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When the Fans Take Over

We've previously discussed the original end goal of Dungeons & Dragons and the rising success of video in boosting the game's popularity, but the enormous success of Matt Colville's Strongholds & Streaming seems like a turning point that brought both of those elements together at the right time. Here's a few theories as to why.

Who Is Matt Colville?

Ztang on Reddit does a great job of summing up Colville:

Matt Colville is a writer, game designer, and, at the risk of sounding pretentious on his behalf and suspecting he may buck the praise, an intellectual. He has spent more time playing, thinking about, and dungeon-mastering D&D than most players today. His perspectives extend beyond just how to play or how to teach players, but also what makes the game fun at a primal level, and what makes the system an effective means to have fun. Moreover, as a long-time fan of the system(s) and editions, he is a wealth of knowledge on the history and practice of playing and DM'ing. Perhaps most important of all, though, he is a passionate and compassionate individual, sensitive to the ways in which role-playing urges players to step outside of their comfort zones, to explore themselves and their friends in some unfamiliar ways, and an able advocate for the ways in which D&D in particular and role-playing in general are powerful tools for making the world a better place.

The above description doesn't entirely encompass Colville's achievements. He's also written for video games, fantasy fiction, and comic books. Colville was active on ENWorld too, with potentially as high as 30,000 posts.

For more information about the success of his Strongholds & Streaming Kickstarter campaign, check out Christopher Helton's excellent article, "A Change is Coming." The Kickstarter concluded at $2,121,465, 4,242% of its goal, and took the top spot for the highest-funded tabletop RPG Kickstarter in history. But that doesn't tell the whole story.

Strongholds: Old School is New School

Building a stronghold and leading followers is nothing new. As we've discussed previously, the original end goal of D&D was to transition back to a wargame with the player characters as generals. This was the purpose of "name level," a gaming trend that has gradually fallen out of favor with each edition of D&D. Colville felt this style of play was something his fans would find refreshing, with a book for Fifth Edition, "Strongholds & Followers":

More than just a set of rules and charts, this book also describes a style of play that assumes your character becomes more interested in influencing the world around them. You’ll still adventure and fight monsters, but this supplement gives you tons of fun things to do during your downtime. Maybe only one or two players in any group are interested in this sort of thing, but it only takes one character building a stronghold to radically change the nature of a campaign and introduce new narrative opportunities for DM and players alike!

The current generation of gamer may well be primed for this type of play, because resource management and strategy games are commonplace on mobile platforms. Given the Kickstarter's success, it seems stronghold management is back in vogue.

Streaming: The Rise of Video

Back in 2016 we discussed one of the challenges of attracting new players to tabletop role-playing games: reading books titled guide, handbook, and manual. The answer was video, which succinctly demonstrates the game and its rules without a player ever cracking a book.

In 2010, Acquisitions Inc.'s live game at PAX Prime demonstrated the feasibility of the medium, followed by profession and semi-professional efforts. 9 million people have watched others play D&D on Twitch. In 2017 alone, there were more than 7,500 unique broadcasters streaming live play D&D for more than 475 million minutes watched over the course of the entire year. For an in-depth discussion of video's impact on tabletop play, see "How Video Saved D&D."

Colville is no stranger to video. His YouTube channel, filled with advice for gamers, has over 180,000 subscribers. But Colville wanted to do more than share his gaming wisdom. He wanted to capture the magic of the game:

I've been playing D&D since the month this issue of Dragon was released and some amazing, astonishing things have happened on both sides of the screen that are now lost. Lost forever. And sure, the fact that they were temporary and fleeting made them rare and valuable, but I love the idea of our game having a permanent record.

His comments echo those of Peter Adkison, former CEO of Wizards of the Coast:

I love roleplaying games but I’ve always wondered if there was a way to make roleplaying experiences less ephemeral. We have these magical moments, but the descriptions of our sessions to others are not nearly as engaging as the experiences themselves...These magical moments can be reminisced with the other participants, and often are for years and years, but there’s no way to really share capture the excitement for someone who wasn’t there.

So Colville incorporated funding for a studio into his Kickstarter:

...the other goal of this kickstarter is to raise money to cover the lease on studio space for us to stream our next game starting with character creation! I’ve already spent several thousand dollars on gear, we just don’t have any space to stream and we have very specific requirements. No, your garage won’t do. No, your living room isn’t big enough. :D We’re basically building a TV Studio. Since finding studio space means signing a multi-year lease and being on the hook for a lot of money, it terrifies me. It’s my hope that enough people want this book, or want to support the stream, to cover some or all of that cost.

Judging from the success of the Kickstarter, his fans liked the idea. Colville confirmed that the YouTube numbers closely track to his Kickstarter supporters:

We had my YouTube metrics! Could we not assume that folks would back roughly in proportion with how they watch? At least in terms of how many people live where, where will all these orders be going? It didn't really matter if this was a good metric, it was a metric, an objective one, and the only one we had. So we used that. Exported the list of which countries my YouTube audience is from. It's early days, but right now it looks like that metric was within 3% of the actual number. If we could have gotten shipping costs down, I think it would be exactly the same.

It's an important data point demonstrating that the broader YouTube audience can be monetized to support a gaming Kickstarter.

What it All Means

Colville thinks the success of the Kickstarter is a sign of a seismic shift in online fandom:

The success of the Kickstarter is the success of the YouTube channel. There’s no way to understand it otherwise. I don’t think they’re really interested in my opinion...I feel very little connection with folks in tabletop now. I realize to me, now, this hobby is something that happens at the table, but the community happens on twitch and youtube and reddit and twitter. Those are my native environments.

The success of Streaming & Strongholds is also a testament to the success of D&D. The game had its best year ever, with 8.6 million Americans playing the game in the past 12 months.

Fantasy tabletop gaming is no longer restricted to forums but is now so widespread that social media platforms can serve up plenty of content for gamers. This was some of the motivation behind Wizards of the Coast shutting down its own forums, as discussed in "D&D Does Digital Part IV: Online Communities."

The conclusion still seems apt: D&D has always belonged to us, there are just so many more fans of the game than before. If Colville's Kickstarter is any indication, the fans have spoken and we are everywhere.

Mike "Talien" Tresca is a freelance game columnist, author, communicator, and a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to http://amazon.com. You can follow him at Patreon.
 
Michael Tresca

Comments

Connorsrpg

Adventurer
I have watched Matt's Running the Game videos and they are brilliant! Well, I think so b/c his style sounds like a complete match for my style of DMing. We have been playing the same amount of time. He approaches 'conversion' the same way as me, embraces all editions (and still uses stuff from older books on his shelf), etc. Sandbox campaigns, etc.

New DMs would do well to watch these for very easy advice. MANY comments on YouTube speak about new DMs being inspired by Matt.
 

Doug McCrae

Adventurer
There seem to be a lot of new DMs asking for advice online these days, I think due to the massive success of 5th ed. Matt, in using a platform particularly popular with younger people has found the right medium at the right time.
 

Brodie

Villager
One thing not mentioned in this article? Matt's soothing voice. (Well, I find it soothing, anyway.)

I got into watching his stuff when Youtube listed one of his videos as 'Recommended.' It was pretty entertaining and insightful and I watched a few more and then I subscribed and backed the kickstarter.

I've learned things from his video on how to not only be a better DM but also a better player. He covers both sides. And he's a strong advocate for 4th Edition. When he claimed it did some things right, I had to find out why, and he made some REALLY good points. Points that changed my opinion of 4E.
 

MNblockhead

A Title Much Cooler Than Anything on the Old Site
One thing not mentioned in this article? Matt's soothing voice. (Well, I find it soothing, anyway.)
I had a different reaction. When I first tried listening to his videos I was turned off by how quickly he spoke. His style didn't work for me and I didn't give him much of a chance. But as his popularity grew and after the stronghold kickstarter, which I backed, I decided to give his YouTube videos another chance. The difference is this time I listed to him on my phone with Youtube Red--so basically like a pod cast. I found him much better to listen to than to watch on You Tube on the TV.

I've now become a fan and listen to him regularly.
 

jasper

Rotten DM
I backed the KS. I will read the book but not use since I don't have a homebrew group. But at it worse the book is a rehashing and updating for what happened at name level when you had a group which were not murder hobos. He is a young fart but is great at getting his point across. But better than I. I do urge people to listen to his you tube articles on how to run the game. He does ramble a bit but that becomes part of his charm.
As to his streaming. UMM as an old fart I may throw his streaming up on the tv when I doing hand crafts, or house work. I just haven't seen any streaming vids that make me want to watch.
 

Bishop Odo

Villager
I really think your are, over analyzing for the sake of both sensationalism and capitalism, you know the scumbags that take you money and leave, Ken something. It's a great idea, that is being done by someone with the experience to pull it off, and anything else can be answered by just watching a few episodes of his videos. You either get it or not. My only concern is he's getting too popular, with the "look at me, pay attention to me, recognize my genius crowd," and the "signal to noise ratio," is suffering.
 
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talien

Community Supporter
I really think your are, over analyzing for the sake of both sensationalism and capitalism, you know the scumbags that take you money and leave, Ken something. It's a great idea, that is being done by someone with the experience to pull it off, and anything else can be answered by just watching a few episodes of his videos. You either get it or not. My only concern is he's getting too popular, with the "look at me, pay attention to me, recognize my genius crowd," and the "signal to noise ratio," is suffering.
I can't tell if you just called me a scumbag or not. Or maybe just someone named Ken.
 

Morrus

Administrator
Staff member
I can't tell if you just called me a scumbag or not. Or maybe just someone named Ken.
I assume he’s referring to Ken Whitman. Unless he thinks you’re taking his money. I’m not sure!
 
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aramis erak

Explorer
I can't tell if you just called me a scumbag or not. Or maybe just someone named Ken.
You're not Kenneth "Whit" Whitman, conman and multiple failure in both film and game design.

Ken's failures include:
Imperium Games - ran it into the ground, didn't pay the talent.
Traveller4 - utter failure as editor and layout man. Missing formatting, some of which was mentioned in text, excess whitespace in some chapters, too little in others. Chose Chris Foss for much of the line's covers; not that Chris Foss sucks, but that Chris Foss is not appropriate for Traveller for most of the fanbase, and the art didn't match the book contents well.
4 kickstarters - 2 for video series (KoDT & Spinward Traveller), 2 for other products (including "Gamer Pencils")
Used to work for Courtney Solomon, but no longer does after losing Courtney's money on the Imperium Games debacle. Also failed to generate a script both Marc Miller and Courtney Solomon could agree on.
 

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