D&D is a Lifestyle Brand: 10 Ways to Embrace and Profit
Like it or not, D&D (that's Dungeons & Dragons) went from a niche obsession for basement-dwelling turbonerds to a billion-dollar entertainment behemoth that pumps out art, collectables, movies, toys, and of course --- the game materials --- to an ever-growing base of rabid fans. Thanks to the success of web shows like Critical Role and the award-winning Netflixa series Stranger Things, this boom is far from over.
Wizards of the Coast (or WotC) is preparing its next iteration of the game, codenamed "One D&D" which will bring together digital content, live rules updates, and its own proprietary virtual tabletop (or VTT) sometime in 2024 or beyond.
1. Internet D&D is full of "armchair players"
It's rumored that most of the people on D&D internet forums aren't really players themselves, but they love the "idea" of playing the game. They will hallucinate playing a game with a character they created, but they don't physically engage in the act of the game itself. It's like meta-meta-gaming.
And it's a HUGELY profitable source of income for WotC. They know this. You should know this.
2. Cater to the buyers, not the players
I wish I had WotC's demographic and sales info because I suspect the Venn diagram overlap of Players and Buyers is smaller than you think. They know the books sell because of the art and the "story-like" aspect of the text inside.
Players looking for hard rules from the mothership have been left in the lurch the past couple of years as the shift from "player as buyer" to "fan as buyer" becomes more pronounced.
3. Make auxiliary products, but stand out
D&D Instagram is FLOODED with products that cater to both players and fans: handcrafted dice, dice accessories (Trays, towers, bags, custom cast dice), DM screens, game supplements, miniature figurines. It's insane how much stuff you can sell to an enthusiastic buyer base.
The problem is no longer *can* you sell it, it's *how* do you position yourself as a unique and useful piece of equipment in this vast ocean of plastic flotsam.
4. Write rules-tight compatible supplements
There are a handful of top-tier 3rd party supplement makers for D&D (5e, the current version). They know how to combine tight writing with attractive art and also how to target a niche looking for a certain kind of experience. You don't want to emulate the WotC stuff - in fact, most "players" hate it -- they want rules and monsters and settings that they can read and run right now. Big winners know this.
5. Write rules-light roleplaying setting supplments
On the other side of the spectrum, there are "players" who will gather around a table, but they'll basically ignore 90% of the rules of the game and always do whatever "feels coolest" so they can dress up (literally) and act out their power fantasy of killing dragons and falling in love in the Feywild (don't ask). These folks make up a HUGE chunk of potential buyers - you'd be well positioned to craft artful adventures that don't make them think too hard, but give them a lot of opportunities to roleplay and get into the "fantasy mood."
6. You can compete with the streaming giants
Sort of - you likely aren't going to take out Critical Role anytime soon - but, I encourage you to find a way to stream and, more importantly, edit and collate your game footage into something entertaining and engaging.
How do you do this?
7. The big guys go long-form, try something short-form
You don't need to stream a 6 hour slogfest of a session. Most amateur productions are just that--amateur. They lack the professional quality of the big players in the space. Far be it from me to say "stop having fun" - if all you're after is some laughs and some great gaming, by all means, stream it your way.
But, nobody wants to watch your boring custom homebrew 6 hour slogfest where *real* humans pretend their crazy off-world half-alien characters fall in love with each other and other cringey nonsense. You're not the best improv artist, you're not the best actor, you're not even that good with the rules.
I'm being harsh: but, don't fall into this trap. Don't feel like people want to spend 6 hours watching you fumble with words to try to "set the scene".
Do your session, then edit it down to the amazing parts - set it to great music, have the DM/GM do a narration over the top of it and make it 1 hour maximum.
If you can sell a 1 hour a week roleplaying jamboree, you're onto something.
If you're not a professional actor or comedian, it's a mistake to do huge episodes (Brian Posehn and comedian friends pulled it off with Nerd Poker and Matt Mercer and his voice actor friends are still on top with Critical Role -- and they make up rules half the time, too)
8. An economic downturn means more people have more time
If the economy hits the bricks like it might in 2023-2024, there will be more people with more time and less happiness looking for an outlet.
We want them to have productive and creative ways to blow off steam and find time to see other humans: a guaranteed way to increase dopamine in their brains and keep them out of depression.
Roleplaying games are a tool in that fight against depression and anxiety. Be aware of this and find ways to help people find friendship and connection when things get rough.
More importantly: TTRPGs are some of the cheapest forms of entertainment in existence. Many of them can be played entirely free (you can get free dice rolling app son your phone if you don't want to spend the $8 on real dice!) and VTTs like Roll20 have a free tier so you can connect with groups and get going for no money at all.
9. Support the OTHER games, too
D&D is the heavyweight champ for all the reasons above and more, but that means more people come into the space not knowing what a TTRPG is and just knowing what D&D is. It's like when you were a kid and your parents called every video game a "Nintendo game" because Nintendo was able to take over the mindshare of the American gaming market post 1983 crash.
Once they're in, get them excited about other games that might appeal to them more. I know for a fact that not every person is into high fantasy magical settings, not every person is into dramatic roleplaying with voiced characters, etc. There are unlimited games that appeal to every taste: it just takes a nudge to get them to explore beyond the Dragon.
10. Make it easy for DMs and GMs to get games going
If we have more players with more time, we'll need more people to run games which means we'll need great resources to get them started and give them the tools they need to do a great job for their friends.
This is, ironically, not what's happening in today's market. The knowledge of old is being usurped by spurious sources and whacky attitudes. The real good solid GM advice exists, but it's opaque and boring.
The Alexandrian, The Angry DM, and the like all are brilliant writers and DMs with reams of information that make a DMs life easier. It's just all locked up in blogs that look like they're from 1999.
Mike Shea's The Lazy Dungeon Master series is a superb collection of ideas and guidelines - this is the template for success (there's a reason he's an Adamantine Best seller on DriveThruRPG - that means he's sold over 5000 copies of a single title - likely way more).