Tin Pan Alley and MMORPGs


I like old music. George Gershwin, Rogers and Hammerstein, that kind of thing. I was thinking about how music was distributed in those days. It was called Tin Pan Alley, and music sales weren’t measured in records sold–records were expensive–but in copies of sheet music sold. Consumers bought the sheet music of songs they liked, took it home, and played it with their friends and family. When records dropped in price after WWII, sales of sheet music were overwhelmed by record sales. Playing a record required less talent than playing sheet music, therefore more people could participate, and the mass market expanded. A record is a more finished product than a packet of sheet music. Thus, it requires less from its end user and so can reach more end-users. Sheet music became a tiny side business.

Tabletop RPGs are like sheet music. You buy the game you like, take it home, and play it with your friends. But MMORPGs are like records. They are a finished product requiring less talent and input from their end-users. This allows them to reach more end-users. And, are tabletop RPGs thus destined to become an even tinier side market than they have already been?

What else does this parallel indicate? A wider gap between creator and consumer. I’m sure there’s more there, but my weariness has overcome me.


2 Responses to “Tin Pan Alley and MMORPGs”

  1. 1 Anonymous

    Less Talent/Easier Distribution
    An astute observation, and a disturbing one to me at that.
    I’m also a musician, and find it interesting that music is often perceived as something you listen to, not something you do. There’s a perception that if you don’t do it impressively, there’s no point in doing it at all. I don’t play much anymore, but there’s a joy in playing an instrument and singing that I haven’t found an exact match for anywhere else, and I wish more people saw it that way.
    I hope that the art of running a good RPG doesn’t take that same direction, but I’d have to agree that it’s even more vulnerable for being a skill few possess in the first place.

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