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What's the state of the RPG industry and where is it going?

Leviatham

First Post
The RPG scene has changed considerably in the last 20 years. And in the last 10 years. And even in the last 5 years.


From the riches of the late 80’s and early 90’s to the crash of the late 90’s and the now apparent resurgence of games aided by the proliferation of ereaders and Kickstater, it has been an ever changing environment where some people have done very well and some others not so well.


In this seminar from Dragonmeet, some of the most knowledgeable and experienced people in the British RPG scene give their thoughts about where the industry is, where it comes from and where is going.


Do you agree with them, though?

[video=youtube;ZwONXARP91A]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZwONXARP91A[/video]
 

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glenrm

First Post
You can tell be the success of a number of Kickstarters and gaming aid and PDF sales for tablets that the industry is making a pretty big resurgence, it could also be said that as people look for alternatives to D&D 4th edition and Next that a number games and genres are rushing in to fill the void and expand the space.
 

Morrus

Well, that was fun
Staff member
It's changing, that's for sure. Pathfinder, Kickstarters.... some of the biggest influences on the hobby weren't around just a few years ago. I wish I had a crystal ball and could see what the future of D&D Next was. I hope it does well - big games doing well is good for all of us.
 


Bagpuss

Adventurer
It's not just Kickstarter and PDF sales to tablets though. Print on Demand, means that a publisher doesn't need to invest in stock. It use to be to publish something you needed to buy X many copies at a large initial layout, you had to sort out distribution for them as well, that just isn't the case any more.

Less initial costs, and smaller overheads means that while the market does seem to have shrunk it is easier to get started and get a profit, although getting a living wage is another matter altogether.
 

I haven't yet watched the video. I'll try to do so at some point, but it will likely be Wednesday before I get a chance.

My feeling: the tabletop RPG hobby is thriving. The tabletop RPG industry is about as healthy as Scottish football was last season.

Consider: For the past year, D&D has been in an edition-change cycle. Most of the new RPG products to come out have been reprints, while the new products have mostly been things that wouldn't even have made it to the release schedule in years past. (That's to say nothing about quality; it's just that crunch-empty books have historically not done well.)

Despite this, D&D has remained solidly the #2 RPG throughout the year.

Now, that's no doubt good for D&D, and I daresay it's reasonably good for WotC. But it's a pretty poor indication for the health of the industry as a whole. It means that FFG, despite their WH40k games being aggregated together as a single entry, despite them having a very popular license behind them, and despite the extremely high production values, still couldn't match D&D at its weakest.

--

Additionally, I don't accept that Kickstarter is the salvation of the industry, any more than the d20 license was. In fact, it appears to be following the same pattern:

In the first wave, everyone is wildly optimistic about Kickstarter. Lots of money gets thrown around, lots of projects get funded. And that's pretty cool - we get to see some things that simply would not have existed otherwise.

However, we're now about to enter the second wave, of extreme pessimism. As the reality of having to actually produce bites, projects will start failing in numbers. Many projects will simply produce nothing at all, other projects will produce things that simply are not what the customer expected. We've already seen one project lead to a legal complaint; we should expect others. (The complaints probably won't come to anything, but they will sour people on the process.)

Eventually, we'll get to the third wave, where the customer base are willing to fund selected projects. But to succeed, a project will need one of three things: it will need a 'name' behind it (Monte Cook, Reaper), or the proposers will need a proven track record of success, or the project will be to fund some improvement to an already existing work (e.g. an art budget for an already-existing book).

But for the small-press, no-name designer, Kickstarter is already of limited use.

--

As for the iPad and similar, these will have a significant effect, but I suspect it will prove to be more a case of rearranging the available opportunities, rather than one of creating lots of new opportunities.

Indeed, the major effect may well be that it dooms FFG's "Star Wars" games to failure - I suspect that for any game to be 'big' it will need electronic support and PDF versions, but FFG's license precludes them from producing those very things. And the cost of the "Star Wars" license probably means it needs to be 'big' or fail.

As for the rest - adding tablet support will probably mean that a 'small' game can be a bit more successful - but it will remain small. For the 'big' games, technology will continue to represent a massive opportunity... and also a massive trap. The danger is of doing as WotC did with the DDI - make massive promises, invest huge sums of money, and end up with something that's "okay, I guess". But the potential, should they do it right is huge.

I suspect the big winners of this will come if one of the 'big' companies teams up with a tech-savvy third party to produce electronic support. For example, Paizo will probably never do something like DDI, but by teaming up with Hero Lab, they both win.

--

Long-term, I think tabletop TPGs will be to WoW as radio plays* are to TV - they won't ever go away completely, but they'll never again be more than the smallest blip on the market.

I think we're also seeing the heat death of the industry. Almost all of the 'big' companies now do RPGs as a sideline to their 'real' business. I expect to see this to continue, with the RPG emphasis continually shrinking. The only time we'll see a new 'big' company will be if someone snaps up a lucrative license - Shadowrun, Vampire, or perhaps even D&D if 5e fails.

On the other hand, I think we'll see no end of product. It's just that it will mostly be small scale stuff from micro-publishers, very often based on open licenses and/or done with the tacit approval of the copyright holders. The OSR, Fourth Party, and similar groups are very likely the future.

* Another equivalent might be model railway enthusiasts. But the difference is that this latter group are reliant on being able to purchase various things that it is difficult or impossible for the enthusiast to construct himself. The same is not really true of gamers - the existence of the OGL effectively means that none of us ever need buy anything, ever again.

Naturally, everything here is IMO only. And almost all of it is probably wrong - I just don't know which bits. :)
 

I'm torn. I think the big RPG publisher model has been dying since pretty much 2002. In specific the only companies with a revenue model worth having are WotC and Paizo (and possibly Palladium and Margaret Weis Productions). On the other hand small games and storygames are booming. See Fiasco & Co. for details. I don't think there's been a better time to be a hobbyist with a very good idea - or a worse one to be a major RPG publisher trying to extrude product.

And I'll take a Monsterhearts over a Tradition Book: Guide to the Hollow Ones or a Fate Worlds: Crimeworld over Elminsters Umpteenth Guide to the Realms any day. This isn't the golden age of gaming. Or even the silver age. It's closer to either the Enlightenment or the Digital Age.

I'm also honestly expecting D&D Next to be D&D Last. There just seems to be no reason to play it.
 

sweaty armpits

Explorer
I'm not sure I'd agree that there's a 'resurgence'. The most recent boom of the OGL period is long gone and, as far as I can see, the industry is no where near that level. There does currently seem to be something of a divide between the internet and flgs. Sales in games shops seem to be bombing - at least in my experience. Most games shops these days seem to have very little in the way of rpg stuff and more and more gamers seem to be doing their purchasing via the internet. Certainly Paizo seem to have a very heavy (and successful) Internet operation.

Kickstarters are proving to be quite successful and a good way for getting projects off the ground and POD allows publishers to produce hard copies without investing heavily in stock and distribution, but both these are essentially internet strategies, supplying another kick at the poorly game shop owners.

It's certainly an interesting period and a time of change, but I'm not sure that I'd call that a resurgence!
 

Morrus

Well, that was fun
Staff member
I wish the guy on the right would lean forward to his microphone. I haven't been able to make out a single word he said! He leans back as far away from it as he can!

I love the basic advice: "You have to pretend to be an American company, or you'll go bust."
 

Hand of Evil

Adventurer
Epic
I think the gaming industry is doing well but I do have some concerns about KickStarters, I don't think we will see it for a couple of years but I fear it MAY become a promote, reach goal, then cut and run, meaning we only see the game and no support after the fact. Plus, KickStarters only give a sales pitch, not touch and feel of the game until it is out.
 

A

amerigoV

Guest
Eventually, we'll get to the third wave, where the customer base are willing to fund selected projects. But to succeed, a project will need one of three things: it will need a 'name' behind it (Monte Cook, Reaper), or the proposers will need a proven track record of success, or the project will be to fund some improvement to an already existing work (e.g. an art budget for an already-existing book).

But for the small-press, no-name designer, Kickstarter is already of limited use.

A well reasoned post!

On Kickstarter, I started at Wave 3 (what I quoted above). I have participated in one so far because I knew the company had their :):):):) together. It was Pinnacle's Deadland's Noir -- they did the Kickstarter to judge interest in the setting vs. needing the money to produce the book. For everyone else, its "In God we Trust, all others pay cash!" - until I see the product I am not going to waste time thinking about it or commit money to it.
 

Morrus

Well, that was fun
Staff member
Of interest is the prediction of the new product type: "Bursts", a ruleset and scenario/adventure designed to last a few sessions before you move on. The analogy that RPGs would be more like an HBO miniseries than long-term soap operas was weird, but I get what he's saying.
 

Bagpuss

Adventurer
I think that comes from the effect smaller Convention play is having, and some of the heavily themed small press games. There isn't always enough to support prolonged campaign play, but you can get some great intense mini-campaigns or long adventures from them. Also the time people have to plan and run games as they get older is less.
 
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Mark CMG

Creative Mountain Games
Of interest is the prediction of the new product type: "Bursts", a ruleset and scenario/adventure designed to last a few sessions before you move on. The analogy that RPGs would be more like an HBO miniseries than long-term soap operas was weird, but I get what he's saying.

I know folks who pick up a computer or video game, play the heck out of it for a short burst, then move on to another (sometimes picking it back up for replay at a future date). Sounds similar to that model, IMO.
 

Leviatham

First Post
I know folks who pick up a computer or video game, play the heck out of it for a short burst, then move on to another (sometimes picking it back up for replay at a future date). Sounds similar to that model, IMO.

You're probably right on that one. Daniel Solis makes great games with that formula and it's working very well for him. Also he makes terrific games, it has to be said. And he's not the only one either.

I think similar efforts to combine boargames and RPGs, like Castle Ravenloft and family from WOTC, or Mansions of Madness could also go a long way to cement a different formula of RPG development out there, with dungeon crawling adventures being published as expansions for the game. It's not an RPG, but it's pretty close.

The problem is that neither of those companies is promoting the RPGs to the boardgamers (in the case of FFG because they don't carry Lovecraft based RPGs) and in the case of WOTC because they seem to have forgotten to come out with more expansions and more games after LoD, to concentrate on other boardgames instead.

But I won't rant here (what? me? rant?) and will simply reinforce your point that short-bursts games are also very successful and it's a formula more RPGs should explore.
 


I wish the guy on the right would lean forward to his microphone. I haven't been able to make out a single word he said! He leans back as far away from it as he can!

I love the basic advice: "You have to pretend to be an American company, or you'll go bust."

As an American I was quite interested in the topic. It had never occured to me before that British RPGs were making an effort to appeal to American audiences. The last British game i bought was cubicle 7's Dr. Who. One of the things I liked about it was it wasn't the standard American perspective (Though they did explain what cream tea is for American readers, which I found helpful). The game brings that Dr. Who sensibility (which I think of as very British) to the mechanics. I am curious what British posters have to say on this subject. What qualities do American RPGs tend to have that you feel a British publishers are appealing to? And what British design qualities are they sacrificing as they do so? By the same token, what might American publishers like myself do to appeal more to British gamers?
 

Morrus

Well, that was fun
Staff member
I am curious what British posters have to say on this subject. What qualities do American RPGs tend to have that you feel a British publishers are appealing to?

Haven't the foggiest. I wasn't even aware they were till I watched that video! I don't have any to hand - do they use British or American spelling? Do they use British or American words?

By the same token, what might American publishers like myself do to appeal more to British gamers?

I'd suggest selling RPG products in English in a market where there's comparatively little British competition. Ah, hang on - already doing that? Carry on, then!

Do people really care whether something's British or American? I don't. I only care about whether it's any good and if I can have it. It's not like D&D was rejected wholesale over here for being foreign!
 

Bagpuss

Adventurer
It had never occured to me before that British RPGs were making an effort to appeal to American audiences.

I don't think it was so much make an effort to appeal to an American audience, more setup like an American company. Have your warehouse in the US, etc. As that is where the majority of RPG customers are.

By the same token, what might American publishers like myself do to appeal more to British gamers?

In a modern setting don't assume easy access to guns. You can really play a standard game of Shadowrun, Cyberpunk, Conspiracy X, D20 Modern, All Flesh Must Be Eaten or the like in the UK without it radically effecting the combat resources the game assumes the players will have access to.

Although most UK players I know are use to setting things in the US rather than doing all the additional work to adapt stuff to the UK.

So it probably isn't worth the effort.

I always wonder why shipping costs are so high, seems the $ dollar price is more often than not just changed to a £ sign. Even when the dollar was worth almost half as much... Still at least we aren't Australia.
 

Bluenose

Adventurer
I am curious what British posters have to say on this subject. What qualities do American RPGs tend to have that you feel a British publishers are appealing to? And what British design qualities are they sacrificing as they do so? By the same token, what might American publishers like myself do to appeal more to British gamers?

I don't know how useful this observation is, and I know it's not true for all games, but there's one subject that almost always gets much more consideration in American RPGs than it does in British/European ones. Gear. Whether it's the pages and pages of magic items in D&D, the scores of different types of rifle (and ammunition) in Traveller, the books of equipment design sequences for GURPS; American designers love their gear, and I presume it appeals to the players too. I do not notice this in British/European RPGs to any extent. Warhammer warriors use a Hand Weapon - oh, you can go into more detail, but you don't need to - and it's cosmetic whether that's a sword, an axe, or a mace let alone what particular type of sword. And this doesn't seem to bother the British and European people I game with, or the designers.

What that implies for designers is that you need to write more about gear, and have it matter, for a large proportion of the American market. For the British/European one, if anything I'd go the other way and make it less significant what the character has by way of equipment.
 

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