Scott, having been head of the RPGA for quite some time, naturally has some great insights into that aspect of the hobby/industry. He stressed the point that having an organized play structure in place is exceedingly helpful for companies not only to market their own games, but to grow the market by bringing in fresh players.
Note, however, that just having that infrastructure isn’t enough. You have to know what to do with it. One of the things I found most striking at this convention was the comparison between how the RPGA was represented and how the Pathfinder Society was.
I found the difference between the two quite illuminating. While both Pathfinder Society and Living Forgotten Realms were well-represented in the schedule, I found the Pathfinder Society to do an overall better job of representing the flag. They had colorful posters with good art around the gaming hall that not only advertised their own group, and Pathfinder in general, but specific adventures as well. The RPGA had a white oversized printout that they shared with another, local-but-aspiring-to-more group called NAGA.
The Pathfinder Society GMs were easy to spot; they all wore shirts that clearly identified who they were and what they were playing. The RPGA GMs, not so much. I don’t have a dog in the Pathfinder-4E race, but my own impression was that the Pathfinder Society folks were better organized, better supported from their home base, and more enthusiastic than their RPGA counterparts.
How does this translate into sales, or growth in players? Well, hard numbers are difficult to come by, but according to the latest survey of retail stores by Purple Pawn, Pathfinder is far outstripping 4E in terms of sales. That’s in line with other industry estimates that have been coming out over the last year or two. I certainly won’t say that it all has to do with the way they are handling their organized play arms, but it certainly couldn’t be hurting that the Pathfinder Society seems more energetic, confident, and supported, and Pathfinder is doing better in retail stores.
There is one thing of which I am not certain, since I’m not a Pathfinder player myself (although I am on record as saying I think Paizo is doing everything right in terms of how to run a game company viz-a-viz their fan base) is how Pathfinder compares in in-store play as opposed to conventions. Do they have anything comparable to the WotC Lair Assault program? I’d be curious as to what other people’s experiences with organized play, either with RPGA, Pathfinder Society, C&C Society, etc. has been. Do your observations square with mine, or have you had a very different experience?