Do RPG Bloggers Focus Too Much on Dungeons and Dragons?

Just for fun, I counted the number of 4th Edition related posts on the front page of rpgbloggers.com today. Since many, if not most RPG bloggers contribute to this site, it made for an easy way to sample today’s posts. Even with a fairly strict criteria (4e focused posts only, not just mentioning it) I came up with a number of 14 posts out of 40. I could easily add a few more posts to my count if I included any version of “D&D.” That brings the number up to 50% of the posts on a randomly selected day. While totally unscientific, it does illustrate a concern I have nursed over the past 18 months of blogging about RPGs.

We (RPG bloggers) focus too much on “Dungeons and Dragons.” Save the pointless “old vs new school” arguments for someone else’s blog. I am interested in the entire “D&D” brand, from the very first 1970’s booklet to the latest digital offering. It seems like this one game dominates the entire discussion about RPGs and that is dangerous.

Dangerous for a couple of reasons, first is my ongoing concern that smaller RPG companies with quality products do not get a fraction of the press exposure that “D&D” receives. Exposure that translates directly to sales and their overall financial health. While a monopoly in the RPG industry is simply not possible, D&D’s size, brand recognition and WOTC’s marketing muscle clearly dominate the market. It also is dominating the discussion of RPGs and I am saddened to think that players out there might miss out on a great gaming experience because a really exciting RPG never gets the exposure it deserves from RPG bloggers.

Exposure has more than some abstract impact in the Internet age. Remember that bloggers by talking about and linking to game companies, directly impact search engine results. Those results matter in both traffic and potential sales. Over at rpgseek.com, I have a search engine that is only populated with game publishers…except WOTC. I created a separate search engine for 4E because of the 500+ publishers in the engine WOTC appeared at the top of the search results for almost every keyword, save for specific game titles or web addresses. I could not make it work with WOTC in the mix. They have too much Google “mojo” in regards to gaming keywords.

Did bloggers put WOTC at the top of the search results? Of course not. Armies of loyal D&D players did it. That said, bloggers as a group might move a smaller publisher from the bowels of the Google search results to the first or second page of a search result, which would have an impact.

Over and above concerns about exposure and search engine results, I have a more abstract fear. That of an RPG monoculture. The complete reliance on limited providers of a good or service leaves you vulnerable catastrophic failures. Think of a small town totally reliant on a single company for all of the employment. Should the company fail, the town suffers and likely ceases to exist.

I am not saying that WOTC or Hasbro are in danger of extinction. To the contrary, as of their last quarterly report, they are weathering the current recession quite well. My concern is based on history. TSR was very successful and then internal conflict, truly terrible business decisions and clueless management nearly killed it and the D&D brand altogether.

Any company can fail. WOTC can fail. Hasbro can fail. That is the nature of capitalism. WOTC and its marketing arm significantly impact the community as a whole. Think of all the marketing, convention support and organized play groups (RPGA) supported by WOTC. Imagine all of this suddenly gone and the impact on the entire gaming community. Even if you hate “Living Forgotten Realms,” there is little argument that it drives people to game stores and conventions. WOTC’s demise would not kill the gaming community, but it is certain to damage it for years to come. This does not even describe the carnage among game stores that make a not-insignificant amount of their retail sales from WOTC products. Other companies would fill the gap, but that takes time and might be the death of many game stores and conventions until the industry recovers.  Right now, there is no clear “heir apparent” should WOTC fail. In fact, I would much prefer an army of 20-30 companies that might rise collectively to fill the gap. Companies that are getting short shrift from bloggers focusing on the “King of the Hill.”

I am sure that many disagree with my assessment and think that everything is just fine in the RPG blogosphere and that the focus on D&D is a function of its popularity.  I am not arguing for a quota or some kind of D&D boycott in RPG blogging content. People should write about what interests them. What I am arguing for is a bit of introspection and perhaps taking a harder look at the broader gaming industry as a whole in our blog posts.

For the record, I am a huge D&D fan since 1983.

Trask, The Last Tyromancer

trask

Trask is a long-time gamer, world traveler and history buff. He hopes that his scribblings will both inform and advance gaming as a hobby.

33 thoughts on “Do RPG Bloggers Focus Too Much on Dungeons and Dragons?

  • May 28, 2009 at 11:23 pm
    Permalink

    Oh most definitely. I admit that I’ve been rattling on about Savage Worlds perhaps a bit too much. But it would be nice to see more general stuff, WoD, Gurps or any other lesser known games.

  • May 28, 2009 at 11:36 pm
    Permalink

    The question is not do RPG Bloggers focus too much on D&D, but rather Why do D&D Bloggers focus on D&D. When I write post about Savage Worlds or Stargate I get a fraction of the traffic that a D&D related post brings.

    I have noticed that I have trended towards more D&D stuff just trying to get folks to stop by and read the other stuff.

  • May 28, 2009 at 11:41 pm
    Permalink

    @dicemonkey/Chuck–I agree on both counts

    @Vulcan Stev–Sadly, this is true. My best posts from a visitor standpoint are usually 4E related. If you have plans to ever make money on your site, then it is 4E every post, every day, just to keep your traffic up. Happily I am not doing this for money, so I am free to explore whatever interests me.

  • May 28, 2009 at 11:42 pm
    Permalink

    I personally never liked D&D, but I agree with you. The RPG bloggers network is very D&D centric. I don’t think you can get that to change though, Bloggers write what generates hits, and by the numbers D&D gets the most hits. Plus it seems like this network doesn’t generally like White Wolf’s games. There are a couple players of Storyteller, but I’ve only found one blogger on the network who even has a tentative understanding of Exalted, which is mind boggling to me as a player who has never ever lacked for finding exalted players online.

    Ultimately though I think that bloggers are by and large game designers as well as enthusiasts, as blogging is a way of networking to find assistance and feedback, and though many won’t admit it, I think there are more D&D players who are game designers than there are World of Darkness Players, or Cyberpunk players because those products are not wanting in the design department, they’re good enough that the people who play them don’t feel the need to make a new system to satisfy their needs. Wheras D&D is trying to add details and better rules to a foundation that has been antiquated for over a decade so there are simply more D&D players who are amateur game designers than there are players of other games.

    Anyhow, comment running long so I’ll cut it short for now. Great post.

  • May 29, 2009 at 12:07 am
    Permalink

    Just to clarify; I am not just talking about rpgbloggers.com. That was just an easy way to get a D&D post count. When I say bloggers, I mean everybody.

    Trask

  • May 28, 2009 at 11:00 pm
    Permalink

    I definitely think so. My blog primarily focuses on D&D, but only because that’s the game we’ve been playing.
    We’re looking at switching over to Star Trek, in which case, we’ll probably focus more on Sci-Fi.

    But yes, I think there is a bit more focus on D&D than you’d normally expect. There are so many fantastic RPGs out there that don’t get the press they deserve.

  • May 28, 2009 at 11:40 pm
    Permalink

    I am tempted to agree with you. While not explicitly an RPG blogger, my personal blog does tend to feature a lot of RPG-related stuff. I personally have not written much about D&D of late, largely because of my interest and Savage Worlds and my (regrettable) lack of D&D since last summer. I do see quite a bit about D&D on other blogs, though most of what I’ve read lately is actually about Castles and Crusades.

    I think bloggers do have the power to provide coverage to lesser-known publishers and games, and it would be great to harness that power. I think that as the commercial industries are threatened by the weakened economy there will be more print-on-demand and indie publishers producing game content, and over time they will take up the space left by the “monoculture.” My question – what can we do to help?

    Sorry, that’s awfully wide-ranging and sweeping of me, but I really do think it’s true. It’s at least a good discussion to have, and I think a wider range of games can only make gaming more popular.

  • May 29, 2009 at 3:10 am
    Permalink

    Absolutely, especially with posts that just announce D&D-related news or releases: There must be a half dozen blogs now that are parroting Word of Wizards announcements alone. :o(

  • May 29, 2009 at 3:28 am
    Permalink

    Well, I see this in two ways.

    As a reader, I actually feel a little overwhelmed about how many other systems are out there and are constantly tossed at me. I have a small group of friends that play RPGs with me, and I’m the only one with any bit of experience. At this point, I don’t think that they are ready for multiple systems, I’m trying to get them accustomed to 4e.

    As a blogger, I write about 4e because that’s what I know. It is merely a convenience that it generates hits. As a relatively new tabletop gamer, 4e is the first new D&D system for me and I am enjoying seeing it grow. 3.x was already filled with a monsterous pile of supplements when I started playing it that if you wanted to do anything it was already in a book somewhere, or could be done with enough books, up to and including becoming a god at fifth level. Where in 4e, I can actually do something new (such as possibly be the first person to get over 200 MPH, shameless plug: http://ideamancer.blogspot.com/2009/05/how-to-go-over-200-mph-in-4e.html ) and if I want to play something different, I can just make it instead of looking it up.

    If I learn and use another system, I would probably write about it. For now, I just write what I know.

  • May 29, 2009 at 3:34 am
    Permalink

    I guess if we want more content on other games we’re just going to have to bite the bullet and write about it without worrying about the analytics.

    /Al-Anon mode

    Hello, I’m a Dark Heresy fan. I have posted Dark Heresy stuff on my blog and watched the visitors figures drop way down.
    I write 4E and they go back up – we all know how it goes. One step at a time.

    /Al-Anon mode off

    It’s not difficult to see a trend. I like writing both 4E and DH and realise there is a big audience for the first and a small yet devoted audience for the second.

    Wonder what would happen if I showed some love for Mage: The Ascension? Out of print, out of fashion (all the kewl kids are playing that nWoD Awakening game) and outright the best cross-genre game ever outside Risus or PrimeTime Adventures.

  • May 29, 2009 at 3:35 am
    Permalink

    I think part of it is that D&D not only has the largest market presence, but also that it’s the one point of experience that almost all roleplayers hold in common—the lingua franca, if you will, of RPGs. Hell, 4e isn’t even in my top 5 favourite RPGs, but it’s what I play most these days.

    If you blog about D&D 4e (or 3.5 or its variants), then you’re pretty much assured that your readers will understand where you’re coming from. And if you’re running a blog as a commercial enterprise—or merely placing ads to recover costs—then you want to generate as many hits as possible.

    On the other hand, if you theme your blog around any other system, then you could easily stand to become the biggest fish in a much smaller pond, but there’s not much guarantee that there’ll be too many other fish in the pond with you.

    Ergo, unless you’re already Ken Hite or Robin Laws, blogging about a system other than D&D will probably condemn you to obscurity.

    Then again, I don’t know too many RPG bloggers who hate the games they blog about—it’s a labour of love for most anyway.

  • May 29, 2009 at 3:40 am
    Permalink

    sorry for the double post, but MJ Harnish posted while I was writing.

    @MJ Harnish- I understand completely what you mean. Although two of my three highest-hit days were just news, I felt that they were unfulfilling. I have since sworn to only post news if it is not only very interesting to me (as the two previously mentioned posts were) but I also have something to contribute.

    Another example of this would be when WotC stopped the sales of their PDFs, and pulled them from the online stores. A great deal of the RPG bloggers were posting about it, enough to make me sick. If someone reads a bunch of RPG blogs, wouldn’t they most likely know about all the D&D news already from the D&D site?

  • May 29, 2009 at 4:53 am
    Permalink

    I wouldn’t for a second try and tell people what to blog about, but I’d love to see more non-D&D content, definitely.

  • May 29, 2009 at 6:43 am
    Permalink

    Isn’t this just the natural result of D&D predominance in the population at large? If half the players play D&D, then one would expect half the blog posts to be about D&D. If system X accounts for only 1% of players in the population at large, then we’d expect there to be 50 times less readers for a blog post about X compared to a blog post about D&D.

    If we want to spread the word about other games, we need to teach these games to other people and we need to play these games. And then, when the gaming behaviour of the population has changed (ha!) the topic mix at RPG Bloggers will automatically follow.

    Or, we just learn to live with the fact that D&D is popular, and that RPG Bloggers do what comes natural to them: Write about the games they play. That’s what I plan to do.

  • May 29, 2009 at 7:14 am
    Permalink

    I write about what I play. It so happens that this is currently D&D. Were I as passionate about Motorcycles as I am about D&D, I would likely have become a Motorcycle blogger.

    I know that I’m read by non-D&D gamers i suspect that they would prefer that I write more system neutral stuff like my Trope series, but like many writers will tell you, the subject often chooses you.

    4e is that subject for the time being.

  • May 29, 2009 at 7:20 am
    Permalink

    14/40 or even 20/40 is a lot better than I thought it would be. Not too bad, considering, well, everything you’ve said about DnD’s market dominance.

    I agree that bloggers, as “internet journalists/editorialists” have a voice that can and should be used to push variety. I remember well starting an RPG club at university, trotting out the many games I owned and was interested in running, and having everyone look at me like I was crazy. “Where’s the D&D, dude?!”

    While my blog isn’t strictly RPG-related (once or twice a week, it is), I still to do my best to produce content that either discusses other games and genres other than fantasy, or else generic articles useful for any game. If D&D is mentioned, it’s usually about a vintage product from the TSR days. In large part, this is because I don’t know very much of anything about WOTC’s version of the game.

    But I also think it’s reasonable for bloggers to produce 3-4.0-related material, because that’s a game widely played and widely googled.

    Now, it’s my hope that sites that discuss DnD, and become frequent hang-outs for players, also talk about other gaming experiences, so as to maybe get players interested in what else is out there.

  • May 29, 2009 at 7:20 am
    Permalink

    Dangerous for a couple of reasons, first is my ongoing concern that smaller RPG companies with quality products do not get a fraction of the press exposure that “D&D” receives.

    That’s an *industry* issue, while most blogs are about people’s *hobbies*. People who like RPGs often use the terms interchangeably… but they’re not the same thing. 🙂

  • May 29, 2009 at 5:20 am
    Permalink

    Agree with what you’re saying. Maybe D&D (and particularly 4e) appeals more to the blog-savvy crowd than other RPGs. I know a largish (15+) Warhammer Fantasy RPG group, few of whom would even dream of posting online about their hobby.

    Part of that, I think, comes down to 4e’s demographics. It’s specifically been targeted at adult credit-card wielding ‘net using tech savvy gamer geeks. Us, in other words.

    Other games (much like D&D itself, once upon a time) are more focused on attracting a younger audience. Warhammer (both tabletop and RPG), for example, has a huge teen/late teen following. They’re less likely to blog about their hobby in general (though exceptions do abound), but instead socialise and just play the thing.

    As the other commenters quite rightly say, D&D generates hits – but the RPG Weeks I run which showcase other systems in a little more depth than a single blogpost provide a tonne of traffic to my site on a regular basis. The Classic Marvel RPG Week brings in a couple of hundred hits every single day on it’s own, with the Mutants & Masterminds and d20 Modern ones following close behind. These hits tend to come from outside the RPG Bloggers Network and have a reasonable retention rate too with some visitors exploring the blog more or subscribing to the rss feed. Which is nice.

    Food for thought, anyhow.

  • May 29, 2009 at 10:10 am
    Permalink

    “Bloggers write what generates hits, and by the numbers D&D gets the most hits”

    Really? I’ve been blogging personally for 6 years and more professionally for 3.5 years and I’ve just been blogging about what I’m interested in. Often times, what I’m interested in is what other people is interested in, and that means hits, but if I wanted to write what generates hits, it would be something else.

    Additionally, IME, many small publishers don’t do enough to seek us out. I’ve done a few reviews of smaller products, but it’s been one that I’ve had to seek out and buy and work to find out all the information for. Unfortunately, many of the ones that are zealous about sending out review copies also tend to be pretty cruddy.

  • May 29, 2009 at 10:19 am
    Permalink

    So much to respond to! I guess I hit a nerve. I will post follow-ups to all of your comments tonight. The real world is intruding on my blogging time.

    Trask

  • May 29, 2009 at 10:26 am
    Permalink

    I’m not of the camp that would state that there is some kind of obligation for bloggers to help promote the smaller companies (Not that anyone else here is either). But I do beleive that what bloggers post about may, in some small way, have some influence on said smaller companies. Myself as an example, when I’m curious about a new RPG, I try to do some reseach about it before buying into it. While industry reviews are nice, I also like to hear from players themselves, see if the game with worth the paper it’s printed on. If there’s little to no coverage from fans, I may decide the game is not worth it and ignore it (When it could possibly be gaming gold).

    As for the why in regards to #s of posts about D&D, like may replies here, I subscribe to the fact that many are just posting what brings them traffic. Others, because it’s the game they’re running right now. I know with my piddly blog (not on RPG Bloggers [yet?]), I’m only posting about D&D because it IS our current game. But throw me behind a different screen and things will change. Though I may try and vary a few posts here and there.

  • May 29, 2009 at 11:14 am
    Permalink

    I blog about games in general (in my sixty-some-odd gaming posts on my blog, I’ve covered over 40 different games). That said, the reality is that Dungeons & Dragons is the primary game in the market and the game that more people play. It should be no surprise to anyone that a majority of RPG blog postings would be about the game that a majority of gamers play.

  • May 29, 2009 at 11:23 am
    Permalink

    While I sometimes blog about what I’m playing or thinking at the time, I mostly blog about my D&D 4e Campaign Setting because it was the reason I started my blog…so…

    I try to blog about obscure things sometimes, including games, but I’m personally not as interested in say, Cthulhutech, as I am in D&D. I also don’t have anything nice to say about, say, World of Darkness, so I might as well not say anything.

  • May 29, 2009 at 9:03 am
    Permalink

    id have to say i think its more about supply and demand. for a lot of us who switched to 4e we found that it opened up things for us and realy got us into d&d again and gave us lots of great ideas.

    i think people blog about what they know and what their are doing. Those who still play the older editions on average are older than the players who switched (hence old school vs new school) and tend not to be outgoing in the world of social media as much

    exceptions can be found, but i think this is a generalization of whats going on.

  • May 29, 2009 at 9:11 am
    Permalink

    Do bloggers have an obligation to pimp smaller RPG companies? Or any companies at all? I didn’t sign on for that.

    I write about what I want to write about. That’s mostly Savage Worlds and non-system-specific stuff, with a bit of “legacy D&D”. I’m not interested in driving up my traffic, per se; I’d rather one interesting new commenter than a thousand readers.

    And the worry about RPG monoculture strikes me as completely beside the point. I’m almost entirely about the DIY crafty aspect of this hobby. If Hasbro and every other game designer and every game store in the country went out of business tomorrow, it wouldn’t change what either of my game groups play. The GM of our Friday group hasn’t bought any RPG stuff since AD&D 1e.

  • May 29, 2009 at 2:18 pm
    Permalink

    Too much D&D blogging? I think not. I wouldn’t be surprised to see even higher rates of D&D bloggers out as smaller game companies do fold.

    I personally love D&D. I have played on and off for about 35 years now. And I have seen several RPG’s fade away. I guess that might be the first reason D&D dominates blogging.

    Another reason is that not matter what kind of press D&D gets it get WOTC attention. Whether it is the pros and cons of 4th edition, the “links” ;? to suicides or the ever famous “D&D is EVIL………” stories from church groups and people who are blinded by their own reality.

    I say GAME ON! D&D forever and all that jazz.

    ps. Other fantasy type RPG blogs of a generic sort are cool too. Except I haven’t found one yet….

  • May 29, 2009 at 3:09 pm
    Permalink

    The focus of my RPG blog is what I’m playing and what I’m designing. I’m currently playing 4E, at least with respect to tabletop games. I’m considering the inclusion of crpgs. The design portion of my blog is split between 4E, because I like to explore rule variants and submit proposals for freelance work from time to time, and my own roleplaying system.

    Content is therefore based upon what I’m currently involved with rather than an arbitrary decision to support a specific product or draw traffic.

  • May 30, 2009 at 4:14 am
    Permalink

    People will write about what they want to write about.

    If Hasbro went out of business tomorrow, I’d still be writing mostly about D&D 4e, because that’s what I’m playing and running most right now. If I were to switch to primarily playing another game, I’d mostly write about that.

    I’ll write about other games now if something about them interests me. But I won’t do it to support indie games, or whatever. Indie games will earn my support by producing interesting products that make me want to play and run them. When that happens, I’ll write about them, too.

  • May 30, 2009 at 9:57 pm
    Permalink

    I am just going to echo the sentiment of many of the posters above: I blog what I play, and at the moment I am playing D&D. I am not very concerned with hits, but write about what I feel like.

    Heck, with the trends I see, if I was concerned with hits I would just generate top ten lists all day 🙂

    This is not to dismiss your concerns about the the state of the industry. WOTC is just a small part of a big company, and I can easily see the plug getting pulled as soon as it ceases to make a profit. Heck, with the economy being the way it is, I would not be surprised if I read tomorrow “Hasbro shuts down D&D division”.

    If Hasbro shut down D&D, would the smaller companies get a bigger piece of the pie? Would we just start making up our own games (maybe based off of the OGL, maybe not?). Would the hobby die off and be called an “80’s fad”? I honestly can’t say.

  • June 1, 2009 at 9:17 pm
    Permalink

    I spend most of my time pimping my own game on my blog, but I do give D&D props where it is due. The passing of Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson were noted in my blog as they were pioneers in the hobby. A couple of times I’ve mentioned my experiences playing D&D, but haven’t really emphasized it over other games.

  • June 4, 2009 at 4:15 pm
    Permalink

    Yes. D&D gets too much attention.

    It would be interesting to know if it is disproportionate attention, though. If 50% of Roleplayers play D&D primarily, then yeah, the level of exposure is spot-on. If not (and I suspect that the number is less than 50%) then yeah, D&D is disproportionately blogged over.

    I find it hard to believe, with games like White Wolf’s old and new Worlds of Darkness, ShadowRun, GURPS, Mutants and Masterminds, L5R, In Nomine, Exalted, Savage Worlds, Burning Wheel, etc out there and doing as well as they are, that D&D is the primary game of half of all roleplayers.

    I’d say 25%, even 30%, but not 50%. Certainly more than 50% of roleplayers have played D%D at some point, and D&D is definitely the biggest game out there in terms of players, there’s no doubt about that. I just don’t credit 50%. (these are just gut-check numbers, not actual supportable data)

    I also have to wonder if one isolated group, such as bloggers, who so frequently are just talking to each other, are a valid representative sample.

Comments are closed.