I been playing and refereeing roleplaying games since I was in Junior High School in 1978. I started with the Holmes Blue Book and quickly snapped up the AD&D hardbacks when they came out. I did not know about original D&D at the time. Unbelievably the summer prior to getting Holmes I was teasing for NOT playing Dungeons & Dragons. The kid in question was waving a original D&D white box at me.
So I been playing for a long time and I got to thinking about the different generations of gamers. I always felt I was part of a 2nd wave with the folks playing OD&D part of the 1st generations. I the Blackmoor and Greyhawk folks were the zeroth generation predating any publication.
When I got in roleplaying games and wargames were at the height of their popularity and even in a town of 15,000 in rural NW PA there were plenty of games to be had of both variety. I would say the 3rd generation was post Dragonlance. By then D&D was big business and the physical quality of the books were noticeably better. Although D&D fatigue was setting in among the more experienced gamers. The slack was taken up mostly by playing other genres with games like Traveller and Call of Cthulu. Around this time Battletech became the first quasi-RPG wargame to really hit big. At least in western PA.
Number of RPGs increased with a variety of complexity and focus from the zaniness of Toon, the even more zany Paranoia to the extreme customization of Champion/Hero system, and GURPS. Also licensed properties like Star Trek, Star Wars, etc were abound.
Then 2nd edition AD&D was released. Which I am sure made an easier game to learn for the newcomer but was met with mostly blah among experienced gamers. (Again from my point of view). Shortly after, the first real big sea change came into roleplaying with the release of Vampire the Masquerade by White Wolf. I would call this the 4th generation as a whole new segment of gamers came into the hobby and for the first time the ladies were well represented.
Then RPGs really took at hit with Magic the Gathering. There for a while most roleplaying was shut down as our hobby time was consumed with the card game. This was also the time of late 2nd AD&D and TSR financial woes. For a while it seemed to me that White Wolf was poised to be top dog in a shrunken RPG hobby.
Then 3rd edition D&D hit. Which inaugurated the 5th generation and had the salutatory effect of drawing in a lot of folks who given up playing D&D and RPGs. Plus the landscape of the professional and hobby side was changed with OGL and the d20 SRD. It was eerily similar to how the openness of the original IBM PC impacted the computer industry. (Something that I experienced as well)
Currently I feel we are in the 6th generation of roleplaying. 4th edition D&D broke the legacy of D&D 3.X enough to cause a new group of gamers to dominate the largest segment of the hobby. Also like the White Wolf era this is a generation that is defined by more than a D&D edition change. The Open Game License, the Internet, and Print on Demand are creating new secondary areas of the hobby.
Some might object to the dominance of D&D in how I view the generations. The simple fact that D&D been top dog since day one. The vast majority of gamers are introduced to the hobby through the various editions of D&D. Doesn't mean that it the only game in down but when it sneezes we all catch cold. When sales run hot the hobby and industry is in a boom.
As for the future the answer is pretty much as it always was. It will go to those who put in the work to create it, to those who learn from the best (and worst) of the past and continue to forge head.
Hope you enjoyed this trip down memory lane.