This past summer, I became a first-time player of Dungeons and Dragons (D&D). I knew nothing about the game before I started playing, aside from it being a major source of entertainment for the kids in Stranger Things. An article was published by NPR recently titled, “The ‘Critical Role’ of Dungeons and Dragons During the Pandemic” which spoke to the increase of D&D players and overall popularity of the game (and game-related podcasts and social media content) over the last year. Now that I have some experience playing it, I understand why this game and its associated content has surged in popularity during the COVID-19 pandemic. For me, the game became a way to not only socialize with friends, but ultimately became a fantastical escape from the reality we were facing on the daily. After reading the article by NPR, I wanted to look further into the data around D&D gameplay and how it might have increased due to the pandemic.
For those who don’t know anything about D&D, here’s a quick overview:
- First published in 1974
- Widely viewed as the catalyst for modern role-playing games.
- Comprised of a game-master (GM) who leads players through a one-off adventure, or a series of adventures (a campaign)
- Almost everything in the game is improvised, from your adventures to your characters
- Because of how improvised the game is, players can spend hours devising a character and, in some cases, years playing a game.
- Fun fact: the longest D&D campaign has been running for the last 38 years.
Due to the nature of the game, it’s very difficult to know how many players there are worldwide. The most recent estimate of worldwide players comes directly from the president and CEO of Wizards of the Coast (the company that owns D&D) on Twitch: D&D 5e edition is played by about 9.5 million people actively as of 2017. This number is only for table-top games. The introduction of virtual tabletops like Roll20 and Fantasy Grounds (and even Zoom) have provided a new and easier way for players in 2020-2021 to get into tabletop RPG games.
One way to look at how gameplay has increased is by taking a look at Roll20’s blog. About every fiscal quarter, Roll20 publishes The Orr Group Industry Report, which explores trends in the tabletop gaming industry. The Orr Group Industry Report looks at how Roll20 is being used as a platform to facilitate a wide range of table-top RPGs, not just D&D. The two main metrics analyzed are Campaign Percentage (how many Roll20 campaigns use the specified game system) and Account Percentage (how many Roll20 users play the specified game). Below are a few simplified charts I created from analyzing the quarterly reports to show how D&D 5e gaming has increased over the last year:
Campaign Percentages and Account Percentages for Q3 of 2020 are higher than they’ve been since before 2019. Both of these metrics show that not only are the number of D&D campaigns increasing on Roll20’s virtual platform, but the number of active players is increasing as well. In the Q2 2020 Report, dated August 4, 2020, the Roll20 Team says, “This quarter, players around the world brought their dungeon-crawling campaigns online, and Dungeons & Dragons 5E saw the largest overall increase of any game system on Roll20.” This shows that in the few months following the start of the pandemic, virtual D&D gaming through Roll20 spiked more than any other RPG in their analysis. Knowing that a large portion of D&D players play from home, whether in person or socially-distanced through Zoom, it’s easy to imagine that the increase we clearly see in D&D gameplay on virtual platforms reflects an increase in at-home gaming as well.