Sunday, December 2, 2018


D&D has a problem.  An elephant in the room kind of problem.

Looking at this article from nine months ago, I'm surprised at the accuracy of the numbers.  8.6 million Americans have played.  7,500 unique broadcasters.  475 million minutes watched.  Numbers which I presume all come from Greg Tito, whose job it is to come up with cool shit to say about the business, so that we all know D&D is "super-popular."

I want to put that into perspective.  ALL of the unique broadcasters together, creating content equal to 475 million minutes, equals about half of this one Meghan Trainor video, assuming viewers watched, on average, half the music video.  Given that other music also exists on the web, this makes the total contribution of D&D to the cultural zeitgeist about the equivalent of a grain of sand on a beach near Eureka California as compared to the entire planet.

I would like to know the source on this 8.6 million players ... and I would like to know why the company feels only Americans deserve to be counted.  I'm sure that other persons of other countries speaking other languages also spend money into the coffers of the company so they can tap "into that innate human desire" to have to company write stories that we're supposed to tell each other rather than making up our own and not buying the company's products.  Just at that thing in the psyche of so many non-American players is also "getting the chance to be expressed through the lens" of whatever crapfest set of rules and mechanics the company had decided to turn out through 2017, sweeping "old stereotypes" kind of sort of in a way under a rug.

Funny thing about that idiom.  When a thing gets "swept under a rug," that means you did a really shitty job of cleaning the place, because the grime is still there.  It means you want to hide it, but sooner or later someone is going to pick that rug up to clean it and there's all that shit you tried to hide, only now its had time to fester and eat through the floorboards.  Sweeping a thing under a rug is not a good plan.  But I'm sure ol' Tito has no idea what he's saying.

Especially since all those "old stereotypes" being swept under the rug emerge three paragraphs later when we're all reminded of the people who invented those stereotypes and hammered them into the ground.

As far as I know, in Canada, the "idiosyncratic game" is still being played in game shops and geeky paradises, such as my living room.  I have no doubt that it's being played in a hipster bar in Seattle.  Call me when it is being played at a truckstop in Norman Oklahoma.  Best of all, however, I have to be impressed that the senior communications manager for D&D is describing the game being played as, "the adventure that's going on, and griffins, and whatnot."  Is Tito a surfer?

No worries.  A movie is "in the works."  Again.  I'm sure it will win an oscar for best writing.

And once again, with all this hype growing out of the Adventurers' League and 5e being simple enough for 9-year-olds to play, the elephant is ignored.  We're making up numbers like millions of Americans that "played" the game; some probably played "once or twice;" "some" might have played a few times early in the year and then stopped.  I'm uncertain about the distinction of those last two points, but ... the key here is that the company, and all its hype, cannot for the sake of its business model talk about those who play a few times and stop.

As long as we're making up millions of people, I'd like a number on how many people used to play D&D.  Because people quit.  Most people quit.  The most common ardent players participate for two, three years at best, usually in school, and usually the reason for quitting is because school ended.  Or because that group you played with when you were posted overseas went home.  I'd wager that more than half of those minutes watched, that Tito is so proud of, were watched by ex-players who know they will never play again.  They miss it a little, but not enough to go about the business of planning a session and prepping for it.

How many of those early-teen youngsters who climbed on board the 5e train in 2014 quit this last year because in their 17th year they found drugs supplied a "meteoric rise in popularity" that drew their money away from griffins and whatnot?  Of course, we're not compiling those numbers, are we?  How many blog posts have been written about another teenage player from this or that campaign that bowed out for marajuana or something stronger?  How much "communications" is ol' Tito giving about adults showing up high for Adventurers' League events, forcing the ejection of some of those 8.6 million?

Uncomfortable?  Talk to an ex-player sometime.  Anecdotal as it is, I'm used to hearing ex-players, even players who once played in the same circles I did, talk about how childish it all was.  How silly.  How everyone argued all the time.  How bored they were.  How they don't understand why they ever played.  How amused they are to hear that I still play.

That's the real state of the game.  Not the hype or the mainstream or what hipsters are doing in Seattle bars ... but the legacy of it all.  Not what you think about the game right now, but what you're going to think about the game five years from now.

You think you'll still like it fine ... but a lot happens in five years.

You never know what you'll start believing ...


ViP said...

"I'm used to hearing ex-players, even players who once played in the same circles I did, talk about how childish it all was"

Some even devote an entire book to explaining how they wasted their youth playing the game.

Fuzzy Skinner said...

"I'm sure that other persons of other countries speaking other languages also spend money into the coffers of the company [...]"

JB has posted a lot in the past about how little the WOTC seemed to care about foreign-language players - and this in the modern era of digital distribution, circumventing much of the cost of printing and/or shipping full-color hardcover books on the opposite side of the planet. Say what you will about TSR, at least they managed to keep various editions of the game in non-English print (including Hebrew and Japanese) well into the 90s.

Granted, most of his grumblings were from a year or two ago... but surely the company has had a major change of heart and stopped merely pretending to care about non-Anglophone markets, right?

Rob Schwarz said...

How would one even go about getting numbers for ex-players?

There are probably a metric ton of ex-gamers that returned as they got older. Those can possibly polled to get some kind of numbers. Wizards might also find that the number of "new" gamers is far smaller than believed once return gamers are factored in.

Alexis Smolensk said...


Thank you for the link. The reviews of the book were certainly telling, describing this kid who plainly still liked the game but felt the need to run it down for his own reasons.

Alexis Smolensk said...

Most likely, Fuzzy, the WOTC talks that way because their marketing tells them so. Companies rarely release a word about anything unless marketing has put their kindly, caring spin on it first. Personally, I get a lot of support from both Europe and Asia, plus Australia ~ and absolutely, thanks to all of you. I guess I don't mind that the number of Canadians isn't included in that 8.6 million ... I've not had much trouble finding Canadian D&D players. My boss at present is an ex-DM. 3rd Edition.

Alexis Smolensk said...

Rob, I'd be happy to know how they got the numbers for players. It sounds awfully fluffed up. According to, the number of participants skiing in the U.S. has ranged from 11.42 million to 16.03. The number of snowboarders in 2016 were approximately 7.6 million. Maybe it's just my anecdotal bias showing, but I'm having a little trouble believing that D&D is competing with those numbers. Where's the endlessly looping video of D&D players throwing dice when I go to the bar?

Ozymandias said...

I love the first five reviews for the book. Really gives a sense of who the author is.

Ozymandias said...

Anecdotally speaking . . .

I have two older brothers. We've all played the game. The eldest still plays; Pathfinder, probably 5e, and his daughter play in his game. The second brother stopped playing when he went to college years ago. He recalls the game in the manner described above: a thing children did and that we grow out of.

I don't actively play because I don't have time. Instead, I find a few minutes or an hour here and there to research, make new rules, build databases, write my blog, etc. When I do run again, it won't be the current edition. I'll probably never purchase a WotC product again.

Am I one of these 8.6 million? What about my brothers?

I wrote about the potential of a digital platform for D&D ( but imI starting to rethink my assessment: maybe Wizard's isn't making as much off their 8 million players as I thought . . .