Currently in U.S. retail we are seeing major book chains collapsing and disappearing. Recently Borders was burried, but before that Waldenbooks and B.Dalton. In the next few years Barnes & Noble too will fall. Why? Much has to do with the rise digital reading devices combined with increase selection/lower pricing via online retail. Independent bookstores and used bookstores will continue to survive if not thrive when no longer overshadowed by the retail giants.
This is nothing new as recently a combination of on demand video, and Netflix has killed Blockbuster, Suncoast Motion Picture retail & Hollywood video. Before them, MP3's, iTunes and iPods killed Musciland, Camelot Music, Tower, The Warehouse music and untold other music retailers. While the major retailers have folded, the strongest independent music shops have survived and even thrived.
On the horizon, the ability to download games will be as central to new games on home console machines as it already is for computers, tablets and phones. This change will kill the Gamestop retail chain. They survive based on the product margins from buying used games and systems, not on the sale of new products. When games are digital downloads that can no longer be traded in for $5 and resold for $25, their retail life is over. You can get hardware or controllers online or at TRU, Target or Walmart so there is no need to go to a specialist shop...ever again.
Currently the (board) gaming world is seeing a renaissance of its own. When you can find exclusive Star Trek themed Settlers of Catan at Target, you know you have made it big. The reasons for growth is three pronged in my mind: First, boardgames provide more value than video games by being endlessly re-playable. Second, they are a face to face group dynamic experience, something novel in the online age. Last, the mechanics are interesting and quick to learn, combined with IP's that spur/drive interest.
A huge volume of board and card games are being produced currently and fill the shelves of independent retailers as well as mass market retail shelves. Part of this is a discovery by Americans of games with mechanics beyond Risk and Monopoly combined with strong IP's (Game of Thrones, Star Trek, Walking Dead, Halo) that appeal to a mass market audience. A game about being a goat farmer in 1630 won't play in L.A. Shotgunning zombie hordes while hot wiring a Pinto? That's gold Jerry! The effect of this Boardgame Renaissance though will be the same as any fad: bad products rush in to capitalize on a hot market, channel glut of too many games chasing too few dollars, retailer discounting to get rid of overstock, and decline of interest having been burned by sub-par products leads to a crash.
Currently video game purchases are down 20% or more from last year, and 2011 sales were down from 2010. This is because a lack of new console systems released combined with rise of portable phone/ipad gaming. New Machines in 2013 and possibly 2014 will see a renewed surge in video game sales and no doubt as tablet prices decrease, and there usage proliferates they too will feed a surge of digital gaming. In my estimation, this will trigger a massive decline in the board gaming market in 2014.
Okay smart guy, so what the heck does ANY of that have to do adventure gaming (RPG's)? Glad you stuck around to ask. You see the board gaming experience (face to face, interactive, social gaming) will be something people will want to continue even after board games go out of vogue or maybe shift to more of a digital experience. Combine that with adventuring gaming providing a non-competitive (cooperative) gaming experience that usually appeals to women as much as it does to men and you have the potential for new gamers. In other words, I think the market conditions are being created by the board game boom to facilitate the potential for an adventure gaming resurgence. But just because the opportunity knocks, does not mean anyone will answer the door.
You see I think the vast majority of gaming books published are too complicated and far too big. It is rare the person who will pick up a college sized text book and think, man this looks like fun $40 let's have a go! The physical presentation of the game will need to change to fit modern, non-gamer sensibilities. Whether it is boxed like a board game, published in slim volumes like books, or made as a series of inexpensive downloadable ebooks, the age of door stopping tomes must come to an end if the games are to attract a broader audience again.
Second, and I've no wish to offend when I say this, but our representatives will have to be more mainstream in terms of social acceptability. Mention role playing to a non-gamer and you get the instant assumption the players will be unkempt, unclean, mother's basement dwelling, and socially awkward at best, or socially backward at worst. While clearly untrue in the mass, it is surprising how ingrained this characterization may be. Considering how mainstream comics, board gaming and video gaming have become, its a bit surprising that role playing is still considered the uncle in the attic when it comes to social acceptance. That stigma is a part of the reason why I refer to Heroes & Other Worlds as an Adventure Game, not as a role playing game.
Third, the games need to focus on players having adventures, not on players trying to "be" Redneck Gandalf. One can play that way if they like, or grow into playing a role, but labeling these games "Role Playing" infers one MUST do this to play it, and that is a chain linked fence topped with razor wire to the vast majority people who are also potential new players.
The OSR has created a tremendous underground of new games, designers, and material which further seed the hobby. Clearly this underground force caused waves in mainstream gaming companies and continues to drive new growth in different arenas outside of traditional retail. I think a OSR 2.0 is rising, and out of this second wave, we may see a combination of market interest/need combined with "new player" friendly design that may catch fire. There are no guarantees and I am not suggesting it will be 1979-1984 all over again. What I do think is there are possibilities and potential on the horizon. Where that leads and what will we see? Well my friend that will be an adventure.
Side note, regarding kickstarters: For the sweet love of everything holy, STOP funding these unless they have a previous track record of delivering or are done by an established company.
If you choose to fund one anyway, please remember these facts:
1) FEW will hit delivery dates given, your RPG based one WILL NOT, so don't get froggy about it.
2) Some will take your money and run, that's life in the big city.
3) Don't whine if you choose to fund one anyway knowing 1 & 2 in advance, you have been warned!
My own stuff is done on my own dime, no kickstarter, ever. If you purchase, you get what you bought as soon as you can download it or when the post delivers it from lulu. Your purchases fund further work and new products for Heroes & Other Worlds. I am an old school capitalist, so if you have gaming money to spend, and want a new game? Feel free (or not) to throw it my way and get a new game. To those who already have, you have my thanks very much for your support! I look forward to making even more good stuff for Heroes & Other Worlds. Hooray capitalism!
Now back to making Heroes & Other Worlds posts and gaming stuff, this century mark post is at an end, and a new one begins.