT2: Corrected intended statistical terms
 
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Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
The average is pretty meaningless. It'd be more interesting to know what the mean is.

The average is the arithmetic mean.
The median is the middle value in the range.
The mode is the most frequent value.
The "typical" doesn't have a set definition in mathematics.

The average itself doesn't tell you much. The standard deviation would help. Actually seeing the distribution graphed out would be even more helpful.
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
Yeah. Only last 1 or 2 sessions isn't a campaign?? A campaign must late at least 6 sessions to be called that?

Arbitrarily cutting off the data means you lose information about play. That a great many groups try, and fail, is terribly important to folks trying to support play.
 

J.Quondam

CR 1/8
It's interesting that "research" is cited. I'd like to hear more about that.

But I recall hearing this nebulous "fact" 15 or 20 years ago, in the 3e era. In fact, that is what prompted me to start designing certain campaigns ("campaignlets") using ultralite rules and focused storylines, with the specific aim of only lasting 20 to 30 hours of play. (Which also happens to be a pretty good number for a long weekend "gaming getaway" campaignlet, too.)

Also looking back at my own experience (most face-to-face gaming), whenever a regular D&D campaign has petered out, it usually has done so after 5 or 6 sessions. Typically, I think this has been mainly because a critical mass of players new to the game or table just decided it wasn't their thing and moved on. (I don't personally recall any campaigns that didn't make it past one session, though I can imagine must happen a fair bit, especially online.)
 




Staffan

Legend
It would be interesting to see the campaign length weighted by the number of sessions (which I guess would be campaign length squared, or something?). So if you have one group that's having five rapid-fire campaigns of five sessions each, and another group that's having a single 25-session campaign, that would be 25 sessions worth of 5-session campaigns and 25 sessions worth of 25-session campaigns, for an average of 15 sessions.

That would probably be a better measurement of "if you're part of a campaign, how long can you expect that campaign to last?"
 

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