In my experience with contemporary college game clubs, there are many younger people who have not yet tried tabletop RPGs. I was also told that many of the players coming to the evening games at a local shop have been new to tabletop RPGs. This is different from my pre-Internet, pre-video gamegeneration (Boomers), where most game-minded people were exposed to D&D because it had so little competition for leisure time.
"A designer knows he has achieved perfection not when there is nothing left to add, but when there is nothing left to take away." - Antoine de Saint-Exupery
Another reason for the difference may be the “crunchiness” of many contemporary RPGs. That is, the fiddliness and time needed to generate a character and start actually playing the game is offputting. Then there is the difficulty of running a character because there are so many details and numbers (such as skills) involved. The rules interfere with the adventure.
Yet we continue to see the most popular RPGs loaded down with vast rulebooks. Unfortunately, the seeds of long-range destruction of any RPG edition are built into the capitalist economy.
You don't need a Ph.D. in history to know a lot can be explained if you "follow the money". To make money you need to sell product. If your primary business is RPGs you have to produce a game that is not only large but very extensible, so that you can sell additional rules. In the long run, that makes the game crunchy and unwieldy, dooms it to become too complex to appeal to the less than hard-core players.
Complexity may be a boon for some players. 3rd Edition D&D (3e) became "find rules somewhere that give me an advantage." This is a complete contrast to my advice to GMs dating back to the 70s: prevent players from gaining unearned advantages. When I GMed 3e I said "core rules only, no add-ons." When the highly-tinkered-by-additional-rules "one man armies" are present in a game, the more casual players are left behind in several ways.
"Everything should be as simple as possible, but not simpler." - Albert Einstien
Complex games also make the GM's job harder. As there are more rules, there's more work for the GM. The biggest problem of tabletop RPGs, compared with other games, is that GMing is work, not play. We need more GMs to "grow" the hobby, yet complex games with constant rules add-ons lead to fewer GMs available.
The typical course of events is that RPGs get more complex as more rules are added, until the entire edition is abandoned and a new one comes out. While D&D Second Edition wasn't much different than 1e, and many more or less ignored 2e (I did), each succeeding edition has changed the game drastically to help persuade players to buy the new version, coming full circle with 5e. In each case, a new edition led to lots of sales. And each was then subjected to the rising pyramid of additional rules.
Money talks. Unfortunately for RPGs, money argues for complexity, not simplicity.
contributed by Lewis Pulsipher