[MUD-Dev] "sweeping change"?

Michael Tresca talien at toast.net
Wed Nov 21 00:48:41 CET 2001

Mike Sellers posted on Tuesday, November 20, 2001 11:22 AM

> Well, it all depends on your goals.  If we're talking about
> ultra-niche hobbies, then paper RPGs are at least as "alive" as
> bone-shaker bicycles and Space:1999 fan clubs.  These groups and
> hundreds of others like them also have huge conventions not unlike
> GenCon; and yet none of them could be considered to be widely
> popular pastimes.

I could keep saying "wow" but I think I effectively conveyed my
horror at such statements.  I don't even know what a bone-shaker
bicycle is, but it sounds unpleasant.

I have to disagree with you.  To compare Space:1999 fan clubs with
Gen Con is laughably absurd.

>From http://www.wizards.com/gencon/2001/main.asp?x=2001/exhibitor:

  "We currently expect 26,000 individual gamers from around the
  world to create an outstanding turnstile attendance at Gen Con
  2001 -- multiply individual attendees by the number of days they
  attend, and we're looking at an overall attendance of over 75,000! 
  Last year, Gen Con posted a final attendance figure of 25,049
  individuals, or a turnstile attendance of 71,128."

In contrast, a Gerry Anderson, creator of Space:1999 convention (aka
Fanderson) (source http://www.pulpfantasy.com/clark3.htm):

  "I estimated that about 250 fans had taken the time to travel long
  distances and attend the convention."

Or the Space:1999 Breakaway Convention (source

  "It had the largest attendance of any convention since the 1970s -
  over 300 people, mostly from the US, Canada and the UK but with
  delegations from France, Italy, Belgium, Germany, Sweden, Brazil,
  Australia and New Zealand."

> OTOH, if we're talking about paper RPGs as a source of "sweeping
> change," it's a different story.  I stand by what I said above:
> outside of Hasbro (who bought Wizards of the Coast, who bought TSR
> (at fire sale prices), who made D&D), there's just not much of a
> market for paper RPGs.

Or, to put it another way:

  "Outside of the Beatles and Led Zepplin, there wasn't much of a
  market for rock."

  "Outside of Michael Jackson, there wasn't much of a market for pop."

  "Outside of..."

This is not to say, by any means, that Hasbro/TSR/WOTC are the
be-all and end-all of RPGs.  They did, however, have such a
tremendous impact in the industry that to ignore them seriously
skews your findings.

Additionally, WOTC has created the Open Gaming License.  From

  1. Game Rules and materials that use those rules that can be
  freely copied, modified and distributed.

  2. A system for ensuring that material contributed to the Open
  Gaming community will remain Open and cannot be made Closed once

This license gave birth to a multitude of companies who use the D20
RPG system for their own games.  Here's a list of publishers (hint:
there's a lot): 


> In the micro sense, they're as alive as your gaming group makes
> them.  In the macro sense, they're the furthest thing from a
> robust, world-changing industry.

You're right.  They already changed the world.  Many, many, MANY of
the current MMORPGs and CRPGs are clearly inspired, influenced, or
directly ripped off of RPGs.  This is by no means an indication that
they are replaced.  Only Neverwinter Nights, in my opinion, has a
realistic chance at becoming the "quasi-replacement" for
role-playing.  WebRPG never cut it for me.

>> ... this new thread has really revealed those statements to be
>> quite accurate -- it's not just "We're not role-players," it's
>> "We're not role-players and you stupid role-players know nothing
>> about gaming!"

> I'm not sure how you got any of that from what Raph or I said.
> I'm a long-time paper RPGer, and I believe Raph is too.  Most
> online game people are (there's one or two vibrant D&Dv3 campaigns
> going on after hours in our office).

Probably because words like "deeply insular aficionados" were used
to describe the only people who "know or care" about pen-and-paper

> Paper RPGs are cool, but they've largely been superceded by
> computer games (online and offline), and this trend shows no sign
> of reversing.

They have not been superceded.  Different gaming audience, as Dave
pointed out.  What I'm more disturbed by is that I assumed (and, I'm
learning, I assumed wrong) that game developers kept in touch with
all forms of gaming communities.  It just makes good marketing
sense. The mere fact that a convention of over 25,000 attendees is
grouped with a convention of around 300 means we're not as in touch
with what's going on in the various gaming communities as we need to

I do not believe people play a single "type" of game -- they play
what's fun and immediately available.  CRPGs and MMORPGs require
computers -- graphically capable computers -- money, and time.  Not
everyone has all of those.  I can get infinite mileage out of a RPG
-- CRPGs can rapidly diminish in playability after a couple of weeks
of gaming.

> But that doesn't change the reality that most -- nearly all, and
> maybe *all* -- paper RPGs are hanging on by their fingernails, and
> could vanish pretty much any time (if you think Hasbro is above
> this, I'll direct you to the graves of SPI and AH).

I brought this up at Gen Con.  Given the economic downturn, won't
that affect people's game purchases?  I was chastised then too (I
was very loud and inquisitive at Gen Con, bet you couldn't guess
that couldja?!): No, it was explained, role-playing games sell
better than ever during times like these.  Why? 1) because of the
infinite possible returns on investment (see above) and 2) because
people want escapism during bad times

So you've got a cheap, imaginative game world that doesn't require a
computer.  The economy's bad for everybody.  I do worry about the
gaming industry.  But not for the reasons you've stated.

> Let's see how many are around next year, and how many of those are
> left have sold out their first printing.

Deal.  We'll check back in a year (and, in theory, in an economic

> No, I believe paper RPGs are commercially dead because I've
> researched the sector and understand the demographics and sales
> trends of those in that market.  Fewer people are playing paper
> RPGs because we've aged and those who might have started playing
> them as we did at 10 or 15 years old have instead gravitated
> toward more visual, interactive, and immediate computer games.

WOTC's statistics disagree with you.  Just the short version:

  - WOTC's market research found "more than 2 million people,
  between the ages of 12 and 35 in the US playing at least one
  tabletop RPG monthly, and nearly 5 million who reported playing at
  least once sometime in the past year."

We can go round and round with this.  I don't feel that RPGs are
necessarily in competition with CRPGs and MMORPGs -- as I said,
tabletop RPGs always come first for every player I've encountered.
Raph mourned the death of RPGs.  Consider this a comforting reminder
that they're not dead.  They may not be making the cash flow that
online games are making, but they are hardly "ultra-niche", "buggy
whips", or played only by "deeply insular aficionados."

Mike "Talien" Tresca, a deeply insular aficionado

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