Monday, November 29, 2010

Why Is There No CSI: The Roleplaying Game?

The post title says it all. It's a serious question. It came back to me while I was inputting a bunch of notes I made a couple years ago about adapting a nascent homebrew system to the police procedural genre. To me, this idea seems like such a no-brainer that I wonder why nobody in the industry ever thought of it. There are two major advantages to being the company that brings out that game.


One of the weaknesses of the RPG industry is that most of its fans (and thus, presumably, its designers and bean-counters) are geeks who enamored of the relatively esoteric genres of science fiction, fantasy, and horror. Thus, the industry has remained viable, though not spectacularly healthy, even in down times, due to the devotion of its fan base. However, it's never really been mainstream. Well, there were probably a couple of periods when it was on the cusp: the early 80s before the Dallas Egbert incident and the early 2000s when D&D 3e first came out.

I wonder if part of the problem is that nobody ever makes a tabletop RPG out of something that has mainstream popularity. It's not like there's no precedent for a non-sf roleplaying-type game to enjoy some success. For example, murder mystery dinner party games, which appear to still have a following due to the magic of internet downloads, were actually somewhat fashionable in the mid to late 80s. Crime and mystery (along with action-adventure) are genres with some crossover appeal to both geeks and everybody else. This has been even more the case in the last decade, with shows like the Law and Order and CSI franchises dominating fictional network TV. If mainstream culture is ever going to be convinced that roleplaying isn't something only done by the terminally weird, this is the genre to do it in. And the potential for actual profit in exploiting a popular genre is also a factor for an industry that's always short on money.

One Shots

One of the biggest hassles of roleplaying is the idea of the ongoing campaign. It's amazing how many ambitious campaigns are derailed by schedules and life changes. Something that was supposed to last for a year or more of weekly sessions often ends up lasting maybe a month. And that's with a bunch of dedicated sf/roleplaying geeks. Imagine how hard it is to get through a planned campaign with more casual players. The idea that roleplaying must be done in long, interconnected arcs covering many sessions is probably one of the biggest psychological barriers to entering the hobby.

Fortunately, using TV crime shows as source material directly addresses this concern. Every show is a one-shot, so duplicating the feel of the genre dictates one-shot scenarios. That means there are no continuity issues if a player can't make it one week. The availability of a more casual kind of tabletop gaming makes the hobby accessible to a large number of casual players, possibly increasing the customer base.

So why hasn't anyone thought of this idea before? Is the industry really that bad at marketing?

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