One in 1250

One question that has come up with my recent post on rudeness hurting the hobby is what the benefit of role playing games being viewed as an adult hobby would be. In fact, at least one poster argued it would be a bad thing sending us to the least common denominator even in behavior, which I find hard to even consider. The most interesting fire it sparked, however, was over at D&D with Pornstars claiming the hobby is about the right size, specifically the DIY part. Zak even argues more people means more assholes. While that is a truism in the same sense that more people means more eyeballs I don’t think it would increase the ratio in general.

These are all valid points so I think it’s time to take a step back and explain some of the logic behind my “grow the hobby” posts. I’m also inspired to do that by something I found in my old game collection when I went home for the holidays. I was looking through one of my favorite issues of Strategy & Tactics. The issue is 49 from 1975. The issue game is Frederick the Great which is easily one of my top five hex and chit war games and top twenty-five games periods which is why it is one of my favorite issues.

For those not familiar with Strategy & Tactics it is a military history magazine that comes with a complete wargame in each issue (or did, you could get it sans game and it is sold that way at bookstores today). In the 1970s it included a post-paid bubble card. The last two pages of each issue had a variety of questions ranging from basic demographics to opinions on existing games to game proposals to be rated. Readers sent it in and the numbers were crunched. It was probably the only genuine long term market research in the history of the broad gaming hobby. Even if not unique I would bet real money no one has been more through. Each issue reported on prior issues feedback answers with most space being devoted to how the game proposals rated and which would be put into the production cycle.

In issue 49 there was a discussion of the demographics of the hobby. I doubt anyone today from the newest gamer to the oldest grognard would be surprised by most of it. Hex and chit wargaming at the time was overwhelmingly male and young adult to early middle aged. The gamers were mostly college educated and more urban and suburban than rural. It goes on to discuss some regional breakdowns and other issues but most striking were two numbers. They feedback lead to a conclusion that there were about 400-500 people per 1,000,000 who played SPI games with about another 200-300 who played hex and chit games but not SPI products. If we add those numbers together we 6-8 hex and chit wargamers per 10,000 of population. While hex and chit wargaming still had some growth left before it peaked in the late 70s I think this number is close to the sustainable number of hex and chit gamers. I also think it is a good first estimate of the sustainable number of role playing gamers for a variety of reasons not the least of which is how many role playing gamers in the late 70s boom came from this population. In fact, D&DD would show up in the feedback list of games to rate regularly in the late 70s and SPI would produce two rpgs in the early 80s, Dragonquest and Universe.

So, when I talk about growing the hobby I’m talking about having between 200,000 and 300,000 people in the hobby of whom about 125,000 constitute a stable core of series roleplayers. More importantly, I’m talking about that stable core being composed of a group with somewhat similar demographics to the hex and chit wargamers of the 70s. While I wouldn’t want to see us going back to being as male as we were in the day I wouldn’t mind seeing us reading as much as that group. As I have said before I believe role playing is a literary hobby and that the hobby is healthier when its primary inspiration is written as opposed to visual.

The ironic thing is we had that in our grasp thirty years ago. As I argued in the rudeness post a huge reason we lost it was the marketing of rpgs to teens and tweens exclusively. A second was TSR’s mishandling of their takeover of SPI. There were others but the only one that matters today is rudeness and kid image of the game. Thanks to the internet the core of role playing, a creative gaming hobby, has a second chance to be what it could have been. That to me is the real magic of the OSR. It can be the seed of a redo that brings those members of that eighth of a million people who are currently writing novels during NaNoWriMo or painting dragons or cross referencing the Dark Tower series who think D&D is for kids back home. When I recruit for a new game these are the people I want to attract and play with for what I think are obvious reasons. If the price of bringing them to us is telling the children of all ages to grow up and behave I think it is a trade worth making.

13 thoughts on “One in 1250

  1. I find it deeply amusing that you are taking seriously a criticism of your proposal that expecting gamers to grow up and behave will result in -more- assholes, rather than -less-. That is the kind of “logic” that, when discussing more political topics, you usually derive exception glee from shining rather bright lights onto.

  2. @jhimm: I just changed that bit a little. In the context of his post (the OSR community) and in the sense of a general truism…more people means more lots of things he has a point. However, I think in that he was missing my broader point, that we have a hard time attracting better people because of our current assholes.

    That's one reason for this post. I forget most people have no familiarity with what I consider the baseline for what a gaming community can and should look like.

  3. I argued with you on your previous post, based on my experiences with gaming, but I just went back and read your response, and find that I broadly agree with you.

    What you're talking about creating is something broadly analogous to the wargaming community that is out there right now (albeit that community appears to be shrinking).

    I'm not sure that something like a community can be “created” though. You can do it on a personal level, but encouraging the types of gamers you like to game with, and by developing a community of like-minded people, but I think you're mistaken to think that a larger, eighth-million person community can just “coalesce”.

    I also think that focusing on the OSR and seeing it as a “do-over” is straight-up mistaken. If you truly want to create an inclusive, healthy and diverse community of lifelong gamers, it needs to be done by embracing all gamers who are willing to be polite, sanitary and committed to their games of choice.

    The problem I've had with the “OSR” since I first became aware of it's existence is that most of the Old-schoolers I've encountered, both online and in gaming groups, have been snobby, exclusionary, close-minded and in love with the “superiority” of the old-school experience, snobbishly looking down on people who enjoy different games or gaming styles.

    Not exactly the type of community you envision… There are notable exceptions, of course – Chgowiz leaps to mind. But generally, way too much “you're playing it wrong” and not enough “cool, would you like to try this?”.

    If you really want to form a community, you should try focusing on attracting diversity. Most wargamers I know also play other boardgames, card games, rpgs and often computer games. The type of person, not the games or even the styles, is what should be the determining factor.

  4. we have a hard time attracting better people because of our current assholes

    That has certainly been true on the forums. Quality people are often driven away by the sad little men of our hobby. The rise of the blogs has transcended that and we've seen the OSR surge forward as a result, with those that actually have something to say now being heard above the roaring of the loud, negative minority.

    Things are going good and can only get better in my opinion.

  5. most of the Old-schoolers I've encountered, both online and in gaming groups, have been snobby, exclusionary, close-minded and in love with the “superiority” of the old-school experience, snobbishly looking down on people who enjoy different games or gaming styles…way too much “you're playing it wrong” and not enough “cool, would you like to try this?”.

    @Wickedmurph – It's very sad that that's been your experience. Certainly I can think of a couple of forums where that is the case, but closer examination shows those types are very much in the minority even in those places – a very loud minority of course, but not reflecttive of old school gamers as a whole. Places like that are best avoided. There are plenty of other more friendly forums to discuss the OSR, where folks don't care what you play, or what your preferences are, they just know it's all about having fun.

    I hope, as the OSR grows, your future experience with OS-types will be very different Wickedmurph.

  6. Ahh, I feel baited but that's okay. What are your solutions to the problem?

    Publishers are going to continue to print, design, and publish material focused on the audience which has the best return on investment. It will not change in the mass produced gaming industry because they cannot do anything different. Loss leaders are impossible due to the niche market.

    Yet, more and more people want to write systems that are not only understandable by a 13 year old but runnable by the same. Hardly a literary audience and I still disagree with your literary focal point.

    If RPGs were literary, they would make people think. Not provide a bunch of nonsensical ideas defining “this is what you can do”. Characters should be able to evolve and attempt anything they want to achieve.

    Instead, it seems everyone wants to be ruled by some system, designed for kids, rather than actually playing a persona.

    OSR, in my mind, is helping change the definition. Yet we all know that it will not change the predominant marketing. If you really want to change the audience, market something designed for adults and quit buying the other systems. Its that simple.

  7. First, I want to say (not necessarily to you, Herb, but to anyone in the comments who cares) that the internet telephone game here has made my D&D with Pornstars post seem like it says something less complicated than what I actually said.

    For the real deal, click on the link and read the post. It does NOT say we shouldn;t grow the hobby. It just says there are a few nice things about the current size of the hobby.

  8. @Wickedmurph: I don't think it can just coalesce. As you said it can be done via individual action but we can try to influence others to get a broad agreement on that action. As for seeing the OSR as a do over maybe I am putting too much faith in it. That said, it is the first time I've seen large numbers of gamers who are mostly mature (in my experience) willing to work on putting together face to face games at conventions without wondering about the industry and so on. I think a group like TARGA is a great core to begin putting an emphasis on better behavior to change the face of the game.

    That said there are other important components. I think the groups pushing library gaming may be more important in the long run. They inherently create mixed aged groups which I consider vital. My complaint about TSR's marketing wasn't that they marketed to teens and tweens but marketed to them exclusively. Hobbies which don't have significant numbers of teens interacting with adults eventually hit the greying issue as hex and chit wargaming and model railroading both have. Mixed age groups provide the new blood hobbies need to keep going as well as socialize younger players into what is and isn't acceptable table behavior.

    As for diversity of game types I'm all for it. My hobby is gaming, not roleplaying gaming. I dearly miss having someone to play hex and chit games with and while I lack the patience to paint minis very well I started reading Wargamer's Digest in 1977 and kept up until the 80s. I'm active in a local club which is where I first really started to notice how much accepting the handful of stereotypical gamers hurt getting new members. The number of interested freshmen (the club is centered on Texas A&M) compared to the number two weeks later was more than just over commitment issues.

  9. @Mark: I'm sorry you feel baited, that wasn't my intent.

    Short answer in terms of my solutions: get out in the public gaming world and don't accept bad behavior. Instead of just playing at our own tables at our homes play at the local club or start one if you don't have one. While at the club don't put up with borish behavior. If there is any contrast I can think of that explains both what I'd like to see and what I see now is the difference is what is acceptable in clubs over a 30 year period.

    As for literary I'm open for a better word to describe my key point which is that RPGs exist in a space dominated by word not images. We use language instead of pictures to communicate actions and setting. Because of that I believe the more word oriented a person is the better equipped they are to play RPGs. However, that is not intended to convey high brow literary notions. If anything the literature I have in mind is more pulp magazines, detective novels, military action novels, adventure science fiction, and so on. If you have a local bookstore that still has a “men's adventure” section I mean the stuff in it plus similar stuff in the sci-fi/fantasy section.

    As for rules, complexity, and simplicity I think you are trying to divide it too cleanly. You complain everyone wants to be ruled by some system designed for kids then complain about systems being too simple. The systems that people in the OSR gravitate to are relatively simple and were initially designed by adults for adults. Gygax and Arneson were 36 and 27 respectively in 1974. While I do complain about the marketing of TSR with respect to Moldavy's version of Basic D&D it is essentially the game that was published in 1974.

    Looking at trend of the hobby over my 32 years in it complexity has come and gone and advocates for and against it has crossed age groups. Many teenagers thrill to rules mastery which Third edition was specifically designed to encourage and from the look of it Fourth is as well. The only reason I hedge on fourth is I read statements by the designers of Third confirming that point but not for Fourth. The Hero System's sixth edition is easily the most complex game available today. It's almost roleplaying's version of The Campaigns for North Africa. Meanwhile we have the OSR and Savage Worlds.

    Plus, as I have said before, I like mixed age groups and want systems a 13 year old can run and play, but not just any 13 year old. I want the 13 year olds who I was in 1979 that adult gamers saw had the basic interests. I then want us adult gamers to bring her into our groups and provide the same environment I had where I was treated as an adult and expected to act like one to be able to play.

    @Zak: I understood your post. My only counter is how we bring in new people and which ones we try to bring in will affect how many assholes we get. I believe that by putting an emphasis on grown-up behavior we may actually lower the ratio over time. That, in a nutshell, is my answer to your comment on what we get by working to become an adult hobby.

  10. @Mark – You clearly play the wrong games or play with the wrong people. What is “role playing”? It is acting. What is acting? Theater. What is theater? The actualization of a literary genre. At a minimum, an RPG session should be the game master telling a story (literary) through which the player characters get dragged. At best, gaming is collective, collaborative story telling.

    Some of the best gaming I've ever been involved with had -zero- visible rules set of any kind and used well known mythologies or literary franchises as the exclusive central organizing principle for the group.

    Also, your economic thesis is nonsense. TSR originally marketed to adults, then altered that model to market at children. There is no reason why they can't change course once again and market to adults, if they are motivated to do so. Having demographics data which shows that no one over the age of 18 buys their products will ENSURE that they never change their marketing, duh. Regardless, the point isn't to drive 13 year olds out of the hobby, the point is to attract 13 year olds who can act 25 and drive out the 25 year olds who act 13. That isn't accomplished at the check out counter, that is accomplished around the gaming table. That is accomplished by inviting the geeky kid with his head in a book to join your game, and telling the kid who spent the hour before game time setting stuff on fire in his mother's basement to go home.

    Bolstering comments aside, you offer no counter solution. If attracting a new, broader audience to the hobby is not the solution, what is? You seem to have a completely defeatist attitude about the size and future of the hobby.

  11. What is “role playing”? It is acting. What is acting? Theater. What is theater? …At a minimum, an RPG session should be the game master telling a story (literary) through which the player characters get dragged. At best, gaming is collective, collaborative story telling.

    I couldn't disagree more. That's obviously YOUR experience jhimm, but mine has been very different. In all my years of playing there has been no acting, although I did have one DM who hammed it up a little bit, but then he was a theatre manager. Other than that, players controlled characters, DMs explained what was happening – all without acting. I know some people like to put on different voices and act out the character, but that just hasn't been MY experience. And I should point out that I find playing rpg's to be one of life's most enjoyable experiences.

    Of course our personal experiences with such things are very subjective and therefore not much use for backing up an argument, especially when statments like this are made: “You clearly play the wrong games or play with the wrong people.”. I point this out not to pick a fight jhimm, but to emphasise the fact that we gamers can have very different views, with none of them necessarily incorrect or more right than others. Nothing wrong with a bit of fairness and balance in the equation, hey?

  12. > that we have a hard time attracting better people because of our current assholes

    Really? Really there aren't more assholes in RPGs compared to “at the office”, driving around town, the public swimming pool, at the pickup bar, at the sports bar, reporting the news, etc. Maybe online, but that's online and if you don't expect higher asshole ratio online then you don't understand human nature/online.

    Lack of RPG acceptance has more to do with (USA) culture's belief that games are for kids, are childish, and not things responsible, successful adults would spend time on. Thankfully that attitude is being beat down mostly due to computer games and European Style board games.

    Lack of time seems to be another point high on the list (even amongst adults I know who want to and already know how to play RPGs). If you didn't grow up with it there's a huge time commitment involved in getting up to speed and “hooked” on gaming.

    For the urban, Apt/condo dwellers (and also new players and esp females who are very wary of going to stranger's house) lack of space to play is big problem. This was my personal problem for many years.

    But the single largest limiting factor on growth of RPG is Awesome DM's. There aren't enough, they take time to grow, and aren't ever located were you need them.

    DM training/recruitment is the single best thing you can do to grow the hobby.

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