Monday, March 29, 2021

The Matt Mercer effect is really interesting.

Matt Mercer is an elite DM and makes a ton of money from Critical Role and other products. He
is widely successful, and he is responsible for Dungeons & Dragons
becoming a bedrock of pop culture.

I belong to several RPG (roleplaying game communities) on Facebook. Some boast hundreds of thousands of members. I go there to see what people are talking about, what the current outrage is, and to see what other dungeon master's (this is a term used to describe a person who hosts the game rather than someone who is dressed in leather and whipping another in a sex dungeon) are struggling with. I sometimes offer my own advice, as I would describe myself as being an expert in this particular hobby of mine (playing Dungeons & Dragons). Not to brag, but, I've always felt that I was the equal to any of the other "famous DM's" who run games for players online and who have gathered millions of followers. I've had people in my old home town actually come up to me (strangers) to shake my hand because they heard from people who used to play with me (I haven't lived there for fourteen years) who still talk about the games I used to run. And I've only gotten better with the newest edition of D&D (called Fifth edition).

Anyway, if you take a tour through these RPG communities, which are full of fresh faces and people discovering the hobby for the first time, you can encounter discussions of "the Mercer effect." This is a term that describes the unrealistic expectations of new D&D players who believe their games will be similar to the online broadcast episodes of Critical Role (it averages 40,000 views for a live stream and broke a Kickstarter record by raising over $11.3 million--it also has an animated series on Prime Video). Matt Mercer is a semi-famous person who runs D&D games, and he's a voice actor, and a lot of his players are voice actors as well. A familiar instance of the "Matt Mercer" effect then is when new players, unaware of their own inexperience and how that impacts the game, become disenfranchised when their own Dungeon Master cannot be as entertaining and engaging as Matt Mercer.

There are literally hundreds of posts in Dungeons & Dragons forums with DM's asking for advice on "How do I beat the Matt Mercer effect?" In other words, DM's feel like they are letting their players down (which they absolutely are...let's not quibble and what is going on here) by not being as engaging with new players. And the players stop returning to their games, or if they do...the satisfaction of the DM who is running the game becomes so low that they stop, and that kills the weekly fun. This (of course) is not the intent of Matt Mercer (who is playing on an elite level). But it is fascinating to see.

Even though my goals are widely different from Matt Mercer, I have never had this issue. I don't want to be famous, I don't want to monetize my hobby at all, and I like connecting with a group of eight individuals who I handpick to get to know and run stories for. However, my entire goal with respect to D&D has always been to have an elite game and play at an elite level, and I've finally achieved that. So, I don't feel any different. I had a couple of newbie players say to me recently, "Playing with you is exactly what I'd feel playing with Matt Mercer would be like." I didn't need this compliment, but I said "thank you." However, it was something I already knew. Part of my confidence comes from that fact that I know I spin interesting stories. That is half of the battle right there. Some people just have an active imagination, and others do not. Nearly all of you who are reading my words right now are people with incredible imaginations, which is why you are published authors. And I've read a lot of your work out there, and I can reassure you that all of you are just as creative as me (and Matt Mercer--whom you've probably never heard about until now). But we all have different goals with what we want to do with our talents.

However, it has taken me literally decades to come to terms with how "different" people are from one another. There are people out there who don't have imaginations. I have met them, and it is very difficult for them to see anything that isn't real or spelled out to them. That must be a kind of curse, especially if what you want to do is entertain people with your own stories. A lot of these people also seem to have "side-effects" of this kind of curse, in that they don't want to read any materials to absorb ideas because "reading is boring." And yet, they try to run games like D&D, and they do a terrible job at it because it isn't something in their wheelhouse. It would be like a person who is bad at math declaring that their life's ambition is to be a rocket scientist. That's a really difficult thing to accomplish in the first place, and it's even mores if you are bad at math.

Anyway, to finish, I think that the "Matt Mercer effect" is an interesting phenomenon to which there really isn't a solution anymore than there is a solution for low self-esteem and a way to convince people to lower their expectations.


  1. Maybe you should be making YouTube videos of your games. Get some sponsors from Patreon or something like that.

    1. @Pat: I don't want to monetize my hobby. I love my games and my players love them too. That's enough for me.

  2. What is that thing called where newbies think they're way better at something than those with experience? It sounds like some newbie DMs think they can be good as Mercer at the beginning, and then when people don't fawn all over them, they stop trying. Because even with imagination, I don't see how someone can be a good DM without having done it for a while.