In some ways, this realization saddens me. Why? Because I grew up in an era where I expected to have my chosen hobby heavily supported by 'official' books from an 'official' company. I expected a 'living' setting, constantly filling with new information and ideas. To a certain extent, it was a comfort to me, to know that other people enjoyed the same hobby as I did (growing up where I did in South Dakota, gamers were scarce). It was also a luxury—to have so many pre-made adventures and a wealth of source material at your fingertips.
But did I really NEED this supporting material? Well...no. Not really. In fact, some of the more memorable adventures in my Star Wars campaign were of my own doing (though with a healthy hand up from West End Games source material). And THAT is what I think the 'optimal' gaming system should be: A core set of rules and enough setting details to help a GM build off of. As I've stated in previous posts, too much 'official information' or 'canon changes' to a setting can actually get quite frustrating. It can take away any sense of ownership you (and your players) might have for a campaign.
Looking back on it, the underlying commercialism of gaming was actually kind of self-defeating. TSR, for example, wanted its players to keep buying products. So it kept releasing more and more rulebooks and settings—and updates to those settings—in order to keep people wanting the 'latest and greatest' thing. Unfortunately, by doing so, they were forcing gamers to either go along with the 'official company' storyline, or find themselves left out of all the new products coming out. As an ad-person especially, I can see why this was done. But I still think it was wrong. You were essentially taking a medium that (supposedly) relied upon the imagination of its players and turning it around so that YOU (the gaming company) were dictating the story.
To me this seemed a bit less prevalent in the West End Star Wars game (though maybe that's just personal bias). I mean, you OBVIOUSLY had to deal with the fact that the events in the movies were going to happen (or else you were diverting entirely). But apart from that, the materials produced for the game were largely just sources of information about the setting—perfect idea generators and jumping off points for your own imagination. A prime example of this would be Galaxy Guide 6: Tramp Freighters. Here, you had a sourcebook on freight hauling and ship modification rules, but you also had a sketch of a little corner of the Star Wars galaxy—with enough information to plan all sorts of adventures of your own. I know I really ran with this setting in my own campaign, making for some very memorable moments.
But...I digress. The subject of this post was the Future of Gaming. And honestly? I'm coming to believe that you're looking at it. No, not me. The internet. The blog. The 'online gaming community'. When I look at all the high-quality stuff being produced by gamers FOR gamers I am at once excited and relieved. Who needs an 'official company' when you can pick and choose from some really great products to help spark your own ideas. There is more than enough here to keep /me/ entertained and engaged for the rest of my life—and there is more coming out every day!
I guess the real question is—will this online community 'recruit' new members from the younger generation? Considering the fact that a good portion of that community have families, I'd say the answer is "of course". Considering how online-centric our culture is becoming, I'd say "of course" again—even if it is all 'unofficial' and people have to stumble upon it. As much as I miss being in a mainstream kind of hobby, I am okay with folks only finding out about it if they really have to search. But then, that's because I'm just a gamer—not looking to make money out of the hobby. For those folks looking to make a living out of it? Well...then I'd say things may be a bit bleak. The golden era for making money in tabletop games is long gone, and I doubt it will ever return. But for your average gamer, that's no big thing—as long as you have imagination and a few friends to share it with.