Great Ideas and the RPG Market

Brian L. Bird asks of concepts for new games:

Define stunningly good?

Also what is your take on the future of roleplaying games?

Stunningly good games break molds, form new categories, and are strong enough to inspire others to sign on, either as employees or investors. Such ideas are rare, of course, and it’s hard to recognize them when they come along. The idea for Magic: The Gathering wasn’t an obvious hit, for instance, not when Peter Adkison decided to publish it, but it clearly had the potential to break out and become a major success. Other games have seemed to have the same kind of chances but never took off, for any number of reasons.

As for RPGs as we know them, I believe this is a mature market with a number of solidly established major players which have already staked out the best ground. New successes in RPGs aren’t impossible, but they’ll never amount to more than a small fraction of Dungeons & Dragons. If you have aspirations of being a large and wealthy publisher as a newcomer, this is a cement-like row to hoe.

Fortunately, other business models for RPGs have cropped up beyond the traditional three-tier system (publisher-distributor-retailer). Ron Edwards and the crew at the Forge led the charge of the low-budget, high-quality RPG, for instance, and brought PDF publishing to the gaming industry in earnest. While these games might never have the kind of colossal sales that provide a full-time living for their creators, publishers, and assorted staff, they allow for their own kinds of success. These venutres can prove more profitable than traditional publishers in many cases.

RPGs will never die. I don’t think we’ll ever have a hit on the level of D&D again—or even Vampire—but that doesn’t mean there’s not a lot of room for innovation. If something does break out like that, chances are that most of us wouldn’t recognize it as an RPG, but as a gaming omnivore myself, that’s fine by me.