D&D will not bring more people to your event
An old friend of mine told me today that a gaming event in which he participates has decided to prohibit volunteer GMs from running games other than D&D 5e. The rationale being that D&D is popular and thus will encourage greater attendance.
Let me tell you: it will not.
I’ve been running Chicago Gameday for about twelve years now, and in that time I have tracked attendance and performed both formal and informal polls of our attendees. I have never seen a correlation between the popularity of any one game and overall attendance at our event. Quite the contrary, I have seen play-tests of unknown games fill up in minutes, while at the same time a Pathfinder event get canceled because no one signed up.
Think about this argument: by running something really mainstream, you’re competing with more possible avenues for players. I.e., if I can find a D&D 5e table any time I want, why would I choose your D&D event over any other?
On top of this, I have found that while some popular games may draw players, they often won’t create fans of your event. E.g., your Pathfinder event was one of many they happened to choose that day (maybe to earn network points or something), and the next time your event happens they may or may not care about showing up.
Now, I will throw in a big caveat here and say that a lot will depend on the nature of your event and your local community. And there’s no doubt that if a certain game is “hot” right around a Gameday, I will often see a bump in interest. But maybe not! Nothing is a given.
The fact is this: If you don’t know anything concrete about your community, your assumptions about it are probably wrong. Get data, and proceed based on what it reveals.
Talk to your attendees. Take polls — Google Forms lets you do this for free. Track attendance and look for trends. Take chances on new games that may be drawing in players who can’t find other avenues to play them.
Not to mention: it’s illogical to be turning away volunteer GMs if your goal is to grow your event. A game run with skill and enthusiasm by a passionate GM will net you more in the long run than a mediocre one run by someone under an obligation.
You goal should not be just to give people a place to play D&D/PF/etc. Your goal should be to create fans of your event who want to come back again and again — no mater what games are on the schedule.
Encourage diversity! Seek out passion over popularity! Don’t just cater to a community — cultivate one.