The article leads like this:
There is more to read, so go over and read it, but do you really think that more than half of new D&D fans started off watching other people play D&D online? And do you actually think that watching Stranger Things (where the D&D games are part of the scripts) is similar to watching live-streamed D&D games?The Verge wrote:From Stranger Things’ Dungeons & Dragons obsession to the YouTube and Twitch players becoming online celebrities, role-playing games are becoming public entertainment
by Chris DeVille Nov 16, 2017, 2:45pm EST
One of the great era-appropriate quirks of Netflix’s ‘80s-nostalgic fantasy adventure Stranger Things — which recently returned for a feverishly anticipated second season — is that the preteen geeks of Hawkins, Indiana, are obsessed with Dungeons & Dragons. The first and last times we see them in season 1, they’re playing D&D. They don’t return to their on-screen game in season 2, but they still talk about their real-life adventure as if they’re an adventuring party, right down to assigning themselves character classes. It’s part of the text of Stranger Things, but also the metatext: threading elements from D&D into the show’s narrative helped creators Matt and Ross Duffer create an addictively familiar world for fans of Steven Spielberg, John Carpenter, and other 1980s icons. Some of the series’s retro elements are outdated now, like the stand-up arcades and the giant walkie-talkies. But if the show was set in the present day, the kids might realistically still play D&D. What’s more, they’d probably watch other people play D&D on the internet.
Dungeons & Dragons, the grandaddy of role-playing games, dates back to 1974, but it’s never been more popular than it is today. According to Seattle-based game publisher and Hasbro subsidiary Wizards of the Coast, D&D had its most profitable year ever in 2016, and is on track to surpass it in 2017. A huge reason for that surge is the rise of “liveplay” or “actual play” broadcasts. Long-running campaign podcasts like Critical Hit and Nerd Poker have been building fandoms for close to a decade now, with groups of players recording their D&D campaigns for steadily growing audiences of thousands. Newer actual-play podcasts like The Adventure Zone have redefined what D&D looks like, with comedy and personality mattering as much as the campaign story itself. Increasingly, the new players who get in on the act are also streaming and recording video of their sessions, so fans can watch and interact with the games as well as listen to them.
“Over half of the new people who started playing Fifth Edition [the game’s most recent update, launched in 2014] got into D&D through watching people play online,” says Nathan Stewart, senior director of Dungeons & Dragons. For many gamers, live-streamed tabletop games have become appointment viewing on par with scripted geek-bait like Stranger Things. In recent years, Dungeons & Dragons and other RPGs have become a mainstay on live-streamed video platforms, resulting in a glut of programming not so different from the television’s Peak TV predicament.
I don't see many people talking about Critical Role, Nerd Poker or The Adventure Zone at The Piazza. (In fact I have not listened to any of them myself.) I have listened to Maze Arcana's original Twitch show (now called Orphan Echo). In fact I posted a topic about Maze Arcana in the Eberron forum, when they first started doing the show.
I do like Maze Arcana, and it has a fun community of people who watch every week. They have gone on to do other shows (that I can't watch because they do them while I am asleep) and my enjoyment of Maze Arcana inspired me to jump into AuldDragon's live-streamed Spelljammer show, when I saw him asking around for players.
So I'm sort of a "Z-list Twitch Celebrity" if The Verge is to be believed, and there should in theory be an army of people listening to AuldDragon's show and beating on WotC's doors to get 5th Edition D&D Spelljammer books, but I'm really not convinced that the connection that The Verge sees is that strong.
I don't doubt that these sort of shows are creating a new way to have fun with D&D. And I think that a collaboration between someone doing a live-streamed show and specific D&D books could well help give people ideas that they could raid to use in their own D&D games. But, I do kind of feel that there is a barrier between most of the shows and actual product sales.
Critical Hit for example, is not a D&D product line. It is going to be turned into a Critical Role: Tal'Dorei Campaign Setting by Green Ronin (and I don't doubt they are going to do a good job) but it's a 3rd Party Product. So - unless we start getting a ton of Critical Role fans over at The Piazza (and they help build up a community that springboards a bespoke Tal'Dorei) I'm wondering what the popularity of this show is going to do to change the future of The Piazza.
Maze Arcana has a good thing going with Eberron (and a couple of the Maze Arcana designers have been added onto some sort of special DMs Guild team, where they get early access to some stuff) but with Eberron not having been brought back for 5th Edition yet, they are kind of promoting something that WotC is not currently willing to sell.
The same thing goes for AuldDragon's game (and any other shows based on older campaign settings). They are giving WotC free marketing, but WotC doesn't seem to be able to produce new products that ties into this.
I think that it's possible that the grass routes fandoms of individual campaign settings might get a small boost from some of these shows. And I do think that Maze Arcana could well be involved in DMs Guild material for Eberron, if Eberron ever comes back. But I kind of get the feeling that there is a barrier between this new form of "entertainment" and what is going to be published by Wizards of the Coast.
I think it's probably much more likely that companies like Green Ronin are able to team up with these sort of shows and find a way to publish supporting material and maybe even get miniatures made.