I’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.)
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.)
I 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.