Saturday, 4 January 2014

Reflections

In my post on why D&D Next is important I talked about the strength that the brand of D&D brings to the RPG format of the hobby, indeed perhaps to the hobby as a whole.  Evolving that thinking a bit further the question of Media Coverage comes to mind and indeed I decided to do some investigation into the sort of coverage exists specifically for D&D’s 40th Anniversary.

So the first hit I get is a recent post on NY Mag about the 40th Anniversary of D&D and it managed to please me at first but the more I reflected on the article the more it annoyed me.

Taking the positives first –

This kind of mainstream media coverage is good for the hobby as a whole as it helps to engage an audience on a subject matter / hobby that they may be oblivious to.
When done well it can also demonstrate that the hobby is not quite as niche as it is believed to be.
The use of popular culture personalities helps to break down barriers around the acceptability of the hobby, particularly one that’s had its problems with public image in the past.  In this case they cite Stephen Colbert, Jon Favreau and Junot Díaz (not someone I recognise but still he’s won the Pulitzer Prize for The Brief Wonderous Life Of Oscar Wao which has D&D references so maybe I need to try harder!) as D&D players or at least people who have connections to D&D.
The stats used may be wrong (I’ll come to that) but the reference to 30 million D&D players worldwide is hard to ignore as a powerful (if incorrect) representation of the size of the hobby.

All in all, from a surface view at least, it’s a fairly positive story about D&D and the 40th Anniversary of the game.

And now for the negative…

Whilst there is no definitive date for the first release of Dungeons & Dragons, the popular wisdom (not just what Wikipedia says) is that D&D was released in January 1974.  Indeed Jon Peterson carries out some solid investigation into the actual release date on his blog Playing At The World and ultimately concludes that January 26th 1974 is probably as accurate as we can get and considering that we can’t ask the late Gary Gygax or the late Dave Arneson to confirm this I think this is as good as we can get.

The D&D player base is nowhere near 30 million players.  I’d even doubt that 30 million people have at some point in their lives played D&D but that at least sounds plausible.  Even taking the RPG player base as a whole I’d be surprised if the player base was anywhere near that; indeed I’m going to take a guess at the population being somewhere in the region of 3-4 million players worldwide.  That’s roleplaying as a whole not D&D.  I have no stats to support that however and I could be completely wide of the mark but considering that the RPG product market (ignoring PDFs for the moment) has shrunk considerably over the past 5+ years I can’t see how the player base could be sustained at anything more than 3-4 million.  Granted there will be players out there who are still playing using products bought years if not decades ago but even with that I think the population has shrunk.
There’s a fork to this that I might pick up in another post about what constitutes being part of the “gaming community” and what doesn't but let’s park that one just now…

The overall tone of the article comes across as a little patronising.  Why do I say this?  Well it doesn’t come across as someone celebrating the 40th Anniversary of D&D, more as an article where someone is poking fun at the game. Ok so I might be over reacting to this (wouldn’t be the first time) and I suppose my real gripe is the lack of actual research that’s gone into it…
When you compare it to the BBC article written for the 30th Anniversary of D&D you can see that the BBC at very least were able to cite people they’d spoken to about D&D indeed in that very same article the number of people who played D&D in the USA every month in 2004 was estimated by Wizards Of The Coast at around 3 million.  I think it’s safe to say that those numbers have gone down rather than up since then even if you expand the use of D&D here to include other games in the “D&D Family”.

The reflection…

There are other elements to the article that I think leave a lot to be desired but then again at least its media coverage, right?  Poor press is better than no press, right?  I’m no so sure.

Compare it to this article published on the same day in the Longview, Texas News Journal.
Not only is this a pretty decent insight into playing RPGs it’s also written with no agenda in mind.  I mean it’s just “there” as a piece on playing RPGs with friends around a table to “reclaim interactive play”.  That’s a pretty cool way of putting it.

So what gives with media coverage of the hobby then?  I’m going to bang my more people play Magic: The Gathering than play World Of Warcraft MMO drum again here and ask the question of why is there not more coverage of this sort of thing in the media?

Oh wait there has been…  Yep that’s Rachel Riley of Countdown and Strictly Come Dancing fame talking to people about Magic: The Gathering.  Pretty positive coverage all in all I think it's fair to say.
Ah but wait.  That’s a promotional video for a company who host events all over the place including in the UK, so not strictly speaking media coverage.
So what coverage was there in the media of this UK event?  Hmmm none that I can find…  There was a Press Release to promote it back in October but unless my Google Fu is weak I can’t seem to find any reference to it anywhere in the Press.

So I ask again, why is the hobby not getting more media coverage?  I’m not talking about webshows like Tabletop or indeed exposure within shows like The Big Bang Theory.  I’m talking about press coverage and newsworthy coverage.

Is there a gap here on behalf of the 4 party system?  Publisher, Distributor, Retailer and Consumer?  Are these parties not promoting their own interests enough?

Or is it simply that the mainstream media isn’t interested?

<Pre-publication Update!>
So the Guardian in the UK have published a very good and positive media story about the 40th Birthday of D&D.  My point about the wider hobby exposure in the media still stands but it's good to see the Guardian at least doing their bit.
</Pre-publication Update!>