Sunday, October 31, 2010

Sales and the life of the business, and the hobby

I guess everyone have heard the news by now, how Pathfinder and D&D are tied when it comes to sales figures. Probably you have also heard how Gareth-Michael Skarka posted his view of things and how people reacted to that. There's only have one thing about this which makes me curious.

It's no news that online gaming is where people are gathering these days. What makes me curious is why people play those games instead of traditional RPGs?

For those who have never played a traditional RPG the question is easy. They don't know that traditional gaming exists, or have preconceived notions about what that entails. If those people would have become our kind of gamers had the online games not existed, then we are obviously observing our hobby fading away. There are those who have ideas how to handle that, like Skarka.

Then there are those who once were active table top roleplayers, who now exclusively play online games. I have personally met gamers who these days not play good old RPGs, but only WoW. Why?

If you have been playing rpgs and enjoyed it, why would you stop? Well, I can imagine that for some it can be hard to keep a regular group with married life, kids, full time work and all that jazz. I've seen it happen to myself. But, what then makes you come back to gaming in the form of WoW, and not traditional gaming? Fading away I can see, but phasing over to WoW?

Is it harder to find a group again? It can't be because it's cheaper. It isn't. Also, one of the good things about roleplaying is you get to hang out with your friends and goof off. Is it so that it's easier to sit down by that ever present computer? You sit by that screen all day, so it's easy to go through the motions again, this time to play the game?

Frankly, I can't see how we could ever snare those people back to the hobby. I just can't see how anyone could choose one over they other. To me they seem too different. I once tried to sway some old friends back into the fold. The lack of enthusiasm was total. What made these people shift from our kind of games to the online kind? Frankly, I just can't understand it.

Oh, and I do think Skarka is onto something. This hobby sure isn't in a healthy state.Talking about that is a much bigger subject, and I'm not sure I have anything more to say than that you should all try to recruit a gamer, and remember to teach your kids.


  1. My current Dragon Age campaign was created for the express purpose of bringing new gamers into the hobby. I try to run a "cadet" game every other year or so. Sometimes they end up being one-offs. Sometimes they result in permanent additions to my gaming circle.

    It's well worth the effort. I cannot stress enough just how much having a new player can add to the game. It's wonderful to experience everything new and afresh through their eyes.

  2. Are we talking about the industry or the hobby? Industry-wise, it is difficult to sell product to those who probably already home-brew to a certain extent and are very discerning about what they buy. Times are hard and I sure wouldn't spend £10 or more on a product unless I was damn sure I was going to get a lot of use out of it.

    Hobby-wise, a lot of us get game, and our blogs thrive; followers increase all the time, new blogs come on line and interest is growing - look at WotC's response to the rise of Old School.

    I must admit that at present, I have a very vibrant play-by-e-mail Call of Cthulhu adventure going with three players. Those three are all existing players, one of whom is having trouble finding regular players, the others play but fancied trying their hand at pbem.

    I game 1e with my son (seven years old) and we are trying to get some of his friends interested. I don't have a wide circle of friends and so can't really recruit from that source. The quest for existing gamers in my geographical area is very unrewarding.

    So what to do? I hear that new players are going 4e or seem to be doing WoW - I ask, what new players? There is no LGS in my town unless you count Games Workshop (Warhammer or nothing) and a shop that seems to cater for CCG only.

    I think that the gamers who advocate recruiting gamers either have a wide circle of acquaintances who they can talk into giving it a try or live in areas where, demographically, the odds are in their favour. It can be hard to approach total strangers and try to sell RPGs to them - hell, people already think I'm weird!

    So I think that sometimes we need to heighten the profile of the hobby itself - get it more known outside those who already play. If the average man in the street knew more about RPGs (the tabletop variety I'm talking about here) maybe we'd have a more receptive and larger potential recruit base.

    How to do that though? I don't know.

  3. Yeah, recruiting is a tricky subject. But, I am beginning to think that maybe all those who were exposed to rpgs when it was a fad might be the target audience. At least they know what it's all about.


  4. I think Daddy Gorgnard is spot on. I think it's worse than most folks realize because they get distracted by the bright, shiny MMOGs and completely miss the fact that the Harry Potter generation is too busy playing freeform forum games in their favorite IPs, and have no time for your silly dice and character sheets, thank you very much.

    Maybe they would have, if someone had bothered to invite them to play, but when your "introductory" game is a trio of 300+ page books costing $30 a pop, well...

    Those are the folks we should be targeting. They'd love this hobby. The folks who prefer WoW like what computers do better, and there's nothing we can do to "get them back" since we were only borrowing them from the future to begin with. ;)

  5. Brian,

    I see what you mean. I planned on widening my horizons earlier this year, by gaming with new people. Unfortunately I choose to play with old hands. I'm beginning to think I should try strangers.

  6. You're on to something, Trollsmyth.

  7. My question is, why do we want to "grow the hobby"? If it's to ensure access to players, I can understand that. As Dangerous Brian noted, it's pretty awesome to watch a new player start to get it.

    But as an end in itself, I'm not sure I understand that. Why try to convert people who are having fun doing other things to having fun our specific way? It's nice if others get it, but going out there and trying to make them get it seems quixotic and, ultimately, an exercise in frustration.

    We're a tiny niche of a tiny niche at this point, like symphony listeners and sonnet enthusiasts. Our version of the hobby is simply never going to have mass appeal again. Some new people will always get into symphonies and sonnets - I'm just starting to learn about the former - but the time when one could easily "recruit" for those interests has long passed.

    Apparently, I'm the designated "dick who hates the hobby" today. :)

  8. To the initial question of why people prefer MMOs over tabletop. (For the record I play both.)
    I can play a computer game at any time. I do not have to set up a weekly time. I do not have to drive for 30 minutes to start playing. I do not have to wait while 3 players are late to the game. I can play solo and advance my fantasy character. I can play with my friends while never leaving the house. I can play with my friends and hear them speak. The only thing I can't do is see their face, though I can see their character. It is new and not something I have done before.
    These are some of the many reasons why some people prefer to play online instead of face-to-face.

    I think if we want to woo some of people back we need to highlight the human interaction that tabletop provides. The uniqueness of a table top game (MMOs quickly degenerate into repeating the same content over and over again). The diversity of a setting (an RPG provides for a much, much larger selection of adversaries to fight).

    There is a big difference between online games and table top. The dynamics of the two are vastly different. Figure out the strengths of tabletop and highlight those.

    I'll be honest here. The people you are describing have already played 1E, 2E or 3E and they are looking for something new. So yes, 4E might be better for those types of people.

  9. @Scott
    Is it about converting them?

    Or exposing them to the games and letting them decide if they are fun enough to continue.

  10. Personally I'm not fond of the MMOs, but from time to time I find myself playing DDO. This is mostly because I live in a small, rural, bible thumping town with no FLGS. There is a very limited group of gamers and most of them have started switching to MMOs, or they are gaming on consoles, or they just don't want to commit the time and money, and last but not least some honestly can't play because their significant others won't let them. I'm serious.
    Personally the MMOs are only good for me when I can't find other gamers. Even then I'm more likely to take out my old gaming books and read them than I am to hop online and play. I just can't spend that much time infront of a computer anymore. I was in IT for a while it seemed like I lived with a keyboard attached to my fingers. Other than reading a few blogs or doing school work (I'm finally in grad school) I avoid the computer and spend time with my family, play guitar or read. That is when I'm not at work.
    I've started teaching my daughter D&D Essentials (though Pathfinder is my preferred system) and now her cousin wants to learn. So I guess I'll be teaching both to them and two 13 year old girls will now be my regular gaming group. It would be nice to have gamers my own age to game with, but maybe they will stick with it and get some of their school friends into the game someday.

  11. Ease of access and player availability seem to be important. Hmm.

    Why would you want to grow the hobby? Well, it would help with the "player availability" part, right? :)

    Thanks all for interesting feedback!

  12. Just one last thing, if that's alright. I don't think it's constructive to view computer games as the enemy. My Dragon Age group (with three new players) came about because two of my fiancee's friends read about our War of the Burning Sky game on her facebook page. But what wrapped up their interest was the fact they'd been playing the Dragon Age computer game. As soon as I mentioned I owned the pen and paper version, the last of their reservations fell away. I couldn' write a campaign quick enough. Likewise, some gamers in my previous "cadet" groups were recruited after I heard them talking about their interest in Wow, Lord of the Rings Online, Knights of the Old Republic and even Fable.
    Finally, please don't view a limited circle of friends as a limiting factor in introducing new people to pen and paper RPGs. In fact, look at introducing strangers or acquintances to gaming as a chance to enlarge your circle of friends.
    I know it can be hard to come out of the gaming closet with people you don't know( I work in law enforcement, so it's not easy for me to talk about this stuff with my work colleagues either, believe me)but it can be well worth the effort.
    As Saxon says, it's not about converting them from one gaming mechanism (such as MMO's) to another. It's about exposing people who are ignorant of the hobbey to a different type of gaming they may (or may not) enjoy. Complementing their enjoyment of MMO's, as it were, rather than replacing it.
    I always emphasis the greater impact their actions have on the world in a pen and paper game. For example, your guild failing to kill the Liche King in Wow won't change the direction of the game in WOW. But it will in the D20 WoW RPG.
    If your wondering about the sort of strangers who might be interested in RP's, I've found that most of the players in my "cadet" groups have been people with a background interest in performing art, history, science fiction or computer gaming. If you know any gaming virgins who fall into one of these categories, it may be worth your while to invite them to a game.

  13. Just one last thing, if that's alright

    As far as I'm concerned, keep talking all night iff you will! Comments and feedback makes a blogger happy. :)

    Relations to computer games have been discussed since the eighties, at least I've seen it go on since then. Personally I understand so little of how MMORPG attract people so at least for me the conversation is ongoing. Great to hear what you have to say, Brian.

  14. I know that all my "recruits" to RP gaming, who all play but very, very occasionally, would say they prefer MMOs most of the time for two reasons:
    1- the commitment of creative energy required by tabletop games
    2- a combination of introversion and the ease of "just logging on"

    i think #1 is more troubling than #2, but i honestly don't see the hobby in any sort of danger. the number of indie RPers at my local hobby store has gone up, not down, in the past year, even if our scale of operation is quite small (growing from 7 to 9 people, or thereabouts).

    There's a fairly easy trajectory to track these folks, and it actually begins with video gaming - the Penny Arcade guys have done a lot to drum up interest in WotC RPGs, and groups like mine cheerily invite anyone who comes through the door to try our weird small-press games. And some of them keep showing up, week after week. The gaming mainstream has a few of us in it, and that does us all a service.

    On top of that, our ages range from mid-30's to early 20's, and the youngest of us are still in college. This bodes well.

    Lastly - yes, teach your kids to play RPGs. But if recent OSR discussions at story-games have swayed me on the subject, I say there's nothing wrong with targeting adults, not kids, if only because, as hobbyists, adults can plan their own schedules and are more likely to share social priorities with us.


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