The Alexandrian

Dragon Age - Green Ronin GamesI’ve been saying for years that the RPG market has been suffering because it no longer has a gateway product: An affordable, complete product that looks like a game, doesn’t require a lot of invested time to play, is available in mainstream markets, and isn’t a paid preview for a different product.

A couple years ago, this prompted me to say that the D&D product line needed to feature “a single, consistent box that says ‘DUNGEONS & DRAGONS’ on the front cover.” (See the rest of my imaginary D&D Core Sets here.)

And earlier this month Mike Mearls wrote, “This brings us to the second big picture goal [for D&D Next]. We’re going to make an RPG product called Dungeons & Dragons. It will be the game, Dungeons & Dragons, not just a sampler or a game that guides you through making a character and playing a single adventure. You can buy D&D and play a full, tabletop RPG campaign. You will be able to start playing, regardless of experience, and will easily find other products to migrate to if you so desire.” (And it sounds like the “migrate” thing will be the result of other products offering modular additions, although we’ll have to wait and see.)

Holy shit.

Meanwhile, the ICv2 RPG bestseller lists for more than a year have consistently included Dragon Age as one of the Top 5 RPGs. (Summer 2012, Spring 2012, Q4 2011, Summer 2011, Q2 2011, Q1 2011) Although these Dragon Age players don’t seem to be present on traditional RPG forums, the game is clearly a quiet and persistent hit. (Which perhaps suggests, if we wanted to get really, really speculative, that the people buying Dragon Age aren’t traditional RPG fans.)

Tabletop - Wil WheatonI mention this because Wil Wheaton just quietly announced that Dragon Age is going to feature in the two-part season finale of his Tabletop web-series. And according to multiple, reliable reports any game featured on Tabletop enjoys a huge boom in sales.

And Dragon Age already features the type of introductory product I’ve been arguing for and D&D appears to be returning to.

Meanwhile, hobby games in general have been enjoying three years of explosive growth. Board and card games have been leading that growth with RPGs only making up a small part of it, but it suggests that the market for games played face-to-face and around the table is ripe and ready.

So call me crazy if you’d like, but stitching all of this together I’m going to make a bold prediction: Over the next 12-24 months, RPGs are going to experience a boom in sales. And this boom has the potential to enjoy a critical chain reaction if the release of D&D Next is handled perfectly and if auxiliary factors like the Pathfinder MMO are successful at the right time and in the right way.

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10 Responses to “Thought of the Day – Are RPGs Due for a Boom?”

  1. Jan says:

    Germany features it’s first own free rpg day this year and there have been steady releases of newcomer friendly boxes and books and in general quite a buzz in the scene. Seems like the German rpg community finally is using the internet to connect the small community and make a concerned effort. The only thing that is missing is “Das schwaze Auge”, the largest German rpg. But all in all I feel like you. Something great could be coming at us soon.

  2. Anathemata says:

    You know, out of all the people I introduced to rpgs back in college, the one group that had played any kind of game before had played (and owned) Dragon Age. I think that little game is greatly underrated. Great box set, simple rules, old-school feel, not to mention the great artwork and video game tie-in. It is really everything you could want from an introductory rpg.

  3. Joseph says:

    The DragonAge thing might also be fans of the game collecting the RPG in the same way that they do action figures, posters, and so forth. The lack of buzz makes it hard to really understand this phenomenon.

    I do agree that a gateway game would be a really, really good idea. I look at the Pathfinder core rules and cannot imagine 10 years olds taking the time to really figure it all out.

  4. Todd says:

    I’m not convinced that either D&D Next or Dragon Age will be the start of the next boom. Sure, with the right marketing D&D Next could bring in a number of new fans or returning old ones, but I don’t think it’ll be enough for a boom in the entire industry.

    I believe that we need something different from another swords-and-sorcery fantasy game to really expand the audience for RPG’s. I keep waiting for a new Vampire-type game. Something rules light, quick to pick up, yet with its own take on gaming. The fact that it was modern, dangerous, sexy, and immediately relatable was the key. Obviously it won’t come from White Wolf/Onyx Path and it won’t actually BE Vampire, but something like that.

  5. Justin Alexander says:

    I had some hopes we would see a Mass Effect game to accompany the Dragon Age one. But the ME3 clusterfuck may have poisoned the well on that license in any case by turning off a substantial chunk of the fanbase at the worst possible time for the franchise.

  6. Todd says:

    I really don’t think a licensed IP is the best way to to start a new boom. After all, any game that’s goal is to emulate in a table top world a particular game, or movie, or book is inherently limited. Maybe a game based on Star Wars or the Marvel movies could work, but those are already out, and they’re not exactly burning up the presses.

    On the other hand, a sci-fi game that can do a “Mass Effect” type game might work, so long as it can also do “Star Wars” and “Firefly.” Or a superhero game that can easily do “Avengers” and “Smallville” and “Arrow” might be onto something. After all, D&D isn’t based on just doing Tolkien–it’s intended to be a game that lets you tell your own swords-and-sorcery style games. Same thing with Vampire–sure, it was somewhat insprired by Lost Boys and Anne Rice and Near Dark, but it wasn’t “Anne Rice’s Vampire Chronicles: The Game,” it was its own thing.

    I’m not saying that the new Star Wars game or the new Marvel game aren’t quality games (I haven’t played them yet, so I can’t comment on them), but a licensed IP is limited in so many ways. Any game to start a new boom in the industry will have to be broader any single IP to appeal to and attract a new audience.

  7. Joseph says:

    I remain amazed by the clueless ending for ME3. I don’t want to spoil it, but it was not a logical progression of the philosophy of the previous game design (unless I really missed something).

  8. Andrew says:

    Has anyone tried the Paizo Beginner Box?

    I’ve been looking around for something to start playing with my kids, and Dragon Age sounds like the themes may be a bit beyond them. The D&D Next box game sounds promising, but it’s supposedly not due out for another year.

    I was thinking I might try the Beginner Box to see if the basic concept worked for them, and then move on to their Rise of the Runelords path if it did, but I’d love any thoughts from people who have played it.


  9. Ed says:

    I bought the Pathfinder Beginner Box to teach my younger cousins and I have to say, it does a great job getting new people into the game. The mechanics it presents are simpler than you find in the core, so it allows you to ease them into the system. And for the price, you get a nice adventure, slimmed down ruleset, some pawns to use as minis, a flip mat, and a full set of dice. Definitely worth the money.

  10. GeraintElberion says:

    A year ago Kobold Quarterly / Open Design had a patron vote for the second system (behind PF) which they should choose for a major release.

    They were expecting a 4e win but it was trounced by Dragon Age.

    There are hardcore RPG fans out there who love Dragon Age.

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