4

Hard Times for Gaming? Yes and No

Yesterday, the AEG website noted that they were laying off a number of people. Word has it that other companies have also let a few employees go in recent days. Still other publishers, like Decipher and Guardians of Order have had troubles this past year too. This naturally led some people to wonder if the entire RPG industry—or perhaps the gaming industry itself—might finally collapse on itself like an (ahem) house of cards.

I don’t believe it for a second.

I’ve been through this part of the cycle a number of times. Sales go down for a while. A few companies that were on the edge topple closer to it. Some even fall over it. The industry rolls on, and a few months later the ones that are left—and a few new ones to boot—are doing better than ever, often riding on the coattails of a hot new category that no one could have expected.

More to the point, I think AEG is going to be around for a long time. I know John Zinser and the rest of the crew over there. We were partners in Pinnacle Entertainment Group at one time, and we went through a round of layoffs at Pinnacle too. You don’t do these things because you like to, you do them because you need to, and John’s smart enough to do it before whatever problems the company is having grew large enough to choke them. They’ll come through it fine. And so will the adventure gaming industry too.

Comments 4

  1. I think you’re right about the adventure gaming industry as a whole, but I would be very surprised if we don’t see — in five to fifteen years — that the RPG section of the pie has gone essentially where we see paper wargames now.

    The largest section of RPG players, those who like the “bust down the door, grab the treasure, power up” style of play, will have all moved on to computer games. They’re simply more efficient, more entertaining, and more convenient for that style of play.

    Deprived of the income from those players, RPG publishers will really feel the hurt. Most will go out of business. Those that remain will be hobbyist publishers like those working the Forge audience, or those who can cater to an established game’s fan base (Ars Magica, Legend of the Five Rings, etc.) until they die off. And since the publishers’ lifespans aren’t going to be any longer than their fans’ lifespans, that should work out reasonably well.

  2. I think you’re right about the adventure gaming industry as a whole, but I would be very surprised if we don’t see — in five to fifteen years — that the RPG section of the pie has gone essentially where we see paper wargames now.

    The largest section of RPG players, those who like the “bust down the door, grab the treasure, power up” style of play, will have all moved on to computer games. They’re simply more efficient, more entertaining, and more convenient for that style of play.

    Deprived of the income from those players, RPG publishers will really feel the hurt. Most will go out of business. Those that remain will be hobbyist publishers like those working the Forge audience, or those who can cater to an established game’s fan base (Ars Magica, Legend of the Five Rings, etc.) until they die off. And since the publishers’ lifespans aren’t going to be any longer than their fans’ lifespans, that should work out reasonably well.

  3. I agree that computer games have put a dent in the tabletop business, but I don’t see a good reason for that to have caused the most recent and precipitous drop. Perhaps we’ve just reached a tipping point that’s caused the sales of some publishers to fall below a sustainable level, but I think it’s more likely that outside forces (i.e., the broader economy) have had a stronger impact.

    As a mature (or at least maturing) industry, I expect (as you seem to agree) to see RPGs go the route of other hard-copy hobbies or pasttimes like books or comic books. We’ll end up with a small number of viable, comparatively large publishers and many small presses which are essentially hobbies or a pursuit of artistic worth for their owners. We’re most the way there already. The d20 boom gave a number of the smaller publishers a shot at doing some real numbers, but with that over we probably won’t see another cycle like that until D&D 4.0 hits, assuming that will be released under the Open Gaming License too.

    I don’t think RPGs will be marginalized as much as tabletop wargames though. With a publisher as large as Wizards and a game as pervasive as D&D, I think RPGs (even if mostly just D&D) will continue for a long time.

  4. Post
    Author

    I agree that computer games have put a dent in the tabletop business, but I don’t see a good reason for that to have caused the most recent and precipitous drop. Perhaps we’ve just reached a tipping point that’s caused the sales of some publishers to fall below a sustainable level, but I think it’s more likely that outside forces (i.e., the broader economy) have had a stronger impact.

    As a mature (or at least maturing) industry, I expect (as you seem to agree) to see RPGs go the route of other hard-copy hobbies or pasttimes like books or comic books. We’ll end up with a small number of viable, comparatively large publishers and many small presses which are essentially hobbies or a pursuit of artistic worth for their owners. We’re most the way there already. The d20 boom gave a number of the smaller publishers a shot at doing some real numbers, but with that over we probably won’t see another cycle like that until D&D 4.0 hits, assuming that will be released under the Open Gaming License too.

    I don’t think RPGs will be marginalized as much as tabletop wargames though. With a publisher as large as Wizards and a game as pervasive as D&D, I think RPGs (even if mostly just D&D) will continue for a long time.

Leave a Reply