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Chamomile
Prince


Joined: 03 May 2011
Posts: 3846

PostPosted: Tue Nov 14, 2017 10:00 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote Add User to Ignore List

5e can seem very successful because, by all available evidence, it is absolutely thrashing its current competitors. The problem is, 4e sucked like whoa and caused a massive contraction of the market, so dominating that smaller market isn't actually much of an accomplishment. There is some evidence that 5e has grown the market at least somewhat since then, but not to the level that it's keeping pace with 3.X in its heyday.

In fairness, counting any level of success below that of the best selling game in the hobby's history as "a failure" isn't a very reasonable standard, and calling ISP stupid is a worthy goal. On the other hand, you can reasonably call a product a failure when it is inferior to an existing product that serves an identical or near-identical function (i.e. 5e might not be a failure if it were bad compared to Vampire: the Masquerade or Star Wars: Saga Edition, but being bad compared to an earlier edition of the same game is a failure, because that game is still an option), and there are plenty of other reasons to call ISP stupid.
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Mord
Master


Joined: 24 Apr 2014
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PostPosted: Tue Nov 14, 2017 10:31 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote Add User to Ignore List

jprepo1 wrote:
ICv2, self released sales stats, amazon, stores, et al. seem to indicate it as not just not a failure from a sales perspective, but a roaring success.


That's funny. We've discussed the ICv2 numbers at length in this very thread and sussed out a ballpark sales figure for 5e that didn't exactly break any records. But that was a while ago now; maybe it's time to revisit those numbers. I grabbed the ICv2 numbers for market size each year as well as the numbers for Top 5 RPGs each Spring quarter of the corresponding years:

Rank
Spring 2012
Spring 2013
Spring 2014
Spring 2015
Spring 2016
Spring 2017
1
Pathfinder
Pathfinder
Pathfinder
D&D
D&D
D&D
2
D&D
D&D
Star Wars
Pathfinder
Pathfinder
Pathfinder
3
Dark Heresy/Rogue Trader/Deathwatch
Star Wars
Shadowrun
Star Wars
Star Wars
Star Wars
4
Dragon Age
Iron Kingdoms
Fate Core
Shadowrun
Shadowrun
Adventures in Middle-Earth
5
Marvel Heroic Roleplaying
Dark Heresy/Rogue Trader/Deathwatch
Numenera
Iron Kingdoms
Fantasy/Dragon Age
Shadowrun


Year
2013
2014
2014 Revised (+Kickstarter)
2015
2016
Total Hobby Games Market
$700m
$880m
$920m
$1,190m
$1,440m
RPG Market
$15m
$25m
$25m
$35m
$45m


Also, though not easily put in tabular form, the "hobby store" market has apparently been growing every year since the "crash year" of 2008. "Fourth Consecutive Growth Year for Hobby Games" (ICv2, published March 2013). This is not same as the total hobby games market, since the market includes sales of products through hobby stores as well as other retailers.

So what's it all mean?

If we take these numbers at face value, you can spin up a narrative that a moribund Pathfinder-dominated RPG market got shaken up in June 2013 by Edge of the Empire, then totally turned upside-down in 2014 by the release of D&D 5e, which ushered in a renaissance in RPGs that has yielded remarkable year-over-year growth with D&D capturing the lion's share of the increase. But, that doesn't really jive.

For one thing, RPGs are a tiny footnote in the overall hobby games market. ICv2 alleges that from 2013 to 2016, the RPG market grew 200%, but in the same span the overall hobby games market grew 105%; the market share of RPGs in the hobby games space went from a paltry 2.1% to an also-paltry 3.1%. We are dealing with such tiny amounts here that any specific developments internal to the RPG market are likely to be no more influential than the rising tide of increased sales in all other categories (or just plain bad estimates from survey respondents).

There have been very few shakeups in the quarterly sales rankings since D&D 5 dropped in Fall 2014, and those are concentrated in the #4 and #5 spots. I assume that this is because sales in those positions are so tiny as to be essentially statistical noise; I don't think there's any insight to be gained in the random variations of 2015-2017 quarterly sales in marginal brands like Shadowrun, Fate, Adventures in Middle-Earth, Dragon Age, and Iron Kingdoms. The fact that Iron Kingdoms can be #3 in Spring 2013 and then #5 in Spring 2015 and Dragon Age can be #4 in Spring 2012 and #5 in Spring 2016 is telling, since both of these bridge the release dates of the new top brands. Even after D&D 5 and Star Wars dropped, you see the same names bobbing onto and off of the bottom of the list quarter over quarter. This suggests to me that the difference in sales between these brands is negligible and that they are all small potatoes compared to Star Wars, Pathfinder, and D&D, which remain comfortably in the top spots quarter after quarter.

The facts that we have available bear out that despite the reported market growth in absolute terms since 2014, no single one of the also-rans has captured enough of that growth to displace any of the existing top-level brands. We don't know exactly what the pie chart looks like quarter to quarter, so we can't say if the Big 3's overall market lead has been growing, shrinking, or remaining constant relative to the also-rans, much less how D&D's market lead over the other major brands has fared. However, we can make a few logical inferences from what we do know.

D&D 5e's release schedule has been inarguably anemic in the years since its launch. Attributing the growth in the RPG market principally to D&D 5e invites the question: is it plausible that D&D 5 would have so few new offerings each year after its 2014 release if the brand really brought in up to $10m in 2014, up to $20m in 2015, and up to $30m in 2016 (these are the maximums if D&D 5 represents 100% of RPG market growth since its launch)? If we were really seeing 100% sales growth year-over-year for two years straight, we should be seeing a 5e shovelware rush. Hell, Onyx Path deals in numbers a literal tenth of what we're talking about here and their pipeline is positively bursting in comparison.

From this, I'd infer that D&D 5 dropped into the top spot immediately based on strong core book sales (fueled by brand recognition) but hasn't realized meaningful gains in sales volume since then - hence there's no impetus to expand the range of titles on offer, which in turn keeps sales growth down; vicious cycle. D&D 5 has likely maintained a steady or gradually shrinking lead over Paizo, Fantasy Flight, and the also-rans since then due to continuing strong core book sales and weak splatbook offerings across all brands. It's not hard to stay on top even without splats if your core product is a hot item and Pathfinder is churning out bottom-of-the-barrel crap (and Starfinder doesn't appear to have changed the world). I don't think there's been anything in the recent releases for any of those 3 brands that would lend itself to any interpretation other than these 3 brands staying pretty much at status quo relative to each other.

Given the known fact that the relative market shares of the Big 3 have not reordered themselves in the last 3 years, can we say anything about the growth of also-rans versus the Big 3? To put it another way, can we determine if the proportion of the market eaten by the Big 3 has grown or shrunk since 5e dropped? The observable facts from places like Roll20 don't seem to support the narrative that there is a profusion of also-rans eating up an increased percentage of market share and leaving the Big 3 on a dwindling iceberg of market dominance; to the contrary D&D 5 composed almost half of all Roll20 games in Q3 2017. Consider once again that Dragon Age and Iron Kingdoms have been bobbing around, cork-like, in the Top 5 since 2012. I think the most reasonable explanation for this since D&D 5 released is that the Big 3 have eaten most of the growth, increasing their relative share of the total market without any reduction in sales volume for the also-rans in absolute terms (even absolute increases, depending on how much growth you think is actually happening in the market).

I am deeply skeptical of the ideas that 1) the RPG market has actually grown by 200% from 2013-2016 and 2) D&D 5 has experienced accelerating or even consistent sales growth year-over-year. Overall, I believe that the RPG market is a very static place, despite the nominal absolute increase according to ICv2. I think that the ICv2 numbers are broadly accurate for the hobby market as a whole, but that the specific RPG numbers are so tiny as to amount to a rounding error. I think D&D 5 is selling well relative to other RPG brands and much of those sales come from new money that wouldn't otherwise have been spent on RPG products, but I do not believe that D&D 5's year-over-year sales are increasing much if at all. (Consider again the anemic release schedule for D&D 5.)

I think it's most likely that RPG sales have risen proportionately with the broader hobby market, as people for the most part are just buying whatever is already on the shelf when they pick up Magic cards or a Cards Against Humanity expansion. I think that D&D will continue to be the market leader purely on the strength of name recognition and core book sales regardless of what other titles they publish (or not) in the near future. I think that D&D 5's sales growth relative to the overall hobby market has been pretty much nil since it dropped and that therefore the D&D line will not see major expansions in the near future.
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virgil
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Joined: 07 Mar 2008
Posts: 5984

PostPosted: Tue Nov 14, 2017 10:48 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote Add User to Ignore List

I want to bring attention to one company's behavior I wish to laud, Evil Hat, who have been releasing quarterly reports of their product line for years, with hard numbers. FATE Core, in its first two quarters (circa 2013), sold ~13k physical copies and an unknown number of PDFs (max of 1.5k). Its lifetime physical sales are ~25k, showing an obvious and expected slump. However, Evil Hat's actual product line is staggering in comparison, which makes their total sales figures arguably on par with 5E, which is a testament to its failure.

Now, where 5E has been succeeding is in RoI. They are putting in a tiny fraction of the effort and getting profits that are in the same ballpark as a dedicated company's product line. Sales for their PHB aren't experiencing the standard downward slump; and to not believe brand recognition is a huge factor in this is incredibly dishonest.
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Voss
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Joined: 07 Mar 2008
Posts: 3740

PostPosted: Tue Nov 14, 2017 11:37 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote Add User to Ignore List

That the Iron Kingdoms RPG pops up in the top five is really embarrassing for the industry. It is an amazingly terrible pile of shit.

Character creation defines everything, and you can either build for offense, not being hit or survivability. If you don't build for the latter, you can be one shot by just about everything, as the game is built on the back of the wargame, where normal people are expected to just die.
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erik
Prince


Joined: 07 Mar 2008
Posts: 4912

PostPosted: Wed Nov 15, 2017 2:09 am    Post subject: Reply with quote Add User to Ignore List

Well, I can thank jprepo for stirring up this tired old crap argument again.

This was interesting for informing me that Adventures in Middle Earth is a thing. Apparently it is a 5e DnD OGL mod. Of course not made by WotC, because who would be stupid enough to give a license for Middle Earth to the people behind Dungeons and Dragons who actually created that game engine when there's a company with gravitas like Cubicle 7.

What's funny is that 5e may be a semi-decent engine for the setting/genre. The things that are flaws for a proper DnD fantasy game work for Middle Earth. Heroes and monsters being brought down by bunch of mooks is accurate. Not having setting altering powers in the hands of players is appropriate for Middle Earth. It's still shit, but the right-ish kind of shit. If they actually added rules for things like stealth and such then it would seem to be quite a proper fit.


Oh my ghost. This is the closest I've ever been to being interested in 5e!
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