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