I was at the local mall today doing some Christmas shopping, and was in a combination calendar/board game store (some kind of weird residue left after a Waldenbooks died) and saw the latest D&D boxed starter set there, next to the Apples to Apples, Dirty Mind, and Carcassone.
This brought back fond memories. I bought my first RPG, Star Frontiers, in a board game store in a mall back in the ’80’s. I had gone in and bought a little tactical dice-and-chit game called “Attack Force” (I still have it!) made by TSR, where one player is a Death Star-like space station and the other is a squadron of space fighters. I liked it and its science fiction theme, but it was only diverting for a while, and so was back looking for other stuff along those lines. There was a bigger box, also with “TSR” on it, also SF themed. I didn’t know what a “roleplaying game” was, but it said you’d play a human or alien who would become part of the “Galactic Task Force” and “defend the galaxy against ruthless adversaries.” Deal!
For some reason current RPG industry doctrine says this doesn’t happen. “People have to be introduced to RPGs by other people, it’s all word of mouth.” “Boxed sets are bad, mmmkay.” “Retail distribution blah blah blah.” But in the end, it’s possible and it works. Certainly if you’re Hasbro you can have a D&D set next to Monopoly in every single Target if you gave a crap enough to, but even smaller players should be able to get to more venues as well. A lot of these companies behind the other “boxed sets,” aka board games, in those stores are pretty small. The RPG guys just need to figure out how to leverage that channel, I guess. (Ironically, I see Munchkin, a game that is a parody of D&D, in way more book and board game stores than I see D&D in.) RPGs are pretty “sticky,” so if you can get someone introduced with a basic set that’s going through a more mass market channel you can probably pull them to the more specialized stuff later.
Green Ronin is trying the “D&D basic set” pattern again with their Dragon Age game. If it’s going to sit in some “RPG/comic” store that only the weirdos go into in the first place, I’m not sure that’ll work, but if it gets to computer game stores, bookstores, big box stores – I think it will.