The State of the Tabletop Industry, and Why It Really Doesn’t Matter

Maybe it’s because fall is coming, and the threat of winter right behind; maybe it’s because the latest burst of game releases are behind us. But this is the time of year, it seems, when every game blogger and vlogger wants to speculate on that age-old (in this case, age-old would be defined as 39 years) question: What is the state of the gaming hobby? Is it going strong? Is it teetering on the brink of collapse? Okay, three age old questions.

Some would have us believe the hobby is in its “Final Days of Rome” stage; things look great on the surface, the populace is really happy and we are replete with the gaming bounty before us. Jump cut to the barbarian hordes encircling the city, ready to bring Rome to its knees. They feel there is a crash coming: too many publishers and wannabe publishers, too many games (I know, I know…) means the inevitable bottoming out of the hobby’s quality. Leading inevitably to the hobby dwindling and dying as interest in the now sub-par games wanes. The arguable failure of D&D 4th Edition is often pointed to as a sign of things to come.

Others look at the diversity of content as a sign the industry is at its strongest. They see the rise of the small content producer as a boon, not a bane, to a hobby that has always valued creativity and imagination. Add in the Kickstarter phenomenon and it would seem the influence of the individual hobbyist has never been stronger in the gaming industry. And the hobbyists will keep the hobby strong.

There would seem to be evidence to support the optimists. In its post-convention newsletter, Gen Con revealed some interesting statistics:

  • More than 49,000 people attended the convention, from across the US and the world
  • The convention generated an estimated $47 million dollars for the local community, second only to Indianapolis’ hosting of the Super Bowl.
  • A record number of events, more than 12,000, were offered this year
  • As well, a record number of Exhibitors were on hand (368)

All of that would seem to indicate that tabletop gaming, on both the industry and hobbyist side, is stronger than ever.

I’ve given a lot of thought to which camp I fall into, and my honest assessment is…I don’t care. Whether the gaming industry is strong or not is of no consequence to me as a gamer. Don’t get me wrong, I love the new gaming releases, I love discovering new games and finding new stuff for old games. But I am already at a point (and every gamer is at this point, whether they realize/accept it or not) where I can not possibly manage to play all the games I want to play. If I won the lottery today and spent the rest of my life gaming every day (*singing* To dream the impossible dreaaaam…!) I would still be on my deathbed regretting the games never played.

So do I love that the industry behind my hobby is strong right now? You bet! I am an active volunteer supporter of both Paizo and Cheapass Games; I love both those companies and I’ll promote their product to whomever will listen. But much like if the sun went out we would still have sunlight for about 8 minutes afterwards, if the gaming industry collapsed tomorrow I would still have enough games to last until my eventual heat-death. Role-playing games alone, I already have more campaign ideas and plans than I’ll ever get to, whether or not more books get published.

I really feel the question of the state or health of the industry is one that needs to be put by for a while, if not forever. Instead of asking whether the hobby will live, we should be focused on its quality of life. How is the hobby treating its members, for instance. Misogyny and other forms of gate-keeping, by both the industry and fellow hobbyists, is still a real issue. And in a hobby formed, arguably, by the excluded, it is frankly ludicrous we still have so far to go to fix the issue. So let’s leave off the wasteful hand-wringing, and settle into the needful work of making the hobby something we’ll want to keep going. Let’s make the hobby want to live.

What do you think of the state of the gaming industry? Drop your thoughts in the comments and share them with the class.

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