The State of the RPG Industry

An article on MSNBC writes about the woes in the RPG market:

“Wizards does not reveal sales figures, but Pramas estimates the overall market for traditional role-playing games at $30 million annually.”

When I first read this, my immediate thought was ‘piffle!’ and that it was a vast underestimate of the market.
Okay. Let’s take this apart.

  1. Wizards doesn’t release sales figures but we have to assume that Wizards is being honest when it says it’s got 300 people on staff. 300 people multiplied by a minimum wage salary of $20 000 is 6 million dollars. But if we assume that people are earning more than that but only a third of them are working on traditional role-playing games (as opposed to board games and card games) and we add in the cost of printing and shipping books, we kinda should keep that figure constant. That’s a huge section of the market gobbled up by Wizards if Chris Pramas is right.
  2. Chris Pramas works for a competitor to the traditional role-playing games department at Wizards. Green Ronin has a photo of 9 chunky people (one of which is a woman, the rest seem to be very hairy) and I think we must assume that they’re earning $60K each? You’d hope. That, plus the costs of printing etc, must drive the revenue of this company to a million dollars or so?
  3. A few lot of years ago, James Wallis told me over a very nice vegan meal in Cork that the industry had a problem. The market was not very large and you had several large-ish companies fighting for scraps and really, no-one was making any money. Which is why, I think, he decided to go elsewhere. What does this mean – people with talent shouldn’t waste their time trying to write RPGs if they can do anything else well.
  4. If the $30 million dollar estimate is right, you can see why Wizards made the land grab a few years ago with d20 and OGL. It was an overt, aggressive move on their part and it created a monster and, due to the economies of small grabby companies and the lowered bar to entry, it really damaged the industry as the market was flooded with Wizard’s d20-branded crap. Small companies, including Green Ronin, saw it as an opportunity to land grab as well. Boom, thousands of shit products hit the market and the consumers did what they do best. They bought them, they read them and they felt burned.
  5. This all serves really to further label the market as the ‘D&D market’ which is a misnomer. I definitely see a lull in the market. Our local club seems to have all the same people, they’re just older and fatter. I don’t have any visibility of QUB Dragonslayers any more and don’t know what they’re doing from day to day. Does Pramas have any real knowledge of the PDF games market. I’ve spent more on RPGs in the last year (PDF and dead tree) than I had in the five years previous.
  6. As a comparison, World of Warcraft is estimated to pull in $1 billion a year by itself. Yes, it’s the largest of the MMOs but it’s not the only MMO out there.

So what’s with the future of gaming then? MMOs are going to be more accessible even though they are more expensive because they offer some social elements with the instant gratification of ‘pretty things to look at’. I admit I’ve been tempted to try WoW and City of Heroes but I always stop myself. I don’t want to sit, sequestered in a room and try and schedule hours of gameplay with my significant other. I like to get out with the guys, sit in a room with other people and have it as my night out. The social side of things is much more important than the quick hit of a game.

From a business point of view, the gaming market is always going to be hard to estimate. There’s no easy way to estimate the number of gamers out there as some of them never interact with anyone outside their own gaming group. And the people who run homebrew games? From an industry economy point of view, they may as well not exist.

Comparisons with other hobbies must be made. We’re not really in a sporting hobby. There’s a thriving market for people who play football, who go scuba diving, who surf or sail, climb or whack balls with sticks. We’re the trainspotters, chess players and stamp collectors. We have to establish and embrace that we’re not cool, we’re not the masters of the world and it doesn’t really matter. We’re not affected by the doom and gloom headlines of the mainstream press. Even card games have some respectability, wargames even more so. It doesn’t matter what you look like – from lardass nerd to malnourished goth – you play role-playing games, you’re a dork.

And would it matter if the RPG companies folded?

I think not.

About matt

Gamer. Writer. Dad. Serial Ex-husband. Creator of The 23rd Letter, SpaceNinjaCyberCrisis XDO, ZOMBI, Testament, Creed. Slightly megalomaniac
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11 Responses to The State of the RPG Industry

  1. Mark says:

    Your depressing me! 🙁 But I sadly agree with your conclusions.

    Another sign was the recent merge of DCU’s gaming society STOC and the computer gaming society , because there was a lackof interesting in STOCs. (But to be fair, roleplaying was not a major aspect of STOCs in the first place).

  2. matt says:

    hi Mark,
    I don’t mean to be depressing but it’s a reality shake when you think the global RPG market to be only $30 million. Very sobering when I consider the turnover of my own little company and highlights how tiny the industry is.

    Thing is: I’ve done nothing in the kast decade to bring in new players to the hobby. I did a lot more work on it when I was in college and I don’t know if the people holding the torch in college are doing anything. Certainly membership numbers are down compared to my day.

    Slayers at QUB has a lot more computer games and, as someone else pointed out, cosplay inclusive in their membership.

  3. Mark says:

    Part of me has been mulling over dropping roleplaying as a hobby altogether. The older I get, the less opportunities there are to enjoy it and it’s not because of me. Less and less friends play, it’s harder to find a group you can trust, less and less new blood, etc. And to know that the market is shrinking more and more each year… 🙁

  4. me says:

    If you don’t enjoy it, stop

  5. matt says:

    Just because the industry is shrinking doesn’t really mean there are less people.

    You could always move to where there are more gamers…

  6. aidan says:

    I think kids just aren’t introduced to it any more. Time was there was a role-playing society at most of the grammar (high) schools where I grew up. Now I would say it’s only in the very biggest, if you’re lucky. More likely to find wargames (GW) or card games (WotC).

    I actually think that if WotC hadn’t grabbed TSR, the hobby might have plummeted more quickly. At least they market all the D&D stuff alongside all the CCG stuff to big book chains and hobby/gaming stores.

  7. Nikchick says:

    No one outside of Wizards of the Coast makes $60K a year on roleplaying games, and even inside WotC few make that much. If you’re established and well-respected already you can probably command a starting salary in the $40K to $50K range and that is a princely and unbeatable sum compared to what the rest of the industry can pay. Paizo? White Wolf? Steve Jackson? Fantasy Flight? No way.

    Green Ronin has been pretty happy with our contributions to the hobby over the last eight years but the industry is no better off post-D20 than it was in the late 80s and early 90s. Many signs point to it being significantly worse.

  8. matt says:

    Hi Nikchick, I was basing that number on the exchange rate which, I admit is all up in the air. Houses and living is much cheaper in the US than here.

    I agree with Nikchick that post-d20, the industry has taken a turn for the worse. I ascribe some of that to the d20 gold rush and I ascribe some more of it to the rise of card, console and MMO games – there’s just not enough time in the day and not enough dollars in the ‘entertainment’ wallet to justify gaming.

    And when Mark says he might just give up….

    Yes, yes,….it’s Mark’s fault.

  9. Mark says:

    Do you have to make it my fault? 🙂

    The truth is, even when I’m not roleplaying, I do get enjoyment out of it. But I’m equally frustrated by not actually getting to roleplay. I’ve been trying to get our regular group back to gether but scheduling and commitments are blocking and none of us know any other gamers we’d be willing to play with (most are D&D fanatics or that ilk, no offense). I guess it’s a balancing act and the negative perception that roleplaying gets isn’t helping.

    It’s a pity because I think roleplaying has the potential to have a much bigger scope than just fantasy gaming…

  10. matt says:

    My weekly group meet either Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday. Some weeks, like last week, we miss completely. And the week before we went for pizza. Next week looks promising though.

    We’re adults. It’s a game and we’re realists. We’re not like football fanatics where the game comes first.

    And yes, role-playing has the potential to reach much further than its current market. We have to ask ourselves why it isn’t.

  11. aidan says:

    One possible reason is that people are put off by the ever-aging population of the gaming community. Another is that it’s very male dominated, which excludes at least half the population, in a way that MMORPGs aren’t.

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