(As an aside, the price you pay for a product is never, EVER based on the cost of production. Pricing is based solely on two factors: what the customers will pay and downward pressure from competition. Costs of production might limit how much of a product is on the market, or even drive a product out of the market entirely, but they are not factored. Of course, that's assuming the price is being set by people who are knowledgeable about business, and not in it mostly for the fun of the thing.)
I will take exception with Mr. Mishler's comments about the youth of today. I know a number of people in the teaching profession who do not wear body armour to school or live in fear of their students. The reason there are metal detectors in school has more to do with the parents of today than the students, who also insist their kids never get on a bike without donning more protective gear than we wore to play pick-up games of football when I was a kid. It's certainly not because shootings in school are a new thing. That canard about not being able to find their own country on a map is at least as old as I am. Even if everything he says is true, it doesn't matter. Why? Because there is a huge number of kids out there reading, writing, and yes, even roleplaying right now. A sizeable groundswell of interest in fantastical fiction and play that crosses gender lines has risen up in the Harry Potter generation, the likes of which have probably never been seen before.
But you'll notice I mention nothing about games. Regular readers know what I'm talking about: fanfic and free-form roleplay. It's easy to laugh and dismiss this sort of thing (just as RPGs were laughed at and dismissed in my youth, when they weren't being blamed for suicide and devil worship), but here are a bunch of kids so desperate for roleplay that they have built websites and software and communities to facilitate their play. They've done it all on their own.
Why on their own? Why didn't they take advantage of the 30+ years of RPGs that were available? Probably because they were never invited to. Since 2000, the "gateway" product has consisted of three 200+ page books costing somewhere in the neighborhood of $60 bucks. Even that might have been reasonable if the kids had been shown what benefits they would have received for their time and treasure. Was there even an attempt to overcome the fact that D&D was the game Dad played when he was in junior high? I never saw it. I never saw any outreach to these kids, any attempts to study their interests, or any attempts to adjust the game in ways that would appeal to them, as we've seen towards the MMOG audience which shares much less in common with the tabletop RPG crowd. We're constantly told that the biggest issues with making RP gaming happen are logistical. But these kids overcome those every day. They don't freeform by themselves, but use chatrooms and bulletin boards and other services to play with their friends. This is where Mr. Colville of SquareMans is behind the curve in attempting to predict the future of pen-and-paper RPGs. The future is now, and these kids have already, on their own, created the roleplaying experience he's talking about. While they don't yet incorporate things like augmented reality, they take full advantage of cellphone texting and similar technologies that are available today. That, ladies and gents, is all set to be the roleplaying of tomorrow, and it's got no interest in your rulebooks, dice, or character sheets, thank you very much.
So are things hopeless? Maybe not. Green Ronin has been leading the rearguard action, first with their attempt with Blue Rose (which was disastrously hamstrung when their distributor took the money and ran) and now with a boxed set for their Dragon Age RPG, which will likely be showing up in computer stores, literally targeting those computer gamers we've heard so much about. But I'm more intrigued by Witch Girl Adventures, which aspires to a demographic the industry should have been courting since the '70s. The game's probably a bit too heavy with game elements, since its target audience is almost certainly already involved in free-form play, but it's the most serious attempt that's come across my desk ever.
UPDATE: Go back to the RPG Pundit post, scroll past the argument-laced obscenities to the comments, and look for the pic of the cheerful, greyhaired guy. That's Ryan Dancy, and he's got two great comments worth reading. Like Noisms, he thinks I'm underestimating just how much disposable income kids have today, but he's got a lot more to say than just that. Here's a little something from the first that caught my eye:
RPG designers should not be paid by the word, obviously. They are not writing novels. The value in a game design is not volume, it is utility. The basic model used in the industry of hiring a freelance writer to create "x" volume of words for "y" price per word is of course absurd and has no relationship to the underlying value, which is one reason that it is a broken system and one reason that people in the industry sense that there is a fundamental "unfairness" about their compensation.
Photo credits: foundphotoslj, aka Kath, and Bombardier.