Skirting along the edges of the recent convesation about the state of the RPG industry is the obvious question: so what? What difference does it make, at the gaming table, where the rubber meets the road, whether or not there even is an industry?
Trust me, if it vanished tomorrow you'd miss it. Here's a list of five things the industry does for all of us:
Gives Us Some of Our Best Thinkers: The Jameses Raggi and Maliszewski are both member of the industry, professional writers with a number of books to their tally. I don't agree with everything the man says, but Ryan Dancey has had a profound impact on the hobby. And, of course, we had Gygax, Arneson, and Hargrave whose thoughts and theories still inspire our gaming. We all need to earn money to put food on the table and keep the lights on. The professionals have more time to spend thinking about games, playing with the bits and pieces, and really plumbing the depths of the hobby.
Spurs Innovation: Yeah, ok, so maybe that's not always a great thing, but the fans tend to be the conservatives in any group. They want what they love, and they rarely see a need to change things. Professionals need to always be expanding or shifting their audience, and so are always looking for new and neat ways to add to the experience. I'm not a huge fan of 4e, but their attempt to find a new way to think about things like hit points has intrigued me, and was part of the inspiration for how the Table of Death and Dismemberment works. The industry gave us Amber Diceless Roleplaying, the World of Darkness storyteller games, the genre fruitsalad that is Shadowrun, the cereberal plunge into the abyss that is Call of Cthulhu, and the claustraphobic madness of The Shab-al-Hiri Roach.
Draws the Attention of Outsiders: If it wasn't for the industry, nobody would have noticed when Gygax and Arneson had died. The fact that, for many people, roleplaying games are summed up by D&D speaks volumes for the industry's position as the face of the hobby. That face may be more mask than reality, but that doesn't change the fact.
Creates Fun Toys for Us to Play With: Most of us don't have the skills or time to make the bizarre dice, cool minis, bits of terrain, coffeetable books, posters, novels, and yes, computer games that we all enjoy as parts of or adjuncts to our hobby. We get art from the likes of Otis and Parkinson and Elmore and Reynolds and di Terlizzi and Widermann. They give us web pages and discussion forums like RPG.net. Most importantly for some, they give us things to argue about between gaming sessions.
Gives Us a Shared Common Experience and Vocabulary: Beyond hit points and armour class, we have universal mechanics, NPCs, skills-based vs. class based, stats vs. attributes vs. flags, adventure paths vs. sandboxes, The Tomb of Horrors, Car Wars, Gen Con, Men in Black, Knights of the Dinner Table, and Nodwick. The industry defines the baselines and borders we all use to communicate to one another, and the shorthand that is part of our community. They make it possible for us to speak about the sorts of games we prefer with strangers, and the shorthand of "I prefer the 2nd edition of that game" speaks volumes for us.
Photo credits: poolie, Pockafwye, and Benimoto.