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.)


  1. I don't buy any argument that suggests WotC can get away with anything resembling 'treading water' for years.

  2. Wow, this was indeed astonishing news. I'm not that surprised that Pathfinder is giving 4E a run for their money - the general buzz in the community has led me to assume that already. What made me raise my eyebrows were the numbers. 3000 copies puts you on the Top 5!?!

    This is indeed an exclusive hobby we're in to.

    It would, however, be interesting to see how many "copies" the OSR-community is distributing. Even a few hundred would make it a major participant in the market...

  3. I don't buy any argument that suggests WotC can get away with anything resembling 'treading water' for years.

    Te be fair the words "treading water" are mine, but the main gist of Skarka's post, which is purely speculative, is that tabletop RPGs are so unprofitable that Hasbro is probably eyeballing a MMORPG as the next major step for D&D.

    Another thing I should probably add to the OP is that Hasbro has a lawsuit pending against Atari to get the online rights for D&D back before 2017.

  4. 'It would, however, be interesting to see how many "copies" the OSR-community is distributing. Even a few hundred would make it a major participant in the market...'

    That's a great point. If 3,000 copies can get you onto ICv2's list maybe the small fish aren't as small as they seem. Hell, total hardcopy sales of my two books are only one order of magnitude smaller. I don't have actual data, but I think Fight On! regularly sells 500+ copies with each new issue.

    On the other hand, I bet there are distro chain thats ICv2 doesn't include in their calculations. I wouldn't be surprised if the D&D/Pathfinder tie was nothing more than an artifact of the data gathering process.

  5. I wouldn't be surprised if the D&D/Pathfinder tie was nothing more than an artifact of the data gathering process.

    I dunno... I just checked on and Pathfinder is second only to D&D 4e (including the Gamma World supplement) in the bestseller ranks.

  6. It would not surprise me if White Wolf outsold D&D back in the days TSR was dying. This is not saying that WotC or 4E is dying. D&D has always been the opening gate to RPGs in general and it is unsurprising that people have tried other things. The real test is what will the numbers look like next month...was this a fluke of economics or a true reflection of player tastes?

    Numbers like these are always open to large forms of interpretation. For instance, I bought 9 Pathfinder products last month. One adventure and a slew of generic maps. Therefore I must be playing Pathfinder. However, I will be using all of them in my 4E game and I do not play the Pathfinder system.

    As for 3000 being a low number, I would say 3000 is a high number. I have heard in the past that reaching 1000 copies over the lifetime of a publication's life is doing well in our niche market.

  7. Remember this is all just data ICv2 culled for various sources, it has quite a bit of error in it.
    Also it is only ordinal data. There is no way to know how large the gap is between 5th and 4th place, let alone 5th and 1st place.

    I data does have a good "feel" to it, since it supports anecdotal evidence from other sources, but it is at best only a thumbnail of what is happening.

  8. I find the menainging or overall market reality of this highly suspect. Pathfinder is certainly doing well but there would be no D&D Essentials if it were selling so poorly it was moving units in the single digit thousands for a quarter as corporate America doesn't have the patience or desire to produce for such a micro-market.

    They can't be on a holding pattern with lousy sales until 2017, it simply can't happen.

  9. I'd be interested to see if the "sales" from DDi subscriptions were included in that. I know that I have maintained a DDi subscription for quite a while, but have not purchased any paper 4e products in at least 2 years.

    And Pathfinder has nothing like DDi.

  10. I saw this a while back on ENWorld. While fun data to look at, there's not really much of substance to pull from it. This says WotC and Paizo tied for number 1 for the third quarter. That could very easily mean both parties sold about 400 books apiece during those three months, or both sold 10,000 books.

    While I tend to root for the underdog (Paizo) in most circumstances, I suspect in this case the rankings had more to do with Paizo releasing two very "core" books (Gamemastery Guide and Advanced Players Guide) while Wotc was pretty much on hiatus while putting the finishing touches on their Essentials line, with the "new" redbox appearing late september, or the tail end of the sales quarter.

    Again, even my assumptions may be totally off, as the companies play their cards so close to the chest with regards to actual sales figures. And who knows what skewing factors are at play when you consider online retailers like Amazon and "big" book retailers like B&N, neither of which report sales to icv2, iirc.

  11. Another thing I've been wondering, is whether these numbers are US-sales, or if they include global sales.

    As with all statistics, there are a lot of variables that can affect the interpretation of the table. As it stands, I agree with Al's statement, "there's not really much of substance to pull from it."

    But it sure is fun :)

  12. As I understand, these are sales through traditional distribution channels, which means brick-and-mortar stores: FLGSs, Barnes & Noble, etc. They might include Amazon but don't include direct sales (so almost certainly don't include DDI or Pathfinder subscriptions). However, there may be some sort of statistical jiggery-pokery to account for that sort of thing using the numbers they do have.

  13. Pathfinder has caught up with D&D in my opinion for two reasons:

    1) It is easier to run and comprehend.
    2) In this economy spending the amount of money that would be required to keep up with D&D4E is sizable. Just getting into D&D4E with all of the player and DM options would cost over $300 easily. With Pathfinder the price is rising, but still considerable less.

    I myself like Pathfinder and run it at times because it is more streamlined and I prefer the presentation. 4E is an unwieldy behemoth. Heck, I play DDO and it reminds me more of Pathfinder than D&D4E.

    Will tabletop rpgs die out? Maybe one day, when dice are made illegal or pencil lead runs out, but not at the idle speculation of GMS, who actually has never impressed me much anyway with his rantings and ramblings. The sooner he leaves the industry the better.

  14. I know a lot of people will see this as referendum on 4E, but I'd bet that Wizards doesn't see it that way.

    To them this is a total condemnation of their decision to open up 3E. If they had kept 3E for themselves, then people wanting to continue to play 3.5 would have the same options available as those wanting to play even older editions.

  15. Um, ancientvaults, how do you figure the math there? I could spend 12$ on 1 month of DDi and have ALL the options and ALL the monsters produced thus far in 4e. And I could keep it after the month was over, too. There isn't a cheaper deal in gaming out there.

    Also, DDO is based on the 3e ruleset, so it pretty much better remind you of Pathfinder.

    Validation word: hotion (potion of ho summoning - AKA, mike's hard lemonade).

  16. I don't feel anyone is abandoning TTRPG now, they are just scaling back their investment in the market, which is not the same thing.

  17. @Wickedmurph: My math is based upon walking into bookstores and looking at shelves. DDi is nothing to someone just getting into the hobby, how would an average person know of it? Most people still appreciate tangibles and books.

    And, "Um" (as you say), there are many cheaper options out there. I could use the Pathfinder SRD and have most everything there for free. I run retro-clones, most have free versions.

  18. "And Pathfinder has nothing like DDi."
    That isn't exactly correct. Paizo doesn't have a monthly subscription to a program you can use, but they do have subscription options to every product in the Pathfinder line that gets newly released print products delivered right to your door. Many Pathfinder fans subscribe to multiple lines.
    I have a subscription to the Adventure Paths and Pathfinder Tales(Novels). That's $20 per month for the AP (awesome 90+pg book) and $10 every 2 months for the new novels, plus pdfs for both.
    Besides the two I subscribe to there is the Campaign Setting/Chronicles line ($15 & Up every 1-2 months), the Adventure Modules ($13 every 2-3 months), the Player's Companion line($10 every 1-2 months), Gamemastery line(varies)and I think they have a few more subscription options. Given the amount of people that seem to have subscriptions to at least 1 of those lines, that's a lot of product moved on a monthly basis.
    That doesn't even include the people who only by items as they are released, & the ones that buy just the pdfs. If you combine the online sales from other sites (e.g. Amazon), the individual online sales at Paizo, the montly subscriptions to print products, and the brick and mortar sales, I can see where it is would be possible to tie with D&D. Especially given how fond people were/are of 3e and Paizo.
    I'm not saying that D&D doesn't sell well, it is D&D after all, but other than the subscription to DDi they don't have that monthly, affordable product purchase option like Paizo.
    I think the dent Pathfinder made in D&D's market share is the exact reason that Essentials was created. WotC/Hasbro saw how many people held a grudge and/or loved 3e and they had to come up with something that would lure those players back to D&D as well as bring in new players.
    Personally was not a fan of 4e, but I do like Essentials. I'm using it right now to teach my 12 year old how to play. Essentials is much more clearly written and enjoyable to read, IMO, than original 4e, plus the surface similarity to a video game is something my daughter can connect with. For that purpose Essentials works quite well, but I'm still dying to break out the PFRPG books and get another game going.
    I personally prefer Pathfinder, and I'll eventually move her over to that, but right now I'm buying the cheap D&DE products too, at the moment. Once Essentials if over, I'll probably stop buying and stick with PFRPG.

    As for the sales numbers, I've read posts on the Paizo boards, supposedly from Paizo people, that say the gap between number 5 on that list and number 1 & 2 is quite substantial. So D&D and PFRPG sell a whole lot more than Dresden. Of course no numbers were given and I'm taking their word on it, but they made it sound like the 3,000 was barely for Dresden was barely a drop in the bucket compared to what the products in the top two slots (3 if you count the tie) do in sales.

  19. Wow, a passive-aggressive retro-clones fan. I shall pretend to be surprised. And then I shall ignore you.

    I didn't know about all the different Pathfinder subscription options - I especially like the print and pdf combination. I've thought that was the best way of doing rpg sales for a while. It does sound like Paizo's subscription options are up there with DDi.

    I haven't tried Essentials yet, and we've moved to a Rules Cyclopedia game, but I'll have to give it a try.

  20. @Wickedmurph: Actually, I am an extremely agressive person and you have irritated me with your nonsense. I am not just a retro-clone fan, if you look at my blog, I am not into edition wars, I am a firm believer that any game that you play and enjoy is the right one. However, I was pointing out that there ARE other free options out there, 4e (which I have run) is not the Be All End All.

  21. And....if I were buying a game for a child I would buy Pathfinder, not only because I run that game (or do I if I am such an close-minded grognard as wickedmurph is insinuating?) but also because the presentation is amazing.


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