My Thoughts on ICv2’s 2013 Hobby Survey Results and the Top 5 RPGs Spring 2014 List

A while ago, ICv2 has released the results of their 2013 hobby survey results. According to them the gamer market has reached around $700 million at retail in the US and Canada. Surprisingly the RPG market makes up only about $15 million. I am not surprised that CCGs, boardgames and cardgames make much more than RPGs but $15 million sounds a bit low to me. But there might be several reasons why their study came up with this number.

From what I understand “retail” means brick-and-mortar stores and doesn’t cover online sales made by publishers directly, venues like DriveThruRPG, Amazon, et cetera (Please correct me, if I am wrong). If that’s the case, $15 million might only be the tip of the iceberg. In my vicinity brick-and-mortar stores selling RPGs have all but vanished over the last years and what I hear from my online friends in the US things are not looking much better over there. So a lot of gamers have to rely on other ways to get their hands on their roleplaying stuff than going to their local gaming store.

In addition to that I know a lot of gamers who don’t buy printed books anymore but solely rely on PDFs which they can display on their tablet PCs or notebooks. And there are huge amounts of RPG products – especially by small-press publishers – which aren’t even available in print, and are probably not counted in ICv2’s survey. Hopefully someone from the industry can tell us more about the sales made in the RPG scene and if $15 millions sounds plausible or not.

The other surprising fact revealed by ICv2 was that D&D didn’t make it on the Top 5 RPGs list this spring. Again you have to take this with a grain of salt, since I believe that they just have a rather limited perspective on the whole market. The most sold game in Spring 2014 was (no surprise there) Pathfinder, followed by Star Wars by FFG, Shadowrun, Evil Hat’s Fate Core and Monte Cook’s Numenera. So D&D sold less than Numenera in Spring 2014.

But is it really so surprising? After some thought I realized that this makes a lot of sense. By then everone knew that D&D 4th Edition was dead. If I am not mistaken no new products have been released in 2014 and D&D 5th Edition was already pretty close, even though the Starter Set hasn’t been out at this point. So there’s not much sense to run into the stores and buy stuff for a game that will not be supported anymore. On the other hand people are still actively playing all the games on the list and – more importantly – talking about them. I’m actually pretty sure that D&D will make a reappearance in the Summer or Fall Top 5 RPGs lists.

So what are your thoughts on ICv2’s surveys? Am I right with my definition of “retail”? Please share your comments below!

Michael Wolf is a German games designer and enthusiast best known for his English language role-playing games blog, Stargazer's World, and for creating the free rules-light medieval fantasy adventure game Warrior, Rogue & Mage. He has also worked as an English translator on the German-language Dungeonslayers role-playing game and was part of its editorial team. In addition to his work on Warrior, Rogue & Mage and Dungeonslayers, he has created several self-published games and also performed layout services and published other independent role-playing games such as A Wanderer's Romance, Badass, and the Wyrm System derivative Resolute, Adventurer & Genius, all released through his imprint Stargazer Games. Professionally, he works as a video technician and information technologies specialist. Stargazer's World was started by Michael in August 2008.

2 thoughts on “My Thoughts on ICv2’s 2013 Hobby Survey Results and the Top 5 RPGs Spring 2014 List”

  1. It doesn’t completely surprise me that RPGs are that small in the overall hobby game market. For one, you’re right that if they’re excluding PDFs and ebooks, that hurts RPGs more than, say, miniatures and board games (where physical sales are sort of a requirement, on some level). Also, are direct sales counted in the survey? I do more purchases directly from the publisher than I did 15 years ago (where almost all of my purchases were at a local game store).

    For two, look at how much it costs to be a miniatures gamer. It’s a VERY expensive hobby. Collectable games can be pretty expensive as well. So I would expect those markets to be a bigger slice of the money count even if they’re not a bigger slice of the population count.

    For three, board games have been really popular lately, and they have a MUCH broader audience (I mean, “mainstream” people play hobby board games, sometimes, but they’re much less likely to play RPGs, in my observation). This is probably the biggest population count in the hobby game market. There have been a lot of really good titles coming out lately, and lots of franchise/licensed titles as well.

    So you’ve got 3 market segments that are likely to be much bigger, money-wise, than RPGs. Then add in the possibility that the largest segments of growth in the RPG industry might not even be counted in this survey. It’s plausible to me that this makes the RPG industry look disproportionately small.

    I’m also completely unsurprised that D&D didn’t make the cut. I no longer consider D&D to be the dominant game/franchise. That’s now Pathfinder, IMO. I wont be surprised if it makes the bottom of the list once 5e is being counted … but I wouldn’t be surprised if it still doesn’t make the list, either. I would be mildly surprised if it ever re-takes the #1 slot.

  2. I remember when this popped up in my news feeds. I wasn’t surprised to see D&D down and out at all. For the exact reason stated, this Spring there wasn’t much to D&D. Most folks with eagerly awaiting 5e to hit the shelves. I wouldn’t be surprised to see it overtake Pathfinder the quarter everything’s finally out. Paizo’s got an edge in popularity, but most folks already have their books. The new D&D will be, well, new.

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