Wednesday, December 21, 2022
According to Wikipedia, there are over 2,000 variants of chess. If you made a list of all those variants and noted down next to each of them how many people are regularly playing chess that way, the result would probably be not very surprising: A huge number of people will be playing chess by the standard rules, and then each variant is only played by a much smaller number of people. Dungeons & Dragons probably has far more than 2,000 variants, because nearly every table might either have some house rules that differ from the standard rules, or a different focus. I have been a member of a role-playing club for some time and played D&D with many different groups of people, and the result was always somewhat unique.
Computer games tend to have fewer variants. Yes, if the game is more of the "sandbox" variant, people might concentrate on different activities in the game. Somebody doing solo quests in World of Warcraft might have a very different experience of the game than somebody doing raiding. But it would be rather difficult to let's say invent and play a variant of League of Legends, so very few people do that. The computer taking care of all the rules, the user interface, and how the game is played, goes a long way to standardize the game experience. Especially in multi-player games, which tend to have better cheat prevention; a single-player game you can more likely find for example a god mode cheat code that gives you a different experience.
At some point in the not-so-far future, I'd estimate 2025, there will be a game called something like "One D&D Digital". It will be a virtual tabletop version of Dungeons & Dragons, and Hasbro / WotC will push this as the "one" official version of D&D. Presumably there will still be ways to play D&D offline. But if the digital version is any good, it will become the public face of Dungeons & Dragons. If you'll search for a video of people playing D&D on YouTube, you'll see them playing the digital version. Because if you want to have a maximum number of viewers, you'd better play the standard version of the game, not a variant with a lot fewer players. The standardized digital version will be the one with all the sponsorship deals. Plus the digital version will look a lot better than the offline version played with graph paper.
I'm okay with that. I already played a bit of the beta version of Baldur's Gate in multiplayer with my D&D friends, and in a way it *was* a sort of D&D game. I have no problem imagining a future in which such a multiplayer online game is considered the standard version of D&D, and is played by a lot more people than are playing offline around a table. There will be people who will say that playing digitally is not "real D&D", while others will complain about the monetization of digital D&D. But in the end this is the most likely path forward for this game.