People have been playing Dungeons & Dragons (D&D) for 40 years and it does not look as though that is about to change anytime soon. The market in which this game resides, tabletop role-playing games (TTRPG), will grow even larger in the coming years. If you do not completely understand what Dungeons & Dragons is, then Vox produced a quick video to describe what the game is, and everything that makes it so fun to play. It is, by definition, a fantasy tabletop role-playing game. It is not by any means, one of a kind, since there are plenty of other tabletop role-playing games that have been developed since 1974. However, I would venture to guess that, by a significant margin, it is the most renown. D&D forces its players to collaborate and socialize in order to succeed in taking on an epic adventure. The role-playing game can, in a lot of ways, be undeniably intimidating. It forces people out of their comfort zone and into a new perspective within another world. The only way that the game works is if you move forward as a party. So, as is the case with anything that I do not completely understand, I searched for a couple of videos on YouTube. There is a large amount of information on TTRPGs on the internet because this idea has interested people for almost half a century. Over the last few months I have essentially given myself a crash course on this continuously growing industry. I was fascinated to find all the different ways that people have figured out how to use this game. Often, they are being used within classrooms of all ages, streaming across YouTube channels for advertising dollars, but also to simply have friends get together to escape the roles that they play every day. The different aspects in which D&D is used, is exactly why I believe that it is here to stay. I wanted to take a more in depth look at the TTRPG industry because it interests me immensely with the amount of diversity and opportunity that comes alongside playing it.
I have been reading fantasy novels for as long as I can remember delving into books. I can confidently say that I did not think that I would see the day that our education systems would be incorporating fantasy role-playing games into their daily routines. Yet, educators around the country have been incorporating a form of RPG as a dynamic piece of their classroom management. They are using these systems to keep students engaged, motivated, and striving for more knowledge within the classroom. Common questions within any classroom like, “why do I have to do this?”, or “why should I be learning this?” are becoming less common in classrooms that incorporate RPGs. By implementing an alternate world that requires critical thinking and a whole new set of necessary skills to thrive and survive, students find more purpose in their core content. These systems have helped students continue to develop social and collaborative skills, as they are given the opportunity to solve objectives together. Although skills like these are necessary in RPGs, they also are extremely applicable in the real world, giving varying motivators for student success. I would venture to guess that the developers of Dungeons & Dragons, Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson, never would have thought that their industry would be a part of the framework for classroom management. However, this is exactly what is happening right now.
Classcraft is a software that essentially turns the classroom into a lengthy role-playing game. Since it was created in 2013, thousands of school districts around the country use this system to improve the education that students receive. The program works, and research has been done to back the software. This research was done in schools around the world; Barcelona, France, England, Canada all have schools within their country that have implemented Classcraft, and it is enriching the student experience. With the success of Classcraft, it is safe to say that there will be competition that enters the market with synchronized RPGs for a better learning environment. Within the next ten years, there are going to be thousands of school districts that want to add this program into their schools. While the entirety of this market will span across the globe, the majority of it will come from the United States. We have thousands of schools that are struggling with bullying, classroom engagement and student collaboration. If programs like Classcraft can help solve some of these issues, then there must be more competition in this market. I would love to see these programs grow more over the next decade. Ten years ago, making class into a role-playing game was not, in my mind, anywhere close to a possibility. Now that RPGs have research backing their success, in the next ten years I would be surprised if the majority of schools are not using a program very similar to this one. While role-playing games slowly make their way into our educational system, the rest of this industry will not be going anywhere. As students grow older and leave their formal education behind, they will still have other ways of incorporating these creative outlets into their lives.
Even with the fact that Dungeons & Dragons was created 45 years ago, many of us still find ourselves sitting down at a table with our friends and creating characters we want to be, in a world completely external to ours. This industry continues to grow drastically. It is growing more right now than it ever has. According to SYFY WIRE, 2017 was the best year in sales that Dungeons & Dragons had ever seen. As you might imagine, in the 45 years of the game’s existence, it has seen some revisions to its content. Since the 5th edition was released in 2014, the game has been growing exponentially, but why? Well, the article from SYFY WIRE discusses this a little more in depth. The game was featured in the opening scene to Netflix’s 2016 series, Stranger Things. The kids that star in this hit-TV show are regularly playing the game throughout the duration of the first season. However, that is not the only national stage in which the game has been referenced. Dan Harmon, creator of the TV series Community and co-creator of the animated series Rick and Morty, had two episodes of Community “solely devoted to playing the game”. These are not the only two references to Dungeons & Dragons that you will find within pop culture. However, I think that there is another reason that the game is becoming so popular.
Over half of the United States population plays video games. They have been a huge proponent in the success of YouTube, who is owned by Google, and Twitch, (owned by Amazon). Twitch has been a platform for gamers to stream their gaming sessions, giving viewers the opportunity to take on new strategies and develop small communities. Twitch hasn’t been limited to the video game industry alone. In fact, the data suggests that Twitch streaming is directly linked to the success of Dungeons & Dragons. SYFY WIRE interviewed the senior communications manager for Dungeons & Dragons and he had this to say, “In 2017 alone, we had more than 7,500 unique broadcasters streaming live play D&D for more than 475 million minutes watched over the course of the entire year.” Those numbers are incredibly impressive and have now given insight into what the future of the tabletop RPG industry looks like. It can be easy to forget that D&D is not one of a kind. There are plenty of other tabletop RPG sessions that can be live streamed. This is a large market that is continuing to grow alongside the technology that has given it new life. Twitch isn’t the only platform in which these gamers are streaming. D&D campaigns have been brought to the second largest search engine in the world.
Have any of you heard of Critical Role? This YouTube channel has close to a half of a million subscribers and I assume that number is going to continue to exponentially increase. Critical Role is a live role-playing show that features several iconic voice actors. For me, this is where the industry gets even more interesting. Critical Role started streaming their game sessions, or episodes, on YouTube about three years ago. This campaign was called Vox Machina and the very first episode that they uploaded on YouTube now has over 10 million views. I feel as though it should be noted that this episode is also three hours in length. Watching this group of friends get together and roll some dice once a week has become incredibly popular to many players amongst the tabletop RPG community. The Vox Machina campaign had lasted five years with many loyal followers alongside. Comic book publisher, Dark Horse Comics, published a comic book series that was solely based on this campaign. Somehow, that is not the most impressive fact about this series of D&D
Last month, the voice actors of Critical Role decided to start a Kickstarter campaign . The purpose was to bring the Vox Machina storyline into an animated format. The team wanted to raise $750,000 in order to create a series of 22-minute animated episodes of their adventures. Well, they definitely hit their mark… in under an hour actually. The 45-day Kickstarter project is one of the most funded projects that has ever been created on the website. The funding for this project will end shortly after I post this, but as of now, the project has raised over 11 million dollars. That number is close to 1,500% of what they originally asked for. I think it is fair to say that the tabletop role-playing game industry is in a fairly healthy place right now. What does this mean for the future?
Well, I think that we will see even more growth from streamers on Twitch and YouTube. I believe that D&D will continue to be sold at a higher rate than it had been previous years. In 10 years, we may see a few different animated series that have been based on gaming sessions that a group of friends sat down and created over a long period of time. Over the five years that the voice actors on Critical Role were getting together and having fun playing D&D, they created over 115 episodes and 300+ hours of content for their fans. I have recently learned about tabletop RPGs and already wanting to start creating a campaign with my friends. I don’t suddenly want to because I believe I can make a profit from what we produce, but because it genuinely seems like a lot of fun. I am an absolute beginner in that sense, and that is why I could see individuals that have been playing this game for years turning into more than just a hobby for themselves.
At the end of the day, the people who are playing these games are doing so because they want to hang out and tell stories with their friends. Again, I think it is easy to forget that there are other types of TTRPGs out there. One that is more popular than most is Pathfinder. Pathfinder was designed by Jason Bulmahn and published in 2009 by Paizo Publishing. This game was based from a previous version of Dungeons & Dragons, and actually outsold D&D for a four year stretch after its release. While D&D still remains the number one seller within the market, there is something that makes Pathfinder special. It seems to embrace the creative aspects of its fanbase with wide open arms. Since its creation in 2009, Pathfinder has seen its community create a large amount of material that brings the game new monsters, races, classes and weapons.
The website d20PFSRD has given all fans of the game a place where they can easily access all of the material that has ever been produced. That includes material that is produced from Paizo themselves, along with material published by creators within the community. This is one aspect of the industry that fascinated me when I gave myself this crash course. Creators have added their own material into the game, creating their own classes and campaigns. This is the one area of industry that I believe will see the most change over the next 10 years. Over the next decade, I believe we will see more classes, races, stories, and worlds all being built within the mechanical framework in which Pathfinder operates. Which will benefit the game in a way that is different than its competitor Dungeons & Dragons. I find it interesting to consider the idea that Paizo takes this acceptance a step further and decides to add these third-party publications into their core rulebook. Providing the community with a way of making a small profit from helping develop a game that they grew up playing. There is a realization that at its core, it is a game about creation. You do not win or lose at a tabletop role-playing game. The entire time that you are playing, you are in a group of people that are simply creating a story.
The beautiful part of playing a TTRPG is that you get together with your friends and bring along a creative imagination, collaboration and maybe even a few drinks. It takes us away from the world that is filled with glowing screens, stress and pressure. For once in our lives, we can step into the role of another character and still be ourselves. In fact, I think that we become even a little more of ourselves. The future of this industry is extremely exciting. In 10 years, I believe that we are going to see a form of this game being incorporated into a large number of classrooms around not just the United States, but the entire world. While TTRPGs will always remain a game that is played with a few friends around a table, we will inevitably see more of its transition into different mediums. We will see more animated series, podcasts and live streaming. The theme of creation will forever reign over the entirety of this industry. Which is exactly why I am excited to see the plethora of beautiful content that will inevitably be created for these games. The tabletop role-playing game industry is in a healthy position today, and I believe that the future holds something that will be undeniably epic!