This is a slow year for RPGs. Last year around this time there was 13th age, Numenera, Star Wars new release, Firefly ect. It was hard NOT to find top tens of whoever’s most anticipated RPGs of the year. This year…it feels different. I’ve seen lots of smaller products, which is great, but I haven’t seen the large releases that I would have expected this year. Even the large producers haven’t been a loud this year. Paizo recently announced new monster book, but didn’t use the standard fanfare I would have expected. It’s almost like everybody is holding their breath and waiting for something…
Now, I kid. We all know that coming out this year. For those of your out there who may not be as informed or care, it is widely assumed that DnD Next is going to be released this year from Wizards of the Coast. There have been signs from slips from Barns and Nobles to it being the 40th anniversary of DnD indicating that this year will be the year when the system will see a real release from the beta testing that has been going on for the past two years. Thus, most companies are hesitant to release anything that might be even remotely controversial. Products are being aimed at bases of each RPG and expanding already working systems like Run & Gun, the new Adventure Card Game, Advanced Classes Guide, The Strange, the new Star Wars RPG source book and others. A few products such as O.L.D. and N.E.W. are coming out from ENPublishing, but what does a lack of new products mean for the industry? Well I can think of two possible outcomes based on the health of an industry balanced on one larger company.
First, WotC could drive all the industry together toward a much more stable future. Back when TSR existed, releases of DnD products would not only cause sales of DnD products to increase, but people in the stores would also buy tangential products. Sales of all RPG products increased when DnD products were released. When TSR ran into trouble, all RPG sales decreased. Could a resurgence of the DnD brand bring back RPGs? We do live in a golden age of geek, and having the flagship back would bring back a lot of people into the fold. WotC is the current captain of DnD, but Paizo has given them a run for their RPG money. That said, when you tell your non-geek friend you are playing an RPG, do you say you’re playing Pathfinder or do you say you’re playing DnD? It took at least 20 years and a large cultural focus on video games for people to stop calling all video game consoles “Nintendos.” How long will it take people to see the large spectrum of RPGs out in the market place? Will they? Can the once and future king take back its place as the industry leader and really fire up the place?
Second, WotC and DnD could fail leading to some interesting times for us all and a different industry going forth into the future. *In by best crotchety old man voice* Back in my day, there was really only one game console Atari! We all played Atari. There were some smaller companies, but who really cares. There was only one company. And, that’s a horrible idea… Recently the fabled E.T. graveyard was found. E.T., while an awesome movie, is a horrible game. Since it was a movie tie-in it was thought to be a sure bet for making money. Thus, Atari bet the whole farm on this one product. And it failed miserably. It failed so miserably that the company went bankrupt. It failed so miserably that the company had to bury thousands of unsold units in the desert. It failed so miserably that the entire U.S. video game industry almost died until Nintendo and the N.E.S. came and rescued the industry a few years later and from a different continent and market! Later, there were only TWO video game companies: Nintendo and Sega. Sega, through a string of horrible business initiatives, failed and died as a console manufacturer leaving Nintendo alone in the market….just not for too long.
Could we see this with DnD? Could DnD Next do SO badly that the industry shakes as a result? Previously, Hasbro considered mothballing DnD much like my little pony or G.I. Joe. WotC was barely able to prevent this fate for our much beloved game, but it’s something to keep in mind. By the way, the recent G. I. Joe movie did so poorly in the marketplace that no new G. I. Joe toys are being produced. That iconic American toy is currently being stored and possibly later a new rebranding will be released. If that does happen, there will be a major time of upheaval as the industry shrinks. Companies like Paizo, ENWorld, and Catalyst will survive, but much smaller companies with one person and his/her friends as freelances will undoubtedly not weather this storm. If gods play games, men are the ones who suffer. Then, who knows… maybe a new dawn as with after Sega came Xbox and Playstation. Or it could be like model trains, a fun toy that doesn’t thrive today.
What do I think will happen? Well, I like DnD Next. Despite what problems I’ve had with WotC, I like that company. I think the management of the company cares about not only their product, but the hobby in general. But, that doesn’t preclude the industry from deciding that DnD next isn’t what they want. I can only wish success on anyone at this point. If WotC crashes like a capital ship in a cheesy Sci-Fi movie, remember two things. The world changes and you might not like where it goes when it does. And two, what happens to the place the ship crashes to? Right now, no one is sure how healthy that ship is. Paizo has all but confirmed its plans to stay the course and observe DnD Next from afar. They are positioning themselves to either ride a wave of success or move out of the tsunami if the WotC ship crashes hard. And no one can blame them for that!
Best of luck WotC at GenCon! I’ll be there ready to play wishing you all the success I can.