In the comments, however, the mysterious Wart pointed out that the real competition wasn't MMOGs like WoW, but rather ad hoc, user-created, text-based online play spaces of free-form RPGing:
Selling the concept of "RPGs" to kids is easy. You just have to be liberal about what you define as an RPG. What these kids are doing on livejournal may not resemble our favoured games, but they are undeniably roleplaying; I would submit, in fact, that it isn't roleplaying per se that's gone out of fashion so much as it's dice-rolling and character sheets that have fallen out of favour.
I haven't really explored that world, as it seems to be primarily based on popular IPs like Harry Potter or Middle Earth, and this combined with the unorganized sandbox style of play leads to an assumed conservation of the setting that prevents the sort of world-shaking storylines I prefer to play. (Or maybe I'm just a control freak who has to oversee the entire world and make sure my preferred themes remain prominent. Nah, it couldn't be that...) Anyway, this "hidden world" of free-form RPG hasn't gone unnoticed, and Sandy Antunes, whose Skotos network of games skirts alongside this movement with games like Castle Marach, has posted about the phenomenon over at RPG.net:
For those kids into roleplaying, it's online and book-free. My niece in middle school hangs out on roleplaying servers. Basically chatrooms, sometimes with MUD elements, where they have in-character names, roles, guilds and clans, hierarchies, politics. She spends hours on them, fantastically creative and literate-- but online, not tabletop, and rule-free. One is Harry Potter themed, one is LotR, and the third is generic fantasy.For those wondering if there really is an "old school" movement rising in RPGs, the answer seems to be, "at this rate, it'll soon be the only game in town." Mr. Antunes suggests that the big theme needed to sell to these folks is "explicit network building" which seems to echo one of the themes Ryan Dancey was exploring in the final days of his blog.
It's what she and her middle school friends do, a mix of girls and boys (maybe 60/40, 70/30?). It's entirely dice-free. She does it so much her mom took away the computer in her room. It's like interactive fanfic.
There are other things folks playing these games might find useful. What about tailor-built online locations with services specifically built to support their play? Or new settings to play in? Would they appreciate graphics, something like a 3D Hogwarts complete with robes and brooms and hidden rooms?
Unfortunately, I'm not seeing any room here for D&D. Maybe Dragonlance or Forgotten Realms, perhaps. But not D&D as we know it, with AC and hit points and the six stats and all of that. The implied setting of D&D, with its generic dwarves and elves and orcs might work. But the core of the game itself is completely extraneous to these people. They need core mechanics and monster statblocks the way a fish needs a bicycle.