Thursday, March 15, 2012

The Throne remains vacant

Last year I wrote a bit about GAMA 2011 and the vacant throne left by D&D abandoning the market. 2012 and it remains vacant at GAMA, and it has me thinking...

One of the defining marks of any genre of entertainment is the brand used to describe it.  In the 80's any video game was a "Nintendo"  Any hand held video game is still a "Game Boy"  Any MP3 player is an "iPod", and tablets are assumed to be an iPad. Sci-Fi films are compared to Star Wars, and role playing games are still D&D.

Yet in some of these genres we have seen evolutions. Video game consoles for a while in the 90's and early 2k were PlayStations, but now that seems to have broken out of that into specific system based references.  Online RPG's were EverQuest, then WoW, and next??

What's interesting to me is the lack of evolution or change in the branding of the RPG hobby. Does the D&D branding of the RPG hobby hold back the concept of RPG's?  There is stigma, rightly or wrongly, with RPG's in general and when discussing with others (my own designs or something else) its still, " D&D?"  This sort of mental pigeonhole is important for helping us grasp a concept and have a paradigm to work with a new concept, but it too can be a limiting like a cage trapping ideas and stymies progress or new ideas.

As the majority of the OSR posters, chatter, and products continue to wave the D&D banner high (through its use of clone rules/systems) I have to wonder if this isn't further perpetuating and keeping the D&D branding of the hobby (good and ill) alive--thus insuring there can be no growth beyond the D&D label for the RPG hobby?

Clearly Pathfinder has made a lot inroads in changing the D&D mantle for the hobby, and perhaps with its growth into new media it will come to break the D&D stranglehold and create a different perception of the hobby?  That's tough though as Pathfinder is based on D&D 3.X with some different chrome bits under the hood and a more modern paint job...yet in truth, it's still a version of D&D.

I say all this as I spent time on the show floor at GAMA, and beyond PSI representing a hodgepodge of brands at the show, there were NO other RPG's.  GAMA itself has grown significantly in attendance and while it is still not the 2 showroom event from about 5 years ago...its is much stronger and better attended than it was 2 years ago.  The growth in TCG sales, board games sales and even miniature game sales are all in stark contrast to the continuing declines in the RPG gaming category.  Yes I have anecdotal data to confirm that with distributors, but I also have the evidence of the show booths.  No new RPG's shown, no DCC, no Paizo, WotC info booth has nothing.  SO while other hobby game genres are growing or at least flourishing, for RPG's not so much.  I saw tons of new board games, new minis games, new card games but no new RPG's.

Don't get me wrong I don't somehow pine for the early 80's heyday of RPG games, but it is amazing to me how a trade show for 300 gaming store owners has so little RPG gaming to offer them for their shelves.  Perhaps Video has grievously wounded the d20 star? Perhaps the D&D brand stigma surrounding RPG's keeps the genre an after thought? Perhaps like a zombie, its only waiting to rise again.  Good ideas don't die...but they sure can take a bad beating.

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