Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Pathfinder Ties 4e in Sales. Did Hasbro Drop the Ball With D&D?

Any game wearing the name Dungeons and Dragons will always be the undisputed king of RPGs, right? Well, not anymore... These data from ICv2 show the top 5 selling RPGs of the third quarter of 2010:

Top 5 Roleplaying Games – Q3 2010

1 (Tie)
Dungeons & Dragons
Wizards of the Coast
1 (Tie)
Paizo Publishing
Warhammer Fantasy
Fantasy Flight Games
Dark Heresy/Rogue Trader
Fantasy Flight Games
Dresden Files
Evil Hat

This isn't a topic I follow very closely, but I have to admit I was shocked to see Pathfinder tie D&D 4e for first place in sales. Despite the name recognition, historical fan base, massive corporate backing, product penetration, clever sales gimmicks (like selling packages of miniatures where buyers don't know what they're getting - fucking brilliant), etc. it looks like Hasbro is having a hard time keeping D&D on top. I am honestly totally shocked.

This tie is especially interesting because it is essentially a real-time referendum where gamers are choosing between a previous edition (Pathfinder is a clone of 3.5e) and a current edition. The fact that an independent company publishing a clone of an old ruleset under a different name can directly challenge Hasbro's D&D 4e is astonishing.

This Top 5 list is also interesting for a few other reasons. There's a post at Gareth-Michael Skarka's Designer Monologues blog about the impending death of the tabletop RPG market (this post is where I found the ICv2 link, by the way). Although people frequently discuss this topic, hard data are always rare. Of course, none of the actual sales numbers for the top games are available - except for Dresden Files, that is. It turns out that if you combine the two main Dresden Files rulebooks together LESS THAN 3000 copies of the game were sold. Therefore, a game can make the Top 5 RPG sales list by moving fewer than 3000 units. A tiny market, indeed! On top of everything White Wolf is basically abandoning its tabletop RPGs to get into MMORPGs, and Games Workshop felt that its RPGs were so minimally profitable they spun them off to Fantasy Flight Games, a boardgame company.

The main thrust of Skarka's original post, however, was speculation that Hasbro is kind of treading water with D&D - holding out until 2017 when Atari's rights to the D&D MMORPG expire (Hasbro has a lawsuit against Atari to make this happen sooner), at which point Hasbro will step in and use the D&D IP and name recognition to compete with WoW. The big question is, if and when this happens will Hasbro still maintain a version of D&D as a tabletop game...?

(Click here to read NeoGrognard's a cheery rebuttal to Skarka's post.)