EN World Says RPG Market Shrinking

EN World posted the State of EN World address today. One portion of the article posted addressed the state of the RPG Industry today. The key portion from the article:

“And what of the RPG industry in general? [ … ] The industry as a whole is shrinking – I say this not because I know it, but because I’ve heard it: first from Ryan Dancey at the end of 2011, who predicted it (“The effects on the TRPG market are now quite visible. At GenCon 2011, the number of companies that were paying full time salaries for TRPG game designer/developers was reduced to a short list”); followed by Mongoose’s Matt Sprange at the end of 2012 who confirmed it (“The current RPG market is miserable. There really is no other word for it…. If the top tier games are selling at these levels, then something is seriously wonky in the market.”)

So with the dominant game apparently changing, and the market itself drastically shrinking, it looks like the environment is a very different one to just a short few years ago. I’m no expert; nor do I have any special insight or data (though if there was the usual mass-layoff at WotC this Christmas, I missed it – maybe that’s a good sign?) but this seems to be what folks in the industry are saying. Let’s hope it’s not as drastic as it sounds!”

I’m sorry, really? First, while I thought the Ryan Dancey series at EN World this year was an interesting perspective into the RPG industry, it was only one viewpoint. Seeing as some of Ryan Dancey’s points in his original articles were that MMOs were breaking the TTRPG social circles and VTTs were failing, I obviously have to take his points with the grain of salt.

The social media circles I am in are filled with people talking about RPG gaming of all sorts! My twitter feeds are full of gaming related tweets, #rpgchat typical trends on twitter, my G+ circles move too fast to keep up and at least one RPG community on G+ is 3400+ strong and growing. While I know MMO numbers are strong and millions play, I would hardly say MMOs have broken the social networks of Tabletop Gamers. The social scene seems stronger today than it has been for a long time!

Even within Ryan’s articles he acknowledges the evolutionary path is digital for RPGs. Now this I agree with. But a shifting market does not necessarily mean a market that is drastically shrinking.

Next up the EN World article cites Matt Sprange of Mongoose games as another indicator of a shrinking market. Yes, Matt says RPG sales have been, but one must keep reading his post:

“On the other hand, RPG sales among PDFs, spearheaded by DrivethruRPG.com, are fairly booming.”

Matt was talking about print releases of product, he admits PDF sales are booming. This hardly confirms the RPG market is shrinking. It confirms the RPG market is evolving!

I can understand WotC’s sales might be hurting a bit. They are finding themselves in the awkward position of being between editions during an extended playtest of the next version. They also are not offering PDFs of their products even though this appear to be the direction other players in the industry are heading.

Paizo certainly appears to have moved into the heavyweight position for the moment. They churn out steady product and allow people to purchase their product in PDF form.

One only needs to look at Kickstarter to see RPG products are moving in other ways. Dungeon World had 2400+ backers, Fate Core is currently 5,100+ backers, Reaper’s Minis was at 17,000+ backers, and many more examples of RPG related products selling well there.

I think it is a little premature to say the RPG market is shrinking unless one is just not keeping up with how the market is evolving. Basing this on print sales, or even on how D&D and Pathfinder related products are doing is not an accurate barometer anymore. There are many more venues to support RPG products from the small guys and for systems that might not be “mainstream”. If you are a company still producing D&D compatible product it might seem the market is shrinking, but it might be you are missing out on some of the other markets.

The RPG market is likely more fractured than it used to be when WotC was the predominant creator, but I am not quite buying the market has shrunk.

5 thoughts on “EN World Says RPG Market Shrinking

  1. Numenera was $517K for an idea of a game from Monte Cook with 4.6K backers.

    There are a lot of ideas out there getting attention, and the space is evolving. The tabletop won’t go away, but what we use at it will change.

    Then again, it’s a hobby, and it’s fun. It’s not my dayjob. It may be that it’s growing impractical to support a large stable of designers the way TSR/WOTC/company of your choice did, once upon a time. That doesn’t mean the market is shrinking. It means, as you said and I agree, something is changing.


    • How could I have forgotten to mention Numenera! Definitely another great example of RPG products receiving money and a good number of backers via non-traditional methods.

      I could certainly see the case that it is becoming more impractical to support a large stable of designers. I agree with you, that doesn’t mean the RPG market is shrinking, it means it is changing as technology advances.

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