Why We Play the Games We Do
I recently played Pathfinder 2e and picked up the Core Rulebook and Bestiary. I mentioned this in the Fans of Jon Brazer Enterprises Facebook Group and someone mentioned that the RPG market is oversaturated. I’ve heard this argument before, but this time it got me thinking. Sure the businessperson in me says that the law of supply and demand should end games without sufficient demand, but a different thought in my head said that the basic statement isn’t true, that the market isn’t oversaturated, and that is what I want to talk about today.
I don’t believe the “market” is oversaturated because the market is not one single market. Take 5e for example. The game is a simple game, relative to more crunchy games like 3.0/3.5 or Pathfinder 1e/2e. While not the fastest-paced game on the market, it is so compared to many others available. And for being a 7-year old game, the core company (yes, I am excluding compatible publishers like myself as well as the DMsGuild) has put out very few supplements. So if you are a gamer that wants a crunchier game, one that supports substantially more options for your character, and has tome after tome that you can just sit on your couch and read through, you are not in the 5e market. You’re in a market like Pathfinder. Do you want a science fiction game with limited to no magic, you’re in neither of these markets. You’re in a Traveller market. Were this all one market then the rules-light D&D 5e game could temp a Pathfinder player to switch with relative ease. The fact that that does not happen as often as say the canned soup market means that these are essentially different markets.
That all brings me back to the question, “Why do we play the games we play?” Thinking about that, I realized that that question is far more difficult than at first glance. Take the game I ran last year with my daughter and her cousins. We’re in different locations so it was over Fantasy Grounds. They’re all new so I wanted a simple game that was easy to teach, the book had to be easily available for everyone to read when they weren’t gaming, and I wanted to run it with them having only the core book (so no supplements as requirements). For that game, 5e was the game that fit our group.
Compare that with my home game consisting of all adults. Again, we’re playing over Fantasy Grounds since we’re not all local. While we’re playing 5e, I am not convinced that this game is the right fit for us. Several players are bristling against the simplicity of the game. One player traded in their character for another because the class offered too few options and another comments to me that the game simply has too few mechanical options for their character. There are only so many ways you can say, “you gain advantage,” before it no longer gives you the stimulation you are looking for. For us, we might be switching markets to Pathfinder 2e, or something else perhaps.
Having said all that, 5e was the right game when we got together. Maybe it isn’t now. I’m not sure yet. But we play the games we play to get the enjoyment we are seeking. For some a mechanically simpler game is ideal. For some and entirely different genre is better. So saying that the market is oversaturated does not do it justice. It doesn’t recognize the complexity of the “market.” Each game provides its players something they are seeking, something they enjoy that can’t be found in a different game.
Why do you play the games you play? Tell us in the comments below. We would love to hear your thoughts.