James Mishler has a lot of experience in the RPG Industry. He gives his admittedly pessimistic view here . I wish a lot of the things he says isn't true but unfortunately he is accurate on how the RPG Industry has a lot of pressure on it.
However I don't agree with the pessimism or agree that it is becoming a zero sum game between publishers.
Quality sells. If you do it right the first time then you will be able to exploit the opportunities that come. Now what do you do and what is right can be hard to figure out. Microsoft rarely made great software the first time out. What they did right was the business side of software. So when IBM came looking for a Operating System Microsoft was ready and Gary Kildall of Digital Research (their CP/M was the leading OS of the day) was too busy flying his plane.
James over at Lamentation of a Flame Princess is blogging about everything he doing to become a professional publisher. I don't know whether he will succeed or not. But if an opportunity comes he looks like he has the passion, creativity and organization to take advantage of it.
But will those opportunities come? That is the big if.
Now I believe that the original D&D fad, and the later 3.0 explosion are once in a generation events. That do one outside of whoever own D&D is not likely to be able to reshape the industry. But then there are the Black Swans.
For a long time Europeans believed that Black Swans were impossible. At the height of the Age of Exploration on different continents all they found where white swans. But then they reached Australia and found the impossible, a species of black swans. A Black Swan is an unexpected event that totally reshapes everything that goes on after. Most of human history consists of series of Black Swans. This gets obscured because of historians applying hindsight.
An example of a Black Swan is the advent of Magic the Gathering. In 1990 who would have thought that CARD games would have been more dominate than RPGs by 2000. My own Black Swan came when I discovered not just one but three groups of high school kids playing NERO Live-Action in Northwest PA. Not just playing a little but in a highly organized manner. I was able to work with them and formed a full NERO chapter that went strong for a number of years. I was able to do this because two year priors I decided to learn how to run events in Pittsburgh NERO chapters (PRO). I had a good reputation and was able to take advantage of the opportunity.
The thing about Black Swans is that you can't control when they happen. The other things is that the form they take by definition is unexpected. So while it your work in RPGs that allows you to take advantage of it, the subsequent direction could be completely different. Much like Wizard of the The Coast shifting to a RPG company to a Card game company.
Because for many of us RPGs are a hobby, even when doing it professionally, the day will come when we have to turn aside to do other things. Until that day comes I will be doing what I can to make the best damn products I can make and just maybe I will catch another Black Swan.