Predictions for the Tabletop RPG Industry

A preface: The following was originally a forum post I made on the forums for the podcast Fear the Boot (www.feartheboot.com). It was made in response to an episode on the same topic (http://www.feartheboot.com/ftb/index.php/archives/4994). This has since come up in conversations in multiple different venues during which it has been universally difficult to point people to a months old forum post for my views on the topic.

So, here I present my predictions in a more easy-to-find location. The above is to give context as the below post was written presuming that context was already had, and in some places direct references are made to the episode in question.

With that out of the way…

-Kickstarter

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Kickstarter is going to remain a major pipeline for small/indy level tabletop game creators to get published and make a non-zero amount of money on their product. The relatively low bar for a tabletop game kickstarter to be a success means we are unlikey to have catastrophic failures the likes of which have graced video game Kickstarters. This is in part due to the fact that, unlike with video games, if a tabletop game is at least close to delivering on what the audience wants, there is nothing stopping the audience from making the necessary tweaks to a game to ultimately get the experience they wanted in the first place. This is also in part due to the fact that making a tabletop RPG is simply an easier task than making a tabletop RPG. A TTRPG ultimately is a document. This document needs to be written, edited, formatted, and have the necessary art created. The game ideally should be playtested, but it is much easier to crowdsource tabletop playtesting than videogame playtesting, as evidenced by the fact that nearly everyone, including WOTC and Paizo, use this very tact. In many cases, when a TTRPG goes to kickstarter, a rough draft of the document already exists and the funds are to do things like hire an artist/editor/graphic designer to make the document easier to use. It is actually quite difficult for these Kickstarters to fail, and I cannot fathom a scenario where one could fail on the scale of something like Star Citizen or Mighty No. 9.

What I can see happening, on the other hand, is this low bar making it difficult when/if someone comes to Kickstarter with a more complex, ambitious TTRPG product in mind. I fear that we may see an instance in the near-ish future of someone coming forward with a Kickstarter for a TTRPG of considerable crunch and depth only to find that it is difficult to explain to the general population why their game is going to need a couple hundred thousand to produce Capital Ships: The Broadsidening when the FATE Core adaptation they just backed needed a tenth that much money.

-Paizo

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I think in near-ish future we are going to see Paizo start to diversify their brand. We are already seeing the earliest movements towards this with Starfinder, and I think this move is indicitive of a greater motion towards launching more games.

I think this by and large because I think Pathfinder is running out places to be developed. Pathfinder has hit a point where they are running out of clear reasons to produce more content other than because they are a company that needs to make money. At the same time, they have expressed that they are keenly aware of customer worries about a new edition of Pathfinder. The last thing anyone wants is a Pathfinder 2.0 motivated primarily by the need to have a new line of books to sell.

One solution, and the one I think they are most likely to take based on their current direction, is to simply make more, other games. Presuming Starfinder does well, I would not be surprised if they expanded their line of RPGs further, taking advantage of the fact that they are one of the few companies in the RPG market right now with a good pipeline for creating mechanically complex, crunchy games reliably and successfully. I expect that, presuming Starfinder does well and proves this pipeline works for games other than Pathfinder, we can expect to see at least one more game in their main lineup in the next 10 years, and at least two more in the next 20. I don’t think support for Pathfinder will completely drop off, but I do think that with the pressure to put out new product to pay the bills no longer entirely on one line you will see them released much less often, and the resulting product quality will be much appreciated.

-Catalyst

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I think that Catalyst’s current business model is not sustainable.

That is to say, the way they are creating their books is damaging their end product consistently enough that it is damaging their brand. Catalyst currently has most of their writing done by freelancers, then brings these freelancer’s works together to make sourcebooks. They presently have only one or two editors managing the entire line, depending on who you ask. The end result is that Shadowrun 5th Ed has had some serious editing and cohesion problems. You run into problems like one part of a book referencing another part that doesn’t exist, indexes that are so innacurate they are functionally useless, and balance issues that are absurd even by the standards of a game where I keep a bag of 100D6 handy whenever I play.

I don’t think this is going to be the death of the company by any means, but I do believe that they are going to have to figure out a way to shift gears in the near future. I expect that at some point 5th ed will get an equivalent to 4th ed’s 20th Anniversary edition. It is my hope that at this point they will approach this new edition with more editors on staff and are able to make 5th ed a more polished product. 5th ed is not a bad game. It’s really solidly designed at it’s core. But, Shadowrun is a game where you cannot really ignore the supplimentary material. As far back as 3rd edition the core book simply assumed you were going to buy the gear book, the magic book, and the hacking/technology book. I don’t really mind this approach, but their current pipeline is not handling publishing the amount of material they are publishing gracefully.

I don’t think Anarchy will stick around, which makes me sad, because I think it is a great idea, but what I have heard is that it is plagued with the same editing problems that the rest of the edition is plagued with, and the last thing you want is to need an FAQ to play the simplified version of a game.

-WOTC

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I do not think there will be another edition of D&D in 10 years. I think they are going to support 5th ed for a while, and it will get a full, solid run, but I do not think it is going to make the kinds of returns a giant like Hasbro is going to want to see, especially with their resistence to PDF publishing. I don’t think they are going to lose money, but I think Hasbro will be unenthusastic about the idea of supporting the D&D line beyond the next 5 years or so. We will not likely see 6th ed in the next decade. I expect WOTC, like Paizo, will still support their flagship game, and also like Paizo I expect the new products coming out for that game will slow to a crawl, but unlike Paizo I do not expect them to diversify into other TTRPGs.

-Technology

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I expect that while the technology that supports and improves the tabletop gaming experience will continue to be developed, I feel that much of the tabletop experience will remain fundamentally unchanged. The biggest change will likely be just the further proliferation on tablets/mobile devices supplanting books at the gaming table as PDF continues to prove to be a cheaper, more convenient alternative to traditional books. I do not feel like online solutions will ever supplant face-to-face interaction for tabletop gaming, because tabletop gaming is written with face-to-face interaction in mind. I do, however, foresee someone at some point designing a game with both the limitations and unique advantages of online spaces in mind. I don’t think this will completely revolutionize TTRPGs, much like how Dread didn’t lead to everyone replacing their dice with Jenga towers, but I think they will diversify the design space in an interesting way.

I do not think the GM-Box is coming. The GM-Box doesn’t provide significant advantage over a video game.

I do not think smart glass/interactive tabletop technology is going to have as big an impact on the market as people think.

-Other Predictions

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DriveThruRPG will continue to be a major market force, especially for small press RPG stuff. There are no clear deficiencies in their design save for maybe lack of curation. It will take someone coming up with a really out-of-left-field idea to act as a competitor.

Mid-sized RPG companies will in the near future continue their focus on toolbox-games. The market is clearly leaning towards rulesets that enable GMs and Players to realize their own ideas over selling them ideas pre-made. FATE Core was a clear example of this, though Apocalypse World’s design is also clearly meant to be tinkered with. In that light, Apocalypse world could be viewed as a game engine with an example game baked in. I expect that in the next 10 years we will see at least two more of this sort of game make it relatively big, and many other quality products to use these systems.

D&D will still be shorthand for TTRPG to people outside of the hobby, even as that term loses importance within the hobby.

Being a full-time professional game designer will become a rarer thing than it already is.

Dan will eventually publish Skies of Glass and/or Epoch of Rysos. Then, we will have two Ennie winning show hosts.

Star Wars will get another RPG relatively soon.

Someone in the next 20 years will try to turn their tabletop game into an MMO again. It will fail. Again.

Paradox will release a Vampire: The Masquerade grand strategy game. It will be glorious and impenetrable.

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