Tabletopocalypse Now

Had a conversation with a friend the other day, sparked by my recent comments about the negativity of tabletop gamers, the shrinking market, etc. A few thoughts crystalized out of that conversation, and I thought that I’d take the time to put them down for others to comment upon.

There’s a lot of denial among gamers that their hobby is shrinking — a combination of anecdotal evidence (“There are plenty of gamers around here.”) and One-True-Way purity (“My hobby will NEVER die!”). Mixed into this is the always-charming assertion that the industry may be shrinking, but that “the hobby doesn’t need the industry.” (Never mind asking such geniuses to ponder where new players will come from without product on store shelves drawing their attention — or when was the last time they met a player-piano enthusiast, another form of entertainment that no longer has an industry producing material for it…)

It’s not a matter of debate though. Anyone who has paid attention over the past two decades has seen the undeniable shrinking. There are far fewer dedicated speciality stores any more (current estimates place total numbers in the US at somewhere in the low-to-mid 2000s, according to ICV2, Diamond/Alliance distributors, and others). Fewer stores means fewer orders, as well as fewer social centers for the tabletop gaming community. Sales numbers are massively down from the 90s, much less the numbers seen during the ‘d20 explosion’ of the early 2000s.

Take a look at this: ICV2’s report of the top 5 selling RPGs for Q3 2010. You’ll note that number 5 is the Dresden Files. An excellent game, and Fred Hicks & Co. over at Evil Hat deserve every bit of that success. The interesting thing about Fred, though, is that he’s a big fan of transparency. So much so, in fact, that He posts his actual sales numbers. Fred gives the total distribution sales for each of the two Dresden Files rulebooks as follows: DFRPG:Our World: 1285 copies. DFRPG:Your Story: 1776 copies.

Think about that for a minute. Sales of two rulebooks, totalling a little over 3,000 copies for the quarter…. is enough to make the Top 5 sales for the entire industry. 3000 copies used to be a solid initial order, not an entire quarter’s sales.

So yeah — the hobby is shrinking. We’re losing gamers to other formats, especially as console and online games offer more and more of what most gamers want out of their play experiences. More and more of these games offer character customization, compelling story, sandbox universes, and even user-created content. All of this with a more friendly learning curve, and fewer scheduling hassles and locational requirements. It’s not really a surprise that tabletop is bleeding out.

The problem, though, is that what we’re left with in the tabletop community are the hardest of the hardcore — which can be both a positive and a negative. They’re dedicated (obsessive), loyal (rigidly orthodox), and constant (inflexible). This is their preferred method of gaming — but for most, that’s led to an almost self-segregation from the rest of gaming: console, online, PC, board, cards, etc. A lot of these folks don’t even seen these other platforms as part of the same hobby. When they say “gamer”, they mean “tabletop gamer” — the rest of the wider gaming world is part of some other hobby.

I posited to my friend that I don’t think the overall level of negativity and vitriol found in the community online has changed much since the dawn of the internet. What has changed is the size of the community — the negativity is at the same level, but the community is far smaller. Part of that is probably because we’ve dwindled to the True Believers — the ones most strident in their identification with the hobby, and therefore possessed of the most passion in arguing about it. Who knows? The result is the problem: a shrinking base, often unpleasant in their dealings with eachother — hardly a recipe for maintaining a community, much less attracting new blood.

And it’s only going to get worse.

I honestly believe that we’ve hit a tipping point, and it simply stuns me that others don’t see the smoke on the horizon (or maybe that they’re purposefully ignoring it). One of our major publishers (White Wolf) has already announced that they’re switching over to support of tabletop as largely a legacy operation, with Print-On-Demand product aimed at a dedicated fan base, while they’re getting ready to roll out an MMORPG based on their best-known IP, Vampire: The Masquerade. It’s not hard to see the writing on the wall there — the relative income potential of POD sales vs. that of an online game, and what that will mean for corporate priorities.

Ask yourself this, though: What happens when WOTC withdraws from the hobby market? When the 800 lb. gorilla that floats the game sales of those 2000-odd retail accounts goes away? What do you think happens to what’s left of the tabletop industry and, as a result, the hobby?

Obviously, WOTC hasn’t made any such intention known. But consider this: We’re already seeing a major re-branding and re-packaging of D&D, with the Essentials launch. This roll-out seems to be concentrated fairly heavily in traditional retail: Wal-Mart, Target, the chain bookstores. Yes, it’s available through hobby distribution as well, but do you honestly think that’s the focus?

Now consider this second point: Hasbro, Inc. v. Infogrames Entertainment S.A. a/k/a Atari, S.A., case number CA09-610ML. In short, Atari has a license for online use of the D&D brand, set to expire in 2017. Whether it lasts that long is dependent upon the outcome of this lawsuit — Hasbro is looking to terminate Atari’s license. Once that happens, either through the courts, or just through the natural expiration of the term, the online rights to D&D will be back in-house.

Now, imagine you’re Hasbro. You have total control of the rights to one of the most recognizable fantasy brands in the world. Will you a) leverage that brand online, where games like World of Warcraft and even fucking Farmville are making hundreds of millions per year, or b) stick with the traditional model, aimed at a shrinking market where 3000 copies per quarter means you’re a top-seller?

There’s a reason why I’ve been spending the past year putting my ducks in a row to move Adamant into other entertainment markets, and it’s not just because of my varied interests. It’s simply because I cannot see any combination of events that does not lead to the utter systemic collapse of the tabletop games industry within the next 5 to 10 years at most.

I know that’s not a cheerful outlook, but I think it’s a realistic one. As always, comments are welcome.

90 Replies to “Tabletopocalypse Now”

  1. RPGs were a fad in the 80s and like all fads, some people stick with them and enjoy them forever, but those people are pretty rare. People still sit on flagpoles and dance the Charleston, I bet a bunch of people have pet rocks, but it’s not like it was back in the day, and if I’m the guy with a Charleston instructional video to sell, I should take that into account in my plans for my business. Fads come, fads go, the fad money does not return, no matter what store is selling.

    I won’t ever have a problem getting a group together – not ever, that’s a confident promise – but that’s not even remotely relevant to the question about what I get from buying stuff or who can make how much money selling me stuff.

    I’m eager to see all these folks that have done such great work in tabletop RPGs show me something new! What’s the worst I can do, look at it through the shrinkwrap and say it sucks? Pff, I can walk up the street to the local FLGS and get 10 people to do that now.

  2. Oddly enough, my new girlfriend is a player piano enthusiast…

    I incline toward the view that the hobby’s survival is not entirely tied to the industry’s survival. Which isn’t to say that the loss of the industry would be a good thing, but historical miniatures, for example, survived its collapse in the late 70’s and now has a solid cottage industry base and a stable, if not growing, population. I don’t have much else to say that hasn’t already been said…

  3. Does anyone *have* the exact sales numbers for, say, the #5 selling RPG in the third quarter of the year 2000? “declining numbers” doesn’t mean anything with exactly ONE number present – it takes multiple data points to know what that means, and lots to really understand how serious such a trend may be.

  4. I was wondering when we’d get that demand, which misses the point. The number is there simply to show you that 3K is enough to be #5. 3K is not a large number.

    If you need “multiple data points”, I would suggest that you consider any of the following:

    1) The number of pros who have posted and agreed with my supposedly-foundless assertion of decline.
    2) The pros who have posted to the RPGnet thread giving sales numbers for 1990s releases (I recall seeing someone posting Amber, Underground, Wraith2nd, etc.), where numbers are 10x higher than that.
    3) I can tell you that we moved ~7500 copies of UNDERWORLD in 2000, with initial orders to distributors of around 3K — those were first-month sales, not quarter.

    Beyond that, maybe you could be reasonable and assume that people who do this stuff for a living, and have done for almost two decades, actually know what they’re talking about. I know that’s an “Appeal to Authority”, or whatever other fallacy that internet-forum gamers are fond of citing — but in the real world, where discussions actually don’t have to follow debate rules, that’s actually just called experience, and is actually given some credence.

  5. @Robert Saint John,

    Thanks Robert. I’m a firm believer in identifying a problem and then finding a solution, not just complaining about it. If we, as a community, want to see the hobby we love move into the next generation, we have to find new ways of communicating it using the platforms and perceptions of the modern age.

    Despite the decline in TTRPGS, the gamer community in general is exploding. More and more people are identifying with the term and it is no longer considered a subject of ridicule, but actually the basis for everything that is ‘cool,’ these days. Because of this and because we have already seen a successful transition with card games, from Solitaire to Poker to Magic, and numerous board games like Kingsburg or even Battletech, I have hope that the TTRPG industry can transition successfully if enough bright minds put some effort into helping it to do so.

    The point of my project is that you can do this without abandoning the strengths of TTRPGS: face to face gaming; being able to tell any story on the fly without any programming or preparation; the flexibility of having a GM who gives rulings instead of relying on a computer limited by its programming parameters; etc. and still have the mechanical complexities of the game hidden by a snappy user interface and gussied up with beautiful eye candy, neat widgets and thematic sound.

    I know for a fact that these qualities are what will bring the next generation to us, as kids 16-21 have been my experimental demographic for months now, and they find the concepts and play-styles we take for granted to be new, fascinating and in certain areas more gratifying than the other forms of entertainment they’re used to.

    The only thing preventing them from playing TTRPGs more often is the lack of streamlining that allows them to play video games at the drop of a hat, allows the computer to do most of the work and doesn’t require them to purchase and carry around a ton of material to play. The jBook is my answer for that…

  6. For the record (because I’m seeing responses here, and elsewhere, which address this — despite it being something that I never said):

    I am absolutely not saying the hobby will disappear.

    I am very specifically talking about the industry.

    However, I am of the opinion, which I tried to communicate (and apparently failed), that with a collapse of the industry, the hobby would not really be able to grow again — and that I view the shrinking as a bad thing.

  7. I agree that the industry isn’t as big as it was, but I’d put a lot of that down to the slice of pie theory. The amount of games out there is vast compared to even ten years ago.

    I think there will always be people playing these games, but I can see the industry not being able to maintain itself. So if you want the games you’ll have to ordeR online direct from publishers, who probably won’t be full time.

    However, even if you are right, my question is what are we doing about it? Gaming was big in the 80’s because it was new and everyone was talking about it. Then the buzz went and gamers went and hid in the basement waiting for the odd adventurer to ask what this thing they’d heard about was all about. We need a recruitment drive. All the industry needs to reach out to get more school clubs and ‘come and learn D&D’ days going. No one company is big enough to do it alone. Instead of growling about the gamers we have, we need to get more people playing.

    While I agree many might see gaming as outmoded I’d optimistically offer that might be what saves then. Board games are doing better as families realise technology has disconnected then from each other and such games let them spend time together instead of different rooms staring at screens. If we tell people about gaming it’s not impossible that it’s social aspect and lack of technology might actually prove a selling point rather than a failing

  8. Solely out of curiosity, was Underground doing any sales in the direct to customer market at the time, with those 7500?

    If we’re combining our direct and distro sales in the first quarter, and combining the two books’ numbers for DFRPG together, the number’s north of 9,000 in the first quarter of its availability, and around 3,000 in the second.

    I’m still comfortable with the notion that you’ve got a point about how the distributor and retail channel may be shrinking, with consequences for the industry and all — but I’ve also got my eye on how much the “connect straight with the publisher” market in the post-internet age is affecting things.

  9. UnderWorld, not Underground. Direct to consumer was limited to convention sales only — GenCon, Origins, a few local shows in the NY/NJ area.

    I think you’ve definitely got a point with the post-internet connection.

  10. It seems to me that for tabletop RPGs to survive, they need to figure out what they can do better than video games/MMOs (which seem to be their main competitors). Hex-and-Counter wargames have essentially died out (though not entirely, GMT still publishes them and there are obviously still hobbyists) because the computer strategy game could do what they did better in most people’s opinion. Minatures wargaming (40k etc.) survived partially because its collectible element makes it more profitable than hex-and-counter games, and largely because it has an element computer games can’t have – the painting of the minatures and the tactile experience.
    The RPG industry will never be massively profitable, because it’s not good terrain for the capitalist – people really only need to buy one book and some dice for a group of 5-6 people. Also, I would argue that part of the reason for the decline of the industry is the failure of the industry to market outside its core audience – you say that without the industry, the hobby can’t grow, but I’d say that the industry has done little to help the hobby grow since the early ’90s – they’ve just been preaching to the choir. So that needs to change.
    But, to get to my main point, the RPG industry needs to leverage its main advantages over the video game industry. These are, in my view:

    1. Versatility, in three ways:
    a. Story versatility: Mass Effect has one story. D&D 4E or nWoD or what-have-you has as many stories as your gaming group can make. You can tell a story about science gone amok or the social changes brought on by irrigation or forbidden love or courtly intrigue – all with the same gamesystem. This is why I’m not a fan of many parts of the “indie RPGs” philosophy – they seem to want to narrow the focus of the game to one story, essentially turning their game into a pen-and-paper video game.
    b. Character Versatility: There are no unskippable cutscenes in a tabletop roleplaying game (unless your GM is truly awful) and there aren’t dialog options – your character can say whatever he/she wants. NPCs can actually react in sensible ways to what your character does. Basically, until a software program cheap enough to use for Fallout V or whatever can pass the Turing Test, it’ll always be better to have a real person playing the characters than some poorly scripted AI.
    c. Problem-solving Versatility: In a tabletop RPG, you can solve problems with all manner of crazy schemes – diverting rivers, rigging elections, getting a subcontracting job on a Michael Bay film in order to steal the Statue of Liberty – if you can convince your GM, it’s go time. But in a video game, if the designer didn’t think of it, you can’t do it. Tabletop RPGs need to have very little railroading to differentiate themselves from video games – for a railroaded experience, people will go for the one with the cool graphics and the team of writers.

    2. Price point: With PDFs and the like, RPG books are already cheaper than video games. And if we add in the paraphinalia needed to play each (dice and pencils vs. an Xbox or PlayStation or high-end computer), the advantage widens.

    In conclusion, the industry will likely never be where it was back in the ’80s. But it can definately survive, albeit perhaps in a more “fanzine” form, so long as it 1. reaches out again and 2. finds its niche.

    P.S.: It’s really not helpful to the conversation to talk about the “kids” at RPGnet and complain about their posting here. I don’t mind for myself so much, but to do so right after Old Geezer posted is just insulting – the man was in the hobby before it was an industry – heck, before it was a hobby too, and his experience should be valued.

  11. The “kids” reference wasn’t to Geezer — it was to a couple of “OMG GMS U R TEH SUX” rants from RPGnetters that I deleted. Just to clarify.

    I absolutely agree with your point about the industry largely preaching to the choir, instead of trying to draw in new people.

  12. I think before an accurate state of the industry can be discussed, you need better data than that collected by distributors.

    Does it take into account WotC’s figures for DDI? That’s a huge source of content and revenue that exists outside of traditional distribution channels.

    Likewise, I don’t think Amazon or online-only distribution is factored into any of ICv2’s figures.

    I definitely think that brick and mortar stores are suffering (and by extension, distributors and companies that rely on that method of exposure).

    But when the main means of delivering content (direct sales, PDFs, PODs, etc) lie outside of traditional distribution channels, I don’t think we can get an accurate prediction of the industry as a whole.

    I’m not saying you’re wrong. It could definitely be shrinking.

    I’m just saying that drawing a conclusion from a single source is going to give biased results.

  13. Just for the record, since people aren’t getting this: I’m not drawing a conclusion from a single source.

    I provided that info to show only one thing: that 3000 units is a small number, yet enough to make a best-sellers list. (well, to be fair, I provided it for another reason as well — to counter the inevitable cries of “proof, or you’re full of shit” from internet-forum gamers who seem pathologically incapable of giving the benefit of the doubt to people who actually do this stuff for a living.)

    The conclusion I’m drawing comes from:

    1) My experience in this business since 1989, in all three tiers (retail, distribution, publishing).
    2) The experience of colleagues, who tell me that what I’m seeing isn’t just me, but is in fact, happening across the board.
    3) The data provided by distributors, retailers and other publishers (some public — like Fred’s numbers — and some private). Note that this includes data for online sales (although, obviously, a bit fuzzy on direct-to-consumer, since nobody really talks about that much).

    In all of this, my point is consistently missed (although directly stated): I’m saying that the *traditional industry model* is headed to collapse, and that such collapse will adversely affect the hobby’s ability to attract new participants. That shouldn’t be immensely controversial, and yet has spawned a half-dozen or more threads across multiple sites, usually filled with people complaining that I’m wrong because their mistaken interpretation of what they thought I was saying obviously isn’t true — peppered here and there with others bitching that I’m irrelevant, etc. (in threads that were created specifically to talk about something I said — so kinda ironic, that.).

  14. An interesting analysis. I agree that the traditional RPG publishing model is in decline for a whole host of reasons, but I’m not sure that the decline is as precipitous as it is sometimes portrayed.

    People have been talking about the death of the pen-and-paper RPG industry since the mid 1990s and there is evidence that the industry has been on a downward spiral since around that time.

    However, I believe that the downward spiral has been slower than commentators have predicted over the years. In fact, I suspect that the industry may still have 15-20 years before the remaining distribution and retail channels collapse and it is no longer economically viable for major players like Wizards and Paizo to pump out ‘dead tree’ products.

    Interestingly, I think that one of the reasons that the decline of the industry has been slower than anticipated by many folks is the extraordinary level of innovation that has been going on in the last decade – the Open Gaming License, PDF publishing, patronage sales models, the growth of coherent online gaming communities, the development of Internet-based sales channels, the emergence of Print-on-Demand technology, the growing importance of transmedia, et al. It seems to me that various folks are actively trying to stave off the collapse of the traditional RPG publishing and distribution models. I suppose that only time will tell if these efforts will offset the gradual shrinkage of the industry as a whole.

    Even if it doesn’t, I think that a whole heap of authors and publishers deserve our appreciation for their efforts. It’s been a heck of a time.

  15. Gareth is right. I was about to talk about ‘saving the industry’, but let’s be honest…I haven’t played face-to-face in years, and my (large) dead-tree RPG library is gathering dust. Not really a surprise: my mindless ass-kicking needs are met by consoles, and my human-moderated shared-story needs are met by play-by-post or writing partnerships. So I don’t buy trad RPG books anymore, and neither does anyone else, really. But that’s exciting, not scary — it’s *really* *cool* that an old coot like me can still find new things to do.

  16. I agree that the industry is failing. However I would like to see peoples comments on what could be done to save our favorite hobby. I have been doing this for over 20 years and seeing no new blood at the game store is disheartening to me. When i joined the hobby it was not uncommon to see teenagers in the local game stores but now the only people I see are old and crotchety like me. People who have been playing for years. How do we reverse the trend?

  17. I played Gamma World a few weekends back at DC Game Day. At the table were 40-year-olds and a 14-year-old. New blood *is* happening, observably, though I’m not sure it’s in quantity. Will report back after my 16-month-old daughter is old enough to roll dice. :)

  18. Thats an interesting idea.. do you think RPGs will have a resurgence when the children of gamers start hitting teens to 20’s? My kids are only 3 and 4.. but my daughter loves dragons more than ponies. Honestly we aren’t really far off from a period where the torch is passing.

  19. “but for most, that’s led to an almost self-segregation from the rest of gaming: console, online, PC, board, cards, etc. A lot of these folks don’t even seen these other platforms as part of the same hobby. When they say “gamer”, they mean “tabletop gamer” — the rest of the wider gaming world is part of some other hobby.”

    I disagree with this. I do know some people who play almost only RPGs, and I know some people who play only board games (and even then a subset of board games). But probably 95 percent of the gamers I know do more.

    Me: I play D&D, Warmachine, board games, and a little console and a little PC. I also play Magic, Warmachine, 40K, D&D and board games with my 8-year-old.

    The Wednesday night D&D crowd at my FLGS includes lots of people I see at Tuesday night Warmachine, Friday Night Magic, and weekend card or miniatures events.

    I think it’s fair to say there are three different versions of “gaming industry” — the RPG/card/board/minis complex, the console/PC complex, and the gambling industry. Devotees of the last two are far more likely not to be involved in the others.

    Of course, this has little to do with your main point. But still.

  20. I think we need to take into account the increase of the Internet as a new media, resulting in a shift away from a product-based to a service-based model.

    The hobby itself is thriving – there are an increasing number of blogs, reviews, ideas, and creativity, that if it were to be put into print, would outsell the print media in it’s heyday. All of this information is taken fro granted and provided free, making the roleplaying games designers more like experts and celebrities than ever before.

    You don’t need twenty years experience in the industry to be a professional any more, things are changing so fast, and innovation is coming out so quickly that it’s often harder for the older-fashioned business models to keep up.

  21. I’m pretty aware of that, Da’Vane — I’m one of the folks who established the electronic publishing segment of the industry.

  22. If the demise of the industry saddens/worries you, why just post “the end is nigh” and concentrate on developing ideas to save it? Unless of course, have you given up already and are closing Adamant down in preparation for your new/future career/business?

    This sounds snarky, it’s not meant to be, I’m not saying you’re wrong, I really am just curious why you aren’t concentrating more on solutions. These types of posts don’t usually generate much useful discussion as it ends up being a “you’re wrong/you’re in denial” argument because the subject is so loaded.

    Of course, if you’ve given up as inevitable, then well, are you having a fire sale? :)

  23. My apologies for not reading the whole of the comments, but from what I have read over the years and 15 minutes deep into the blog, I would say no-one has mentioned marketing RPGs in another direction – besides the obvious it’s a fun hobby.

    Tros, here is my feeble attempt to answer your call for positive actionables, and forgive me as a I recoil into my past with some name dropping.

    I spoke with Gary Gygax about this very issue, connected with my promotion of RPGs as an ESL language practice tool. He was trying to get AD&D into the school curriculum in the mid-1980’s. That was just about exactly the time the cartoon and in-house playtesting were cancelled and the story from there we know. The genius of Gary was being a showman and salesman and he had the right idea then and I think the idea holds water today.

    Question: where do we find the kids today? Answer: same place we did in the 80’s. Sure they hangout online rather than at the malls today but most of them still go to a physical school. Kids are the future.

    What happened in the mid-1980’s. Well, for me at 15 I got my first computer that Apple IIe. And I played Wizardry. How did I selll my middle-class “old man” on the idea of a 1,000 system for my bedroom? O, come on, no-one remembers the explosion of computer science classes run by teachers reading from a manual? Naturally playing Wizardry would help me at school.

    And the Evaluation Clubs were the equivalent of a D20 system.

    So I was speaking with Gary about all this a few months before he passed and he thought the kids should be the targets. They have the strengths for tabletop: gobbs of creativity, energy, and immagination. They also hold the future.

    What products are currently offered to them? Dumbed down card games (please do not lump CCGs into an RPG definition) and mind-numbing carpel tunnel syndrome red-eye inducing video games. The kids are being robbed of their strengths for RPGs.

    There. I said it. I am officially old. But let’s not factor out what made RPGs a hit 30 years ago and the fact that entertainment delivery systems change. As McLuhan might say, not always for the better of humanity.

    So the actionables? Infuse RPGs into the lifeblood of the school system. How about we play Vampire the Masqeurade in English class to capitalize on those damn films, with a reading of Bram Stoker as homework? How about we crack open AD&D and discuss distribution and algebra explaining the equations with playful experience? (Was I the only kid that said I will never use this?!) Harn in History class or Social Studies. At university, Women’s Studies. Petal Throne for Culture?

    But this requires an honest and sincere different track to “marketing” the market. Pepsi can in the lunchroom, Army recruitment posters in the Johns, why not something that brings kids to learning also? Where is the industry pitchman for this idea in an education positive Obama White House?

  24. @Tros, I think you missed the part where Mr. Skarka talks about turning Adamant’s products into “trans-media experiences.” This has something to do with making your IP more than just a role-playing game — have a role-playing game, a video game, a TV show, a CCG, a book series, a Facebook group, a Twitter account, etc. and make them all inter-connected. Or something like that. I’m sketchy on the details, but it seems like a neat idea, and if anyone has the experience to make it happen, it’s Mr. Skarka.

  25. I think there are some good points here, but I wanted to address the idea of ‘New Blood’. There have been some great resources to get people involved in the hobby, and many incentives that have attempted to entice older gamers to bring new members to the world-wide table. For example, the D&D Encounters program. Here we have an excellent way to demo the game and attract new players. However, and I speak of the Northern NY area here, there’s little to no interest from most retailers to run such a program (or have someone run it for them) even though it promotes the game that’s being sold and such.
    My point here is, even though we have some great programs and such, the responsibility to introduce the hobby to a younger generation doesn’t fall to where it’s sold, IMHO, but rather in the introduction by others. About five months ago I started running a bi-weekly game for my teenage daughters and their friends. The current size of the group is seven teenagers, three college kids and my wife, with me as GM. Since this time, the kids have gone out and snagged Starblazer Adventures, M&M and are looking forward to Gamma World (which is what we’re starting this weekend). We’ve played Pathfinder, D&D 4e, M&M, Starblazer Adventures, and Icons. Personally, I’d love to see Borders/Target/Wal-Mart start encouraging demos in their stores … whether it be Red Box D&D, Pathfinder, Dresden Files, Icons or anything else. While the internet has been a great resource to get affordable games and information, it has also hindered the concepts of community within stores from my perspective. It used to be that you’d go out to a shop, see what people are playing and get involved. IMHO, that’s what the hobby needs again.

  26. First, I bow to your experience, I believe, that you believe, that you are seeing shrinkage (only related to the gaming industry!).

    I have children, I am not aware as to whether you do. My kids, and my kids friends, are absolutely batshit over gaming. Of ALL stripes.

    I am an artist, of modest talent to be sure, and I have had more work designing artwork for websites, digital distributed work, and small publishers than ever before. Almost all of it related to gaming and/or publishing.

    I have also noticed that your responses are getting more and more vitriolic, so to ward that off. I am not saying that you are wrong, only that your rhetoric may have painted a more stark picture than some trends culturally rather than economically.

    GenCon, PAX, NeonCon, et. al. Have all had record years:

    Granted there are many different tastes catered to in all of these events. That is precisely my point, and in fact corroborates a point of clarification you made in another comment. The model of the industry as it was is gone. What we have now instead of RPG’s, Board Games, TableTop Strategy, CCG’s, etc. Is a homogeneous slurry of ‘gaming’ taken as a whole.

    Modern “geek” culture is on the rise, in fact it was recently dubbed the largest single counter cultural entity (thank GOD cause hipsters suck ass). This is largely due to the fact that parents (around my age, to a little older or younger) are actively participating with, and indoctrinating their kids to these hobbies, having discovered them at roughly the same age as their children are now. Video games, and computer games were largely a gateway drug for these parents, introducing them to the different forms of gaming. It was for me, and likely for many other people interested in reading your blog here.

    Now, with Video Games spawning traditional RPG’s and other games (WoW, Doom, Warcraft, etc.) and Tabletops crossing that boundary in the opposite direction (Games Workshop, D&D, White Wolf), what you see rather than a disappearance is a blending of product to a point where the I.P. exists independently of the channels of consumption. It is it’s own meme.

    So I have come to think of the gaming industry in those same terms, and once you do, you see a massive amount of growth. Everywhere. Video Games, digital and traditional platforms for other games, inclusion of online and even independent content encouraged.

    So, I guess I agree that the ‘industry’ as a point of delineation between products, is disappearing, however as a whole this is the brightest time for gaming/geekdom since the dawn of the d20. So if that means we have to bury the old way of doing things, well Tolkien showed us that sad endings aren’t always bad.

    I hope you agree :)

  27. The industry isn’t shrinking but shifting product lines and distribution methods. The pre-sales commitment programs (ala’ GMT Games and DVG Games) have done reasonably well in producing more to satisfy consumer demand. We’ve also seen a rise in the “quick to learn / quick to play” games (Days of Wonder’s product line does very well).

    But the change is not a result of the onslaught of video games. Rather the tetonic shift has been in our (collective) ability to read and retain long passages of information. See Carr’s latest book, The Shallows; What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains.

    You can see the shift now in our demographic, and in that of our kids. Boomers and Gen X will play a video game but are more likely to read the manual that those in Gen Y or Millenial; the latter will jump right in, decipher as they go, MAYBE succeed, but if they do it will not be anywhere near the achievement level of those that have gone through the manual first.

    See the same in board/tabletop/RPG; movement from games with deep rules sets to those that I can read AND play competently within hours. How well does Decision Games’ War in the Pacific sell against Days of Wonder’s Pirates Cove ? I have both, would DEARLY love to play Pacific, but it gathers dust while Pirates Cove rotates on/off the tabletop.

    Can we change ?
    I think we have to as the impact of the way we (try to) process information is hindering our ability to perform across all spectrums.

    and this is just the bowwave of that pending tsunami.

  28. I think that traditional methods of measuring what is quickly becoming a non-traditional market needs to be re-examined.

    I have read this same thing so many times over the last 20 years-all the music stores are closing, there will be no more music, all the video stores are closing, there will be no more movies. And now it’s gamings’ turn.

    Will the ‘industry’ go away? You mean $60 slick coffee table books that you have to have 3 of (@300+ pages each) to play a game and that you have to buy all new ones every 2 years due to ‘revisions'(=slower sales)? YES and good riddance.

    People are forgetting that at the height of this hobby you could buy stuff almost nowhere and they were burning crosses on peoples yards who played or sold the stuff (including my own yard).

    Between distribution technology (the internet) and play technology (online with things like d20pro) the market is shifting, but how many handwritten fanzines have you read from the early days? Now look at what you can do with a copy of Open Office and the pdf format.

    I have quit videogames and returned to table top after being away for a long time because this is the most exciting time in table top (and LARPing) gaming since the early 80’s. The sky is the limit again. Individuals will pull systems together and tinker with mechanics like they did before this became Wal-Mart territory.

    Let the masses drift on to the next ‘fad’…we’ll be right here when you’re looking for a game to sit in on :)

  29. For the record, their sales reports are crap. All our Savage Worlds products easily beat that-some by a factor of 3, some by 5 or more. Don’t mean to start a Willy wave, just want to point out that these numbers are deeply flawed.

    (And I’m not counting pdf sales here.)

  30. Hey Gareth–talking about ICV2. Not sure where they get their numbers from. /shrug

    Sorry–just saw your post here on a FB friend’s link and followed it. I’m very private about PEG’s numbers, but I suspect what little info we can get is much like NPD on the video game side of things–they only track GameStop, Best Buy, and similar outlets. They miss digital sales and Wal-Mart and a few other lesser channels. Having worked at a few companies where I knew what sales were (including publishers we worked with), NPD’s sales were frequently about 33% below actuals. The pen-and-paper industry is FAR harder to track since there’s no established entity like NPD.

    My guess is that ICV2’s numbers come from Diamond / Alliance, where the larger games and licensed properties do best. Seems the middle tier–like our stuff or maybe Shadowrun–does better through places like ACD, regional distributors, or most of all, direct sales. I think the main difference there is “comic shops that carry some gaming products” (which tend to use Diamond) vs “real” game stors that focus more on RPGs, minis, etc.

    But hey…just my two cents and I truly hope all our peers sell bazillions of copies. :)


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