Can It Grow?

Jul 09 2010

This month’s RPG Blog Carnival over at Mad Brew Labs is on Growing the Hobby. I quote:

While I don’t think the hobby is disappearing, by any means, I don’t see it expanding by leaps & bounds either. I’d personally like to see it grow, and I would like to hear what the RPG Blogosphere has to say.

“Blogosphere.” :shudder: I so hate that word. Ah well;  not their fault.

Can It Grow?

"Sprout is now growing up" by BONGURI on Flickr

"Sprout is now growing up" by BONGURI on Flickr

Not to be negative, but I honestly suspect that there’s little room for growth in the RPG industry. And that’s okay.

I originally wrote half a dozen long paragraphs describing each demographic’s limited potential for RPG sales, then remembered that demographics are a terrible way of measuring anything these days.

So let’s put it this way: What itch does an RPG scratch?

Players get the ability to live the life of a more interesting person, in a way that is deeply interactive and long-form.  GMs are able to create worlds and tell complex stories.

Quick, walk into a sports bar, and find me somebody who wants to put a lot of thought into crafting a long-form story.  Find me somebody who wants to give up one night a week to sit around with a bunch of friends and actively use their imagination.

Most folks just don’t value that. Sure, they’ll watch a fantasy movie — because they’re watching it.

This is not a dig against “mundanes.” Most people just don’t value the same things that geeks value.

How To Grow It?

I can think of a couple of things.

One: The vast majority of RPGs focus on geek settings. I challenge you to find an RPG setting or product that doesn’t assume at least a fantastic or science fiction element.

(I always found it telling that the example shows in Primetime Adventures, which is about creating dramatic TV episodes, skews strongly towards SF/F shows like Buffy the Vampire Slayer.)

What if there was an RPG where you play a basketball star?  Or a private investigator?  Or a nurse in an ER?

Two: The systems have to be simpler and require fewer materials. There are only so many people in the world willing to go out and buy special dice for a game. (And since when was that considered an acceptable additional cost of playing a game? Board games don’t assume this; they come with the dice, board, etc.)

Three: The games have to provide a stronger initial punch. Most folks don’t want a multi-year commitment out of their game; they want Scattergories. Character creation (for most) is work with no obvious, direct reward.

Imagine an RPG that comes with two dozen vibrant, pre-generated characters and a dozen well-crafted, quick adventures. Want to play an adventure in an hour or two?  Grab a character and go.

I’m sure there are others. How would you grow the hobby beyond the folks who already play it?

5 responses so far

  1. Thanks for contributing!

    “I honestly suspect that there’s little room for growth in the RPG industry.”

    You've stumbled on one of the core reasons I decided to to go with “Growing the Hobby” as this month's carnival topic. I have almost come to the conclusion that there will only ever be a small percentage of the population interested in what RPGs offer.

    Your thoughts about setting and materials I think is dead on as far as what would need to be created in order to attract a wider audience and it will be interesting to see if anyone takes these opportunities and runs with them.

    I don't really know if “blogosphere” is a word anyways…

  2. Actually, come to think of it, “Clue” might be considered such a game. Certainly it doesn't require role playing, but it easily could, and it is self-contained. It comes with all the pieces you need to play, established characters, and (most importantly) the game-play changes each time b/c the “who” and “what” are dynamic factors. You could play a one-shot game or alter the rules a little and add a RPG element that adds more complexity.

  3. Excellent point! I'll have to think about that.

    How would playing a role affect the game of Clue? Hmmmm.

  4. Hey Brent,

    I must say, your writing style has gotten very very good. Kudos!

    Coming from somone who has never played a traditional RPG and has always loved RPG video games, I think the term RPG itself has grown to encompass more than the typical forms of media we normally think of.

    I would say that the “RPG” acronym is what we could call a house hold name. I would bet that if you could stop any average early 20's to mid 30's male on the street and ask him what RPG meant you'd be able to get a somewhat correct anwser.

    The difference in my opinion is that the traditional RPG these days is not what it used to be.

    I'm willing to put money that when any person who uses the internet on a regular basis is asked “What is an RPG?” that person will say. “World of Warcraft” or (This is from personal experience) “Call of Duty: Modern Warfare”/”Gears of war”/”Insert totally not RPG Action game on xbox 360 here”

    I believe these days that RPG's have trancended the old standards and become relatively mainstream, just not in the formats long time RPG fans are used too.

    An RPG is usually defined as allowing a person to assume the role of another, often times this “avatar” or “character” is somone that can do and achieve things that the player cannot i.e. Fantasy.

    When you and I think “Fantasy” I'm sure we conjure up immediate images of Swords, Elves, Magic and the like. But whats not to say that “Fantasy” is not picking up an M16 and joining a squad of 12 other marines to storm some fictional city?

    Just as you stated Fantasy does not always have to deal with the current standards. There is a lot of complaining from the masses that the Japanese video game RPG genre is falling into the same trap. The latest JRPG blockbuster FF13 was criticized for not doing anything different. Alternatively I just started playing an RPG called “Persona 3”, a PSP JRPG port that was released in 2006 on the PS2. In this game you assume the role of a Highschooler tasked with slaying demons. The game takes place in modern day. It's completely refreshing and astoundingly enjoyable.

    But I digress. The point I am attempting to make is simply this.

    People are willing to sink immense amounts of time into mediums that let them assume the role of someone they are not. People who spend of lot of time reading novels, people who watch a lot of movies, people who play a lot of video games.

    I truely believe that the anonymity provided by various RPG mediums is what allows and even encourages people to sink immense amount of time into them.

    Table top RPG's don't provide that. I believe in order for a person to let themselves be completely wrapped up in an RPG experience they need to feel comfortable letting themselves turn into the person they are portraying. I don't think that the average person can do that surrounded by others in a table top enivronment.

    In WoW and most other online RPG's you have the option of joining an Role Playing server or a non Role Playing server. Most people join non RP servers but fail to realize that they are doing just as much RP'ing as the folks over on the RP's servers themselves. I'm sure you've heard the things said in Ventrillo and the like. Imagine a 12 year old kid telling a college football star to “Slit his wrists and die” across a table at somone's house. I don't think that would go over very well.

    I think that if the medium could be brought into peoples homes, allow them to interact with others on their own time, anonymously and provide them with a streemlined experience ground in relative reality thats easy to get into. Then you'd have a recipe for massive success.

    From the perspective of somone on the outside looking in. I would agree that the hobby isn't growing, but I would say that the hobby is evolving.

  5. Hey, Jed! Great to hear from you again.

    And that is a *brilliant* point! I never really connected the issue of anonymity. Man. Yeah, that needs greater thought.

    You're also absolutely right about the breadth of the RPG hobby. It's larger than any of us.

    Thanks again for posting; hope to see more from you!

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