A Rising Tide Lifts All Ships, Really?

I keep hearing this and as 5E gains in popularity, I keep hearing it more. At first, I did buy into it but I’m starting to wonder about that.

I get the idea. 5E D&D does well and by default so does the rest of the RPG market. It brings more people into the hobby. More things are sold. But I think that it does get to the point the the rising tide can start to swallow up the smaller ships. Let’s look at a few things.

It brings more people into the hobby is the big one. But how many people come into the hobby via 5E stray from the 5E fold. And how many stay for any long period of time? I can only offer opinion on these two points based on my own observations. There’s a hard core sector that won’t stray from 5E. They don’t look outside that box. And I’ve seen lots of folks who I thought weren’t gamers, get into 5E for a while but not stay that long and just move on. I don’t think many of them will be still be playing their “old” game decades later. I think some are just playing it because it’s popular right now.

It’s mainstream now. So many times, I see this as more of a curse than a blessing. Sure you can get D&D stuff at big box stores and even on Amazon and usually at a lower price than available at your friendly local mom and pop gaming store. So much for supporting local businesses. Along with that, there’s plenty of folks who want to pop in start a shit storm then walk way because they have actual interest in the hobby. And then there’s the higher profile articles about RPG’s from “news” sources that don’t cover table top gaming. Any one who’s been around a while notices that a lot of those articles are very poorly researched and do nothing for other RPG’s and often puts them into a less than stellar light.

Celebrity endorsements! Ugh. There is no gentle way to put this. If you’re playing just because some celebrity is playing then you aren’t going to be looking around for more games. I put these folks in the same bucket as the “playing because it’s popular” crowd.

Corporations kill creativity. Let’s just say that corporate D&D will do for RPG’s what McDonald’s did for hamburgers. And don’t forget the lawyers and accountants. Lawsuits and bean counting aren’t the most creative of environments.

Hello, small publishers. Congratulations. You’re even more insignificant. There’s a steep hill to climb for small publishers. That hill gets steeper as bigger companies dominate the space. Just ask all those local bookstores when Amazon started selling books.

Don’t put all your eggs in one basket. Yes, I’ve heard “so goes D&D, so goes the hobby”. That’s bad but it’s an unfortunate reality. Paizo did pull of Pathfinder when many fans disliked 4th Edition. But as WOTC’s influence grows, it makes it even more difficult for another Paizo to come along.

Having one company has so much influence over the market, tone, and community doesn’t lend itself to a long term healthy community. As I said, it kills creativity when the dollars and conversation are centered just one publishers/game. It makes competition even more difficult for mom and pop games stores and small publishers.

What do do? Well, keep the home fires burning and keep the grass roots growing. Support the local games stores. Support the odd ball small publishers. Have fun and talk about it.

8 thoughts on “A Rising Tide Lifts All Ships, Really?”

  1. I really think you’re making a lot of assumptions about what the incoming gamers will and won’t do based on your own subjective perspective. You’ve done nothing in the way of providing any empirical support for your claim. For example I can tell you from my perspective that people I’ve seen come into the game through 5e D&D have moved on to Alien, DCC, Call of Cthulhu, Tales From the Loop, etc… If you’re going to get out and make a claim like this I think it should at least be backed up with some sort of evidence.

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    1. In all fairness, the author was clear this was just his opinion, albeit one based on personal experience, which, incidentally, is no more than what you offered in your rebuttal. So where did he go wrong?

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  2. Alright everybody. Let’s calm down. Yes, this is based on my own opinions and observations. YMMV. I should have been more clear on that. And yes I do ramble on the old blog. I will say this. I don’t think it’s good when any hobby or community is dominated by single entity. It doesn’t matter if it’s RPG’s or whatever.

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    1. Chuck, I’m sorry if I came across as upset or angry. I’m really not, but I do personally feel that this mentality is more damaging than good to the indy scene. The fact is Indy ttrpg’s are booming right now. Many creators are having huge success in the current climate, take for example A Thousand Year Old Vampire, or Mork Borg, or just how generally successful Fria Ligan is. Itch.io has tons of original material that many people are buying. I think if we really got down to numbers you would be hard pressed to show that third party publishers in the 70’s and 80’s were anywhere near as profitable as they are right now. Is this all because of D&D, no, crowd funding also plays a huge role, however I see no evidence that D&D 5e has had a detrimental effect to the indy scene. The tabletop side of kickstarter had a 70% success rate in 2020 and the early data for 2021 is showing that those numbers are still growing. This is a wave thats already lasted close to a decade and seems to still be growing. So I guess my point is that I just wish that if you were going to make a case against the biggest dragon in the dungeon that there was at least something more substantial to make that accusation than I feel like this is true.

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  3. First, discussions can get quickly out of hand on the Internet. So wanted to keep things calm. I didn’t intend for this to be an accusation. Yes, there are a lot of success stories and the number of players is increasing and many join and enjoy the hobby. That’s all great. That’s what we need and want. However, it’s my opinion that WOTC’s market dominance could be detrimental in the future. I hope that I’m wrong.

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  4. Kickstarters are purely a measure of how the industry is doing, the game as a product to be collected, rather than the hobby, with the game as actually being played. Hopefully more games are being played due to exposure this way but what figures we do have show D&D dominates virtually played games and actual play videos.

    I’m not seeing the evidence for the success-in-play of most of the DTRPG top twenty best sellers

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  5. All of our customers seem to come from folk who were drawn into the hobby by WOTC and D&D who then looked around at other games. I see it again and again at every convention when we run demos.

    “I’ve only played 5E or Pathfinder…”

    It’s all about new blood. Older gamers tend to stay with the games and editions they played back in the day.

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