Innovation in Business Q4 2022

May21135 The Rise of an Empire: How Critical Role Helped Shape an Industry As so many things do, Critical Role, the now multi-million-dollar company, started small. What began as a tabletop roleplay group in 2012 is now one of the highest-earning entities on the platform it broadcasts from on Thursday nights, and a full-blown international phenomenon. Of course, with such incredible growth over a short period of time, there have been wider implications for tabletop roleplay in the macro scale; not only has this propelled the hobby into mainstream prominence, but it has given wings to the rise of TTRPG broadcasting as an industry, with all the opportunities and challenges such a paradigm shift entails. -From defeating imaginary dragons in living rooms to doing the same before a camera and a multitude of viewers, Critical Role has experienced incredible growth as a brand and as a community. Indeed, since it broke away from its original host channel Geek and Sundry to become Critical Role LLC, it has achieved a great number of truly astounding landmarks; from Kickstarting huge multimedia content projects in a matter of hours to gathering huge sums for charity, all its cumulative efforts have earned it a firm place in the hearts and minds of the international tabletop roleplaying game community. As a result, the community itself has undergone somewhat of a renaissance. Although the hobby has been around for decades, and there has always been a business side to it thanks to the publishers of the various games selling their wares, tabletop roleplaying games as broadcasted entertainment is relatively new. Ostensibly, this has made for the advent of a new form of creative media broadcast. Sometimes live streamed, and sometimes pre-recorded for later editing and release, such shows use the medium of TTRPG games to frame their narratives, allowing creators to play within the sandbox of a world that comes with an in-built market of people who love them. Critical Role is the single biggest phenomenon of this kind, and it has shaped much of what the resulting industry of TTRPGs as broadcasted creative performances has become. This is not to say that it is the only changemaker in this sphere; indeed, channels such as Dimension 20 and even publisher specific channels such as World of Darkness are incredibly influential in their own rights, but there is no enterprise within this ever-growing, ever-changing bold new world of creative talent quite as expansive and wellknown as Critical Role. This company, in many ways, has been a true boon as an industry leader. With its focus on altruism, led by President of the Critical Role foundation and original cast member Ashley Johnson, it has been able to fund a variety of different non-profits from those that help disadvantaged children access storytelling through tabletop to those that provide emergency relief in times of strife. It has brought TTRPGs more into the mainstream consciousness, making them more accessible to a wider market and providing a gateway into the more obscure reaches of the hobby. It has also been an interesting market indicator for tabletop streaming and show production, as Critical Role as a business and as a show has very much evolved in tandem. The show itself began with them taking their home game to the screen, as so many others did before and after them. However, as they began to take off, this came with teething problems that would become emblematic of the industry. Again, this is a net positive. Critical Role have been, overly the years, extremely dedicated to sharing their progress and their journey with the community that watches their content, happily collaborating with and chatting to smaller creators in order to do its part in giving its burgeoning industry a leg up. However, being such a new industry, and with even the heaviest hitters learning on the job, it’s no wonder the field has head its ups and downs. From cast issues wherein one member of the original group had to step away to production problems such as audio issues learning the dos and don’ts of livestreaming, many of the issues that Critical Role went through on their journey has helped to give budding TTRPG production professionals a perfect place to start leaning from the veterans. Many of the defining elements of TTRPG broadcasting as in industry can be double edged swords, after all, such as living and dying by one’s community. Critical Role has faced backlash and drama over the years – none of which has been able to damage its reputation irreparably – but enough that several the cast have commented on receiving hurtful comments or harsh criticism either professionally or through personal posts. It also suffers the issue of being the most popular expression of the industry, and therefore the most targeted when trite commentary about the nature or effectiveness of the medium is made. This is something that is reflected in all parts of the TTRPG community, although sometimes it is used to affect important change in outing abusive, manipulative, or unprofessional people in the industry. Another issue that can be faced by professionals in tabletop – again, as demonstrated by Critical Role – is the pitfalls of being part of an industry that hasn’t been around long enough to have set standards of good practice in place yet. With contractdriven employment, payment for performers, treatment of cast, and so much more still in constant flux, shaped by the community behind it, even big budget companies such as Critical Role can be hit hard by issues brought on by such ambiguity, such as in a recent debacle that posed the question of how IP protection and copyright law apply to broadcasted tabletop games when a character was claimed to have been ‘stolen’ by the company from a TikTok creator. This issue, among others, isn’t unique to the company or characters in question, but they important conundrums that the whole industry must answer in order to learn, grow, and move forward. Indeed, it is clear from such teething problems that despite the leaps and bounds the entire field has come in terms of payment, copyright, production, and more, there is much more work to do. But with such enthusiastic and inspiring people as those behind Critical Role leading it from the front, bearing the torch for the nerdy little hobby so many grew up loving, such work is ongoing so that today’s professionals can leave the industry ‘better than we found it’. Company: Critical Role LLC Website: