RPG Evolution – 2014 Q1

Hey everyone, Paul here again. As many of you know, I take Role-Playing Games pretty seriously, both as a gamer and a retailer.  It should come as no surprise to anyone reading this that for quite a while now, many hobby gaming retailers have been talking about the so-called “death of pen-and-paper RPGs” despite the success of Pathfinder.  Or indeed, perhaps because of Pathfinder eclipsing the popularity of Dungeons and Dragons.

I am of the opinion that many game stores are allowing this to be a self-fulfilling prophecy.  They’re not stocking enough RPGs, so they’re not selling.  It’s been about 18 months now since I wrote RPG EVOLUTION in an installment of my [Card.Board.Box.] column, and man, does that seem like forever ago (we were still in our old space)! In the time since then I’ve since gone on to teach a number of seminars at various industry events preaching the good word to retailers about selling RPGs.  I’ve become a bit of a go-to guy in the industry for RPG stuff, and it’s been really rewarding, with many retailers approaching me a year after they took my class and telling me they’ve started to see quantifiable results.

This year at the GAMA Trade Show, I taught my RPG seminar a few more times, and some follow-up conversations with some other retailers have lead me here, to the beginning of a new column, to be published quarterly, called simply RPG Evolution.  I hope it is of value to any retailers that may find this, and at least somewhat interesting to any RPG gamers that read this as well.  What’s the point?  Well, it’s a chance to share what it is that people are playing and buying here at Games and Stuff.  Every quarter, I’m simply going to list the Top 20 Role-Playing Games (by sales numbers) for the quarter.  This whole thing largely came about because when I saw the list at ICV2 for the best selling RPGs at hobby stores in the Quarter 3 of 2013 (link HERE)… I wanted to yell“You guys aren’t even f*cking trying!” Now, admittedly, those numbers from ICV2 are largely anecdotal, but still..

I mean, Iron Kingdoms is a perfectly fine game, but it’s been out for 18 months, and only has four items in the line.  I imagine hobby store owners and managers (those with anemic RPG sections) thinking, “hey, we sell Warmachine, I bet the Iron Kingdoms RPG would sell.”  I’m sorry, but Iron Kingdoms was a best-selling RPG (in the country!) in the months following the release of Shadowrun fifth edition, Numenera, and 13th Age?  You’re not even trying. I’m not saying that I know more than anybody else when it comes to RPGs, but the fact of the matter is that at Games and Stuff we sell a LOT of them.  In 2013 alone, we sold slightly more than $100,000 in RPG stuff.  And that’s compared to the slightly more than $40,000 that we made in 2010… so we must be doing something right… we’ve seen steady growth in our RPG section over the last four years.

So.  The Top 20 list.  A few notes about it.  Yes, Pathfinder is #1 (and will probably remain so for a while.)  It’s #1 by a long shot.  But I want to point something out… in our computer system at the store, we separate out RPGs by a few categories: Pathfinder, D&D; Shadowrun; Star Wars; Warhammer 40K; and “Other”.  So yes, Pathfinder is #1, but if you simply listed Other as it’s own category, it would beat Pathfinder to the #1 spot.  And it’s been doing so for years.  Role-Playing Gamers are an experimental lot.  They buy and play (or at least read) lots and lots of titles from a wide variety of games.  So you retailers out there, if you take away one thing from this article, take this: stock more games.  Yes, support your big boys, but it’s the little guys that are making our RPG section so robust for us.  So anyway, let’s take a look at the list.  Here, in order, are the Top 20 best selling Role-Playing Games at Games and Stuff in the period between January 1st and March 31st 2014:

1.  Pathfinder
-It should be noted that this is in the top spot without even accounting for novels, flipmats, map packs or Pathfinder branded dice or card accessories.

2.  Dungeons & Dragons
-Alive and well at #2 thanks to the reprints of older editions and the success of the two Sundering module releases.  Which I think are amazing, btw.

3.  Star Wars
-Interestingly, this rarely gets played in the store.  But the sales on this line are huge, and will only increase with the release of Age of Rebellion.

4.  Shadowrun
-Conversely, we run 2-3 weekly tables of Shadowrun Missions at the store, and I am personally a huge fan, which translates into sales.

5.  Warhammer 40,000
-At a bit of a sales ebb at the moment, though second edition Dark Heresy should re-invigorate the line.  Now if only I could talk FFG into making a Runebound/Terrinoth RPG!

6.  Fate
-Its price point and clean graphic design combined with its equal emphasis on combat and social challenges make it a game with wide appeal.

7.  The One Ring
-My personal favorite RPG of all time.  I promote the crap out of this, and I think more people should give it a chance.  As soon as people really take a look at it, they are instant fans.  Revised edition, and the addition of Rohan and Gondor as playable cultures should blow this game up in a big way later this year.

8.  Legend of the Five Rings
We have a small but VERY loyal following for this game.  I can count on every new release selling 6-8 copies in the first week, without fail.

9.  Numenera
-The new kid on the block.  It will be interesting to see what kind of legs this thing has.  It’s certainly got the aggressive release schedule to back it up.  One to watch.

10.  White Wolf
-This includes all World of Darkness products.  We are part of a beta program with Onyx Path, the current license holders.  So while these games are not available to stores through traditional distribution, we are able to get them via Print-On-Demand services through a deal with the publisher.

11.  Call of Cthulhu
-We stock this line pretty deeply, and we have a couple of Lovecraft fans on staff.

12.  Dresden Files
-This thing sells itself.  It’s only two books!

13. Mutants & Masterminds
-Easily the best superhero RPG on the market.  It’s got great support, it looks amazing, and the DC license if that’s your thing.

14. Burning Wheel/Torchbearer
-Burning Wheel in general seems to do pretty well.  Torchbearer had quite a bit of buzz upon release, but I don’t expect to see this on the list again next quarter.  If only we could get Archaia to reprint Mouse Guard!

15. Fiasco
-Thank you Wil Wheaton.  And thank you Jason Morningstar for creating an easily accessble GM-less RPG!

16.  Hillfolk
-Listed as one of my Best RPGs of 2013.  Really innovative.  Classic RPG play crossed with the collaborative storytelling style of the indie games like Fiasco.

17. Dungeon Crawl Classics
-The preeminent old-school retro D&D experience.  Having a stand up floor display gives this line the exposure it deserves.

18. Victoriana
-Steampunk RPG with Cubicle 7’s excellent production values. ‘Nuff said.

19. Deadlands Noir
-Another new entry.  A bit of nostalgia for Deadlands, plus the appeal of the weird Noir setting propelled sales on this.

20. Tenra Bansho Zero
-I don’t imagine this will stay on this list, but a pretty, good looking anime inspired rulebook with a $50 price point lands it a spot on this quarter’s list.

So there’s that.  What’s actually being played in our store?  Lots of Pathfinder.  A fair amount of Shadowrun.  Plus a little bit of D&D 3.5 and 4E.  And it’s not uncommon to have a group or two that rotates through different stuff every week or month…so there’s a sprinkling of all kinds of weird stuff.

And that’s all I’ve got this time around.  Hopefully useful to other game stores, and at least interesting to gamers.  How about it retailers?  What else would you like to see me talk about here?  I’m here because you asked me to be.

And what about you Role-Playing Gamers?  What were you playing in the first three months of 2014?  Which of your current favorites aren’t on the list?

You can respond here, or email me directly at PAUL@GAMESANDSTUFFONLINE.COM