Ryan Dancey speaks - the Most Successful Year for Fantasy RPGaming ever. However...


Eternal Optimist
From Mike Mearl's blog: http://www.livejournal.com/users/mearls/115593.html

Ryan Dancey:
2005 was the best year in the history of the fantasy roleplaying game concept. In 2005, 4 million people paid more than $480,000,000 to play World of Warcraft. That figure is five times the total revenue generated by the tabletop roleplaying game segment >of all companies, of all time, combined<.

The population of people trained to understand the value premise of sword & sorcery RPGs by D&D have found a medium which asserts a new fun/not-fun ratio far more balanced towards "fun" than tabletop RPGs and they have embraced it with gusto.

The core network of D&D players drew in an expanded community of friends, dates, relatives, and co-workers by extolling the fun to be had in kicking down doors, whacking monsters, taking stuff, and powering up. After a half-decade spent developing the technology and the service infrastructure at Ultima Online and EverQuest, the industry hit the ball out of the park.

I think it will be impossible, form here on out, to separate the on-line and tabletop categories of RPGs - the former will become increasingly similar to the latter as new technology like voice & video become integrated into the experience - allowing "virtual tabletops" to exist. It is already impossible to ignore the economic impact MMORPGs are having on the tabletop sub-segment - they decimated it in 2005. Only time will tell if some value premise can be rebuilt from the foundations available to entice a new generation of gamers into the hobby - or if the battle has already been lost.

Me, I'm betting on the guys with $480,000,000.

log in or register to remove this ad


Eternal Optimist
More from Ryan (see previous post for link).

Ryan Dancey:
I will now make a very heretical argument.

Blizzard should cut Wizards of the Coast a giant "thank you" check, because I believe that D&D3E is the exact reason that WoW is doing so well.

In 1998-99, our market research uncovered the fact that there were several million people playing RPGs annually, and more than a million playing D&D monthly. That data stunned us - because the number of active >purchasers< in the category at the time was likely just several tens of thousands. For a host of reasons, the market had lost contact with its customers - people who remained committed to an RPG component of their lifestyles, but had little or no contact with the business of making and selling RPGs.

D&D3E got a lot of those people back in retail stores, and revitalized the business of selling RPGs. People who may not have made an RPG purchase in more than a decade shelled out $100 for the three core books, and likely some other products in addition. And it is a lot easier to redirect purchasing power once it is active than it is to activate it in the first place.

EQ never addressed the fun/not-fun ratio problem. EQ required players to substitute "boredom" as a primary resource for character advancement. "How long were you willing to wait to do something" became a fundamental game design paradigm. I know people who learned to play guitar, taught themselves a foreign language, and worked on masters and PhD dissertations while camping in EQ. As a result, the game remained a niche player compared to D&D. At its height, EQ boasted perhaps 400,000 paying customers - and as with many service-based businesses, I suspect that means that only 40,000 played on any given month.

WoW addressed this problem and then some. WoW (and City of Heroes) still require you to use "boredom" as a resource - but the level of boredom required is tiny compared to that of EQ. Having addressed the fun/not-fun ratio problem, these games were rewarded with the ability to sell into a market recently revived by D&D3E - a million or so consumers who were buying RPG products and had money to spend.

Now tabletop RPGs (TRPGs) have a network externality problem. The core network of TRPGs (D&D) is being predated upon by the WoW network - which continues to grow. The WoW network is extremely dangerous for the TRPG network, because it has a twin attack:

1) It is cheap. $15/mo is nothing compared to what most people spend for entertainment, and a lot less than an active, engaged purcahser of a TRPG line spends during the purchasing cycle.

2) It uses time as a resource. Player time. Time that could be spent engaged in TRPG activities (scheduling, prep, play, and post-game). All MMORPG players know that time spent in the game is rewarded in the form of increased power and range of action. So time spent playing a TRPG is actually >hurting< them in relation to their peer group in the MMORPG.

Since the release of 3.5, I believe we've seen a "flight to quality" in the TRPG segment. Players are increasingly unwilling to buy products they think they can't use - so they buy D&D products, because they think they can use those products universally. As the WoW network predates on the TRPG network, it will be increasingly hard to justify that mentality. I am hearing about far more gaming groups moving on-line and suspending tabletop play than I am the reverse. And that's a trend I think will accelerate.

Worse, the real profit-making business of D&D is selling core rulebooks. Core rulebooks are sold to younger, new players who are interested in the hobby and are becoming ensnared in the TRPG network externality. WoW blocks that acquisition path - it is much more likely that a young, fantasy oriented, otherwise likely target customer will get diverted into WoW than that they'll pick up D&D or another TRPG. Cutting off the acquisition engine of D&D will kill the TRPG category as a viable business - even if millions of grognards continue to meet and play into their golden years.


WoW has advantages over D&D in many respects, for certain. I could play WoW in the middle of Alaska at 2 am for starters. That's the big benefit.

The other benefit is that if I'm a social outcast, people will continue to accept me in WoW, even if I weigh 800 pounds, and have to scrub myself with a washcloth at the end of a stick.

For pure social interaction, it can never beat D&D.

Hell, one could draw the same comparisons between the internet and real life. Yes, the internet is great, but I like to go outside once in a while.


der_kluge said:
For pure social interaction, it can never beat D&D.

I wouldn't say never. None of us know for sure what the future holds and I suspect CRPGs are going to continue to grow and improve.


Eternal Optimist
philreed said:
I wouldn't say never. None of us know for sure what the future holds and I suspect CRPGs are going to continue to grow and improve.

Broadband has had a huge impact. I know people are talking to each other in real-time now with CRPGS. That level of interaction is a big step forward.



I do agree that D&D as a business model (or any RPG) is fairly weak. Once you have the core rule books, there is really not a large reason to purchase more product. That is, once I have a car which can take me to work, there isn't a reason to buy more cars, unless I just want to buy more cars. I already have a way to accomplish what I want to do.

I don't think WoTC can sustain the "let's release a new edition to revitilize" the market model forever. And there really is no other way to draw a huge influx of people into the industry for a prolonged period of time.

Let's face it, in our busy, hectic world, people want instant gratification, and games like WoW can do that for them. If you think about it, it's sort of a "pay your DM" model. WoW provides a DM'ing service, whereby you pay a monthly fee for the privilege of being able to sit down at their table anywhere in the world, at any time of day, and play in a full realized campaign, with other players.

I don't agree that the set of WoW players includes the set of D&D players. Certainly a large percentage of people who play games like WoW could be potential D&D players - are at least of the fantasy mindset, but probably many of them would have no desire to play RPGs in RL. These games also include numerous kids who primarily play TCGs and Video Games, and have no real interest in playing what they consider to be a very old game.


philreed said:
I wouldn't say never. None of us know for sure what the future holds and I suspect CRPGs are going to continue to grow and improve.

It won't happen in my lifetime.

With a P&P RPG I can adblib anything at a moment's notice. I can build in any NPC, any quest, any dialogue tree - right on the fly. CRPGs can't replace that. If they can, P&P RPGs will die. But again - not in my lifetime.


What if I want to play some other RPG aside from Fantasy/SciFi/Super Hero? I don't see a Call of Cthulhu MMORPG (Lovecraft Country is great and all, but it is really just a MUD after all) or how about a MMORPG Deadlands. Your options are limited. Also, if I was a third party content creator I think I would take exception with the use of the phrase "flight to quality" being implied as being the same thing as "just sticking with the core rule books". Seems pretty insulting to me. Espescially considering there is some great 3rd party content out there...not to mention other non-D20 games.


First Post
I think TRPGs will have to evolve.

Hell. The fact that we now need to add the "T" in there dates it. Used to be RPGs and CRPGs and MMORPGs.

Things like MMearl's Iron Heroes is one step in the right direction (if a little complexified in a needless sort of way). People like rewards. Tokeny-things. They like to be able to bet resources for advantages.

I think that's why the Action Point system is popular with my players. It's not NEW, and has been around for quite a while ...

They need a constant-acquisition model, like trading card games and minis and MMORPGs. Something needs to bring people back to the table with frequent, SMALLER purchases. People will nickle and dime themselves right to the poor-house with booster-packs and 15$/mo. payment scales ... the same people that would tell you to jump off a roof if you asked them to pay 40$ for an RPG book.

D&D desperately needs a booster-pack model if it is going to stay a viable game in the face of technological increases. Not necessarily a Collectable RPG, but something that will entice people into paying LOTS AND LOTS MORE, but over a larger period of time.



If CPUs are the end all be all, why are miniature sales increasing across the board? There is something about "being there" that adds to the excitement and enjoyment of the game. I can play bridge online, but it is not nearly as much fun as playing in a live contract tournament.

I essentially agree about younger folks being drawn off to cpu games. They are not necessarily lost forever though.

The key is, as many have stated above, D&D requires too much effort for some folks. That's the barrier that cannot be overcome in tabletop games.


First Post
I think the corprate model will collapse. However the groups that continue will work off of the OGL and d20 SRD to create a pdf sub market. Print WILL go by the wayside.


First Post
It's funny. From what I understand, ten or fifteen years ago the computer rpg business was in the doghouse. I don't think that people in the industry at that time could have imagined the level of success that today's software gaming companies enjoy. And really, with rare exception, I don't get the impression that today's game software companies are really all that succesful.

People have a bad tendency to extrapolate current trends much further into the future than they should. My prediction is that the technological improvements that led to the rise of MMORPGs are more than half done, and maybe mostly done. All you're going to see for the near future are better interfaces, better graphics and other incremental improvements. That will be nice, but eventually the market is going to have to stagnate as the 18,000 other WoW-like MMORPGs that are currently in development come online.

What will the next innovation be that is analogous a jump from TTRPGS to MMORPGS? I don't know. All I can imagine is that it'll be of the same order of magnitude. Probably either something along the lines of a more immersive gaming experience or a more interactive and customizeable gaming environment. But honestly, I don't know and I'm skeptical that such an innovation is even remotely close. People seem to be assuming that this interest in playing fantasy games that people have will even last. I can easily imagine a world where fantasy simply gets "boring" and "trite" and the vast majority of people turn to entirely different past-times.


First Post
MerricB said:
You can find Mike's response (and others) to this here:

Who are the people who can't find groups? They're not D&D players - remember, D&D's strength is that so many people play, it's easy to find a group.

Whatever. Most the people I know that play WoW play D&D. Some would rather play D&D in fact. There's a big difference between getting everybody together at a house of suitable size and location from all across the city or even state or saying "be online at 8:00 on server Wysiwyg".


I think that the computer games will continue to branch into other genres (Star Wars already has an online presence), which will increase the impact.

What will the end result of the improved graphics/storylines/genre availability/cost/etc. be? Who knows. Perhaps a scaling back of tabletop endeavors... Perhaps a dot.com type saturation of the online game market (what, you mean that's already happening?)...

Neither will kill the other, but things will obviously change and we will obviously adjust (kicking and screaming if necessary).


Unattainable Ideal

This all seems like so much unecessary drama.

TRPGs have never been very popular and never will be. The very things that make them a unique pastime (utter freedom of creativity, endless expandability, easily improvised) make them difficult for many folks to enjoy -- they require a lot of reading, a lot of weighing options and a lot of spontaneity, which don't always add up to a fun time for plenty of people. MMORPGs place less of these requirements on players, but also offer less of those virtues.

I don't relish power-ups or button-mashing or cool graphics, so MMORPGs have so far failed to win me over. I'd rather be making up stories with my friends, and I enjoy memorizing thousands of obscure facts, so TRPGs are just the thing for me and my little brain. And I haven't seen MMORPGs cannabilizing my players -- quite the opposite. Most folks I know who play both have eagerly put aside WoW in order to jump into my games, often citing that they're tired of online play and look forward to some dice-rolling, paper-pushing fun.

I don't doubt that MMORGPs are growing, and that sales of TRPGs are shrinking. And yet Privateer Press sells out every print run. And PDF sales continue to rocket upwards.

We're seeing a "hobbyization" of most creative industries these days -- music and publishing and all, where the barriers to entry keep falling, and that means that the profitability of the industry declines. It doesn't mean that less good material is getting created, nor does it mean that less people are consuming that material. It just means less people are getting rich on it.

Is that sustainable? Does it spell doom and irrelevance for TRPGs? I guess we'll find out. But my thirteen-year-old nephews can hardly wait for the next game we play together. And the recent suggestion that the infamous flight attendants get together for another game was met with nothing less than squeals of delight.


Slumbering in Tsar
It wouldn't surprise me if, down the road, Hasbro terminates the production of new D&D products and just continues to reprint "evergreen" products such as the core books, all the while simply licensing the D&D name.


First Post
Here's my comment on LJ:

What about the advantages TRPGs propose as opposed to MMORPGs?

The later require you to own a computer. And a good computer, at this moment, with a good video card etc. You also need a DSL internet connexion. You also need to know what you're doing with a computer (like knowing you have to slide the mouse on your table to make it work. Don't laugh, I actually know people who believe a mouse works by moving it in 3D).

What do RPGs need to be practiced? Core rules, dice, paper, pencils. Period. Then you have fun. That's the same reason why board games work really well. What do board games have that TRPGs don't? You don't need much preparation time, you don't need a huge culture, you don't need to read a thousand pages to play board games. Maybe TRPGs could survive this way.

Personally, I'm a grognard, that's very clear. To me, a computer interface, no matter how stunning, fluid, whatever, will never replace my own imagination. I don't want to have guys imposing on me what an "elf" is supposed to look like. No thank you. So I'll stick to my TRPGs.

I find crediting 3E with WoW's success to be a rather strange notion, considering that Blizzard had, prior to WoW, been in the position of creating the fastest selling games of all time, and being their only competition in that category. Millions of people around the world play Blizzard games. There are enough copies of StarCraft in South Korea for one person in nine to own a copy there. WoW capitalized on a 10 year old franchise (that wears its ties to 1E and 2E on its sleeve), but the sales of WoW were generated on Blizzard's own name for creating highly polished mass market games, particularly in genres that had remained a small niche previously.

Having said that, take a trip to Blizzard's offices in Irvine, CA (I'm sure Ryan would be welcome), and you'll see D&D books of every generation in pretty much every office. There's definitely a lot of D&D love there -- and ongoing D&D games during lunch and after hours -- but that's a far cry from saying the market for WoW was created by 3E.

An Advertisement