Language and hobby gaming

*This article is only about tabletop role-playing games. Board games, for example, are a completely different entity.

All of the content on this site is in English but isn’t the only language I speak. This bilingualism leads to a lot of reflection on the preponderance of materials published primarily in English. It’s an even more peculiar thing to consider when one stops to add publishers like Free League into the mix because they aren’t based in an English-speaking country.

I have no official statistics, but I would hazard a guess that most “stuff” published for TTRPGs has an English-speaking audience in mind first. (That doesn’t include dice!) What underlines this is the lack of knowledge of games or products that haven’t been translated into English.

Film, television, literature, and music are all able to trade across borders and languages. Yes, the markets become smaller when a creative product migrates from one place to another. This is true for everything. Why is gaming so stilted towards English?

Is there more buying power in anglophone markets? There could be something to consider regarding the affluence of the United States. The G7, a composition of some of the world’s most advanced economies, comprised of Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom, and the United States, as well as the European Union. (Not quite “7”, but I don’t make up the names for these things) Three countries can be comfortably described as English-speaking, and have a combined population of over 400,000,000 people. I don’t think that alone explains everything, though.

For example, people speak Spanish in Europe and across South, Central, and North America. That’s many people. When was the last time anyone heard of a Spanish-language gaming product that wasn’t translated into English? It’s rare.

Just to test this, I searched for products by language in DriveThruRPG. I wanted to test how much stuff might be available. I tried several languages: English, French, German, and Spanish.

  • English turned up 134646 products
  • French turned up 1459 products
  • German turned up 3089 products
  • Spanish turned up 1398 products

While DriveThru has other languages, I think the results are pretty obvious. There is a strong tendency towards publishing in English. Anyone reading this might want to raise some objections.

For example, DriveThru is a US-based website and could steer the bulk of products to be manufactured by anglophones for anglophones. This situation where an unintentional monopoly exists might lead me to look for alternatives, but I don’t know what those might be. Leave links in the comments. The sites I know about are, and actually that’s it. I honestly don’t know of any sites that might have their business offices in a country where the primary language isn’t English. France or Germany? Probably a site like Drivethru exists over there, but I do not know what it might be. A lack of knowledge about the existence of those companies doesn’t change the number of resources available in English relative to other languages.

Someone might be asking, why would this matter? What’s it to me, the average gamer, if there’s more stuff available in English as opposed to any other language? Does it matter? I mean, people can just homebrew content, right?

Yes, people can just make up their own. That’s true, but homebrewed content has its way into being a “for-purchase” product. Not everyone has time to homebrew everything. The lack of resources available in languages that aren’t English is a little unfair to people who are used to something else as their first language. It’s not because you speak French or some other language that you suddenly have more time.

Let’s also consider where the money goes. Publishers that can create content in English will probably do better than the companies that can’t produce content in English. It seems a simple thing, but the ramifications are that there are gross inequalities in the TTRPG industry. Speaking English means making more money. I want to point out that this doesn’t mean a product of superior quality, rather; it means that a gamer is more likely to find a product in English rather than French, or any other language.

A third point is that this deference to English makes the hobby look like something only English speakers do, or at least that it is primarily an English-speaking hobby. That doesn’t seem accurate, nor is it fair. Many people love TTRPGs but don’t speak English as their first language, if at all. It’s a shame that things are this way for this pastime.

While there aren’t many obvious answers to this situation, there are a couple of possibilities. First, people could translate products as stretch goals in crowd-funding campaigns. Exploiting crowd-funding to grow the audience for a game/publisher/supplement would be a convenient way of ensuring products get out into other languages, especially when gamers stop and think about how popular this approach to backing resources has become.

Another approach could be from publishers offering community-developed products better cash incentives to translate existing stuff. If someone makes more money, they might be inclined to try harder. An improved payscale isn’t a perfect solution, but once again, the money goes a long way toward encouraging people’s efforts.

A lack of diversity in language is a complicated situation and not one I can do justice to here. However, it is something worth considering. English has become the de facto language of the TTRPG hobby, and it isn’t exactly clear why. It doesn’t have to be this way, and I wonder what kinds of products could be out there. Language can be a barrier to creation. The hobby suffers because of this, no matter how much stuff sees the light of day.

As has been stated, I am aware that 100% of the content on this site is in English. Yes, I know that makes me slightly hypocritical. As I laid out last year in my plan for 2023, I aim to post things in French. This article explains why I think that’s important, not just for French, but for any language.





2 responses to “Language and hobby gaming”

  1. mikemonaco Avatar

    At this point there are more English speakers (though I think most would be English as a second, third, or fourth language) than even Mandarin. So if I had to guess, it’s a combination of the earliest RPGs being in English and setting a sort of precedent for most older RPG players of any first language, the many English-language internet forums for RPGs, and potential market share, as you noted. When I think of non-English RPGs, the only ones that come quickly to mind are Drakar och Demoner (Swedish), Das Schwarze Auge (German), and Aqualarre (Spanish). Aqualarre was fairly recently translated into English, although a lot of the terminology, including classes, weapon names, and so on are untranslated as they are very setting-specific to the Iberian peninsula in the 14th/15th century. I only learned about it at all because I was looking for games that used historical settings. I don’t know if DoD has been translated, but only people interested in the history of RPGs seem to know about it. I’m pretty sure DSA has also been translated, but I first heard about via a computer RPG based on it that came out in the late 1980s — “Darklands” or something like that. I imagine there are lots of games with no English translations from the early days that are unknown outside their home languages.
    Aqualarre kind of illustrates your point. It is very tied to the setting, which the English-speaking world is so much less familiar with than England and northern Europe of the same period. I mean, I don’t think there would be much point to trying to “translate” the setting to medieval England or Germany or whatever. In a market with hundreds of RPGs set in “generic medieval fantasy” it’s wild so few games take advantage of the rich folklore and cultures of specific countries and other eras.
    As a side note, as an American I find the differences between English-language RPGs written by Americans vs those by British authors interesting too. Americans have a very different idea of the middle ages, where most FRPGs are set, than Europeans. Not sure if cultural differences are as sharp in games set in modern times or sci-fi.


    1. pulpculturemuseum Avatar

      All great points! Thank you for reading and taking the time to comment. I appreciate it!


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