Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Pathfinder Outselling Dungeons and Dragons

Following a report from a few months back that Pathfinder had tied D&D 4e in sales, it now appears that Pathfinder has surpassed D&D:

On EnWorld yesterday Ryan Dancey, a former D&D brand manager at WotC, said:
Pathfinder from Paizo couldn’t exist without the OGL and the D20 System Reference Document. And according to my industry sources, it’s outselling Dungeons & Dragons a feat (no pun intended) I would have considered almost impossible 10 years ago.

The hobby retailer site ICv2 reports:
As far as the publishing side, Paizo’s Pathfinder line appears to have taken a huge chunk of market share away from D&D, with many stores reporting it supplanting 4th edition as their number one seller.

As of January 18, 2011 the top 5 bestselling Fantasy Gaming items are (removing misplaced fiction books): 
1. Pathfinder: Bestiary 2 
2. Pathfinder: Core Rules
3. D&D Player's Handbook
4. Pathfinder: Advanced Player's Guide
5. Dark Heresy: Blood of Martyrs

This is a remarkable achievement by Paizo. Pathfinder, a retroclone of D&D 3.5, is now outselling D&D 4e. I don't really play either of these games regularly, but I have to admit I'm extremely curious about why players are migrating (back) to Pathfinder in such a big way. This news should be very encouraging to old school gamers, because it shows that retrogaming products with grassroots support can sell big - at least in our relatively small world of roleplaying games.

Ironically - literally as I was writing this post my wife pulled my new copy of the Pathfinder Core Rules out of the mailbox and plopped it on the chair next to me! I've been curious to check this game out...


  1. What is 4e these days? Is it the 4e PHB? Is it the Essentials? If so, is that the new Red Box or those little digest books? What about the online presence? Is that where I get the rulebooks? Is D&D all of those things? If so, why?

    I don't see how a fragmented product helps anyone and am not surprised Pathfinder is rolling its parent.

  2. Easy answers here... 4th edition was a completely different game. 2nd to 3rd was incremental (some big increments there, but still incremental - D&D plus skills and feats). Nobody wanted anything new.

    All Hasbro now is the brand. Too bad for them they're killing the heart of it. It'd be more interesting if they took a hit on novel sales.

    Glad I don't have to figure out how to get that sinking ship afloat.

  3. I'd bet the farm that 4.5 or 5.0 or whatever will be more like a retro clone than it's current product.

    4.0 is the Spider-Man 3 of D&D. Overblown and lacking in understanding of what made the previous product good.

  4. Perhaps WotC will now begin to write OGL content for Pathfinder - modules . . . splat books . . . a rogues gallery maybe.


    - Ark

  5. This whole Pathfinder thing has been making me curious as well. I understand they get strong retail support from outlets like Barnes and Nobles as well. Not nearly enough as D&D 4e, but still, a presence nonetheless in a major retailer certainly can't hurt.

    I never played 3e,3.5, or 4e so I can't speak to the quality of those systems, but several of my friends have played around with 4e and have essentially told me it's WoW for table top. I don't know how accurate that description would be, but that's what they compared it to.

    Anyway, I've been curious to learn more about Pathfinder so I look forward to reading your thoughts on it as you thumb through it.

  6. Yep, Barnes & Noble have a lot of space devoted to pathfinder.

    Capcha: Whoriess. What the heck is that?

  7. I began my gaming with AD&D 2nd Ed, and abandoned it in favour of Vampire back in the day. I remember thinking it highly unlikely I'd ever pick up D&D, in any form, ever again. Then along comes the d20 OGL lines, and in those interpretations I found a level-based system I could believe in.

    3.5 was, IMO, a logical extention of the "new" D&D, and while I've only run a couple of Pathfinder sessions, I see that as yet another step in that same direction. It runs just a little smoother than its predecessors, and it has the added advantage of delivering everything in one, albeit very hefty, volume.

    4E... No thank you, sir.

    I have absolutely no problem understanding why Paizo is out-selling WotC on this.

  8. I think that it is understandable more than remarkable.

    Dungeons & Dragons Fourth Edition is a divisive product that isolates itself and its players from the brand’s almost forty years of history (why is it only recently that WotC is beginning to delve back into that history?), isolates itself from the rest of the hobby and industry (unlike Third Edition and the OGL) , and offers limited, repetitive play restricted to isolated battlefields.

    In comparison, Pathfinder remains essentially compatible with that almost forty years of history of Dungeons & Dragons, allows other publishers to release support for it, and still offers the same kind of play that while familiar has been tidied up a little. In addition, Paizo provides constant support for the game including a magazine style supplement that you can purchase casually, whereas with Dragon and Dungeon magazines, this is no longer possible.

    1. "In comparison, Pathfinder remains essentially compatible with that almost forty years of history of Dungeons & Dragons."

      Not even close. People need to quit pretending that the jump from 3.X to 4E was any larger than the jump from 2E to 3.0. Pathfinder and 3.X are NOT compatible with the pre-d20 editions of Dungeons and Dragons. To pretend otherwise in an attempt to smear 4E just makes you look ignorant.

  9. I imagine the curious player would have absolutely no idea what to buy if they wanted to try out D&D, as Christian mentioned its a fragmented product. "Which one of these three PHBs of varying sizes do I buy? Why's there an old 80's redbox sitting there?" etc.

    Of course, WotC's constant employee turnover doesn't help at all, and probably has a lot to do with how they seem to change strategies and plans before announced products can even get to the printers or out of development.

    Kind of sad, really.

  10. I agree with all that has been said here. I'm not surprised that Paizo is taking up the reins as the top RPG seller.

    One, they actually care about their fan base, and while Pathfinder is a business product, the way Paizo conducts itself to the players is awesome.

    I think another thing that Paizo has done that has been a smart move is make the entire Pathfinder line OGL. This gives 3rd party publishers more meat to work with and some really cool ideas can come out of it.

    I also like Paizo's business model of only a few books a year instead of tons of Splat books that cause edition fatigue, much as 3.5 suffered and 4e is suffering now.

    The fact that the Paizo adventures come with tons of helpful articles, new monsters, feats, adventure hooks, etc is really cool and does make those products more worth purchasing. Also that Paizo comes out with zines that flush out their world of Golarion shows fans that they are serious about support and continuing a really great product.

  11. @ wrathofzombie
    +1 to all of that. I couldn't agree more.

    It is extremely common to find Paizo staff on the messageboards interacting with fans and answering questions. You get a real sense that they actually care about the game and the fans and they seem to be enjoying what they do. Very much like the retro-clones of older editions, Pathfinder seems to be as much a labor of love as it is a way to make money.

    If you hated 3e then you probably won't like Pathfinder, but to me it(&3e) is the most versatile version of D&D published to date. There were complaints that it was too oriented on minis, but I have honestly never felt the need to use minis for the game. I rarely ever use them. Even though there are a ton of rules for this or that, the game is written so that you don't absolutely need them unless you want them. It has always been very easy for me to modify and GM 3e/Pathfinder on the fly with minimal prep. The system is only as hard/deep as you make it. IMO

    As for why Paizo can do what it has done I think the PR and interaction with the community is a big part of it. I also think the fact they are focused has a lot to do with it as well.

    The setting of Golarion may be a bit of a kitchen sink setting (most D&D settings have some comparable counterpart in Golarion), but they are actually taking the time to develop it. I can only imagine the confusing mess a setting like this would have been if WotC had tried it. But since this is Paizo's only setting they are pouring everything into making it right and consistent. That is a big plus for them.
    It may seem like they are putting out a ton of products for the game (Campaign Setting GM books, Player's companions, Adventure Paths and core rule books) but each one of them serves only to add detail to a single world. Yet that detail isn't as restricting as trying to run Dragonlance or FR. I'm probably not explaining myself well, but they are making Golarion a "living world" without making it difficult to play in. Generic detail is the best way I can describe it.

    Plus you have the added bonus of being able to use the books you've already bought (assuming you played 3e) with almost no hassle. I've run games with PCs from 3e, 3.5 and Pathfinder in the same game and never had a problem. Any differences in the builds was easily explained away as cultural or educational differences. It just worked. I still use my 3.x Monster Manuals and other sourcebooks when needed with no problem as well. How could I not love that?

    With Pathfinder, if you don't get all caught up in what the rule books says the game is simply a lot of fun.

  12. No surprise here. Pathfinder has the entire 3.x audience plus the Dragon and Dungeon audience plus the Paizo fan audience. Combine all that with Paizo employees that love AND PLAY the game and you just can't beat them. The only surprise is that 4E held on to the top spot as long as it did.

    I wonder what would happen if WoTC just revived 3.5 alongside 4E?

    Maybe WoTC needs to publish an updated Greyhawk setting under the PFRPG banner. This would be a huge seller and WoTC doesn't even have the overhead of maintaining the rules.

  13. I agree with most everything that has been said here. I just put up a post on my blog imagining what a post-WotC landscape would look like.

  14. What is 4e these days? Is it the 4e PHB? Is it the Essentials? If so, is that the new Red Box or those little digest books? What about the online presence? Is that where I get the rulebooks? Is D&D all of those things? If so, why?

    I imagine the curious player would have absolutely no idea what to buy if they wanted to try out D&D, as Christian mentioned its a fragmented product. "Which one of these three PHBs of varying sizes do I buy? Why's there an old 80's redbox sitting there?" etc.

    Yeah - this is something Dancey touched on in a comment to his post. For someone who wants to start playing 4e it's difficult to know exactly what book(s) you need to buy or what to do. It seems to be such a complex jumble of parallel product lines, errata, and online stuff. I'm sure it's all great fun for experienced detail-oriented enthusiasts, but I wouldn't be surprised if this demographic is starting to suffer from product burnout.

  15. Is this a case of Pathfinder doing really well, or Wizards of the Coast doing really badly?

  16. In comparison, Pathfinder remains essentially compatible with that almost forty years of history of Dungeons & Dragons, allows other publishers to release support for it, and still offers the same kind of play that while familiar has been tidied up a little.

    I think this comment is basically true. My initial reading of the Pathfinder core rules last night revealed a game that is pretty much a direct descendant of AD&D, but with tons of new character ability-oriented stuff added on. (I never played 2e or 3e, btw, so this is all new to me). I've played 4e, and it's a fun game, but it just feels fundamentally different than traditional D&D.

    One cool tidbit about Pathfinder is that they explicitly credit Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson as the original game designers. I think that's pretty classy.

  17. cyclopeatron:
    "My initial reading of the Pathfinder core rules last night revealed a game that is pretty much a direct descendant of AD&D..."

    Actually I think a slightly more accurate way of putting it is 3E is a direct descendant of AD&D and PF is a direct descendant of 3E. I've always felt that 3E brought the game back to the AD&D spirit with a cleaned up rule set. Pathfinder continues in that vein. That's why, I feel, the game resonates so well while 4E does not.

  18. Over the last several months, a reduced publishing schedule, moving the CB online, missing important updates, lack of clear communication, addition of collectible elements to the RPG game, and the exact opposite from Paizo, is a strong indication that WoTC is putting its focus elsewhere. I myself hope that this Gen Con the OSR table is able to move some product and take further advantage of the silver plater WoTC has given them.

  19. @C'nor - a "whoriess" is a fairy pricess whore. *grin*

    @Brunomac - I'd be willing to take that bet. I think Hasbro has lost shelf space and direction because D&D doesn't add to the bottom line enough to be worth the resources. I think a "4.5/5.0" is going to be more cards and more of the same. There won't be a brand new version.

  20. I also think it's a matter of perceived value. Sure, there are a lot of Pathfinder products, but most of them are about the setting. Most people buy only the ones that they need.

    But the crunchy core books? They pack a ton of material into each book, and then release at a comfortable rate. Each book is craved by the audience, and I've felt great about every purchase I've made.

    On the other hand, D&D 4e is the opposite. They've been releasing one or two expensive and small books every month. It's driving people away.

  21. I concur with alot of what has been said here. I own both Pathfinder and D&D 4E products. The funny thing is I hardly play PF and I run a 4E game. Yes both games run/play fundamentally differently. I think WoTC has driven away customers with its lack of presence and interaction with their eroding fan-base. Also, their recent business decisions are puzzling and does lack focus. It's very schizophrenic. Plus their flood of confusing product lines for D&D would frustrate any new player despite their goal of trying to capture "new blood".

    If there is a 4.5 or 5.0 D&D, I won't be buying it. "Fool me once shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me."

  22. In a way I am really disappointed by this official word on different levels. However, I am not surprised. WOTC made several decisions really early on that crippled and offended their fan base.

    1) Early Dragon & Dungeon Articles were almost all written by established In House Developers who were known to them. When called for submissions, they took none for over a year and a half. This on top of having such a Tight SRD and GSL that you couldn't even create a character editor that required a customer to have DDI Subscription TO USE, and you can see where almost all fan based support just vaporized. While there were hanger ons and others that tried hard to work in the confines, the lack of access to open source tools turned every developer away from producing real content.

    2) A Change in design goals halfway through production, which they launch just as they are launching their third year of support material alienated those that preferred their much more open design space. The continuing change in the paradigm continues to separate their customer base, as what might work in a CCG environment (Changing rules every printing) does not get even the most crunchy RPG'er to want to play.

    However, the damage was done at the very beginning. By telling the D&D 3E Community that they could not generate ideas and share them freely like they could before just created a divide that shattered their base, and their uncertainty and ignorance of the creativity of their fan base is what is making 4E falter as we speak.

  23. To me is seems that WotC has become so paranoid about their IP they put Siembieda to shame. It is like they are trying to wrap the entire D&D brand in this impenetrable shield that can only be accessed by a select group of their choosing. Essentially, no pun intended, shutting out every one else

  24. I composed THIS email to Ty Beard
    (of Traveller fame))

    Monday, February 01, 2010 8:20 AM

    > Subject: RE: something funny, something serious
    > how about that 'brilliant' game designer
    > Rob Heinsloo (sp?)
    > he mines A&E (alarmus and excursions) for a decade
    > then shows up for TWO issues to remind us all
    > that he is the lead designer on DnD 4E
    > he did such a good job developing a product
    > that 40y/o 'intellectuals' with gobs and gobs of free time would enjoy,
    > he forget about making a rule set that would
    > appeal to younger & casual gamers , as well as grognards
    > He produced an epic failure
    > at great expense;
    > therefore, Hasbro/ Wizards rewarded
    > him with a pink slip before Christmas 2009

  25. WotC also implemented a major shift with its flagship setting along with the transition into 4E. The way Wizards went about it didn't help them hold on to some fans of the pre-4E Forgotten Realms setting. While the loss of old fans may have been replaced by new fans, the negative press amongst that active and verbal community probably didn't help. This is on top of the usual edition wars amongst the rules discussions. For a time, the designers had to go on the 'defensive' regarding those changes in blog posts, podcasts and vlogs. They had to reassure the fans of their other settings that potential changes to those settings might not be as drastic.

    The changes to the FR setting, just like switch over from 3e to 4E created two camps in the fan-base. Players who don't use 4E rules or the 4E setting have little need to buy WotC’s books. Many have stayed with 3e (or 1e/2e), some have taken up Pathfinder as an updated alternative. Due to Pathfinder's near generic style, a lot of their material can be adapted with virtually no changes to 3e games, including the 3e Forgotten Realms setting. The Pathfinder setting being another take on the ‘kitchen sink’ pseudo-medieval fantasy setting offers many regions and kingdoms that thematically overlap existing locations in Greyhawk, Forgotten Realms and probably a good number of homebrew settings. Pathfinder material is often just a name change away from being slotted into any of those WotC settings.

    At the same time, Paizo began to pick up a lot of designers and talent that worked in previous editions and settings. Paizo really leveraged their connections from the Dragon/Dungeon days. That many non-4E players can so easily adapt Pathfinder material to their existing games and settings is partly due to the tone and style provided by this pre-existing pool of experienced designers. It is no accident that Wayne Reynolds is the cover artist for the first few Pathfinder books and many subsequent works. He is the same artist that did the Eberron setting covers and the 4E core rules covers. Paizo knew who their intended audience was and gunned straight for them. WotC’s decisions basically delivered a portion of their existing customers to Paizo as a neat little parting gift. This anti-WotC sentiment stems all the way back to the discontinuation of Dragon and Dungeon as print magazines.

    Not only did Paizo get known names to contribute to their game, they managed to get a lot of good new blood via freelancers, some from their print magazine era. The Pathfinder rules were publicly beta-tested and the rules continue to be offered free as OGL content. There is not better advertising than free. Paizo has maximized their audience participation with their RPG Superstar contest where the winner gets to write an adventure that will be published amongst Paizo’s regular main line adventure modules. The closest thing WotC did was their setting contest back in the early days of 3e that resulted in Eberron, except the steps of the RPG Superstar contest are transparent to all of Paizo’s fans. Fans got to vote for contestants.

    Then Paizo launched their Pathfinder Society analog to the RPGA with great success. Paizo’s books have made strong showings at the Ennie awards for the last two or three years. It seems Paizo has done everything as good if not better than WotC. As a smaller company they have less overhead and corporate profit requirements to meet, so they might be a great deal more nimble than Wizards.

  26. Regarding the novel department.

    Paizo has already gained a lot of geek cred with it’s Planet Stories novel line that reprints old pulp stories. Not to mentioned they also managed get China Mieville to contribute to one of their setting books. They are drawing in attention from some very different but related sources.

    The only thing that Paizo hasn’t really developed yet is their novel line, but they just launched one last season with some known D&D authors on their list, including best-selling author Elaine Cunningham. In the time between the launch of 4E and Elaine signing on for a Pathfinder novel, she pulled out of writing a much anticipated FR novel, a conclusion to a long running series with popular characters. While the split was amicable and Cunningham has since announced plans for another FR book, the cancellation did not prevent fans from thinking the worst of WotC. A similar thing happened with Paul S. Kemp, another very popular FR author. Kemp has since worked out his deal with WotC and resumed the series he was writing for WotC. Again, Wizards couldn’t catch a break as many fans automatically thought the problems rested only with WotC. When RA Salvatore signs on the dotted line for a Pathfinder novel, or better yet a series, then we might be able to call it.

  27. I commented on your post on my blog. :-)

  28. I'd take it with a grain of salt - Amazon sales rankings jump around (as I post this the Neo Red Box and the Monster Vault are ahead of the PHB and 3 days ago they weren't even on your chart and ICV2 measures a pretty small part of the market. Remember that that red box is being sold at Target, which is an order of magnitude beyond hobby store sales.

    I don't doubt Pathfinder is doing great and is likely the #2 RPG now - Good News for Paizo. I also know that 4E is in a weird place post-Essentials and seems to lack direction, or at least communication from the company. I'm just unwilling to join the frenzy of OMG's about this as I remember when Rifts used to show up in these top 10 lists all the time yet no one knew who was buying, playing, or running it.

    And who knows - if Paizo keeps rolling along and WOTC keeps dropping the ball we may be looking at a permanent change in the industry - I just don't think we're there yet.

  29. I'm a bit late to this discussion. Stumbled on it while just catching up on the chat online about the WoTC/Paizo duel.

    I'm an old-school mid-80's red box gamer and then AD&D fiend. I still have my old red and blue box plus all of my AD&D books. I love the old game. Did it have some flaws? Sure. But as an introductory experience there was non better. Dabbled in 2.0 but never bought anything for it. 3.0 I got the core set and while I liked a great deal of it I was somewhat turned off by just how damned long it took to draw up characters, what with having to lay out all the feats and abilities and such. Then 3.5 hit and I just kind of shook my head. I did by the 4.0 PH and PHB2 in a set that was on clearance, just to see what it was like. I can say that I think that artwork is awesome but the gameplay itself just seems way too power-gamey. It's very much like WoTC was only interested in bringing PC/Console RPG players into the tabletop realm, ignoring the core of what D&D was.

    I've looked over Pathfinder but not really in depth enough to make a strong case for or against them. But in the little bits I've seen so far I do like what they offer.

    What always struck me is that if you look back to the days when WoTC took over D&D from the folks at TSR, one of the main lessons they said should have been learned from TSR's ultimate failure was that they were simply churning out too many books and additional materials. For them, they said, it was about minimizing the releases and letting the game breathe.

    Funny how things have changed, since they've been cranking out books (teeming with errata) with every passing breath.

  30. LOL. Calling Pathfinder a retroclone? That's not true at all. Do some research.

    1. It's built on the same principles as a retroclone. The only difference is budget...and even some "true" retroclones are finding larger budgets these days.

      By the way, I think trusting ICv2 reports as a completely accurate picture of total sales is ridiculous. Especially since it is only counting print sales, and WotC stopped focusing on their print sales several years ago. I'd wager that if D&D Next refocused on print, it would kick Pathfinder back to the #2 slot in short order.


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