The Continuing Evolution of the RPG Industry.

I’m pointing all of this out to make it clear that D&D was born in a different time. People spent more time talking to one another and less time staring at a small screen in the 70’s and 80’s. Games were more of people interacting with people then.

Dungeons & Dragons is going into a new era.

Some of us just aren’t ready yet. Let’s hop into the time machine. See, there was a time here on Earth when we didn’t have solid global telecommunications via the Internet like we do today. Newspaper, TV, radio, and movies were pretty much it. We had telephones attached to a wire that came out of the wall. Wires everywhere.

So, back in the 1970’s and 1980’s, we wacky kids had to find ways to entertain themselves. Some played miniatures wargames. Some of them even painted lead figurines. Still others yet played all kinds of boardgames. Others yet tried to figure out how to crack open golf balls with explosives. I guess some kids read books and stuff, too.Then somebody got a great idea.

That idea was taking the miniatures off the larger battlefield and putting them in a dungeon environment. Thus giving birth to Dungeons & Dragons, and also modern Role Playing Games. We had pencils, paper, funky dice, and a boxed set of rulebooks. Some of us had lead minis, others had imagination.

But times have changed.

Part of where TTRPGs came from was a lack of electronic entertainment. Computers went from taking up entire rooms, down to filing cabinets and then finally home computing took off. Phones went from bulky, wired, and awkward to cordless and eventually the modern cell phone. Even TV and movies have evolved into the cell phone era. Computers have evolved as well.

I’m going to sound old and cantankerous for a minute. These kids today have no idea how good they have it. Console games, MMORPGs, Virtual TableTops have all invaded the TTRPG space. It’s really a case of “anything you can do, I can do better” between technology and old school pen-and-paper games. Please understand, I’m not saying one is better than the other.

I’m pointing all of this out to make it clear that D&D was born in a different time. People spent more time talking to one another and less time staring at a small screen in the 70’s and 80’s. Games were more of people interacting with people then.

True story.

Then the year that shan’t be named came upon us all.

Fast forward 40 years into the future. Global telecommunications became a thing. The Cyberpunk future we thought we were getting didn’t quite pan out the way futurists predicted in the 1980’s. Computers, tablets, cell phone apps and the Internet changed the way we do everything.

The Icky Cough-Coughs pandemic shut the whole world down. Suddenly, all the face-to-face gaming action had to grind to an abrupt halt. Before we knew it, we were doing everything online. Work, family (assuming they weren’t locked down with us,) and yes- even RPGs became conference calls. It was kind of a love-hate relationship with technology. We hated being cooped up in the house, but at least we had the Internet while we waited for the rest of the apocalypse to go down. (Luckily, it didn’t.)

It meant the RPG industry took off like a rocket! WotC made exceptional profits on 5E. More people home watching podcasts meant more people learning about D&D through Critical Role. It was a good time to be in the industry all around.

Content creators of every kind profited. Artists, writers, editors, YouTubers, and other streamers became even more vital to the RPG industry. Then there was social media, where everyone got to hear about what everyone else was doing constantly, including playing D&D or some other RPG.

We can’t put the genie back into the bottle.

(But we can be careful what we wish for.) We’re only two short years out of the pandemic. People are finally getting back to gaming conventions, game shops, and in-person games. There’s a catch, though.

Now that some/most of us have gotten used to playing online, we’ve kept some of those games going too. Why not embrace the technology, right? I mean, it worked so well during the pandemic we may as well keep rolling. Right?

Entire conventions have moved online and stayed there. Amazon or any other number of online stores sell books, dice, dice accessories, and other gaming merch. Groups that thought they would never play with each other again got back together online. Why do stuff in person in 2022?

Somebody at Wizards of the Coast was taking notes.

DMsGuild Logo.

Best type of sales for a game company? Direct sales are mostly profit. Selling to distributors and indirectly to Friendly Local Game Stores cuts profits down to maybe 20-30%. WotC likes making money. It looks as if One D&D might be edging out all of the proverbial middle men in the industry.

DriveThruRPG/DMsGuild makes a ton of money on PDF products. WotC has caught onto that as well. Now instead of charging print prices for PDFs on D&D Beyond, they’re going to do it directly along with physical sales straight from WotC’s own facilities. Instant higher profits! Who wouldn’t want that?

It’s good for them. I never fault anyone for making money as long as no one gets hurt. The rest of us are going to have to adapt to the new way of WotC doing things. It’s not going to be as easy for some of us old codgers. It’s most certainly a different way of doing things.

RPGs are evolving.

RPGs came from a time when everything was in-person. Now they’re rapidly becoming more like an interactive audio/video experience or even like a video game. While I don’t think the old fashioned way of gaming is going away forever, it’s definitely going to be seen less in coming years.

The big shift which is already in motion is the move to VTTs and other online game platforms. We’re also going to see even more Actual Play Podcasts on platforms such as Twitch and YouTube. The final fate of PDF sites such as DriveThruRPG have yet to be determined. Personally, I’m still pretty concerned about WotC’s intentions when it comes to OneBookShelf, the parent company of DTRPG. We’ll see.

Why DO I care so freakin much?

As I mentioned early on, it’s always been a dream of mine to see my name on the cover of a well known RPG publication. I’d love to change my LinkedIn profile all around to say “Game Designer” or “Lead Writer at X Co.” A lot of my heroes growing up were guys such as Gary Gygax, Bill Slavicsek, and Mike Pondsmith. A lot of the original T$R crew were heroes to me. (All of their negative views aside.)

I still to this day want to write for something as epic as Dragon Magazine, Star Wars RPG (WEG,) or even ICRPG. Yes, it’s a huge ego boost to see something you’ve done in print. I just want the satisfaction of leaving something behind on this Earth that I can proudly say, “I wrote that and it’s amazing.”

But it’s still difficult to get a foot in the door properly. I just saw on Twitter now there’s a bit of #gatekeeping going on amongst the well-paid “professional” writers and the “hobbyists” who write mostly free content for the love of the game. (*More on that in another article.) Imposter syndrome on steroids with a big old dose of depression on the side for me. Sigh.

Writers trying to break into the RPG industry, especially guys fitting my description, are going to find it harder and harder to fit into up-and-coming RPG companies. BIPOC, LGTBQIA++ and women writers are openly preferred in a lot of writing positions now. Honestly, it’s about damn time given that (old) white cishet guys started the industry for the most part. (Although props to a lot of the ladies who worked at T$R back in the day.)

I intend to make it happen.

I think one of the best pieces of wisdom I ever got about the RPG industry was during a West End Games’ Star Wars seminar at GenCon. “You’ll never get rich writing RPGs.” I’ve heard this sentiment echoed numerous times over by other RPG writers, publishers, and my parents. I don’t need to be rich, but would pocket change to fund my hobby endeavors and free admission to conventions be too much to ask?

I’m going to keep working on it. I know a couple of the authors I mentioned in this article worked tirelessly on projects for years before they got noticed. Maybe if I adapt to some of the changes that are coming, I’ll get somewhere. Maybe I can even bring a little of that old school charm in with all the stuff these “kids” are working on these days. Who knows?

Thanks for stopping by. I appreciate you. More to come.

Author: Jeff Craigmile

I'm a tabletop role-playing game writer and designer from Des Moines, Iowa. I'm the father of four boys and human to three cats.

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