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>Despite its prevalent use in games, I feel in
>a sense that Lua hasn't ever escaped its
>academic roots. 

That is a strength to those who who like the language and enjoy making it work for them.

But you are right IMO that Lua is a programming *language* and not a programming *ecosystem* based around Lua. 

And that is why the language has not been widely embraced as a general-purpose scripting language, in the same way as Perl, Python, Ruby, Node/NPM and friends.

With no official, curated libraries for almost everything most people want to do with a scripting system, you can’t (and shouldn’t) expect the language to be high up on general popularity lists.

There are no out-of-the-box, linked-to-the-development-of-the-language libraries for most things that most coders expect these days.

No OS-level file and directory access; no multiprogramming (whether with threads or processes); no networking; no serialisation; no persistent storage (not even a basic key-value store); no common encoding tools (hex, base64, JSON, etc.); no cryptography; no foreign function interface (FFI). 

All other top-rated script-style languages have these as part of a standard build or install.

You can fairly easily acquire or create tools for most of these things, but many third-party projects are old, buggy, incomplete, don’t support recent versions of Lua, undocumented, lack decent test suites, only run on one or two of Windows, Linux, macOS, and so on.

I don’t mind that at all, because I like minimalism, simplicity and maintainability (that’s why I commute on a bicycle with one gear and no freewheel - it hurts on hills but it works reliably through the dampest, rustiest, muddiest, darkest English winter and is safer and easier to control in heavy traffic).

But in a world that also includes NPM, you shouldn’t expect Lua to be at the top of any prevalence lists.

That is either a strength or a weakness depending on your outlook and your needs…