16 September 2023

New Campaigns on Obsidian Portal (2023 Update)

tl;dr: but for a slight growth in Pathfinder 2e, system popularity seems to be very similar to last year.

As Roll20 has just stopped publishing the handy Orr Reports, we have to look elsewhere to get a sense of the ebb and flow of games popularity. It has been a whole year so we can turn once more to new campaigns on Obsidian Portal to try and read the tea-leaves of what is going on out there. This was initially sparked by Troy Press writing in 2019 on RPG campaigns played by system then I used the Wayback Machine to take capture the number of campaigns back through time through to 2008.

To recap - This was done by loading the Campaigns page on Obsidian Portal and noting the campaigns per system for each year available (back to 2008) using the Wayback Machine. Happily the format never changed to greatly and it is possible to get a roughly mid-year capture for every year.

Looking at the raw numbers of new campaigns added since last we looked, we see a pretty straight line trend this time - no great shift in behaviour, 5e still dominant.

I reality checked what we were seeing against Roll20 numbers for as long as those were available (2014-2021) so it seems to be coherent for digital players.

If we normalise these varying number of campaigns, so we just see what fraction of new joiners each year go for which system, we can pick out shift in preferences a little more clearly. Here we see Pathfinder 2e continues to grow, the share of 'non-D&D' continues to fade, everything else pretty much goes sideways.

As noted before way back we can see the last days of 3.5e and the switch to 4e (2008-2009), then 4e stumbling and the bifurcation between 4e, Pathfinder and the prolonged afterlife of 3.5e until 5e comes along (2010-2014). From 2015 4e is snuffed out like an asteroid strike, 3.5e slightly more slowly - I guess if you've clung on that long, what is a little longer? - and Pathfinder begins a long, slow fade.

Pulling out all the non-D&D and high-lighting the most popular ones we see the growth of variety until 5e then the slow decline, with some systems clinging on longer than others.

Looking at the D&D editions broken out and grouped individually makes some of the previous points clearer - when 5e dropped, Pathfinder begain to ramp down, 4e ceased to be and 3.5e faded to near nothing.

Looking at the non-D&D games we see some sub-trends - Star Wars popping in 2016, WoD bouncing around and fading slower than most, Call of Cthulu making and keeping some small gains. Starfinder popping up late in the day. L5R getting a bump last year.

Take the individual movements with a dose of salt, for all these games the numbers driving these graphs are relatively small - but overall we can say things seem to be grinding along in a pretty stable manner. Of course we could be seeing explosions in activity on other platforms but I think Obsidian Portal is interesting to look at because we *saw* the changes in preference for game system on here before, if they were happening today (or if they happen tomorrow) we can anticipate they will be visible here again.

This stability, the continued dominance of D&D, is despite the OGL snafu, despite WotC's various mis-steps. Is this just the calm before the storm that will be whatever 2024's edition will be? Time will tell.

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