As we get closer to having a playtest alpha release of Haunted: Beyond the Veil we wanted to better understand the TTRPG landscape that we were getting ourselves into. With decades of collective experience under our belts, it is all too easy to fall into the trap of assuming our journey is the same as everyone else’s and that our idea for the Wrenegade System is the solution to any deficiencies we may have found when playing other games.
In order to get a good baseline, we recently ran a short survey that many kind folks were willing to complete. Without further ado, let us delve into the results and see what we learned!
At this point, we’ll add the disclaimer that our sample size was quite small (140 kind and awesome people) and were sourced via social media and from the community of TTRPG lovers over at RPGGeek.
We’ll start with an overview of how experienced the participants were. The RPG hobby is always growing but we would expect that more experienced individuals would have the most to share in a survey of this kind.
What we did find interesting was the apparent dip around the 10-30 year gap that suggests that RPGs may have had a lean period between the 1990s and 2010. A wider sample size would be needed to confirm our suspicions of a resurgence in RPG adoption.
Introduction to RPGs, genre preference, and type of play
There weren’t many surprises in this section but our chief data nerd insisted on sharing it anyway. The more we understand about the potential users of a product the better we can tailor it to their needs, after all, we aren’t designing Haunted just for ourselves!
*D&D covers original, basic or non-specified editions
As expected that majority of people had some Dungeons and Dragons-based introduction to the hobby with a smattering of other somewhat adjacent systems coming in further down the line.
This just in… the majority of RPG players prefer fantasy settings! I know, hardly ground-breaking journalism. We were thrilled to see Horror/Supernatural come in a distant second place but we are admittedly biased. Alongside Western there were also the following genres: Furry, Historical, Many worlds, Modern, Post-apocalyptic, Space opera, and Steampunk.
We wish we could have polled the same people before the Covid 19 pandemic to see how different this might have looked but we have a suspicion that it wouldn’t be too much of a change. The modern world has definitely made remote-play for groups separated by geography much more common than the original ‘Play by Post’ option. Seeing a full 50% still enjoying those face-to-face sessions gives us hope for the future though!
Session length and where played
Now we are starting to get an idea of the what, why, and how we wanted to explore a bit more about the expectations of how long a session would last and some of the potential markets that players would benefit from having integrations/materials for.
Obviously, most games are multi-session campaigns that can last weeks, months, or years but the sweet spot of session length seems to be around the 4 hour-mark. Extrapolating that out to cover scenarios such as one-shots, single-session campaign arcs (Monster of the Week style) as well as the traditional multi-session campaign we can start to influence our design to accommodate a wider range of play-style preferences. TTRPG sessions shouldn’t feel rushed but nor should they be a chore to play, let alone schedule!
Drilling down into the style of play results a bit further, we were surprised to see that there were no takers for Fantasy Grounds. Admittedly our sample size wasn’t huge on this occasion but we did expect a more even spread of users amongst the VTT services.
Systems, favourites, the wish list, and roleplay
As we head more towards the market research end of things we want to better understand whether there is room for yet another TTRPG out there. There are already many great products and the average user is likely spoiled for choice in both the setting and system spheres.
What stood out immediately was that even with only 140 responses there was a large spread of system experience with the usual suspect taking top billing. However, with so many other systems having at least some exposure in people’s gaming ‘career’ it was obvious that the competition in this area is still very open as people tend to choose systems based on current interest and need rather than popularity… although most newcomers to the hobby will likely still start with one of the ‘big’ ones.
*D&D covers original, basic or non-specified editions
Again there were no real surprises here although it was nice to see that there were some people who simply couldn’t specify one particular system and even a smattering of people who prefer their own custom/unpublished system to any of the mainstream options.
The real value to us, as burgeoning designers, however, came from the rationalised view of what the participants found lacking, if anything, from their favourite systems.
We know that is quite a busy pie… donut?… but stick with us as there is some real gold in there. A desire for a wider range of products was probably the one we were expecting overall but the surprise top result was a desire for more social mechanics, roleplay value/rewards, and a greater variety of combat options… including uses for roleplay/social skills during combat!
Without going into each section in crazy detail there were some other things on there that we found really interesting. A desire for realism, gaming accessories, better/more flexible character creation options, and even downtime activities were all great to see from a design perspective. Even looking at it from a mechanical point of view the fact that there was a demand for easy to learn/run systems, comprehensive rules, and the time taken to play were all valuable pieces of information when planning a new system.
Huh, maybe we did go into more sections than we planned but can you blame us, it’s really interesting!
When we reviewed the preference for roleplay in a game the demand for more social mechanics and the like became much more evident. It should be somewhat obvious that people who engage in roleplaying games would want to have roleplay within their sessions but it isn’t an easy thing for some people to do. Some just prefer dungeon crawls and combat, and that is just fine too. The true beauty of the hobby is that there is something for everyone out there. However, seeing the tendency towards more roleplay rather than less is still a very useful piece of market research.
Monetisation… aka the Business bit
While it can be crass to talk about money, games don’t develop themselves… trust us, they really don’t! As a result, we wanted to see whether the current price point of existing products was carefully considered based on supply and demand or a blatant cash grab by evil corporations.
Turns out that expectation is pretty close to existing pricing structures, which could be conditioning through experience but we think is likely just that people are willing to pay a fair price for a quality product. While the average for a PDF version was naturally the lowest we should give an honourable mention to the handful of people who stated that they wouldn’t purchase a PDF version, preferring the more tactile physical options.
Looking at supplementary products it was interesting to see that there was a relatively even spread across the options with many people happily checking every option. While there is still a strong market for physical accessories (miniatures, terrain, dice etc.), it was useful to see that digital options in the form of apps and VTT integrations showed us that a wise developer would have plans to cover those off as their product matures.
Expansion books being the top result fitted nicely with the expectation that users of a system will always want more when they find a system that they enjoy. The cautionary tale here, however, is the fine line between a true expansion and a ‘splatbook‘, if your system is mature and popular enough to warrant splat releases then all power to you (and we are jealous of your success) but they are generally very specialised products that will have a natural niche appeal.
As expected there were some areas that held few, or no, surprises but that even held value when establishing a baseline ahead of a future release into the market.
One factor that was very interesting, was the mirroring of trends worldwide. With the caveat that our data pool was reasonably small, it was useful to see that preferences in Europe were the same as in the US and that those parallel markets still matched the trends shown worldwide.
Ultimately the takeaway for us, as game designers, was that there is absolutely room for new products as well as a strong desire for supplementary products for existing systems, both physically and digitally. With tabletop gaming, in general, seeing somewhat of a renaissance period it is an exciting time to be working on products and it is our belief that this hobby can only ever benefit from collaboration and competition… much like in the games we play.
The plan is to run another survey when we are further down the development roadmap to drill into some of the more interesting aspects of this one. Stay tuned for your opportunity to have your say.
We’ll leave you with this wonderful word cloud based on people’s reasons for playing TTRPGs.