I often wonder how much of the decline of Tabletop RPGs is due to the failure of publishers to adopt an Open Data model surrounding their IP. Like most of my fellow old-school geeks, I’ve watched the dwindling of games like DnD and Rolemaster with a fair bit of melancholy. Sure, competition from other entertainment sources is a big reason for this but I think we don’t acknowledge the impact the closed nature of publishers and IP managers on the hobby. Too tight control and an attempt at trying to force what is basically a subscription model has a greater impact on making the hobby less relevant than we give it credit for.
Running a tabletop roleplaying game is a derivative work by its very nature, with a fair bit of work being injected by the GM and players. We live in arguably the most accessible period in human history for creating derivative works yet tools and resources are stagnant in the community, I believe largely because of a failure of RPG publishers to make datasets for their game easily available. Most games present a player or GM with table after table of numbers to look-up, calculate or reference during gameplay but almost none of them make that data available in a way the community can manipulate or build on. Fans faced with a desire to create tools for the game are forced to hand type large datasets on their own, often wondering if going to all that work will get slammed by the publisher for a violation of their copyright, or made irrelevant with the inevitable next edition of the game where they’ll have to retype the entire dataset again.
Overall I think this lack of openness further wears away at an already eroding potential fanbase and publishers would do well to find ways to further enable the community. Instead of trying to strictly control the player experience they should be releasing information to facilitate players building deeper experiences and sharing that with other potential fans. It could be the ship has already sailed for this hobby and nothing can arrest the continued attrition in the community but I can’t quiet give up hope for a tabletop Renascence as there has been for board games. I just hope if that time arrives for the hobby that publishers will be ready to meet the opportunity as open partners rather than theme park vendors.