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.
- 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.
- 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?
fewlot 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.