Not All Gamers are Plugged In

One of the common misconceptions about gamers is that they’re all plugged in—they’re all on the internet, they all read forums and keep up with publisher’s blogs, they subscribe to podcasts and know what’s being released when.

This is hogwash. There are many gamers that don’t get news from anyplace except their local gaming store, and are largely or entirely insulated from trends in the gaming industry. Their hobby is one or two games that they buy and/or play. They come into the store once every few months, pick up anything new for their game of choice, and go home. They may see other games on the shelf, but they don’t know what’s in them and they don’t have the time or inclination to learn. They don’t participate in public/organized games at the store, they don’t go to conventions — they have friends that they game with, and that’s that.

Last fall I was in my FLGS and another customer saw me picking up a wide variety of new releases. He asked if I was a “game collector” and I said no, I just try to keep up-to-date on what other companies are doing, as I work in the game industry. He then asked me what superhero games were good these days, and I pointed him to Mutants and Masterminds on the shelf (I also mentioned HERO, but said local store doesn’t stock it). He asked how you make characters, and I said “Well, it’s a point-based system” — his reply was “What’s a point-based system?”

I briefly explained what a point-based system was, and he found it incredibly difficult to understand that you could make a character in this game without picking some sort of archetype/class/template first: “So how do I make a speedster?” “Well, you build up the right stats and buy powers to make him faster.” “But how do you know he’s a speedster?!”

So, three things that a five minute conversation with this guy revealed:

  1. Even though he likes supers, he’s never read or even flipped through Mutants & Masterminds, one of the two most popular superhero RPGs of the last decade, despite the title being in regular stock at the local store we both shop at.
  2. He didn’t know what a point-based system was and had never (knowingly) played a game that used them.
  3. He had never (knowingly) played a game that didn’t involve archetypes/classes/templates of some sort.

None of those things are bad — if he’s having fun gaming, that’s great. But it does show that until someone actually stepped in and directly gave him that information, he had never learned or experienced three things that I suspect the average “tabletop gamer on the internet” would consider common knowledge.


  1. Even if a gamer is plugged in, there are so many games, so many systems, so many genres, so many variants of all of those, that they can’t play, learn about, test, play, and enjoy every single one of them. I am sure you would agree, despite best efforts to keep up with them. That’s not even counting the electronic games that most of the gamers that are plugged in would be more interested in most of the time.

    What I find odd is that electronic games have not picked up on the point based systems. I have tried lots and lots of MMO’s (and lots of regular P&P RPG’s), but I keep coming back to SR. I dislike being locked into a path from beginning to end. The thought of The Holy Trinity of MMO’s makes me cringe. In SR, there is no such thing. There are archetypes, but even within each one, there are variations. And no one is the end all be all of that archetype!

  2. Honestly, I cannot imagine how ANYONE can function in the modern world without being plugged in. Though, even though I am on the net, and try to keep up, things still get by me. For instance, I had thought that Mutants and Masterminds was a d20 game until recently, and I had not known they had done a WildCards book until I saw it on my FLGS’ shelf. I admit that, when Mutants and Masterminds first came out, EVERYONE was doing a d20 game of some sort, so that is where that perception came from. (The death of d20 as an OGL product is means new systems coming out are, in fact, new systems…)

    And, honestly, I have dozens of systems I have gotten. I call myself a game collector, even though I actually try to play all of them….(I really need to
    find the right sort of group and place to try out
    Bacchanal, one day…where I live is too conservative)

    All in all, I find myself following Catalysts stuff and Palladium, because everything else is just a lot to try and keep up with.

    • For instance, I had thought that Mutants and Masterminds was a d20 game until recently, and I had not known they had done a WildCards book until I saw it on my FLGS’ shelf. I admit that, when Mutants and Masterminds first came out, EVERYONE was doing a d20 game of some sort, so that is where that perception came from. (The death of d20 as an OGL product is means new systems coming out are, in fact, new systems…)

      1. Mutants and Masterminds is derived from the d20 System, it just doesn’t use the d20 license.
      2. The OGL is irrevocable. Anyone can still publish material that’s been put under the OGL, whether it was d20-based material or not. It’s the d20 System Trademark License that is no longer available for use.
  3. Excellent post, Adam. I think it’s easy for game industry folk and “hard-core” hobbyists who are plugged-in to exist in the kind of echo-chamber formed by our forums, mailing lists, and other online venues and forget there’s a larger world of hobbyist gamers who know nothing about the “trends” dominating our discussions and just want to have and play a few good games.

  4. Honestly, I cannot imagine how ANYONE can function in the modern world without being plugged in.

    While there are gamers that aren’t plugged in at all, there are probably more gamers who simply aren’t plugged into gaming. They check news sites and blogs and forums, but they aren’t gaming related news sites, blogs and forums.

    Even those that do follow some gaming sites often don’t follow more than a couple. Maybe a local forum and the forum for their favorite game, and that’s it.

    It’s a very small number of gamers that follow the industry as a whole.

    While the gamer Adam ran into who was unfamiliar with point based character generation is probably on the extreme end, the gamer that is aware of every new release before it comes out is on the other extreme. My guess is that the majority of gamers fall somewhere in the middle, which is less knowledgeable than is often commonly assumed by those in the industry.

    • While there are gamers that aren’t plugged in at all, there are probably more gamers who simply aren’t plugged into gaming. They check news sites and blogs and forums, but they aren’t gaming related news sites, blogs and forums.

      Sure. End result is the same, though! (Unless the places said gamer hangs out online are likely targets for some sort of promotional campaign … )

  5. Yep; I’m one of a grand total of two people in my group who follow anything but a company/system or two online, and only one other guy does that via WotC and CCP/WW. Of the two, the other guy is not involved in communities at all beyond occasional lurking, except for the homebrew MUD he’s been doing for years. A fourth guy plays a homebrew on Second Life but isn’t involved in any tabletop communities.

    Many of them use the Internet aggressively, but to be honest, they aren’t so much unaware as not into the bullshit, really. The online fandom really turned them off.

  6. It’s a good thing to keep in mind when designing games, planning marketing, etc.: even “plugged-in” gamers don’t read about EVERYTHING on the internet, in genre publications and the like. I’m pretty well plugged-in, yet I find myself fairly often surprised about new developments or tweaks.

  7. Sure. End result is the same, though! (Unless the places said gamer hangs out online are likely targets for some sort of promotional campaign … )

    True, but I was mostly responding to StCptMara’s comment about not understanding how people could function in the modern world without being plugged in.

    I think there are probably places that could be looked at for promotional campaigns. For example, most gamers I know read web comics, most of which offer advertising at reasonable rates. The trick is identifying which ones are most likely to be read by your target audience, but this is one area where polling the portion of people who are “plugged in” directly to your company would probably be a good start.

    There are probably other areas of opportunity out there as well.

    • Fulminata — fyi, the blockquote HTML tag will help your quotes stand out. I’m going to sneak in and edit your previous comments for clarity.

  8. Your blog was cross posted onto Toronto Area Gamers, which is the only place I go for gaming. Here is my response to the thread that was started there. Hope it lends to the discussion here.

    Interesting article. I like the fact that he is not saying that people are not online, but that gamers are not necessarily plugged into the gaming industry online.

    In which case I definitely fall into that category. Which, I realize may seem counter intuitive to the folks that know me. After all, I spend upwards of 10 hours a day (often more) online.

    The issue for me is that I’m paid to be online following media, government, specific policy and industry developments. I could spend all day everyday reading the mainstream and not so mainstream media sites, podcasts, forums and blogs for the areas that I work in and still really only be scratching the surface.

    As a result the last thing I want to do in my personal / hobby life is spend more time online. I get 99.9% of my gaming information from people I interact with live in the gaming community. That is people who I play games with, or go to social gaming events with. I think that is the one thing that differentiates me from the person Adam describes is that I like variety and I go out of my way in person to find it. Being a member of this group [TAG] and going to conventions provides me with more information than I can digest on gaming trends, but I do know that I’m only absorbing a small fraction of that information and that fraction is filtered through the opinions of the people who give it to me rather than sources that I’m going to first hand.

  9. Is it actually a common misconception though? I mean, online we often behave as though our audience is all present in the ether, but I don’t think we actually believe it to be the case. It always struck me, while building and releasing Diaspora, that part of our marketing assumption was that our market starts out as a niche of a niche of a niche — the internet-maintained, science-fiction, role-playing game.

    I guess I’m saying I’m interested in hearing about the genuine misconceptions. Who has misconceived and in what way?

  10. Hi, BeagleSmuggler.

    Suppose I was a small to mid-tier game publisher interested in getting information about my game or book or whatever is is that I publish to gamers like you.

    Are you saying that you’re basically full up on games and gaming with your current groups and pipelines, or do you think there’s a good marketing strategy for reaching folks at your general level of engagement?

    Suppose (for the sake of argument) that these publishers aren’t interested in harassing you, just interested in finding ways to reach people like you who aren’t connected in the same way lots of their most hardcore fans are.


  11. Hi Jeff,

    Good question, I’ve been struggling with this while trying to help out a few small-press friends. I’m in communications, but not the marketing end of things, so not an expert there.

    A few notable difference between someone like me and Adam’s example. Unlike Adam’s example I’m not locked into one game that I play long term to the exclusion of knowledge about any / all others.

    I do really enjoy getting and playing new material. I organize with Toronto Area Gamers, we set up monthly socials where people test play and I personally host two monthly ‘one-shot’ nights one which is focused entirely on small-press games.

    That being said, aside from my little foray here the only gaming forum I am active on is Toronto Area Gamers, I really don’t have the time to become invested in the online gaming community. So that does beg the question of ‘how to reach me’ since I would think I’m one of the people most likely to try and promote a small press game.

    One way is to hope for the trickle down theory. While I am not actively involved in online gaming communities many of the people who come to the one-shots are, and they frequently tell me about new games / old games / favourite games they would like to see played on these nights. And, this is typically how I choose games – simply based on who tells me about what.

    Another way may be to get involved in some of these communities. While I do organize the one-shots I try to get others to run the games so that I am not always in the GM seat. One of my biggest ‘wishes’ for the group would be to draw in game industry folks who would be willing to on occasion run a ‘one-shot’ for members and maybe even sell their games. I think being able to sit down with someone in the gaming industry – be it the writer, designer or artist – and play a game they helped create is a big draw for players. Of course it’s really time intensive for the game industry folks so I get that this may be relegated to conventions and one gaming organization that is in your home town.

    Lastly I’d suggest mainstream social media. I have to be on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube for work, every single day. While most of my news feed is mainstream media news and politics, I do pay special attention to gaming news that my gaming friends pass through my feed. It’s the go where the people are theory as opposed to drawing the people to you. Yes, your share of voice will be less in a mainstream forum, but if you create wide enough networks and put up relevant content, then people who are living mainstream and vacationing in gaming land will get the news.

    Hope that helps.

  12. Hi BeagleSmuggler,

    Interestingly, I think I’m fairly plugged in – however, I’m spread thin across hobby games, video games (MMO / casual / Wii / other consoles, in roughly that order), scriptwriting, comics, horror / fantasy / sf, and what not. As is, I miss lots in every category, but try to create a broader tapestry.

    But I had no idea there was a Toronto Area Gamers group. And being in TO, I should look it up. 🙂

  13. I should point out that BeagleSmuggler’s post is actually indicative of the “trickle-down” theory — I posted this article, it got linked to in my various social network profiles, a friend of mine in the Toronto Area Gamers posted it to their forums, and BeagleSmuggler read it, posted there, and then hopped over here to have their say.

    Brad: The game industry is notoriously poor about identifying why something failed, beyond the obvious big reasons. I don’t have an anecdotal “this game failed because the publisher worked too hard to please a vocal minority of the fanbase” story.

    I do think it’s safe to say that many games from new companies that try to print thousands of books and sell those into retail end up not succeeding based on not being able to raise enough awareness — even if they get the books into stores, that is not enough. If Mutants and Masterminds can sit on the shelf for 9-ish years and a gamer that likes supers and visits the store at least monthly doesn’t even know what it is, a lesser-publicized game would suffer the same fate.

  14. Hey Jess,

    Yes, you should. We’re new(ish) it’s 100% volunteer and 100% fan-based. The general idea is to facilitate gamers meeting other gamers in the hopes that we’ll do crazy things like discover new games and…well… play them.

    For this forum, as a volunteer organization we’re always looking for ways to bring our members new things. So I would think that industry folks that want to promote to fan groups would be well received.

  15. Though this is true, I wonder if this is more the exception than the rule. It might be worth putting a survey up online. 😛 Ok, I kid.

    It’s too bad that FLGS’s don’t try to help in bringing these people into the fold.

    I think there’s your point of people not being plugged in to gaming stuff via the online world and some just being not plugged into gaming. Either way, lets hope more people gamers help out with getting people into the hobby.

    • Well, something to consider from the FLGS perspective: most people have a fixed amount of they can spend on gaming in any given time. Introducing someone to a new game line might not mean they spend more money at the store, and if they move to that new line and then move interest, they may end up being lost as a customer. OR, they may be one of the consistent customers that holds up a certain game line in the store, and lowered sales of that line result in the store not being able to stock as much stuff for it, leading to less exposure and fewer sales in the end.

      It’s complicated; giving people more information doesn’t necessarily result in them spending more or even the same amount of money.

  16. In my experience, the vast majority of gamers aren’t plugged in. Many have never read a RPG forum, or listened to a gaming podcast. In fact, I would bet that most haven’t even read the rules for the one game they play.

    A couple of months ago, I met up with someone who has been DMing since 1980, at a local con (his first) and he had never played any RPGs other than D&D, and World of Warcraft. There’s no gaming store in his town. He didn’t know that D&D had a 4th edition. And despite his 5 years of WoW, he doesn’t have an active email account. He’s never had a cell phone. And he works in IT!

  17. Another thread you can take from this is that some people use archetypes as their way to interpret a system. There are some people, who if you put a points based system in front of them, will gravitate to the example characters and “file the serial numbers off” as the saying goes, not because they want to play that character, necessarily, but because rules systems as a form of character-concept-recording are just alien to them. They’ll pick the large scale package and get a GM or another player to work out the internal details for them.

    • Josh: This is true about some gamers, but I’m 99% sure it doesn’t apply to this particular guy.

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