In response to all the doom and gloom predictions I have been hearing about role-playing for the past twenty-five years:
There can be more than one Golden Age, and I think we are entering a third. Some companies and stores are struggling, but the industry remains strong. Here's why:
In my home town, if I am looking for a game, I have six brick and mortar options, two dedicated game stores, a comic shop, Half-Priced Books, Borders, and Barnes and Noble. Add in internet vendors, and you have tons of options to buy whatever you are looking for at the price you want.
In the tiny town I live in, there isn't even a bookstore, but there is a game store, albeit a small and irregularly operated one.
I started gaming in 1984, and the only place that I used to shop that doesn't carry games anymore is Toys R' Us. Sure some dedicated game stores have closed, but that's the way of small businesses.
There are still big companies out there putting out product, but there are a lot more small press publishers, and the bar for publication and distribution is lower than it ever has been. I applaud the guy with a laptop who writes games on the side. He adds vibrancy to a hobby that should not ever be solely in the hands of corporations.
As a freelancer with one year in the industry, I am making enough to quit my part-time job tutoring in a publicly funded after school program. I couldn't support my family on what I make as a writer, yet, but I hope to be making as much as I would as a full time teacher in the next five years.
The internet has enabled a tremendous growth in game companies, though many are small affairs. As a freelancer, i have worked for companies in the US and Europe, something that would have been very difficult back in '84. Imagine how things will be once the industry manages to penetrate emerging markets in India and China? Whoever writes an rpg that has broad appeal in India will be very rich, assuming that gamers could potentially make up one half of one percent of the population (that's what, 5 million customers).
New gamers are being born, not just recruited. I know several gamers who have kids, and whose kids are growing up in the gaming culture. If we think our hobby is good, than it will be passed on to the next generation in ways that other hobbies, model trains or woodworking, just don't. The bar for entrance into role playing is low, if you can read, write, do some basic math, and have an imagination, you're in.
Roleplaying is a natural human activity, one that everyone engages in, what we do is add structure to it. Children who grow up in an environment where rpgs are a natural part of life are more likely to take them up when they are of an age to play them. Sure, there's the rebellion against the parent's thing, but that may very well take the form of not playing daddy's games.
Finally, the basic concepts and underlying premises of sci-fi, fantasy, and horror are now mainstream. How much easier is it going to be to attract new gamers when the genres our games are based on are so much more accessible? The very concept of playing a game based around the actions of a few heroes, where you take the role of one of the heroes is part and parcel of video games today. Once someone sees that they can transfer this from a system where they have limited (broader than they used to be, but still limited) choices to a system where they have nearly unlimited choices as to their character and actions (not to mention that settings are limited purely by ones imagination), the draw to tabletop role-playing should be obvious.
In summation, rpgs are here to stay and will continue to grow. They will evolve and change, as will the industry, but I foresee sitting around the table in forty years, breaking out D&D 15.65 and complaining with my friends about how they've changed it so much and 14.0 was such a better product. Then we'll actually play it , and stop whining long enough to have fun.