I can already hear the wailing and gnashing of teeth, the people crying, "He's nothing but a WotC-hater! What does he know??"
First things first: I'm unequivocally not a WotC-hater. I'm no fan of fourth edition, and I've made no bones about that. But that's neither here nor there, and has absolutely nothing to do with this blog. This particular blog is not setting out to bash D&D or WotC or any group of fans. It is, however, going to attack an idea that has somehow come to be commonly accepted as a Great Truth(TM): that the demise of Dungeons & Dragons would somehow mean the End of Days for the RPG industry.
Why? Why is that? Can anyone give me a good, coherent reason that goes beyond, "Well, they're the big dog on the block"?
Not only do I disagree with this sentiment, I believe that the death of D&D as a roleplaying game would actually be beneficial to the role playing industry as a whole. And again, it has nothing whatsoever to do with my feelings about the current iteration of the game. Nor do I actively want WotC to fail. I do my best not to wish harm on anyone--person or industry (with notable exceptions being folks like mass murderers and genocidal fascists).
But I digress.
D&D, as a brand and an RPG, has held an inordinately large piece of the RPG pie, pretty much ever since its inception. If folks like Ryan Dancey, the fine reporters over at icv2, and numerous other industry insiders, are to be believed, Pathfinder is now outselling D&D. If so, bully for them. The point is, D&D has forever been the Big Kid on the Playground. The chunk of quiche devoured by that game is about ten times the size of that devoured by any one other game (Pathfinder, possibly, notwithstanding). I don't think there's anyone out there who would bother even trying to argue that point. It's an accepted truth, and for good reason.
Now, in a very broad, general sense, there are two types of consumers in the RPG market. There are those who play one game, and one game only, the so-called "One True Wayists." These are the people who are into a specific game, not necessarily into role playing in general. Then there are those who dig a number of games, be it two or twenty. Now, let's say your favorite game goes away. If you are a One True Wayist, this is a moment of truth for you: either you will quit playing altogether, or you'll find another game whose gospel you will follow. If you are more of a twenty-game-player, the loss of even your favorite one doesn't change much--you might be a little depressed for a bit, but in the end you'll just dump more money into the other games you play.
Do you see what I"m getting at? If D&D were to vanish tomorrow, those gamers who only play D&D and never look at anything else would have one of two reactions: they would quit role playing altogether, or they'd latch onto a new game that's as much like D&D as possible. Those who quit role playing are not a loss to the industry at large in any way whatsoever, because they only ever put money into a single product line. Just like if I only play Rifts, and Rifts goes away, my quitting gaming does not in any way affect Catalyst's numbers for Shadowrun. However, what if Rifts goes away, and I decide to latch on to Shadowrun becuase it's as much like Rifts as I can get? Suddenly Catalyst gets a meager influx of cash from a new fan.
Now, what about those players who play D&D and other games? Well, when D&D goes away, suddenly they all have a bit more cash to dump into those other games they play. It's unlikely that many of them will go, "Hmm, I should diminish my gaming budget to match the loss of a game." No, they will simply redirect that money into other games.
Here's where the rubber meets the road: there are a shed load of D&D players. A holy TON. That is a LOT of money that's going to get redistributed to other games in the industry. Chances are that Pathfinder will swallow up a lot of them, sure, but given the sheer numbers we're talking about, if a company like Troll Lord Games lands even one percent of disenfranchised D&D fans, suddenly those guys are rolling in cash.
Some people might be worried about game stores and distributors. What if they lost the D&D cash? I still say the redistribution of funds would make up for it, and you'd see game stores with more variety of product on the shelves. A lot of D&D-only players these days order from Amazon, which is partially what's causing FLGS's to feel the hurt these days anyway. You might actually see more indie games become major, or at least moderate, players on FLGS shelves. Some game stores might go out of business before the adjustment happened, which would be sad, but we are talking long-term effects, here. I feel certain we would relatively quickly enter a new era where it was again possible to make a living as an RPG designer, because there would be so much cash going in so many directions.
And again, those players who quit gaming altogether because they only played D&D? Their money wasn't helping the industry as a whole, anyway. It was only helping D&D and WotC.
The one area that I can see might feel the bite, at least at first, is conventions. Especially ones like Gen Con, which get a LOT of money from WotC sponsorship. Ticket prices would soar, which might result in lower attendance...at least until someone new stepped up as a major sponsor (or several).
In any case, sure, I guess there would be some initial backlash in the retail and convention sectors, but I don't think it'd last very long, nor be as huge as the doomsayers like to claim. And I think after it passed (which would happen quickly enough) the industry would boom as a whole in a way it hasn't since the mid-80's to early 90's.
I've kind of run myself out and lost my train of thought, but there you have it. Just something to chew on.