RPG Evolution – 2014 Q2

So here we are again.  Another three months have passed, and what’s the RPG department at Games and Stuff look like?  For those of you just joining us, you may want to check out the first RPG Evolution article from back in APRIL, where we talk about what this whole thing is about.

Let’s start with the raw numbers.  Here are the Top 20 best-selling Role Playing Game lines (by dollar volume) at G&S from April 1 through June 30, 2014.  In instances where the game was in last quarter’s Top 20, I’ve noted that position as well.

1. Pathfinder (Q1 Rank #1)
2. Star Wars (Q1 Rank #3)
3. Dungeons and Dragons (Q1 Rank #2)
4. Warhammer 40,000 (Q1 Rank #5)
5. Shadowrun 
(Q1 Rank #4)
6. Mutants & Masterminds 
(Q1 Rank #13)
7. Call of Cthulhu 
(Q1 Rank #11)
8. The One Ring 
(Q1 Rank #7)
9. Fate 
(Q1 Rank #6)
10. Legend of the Five Rings 
(Q1 Rank #8)
11. Numenera 
(Q1 Rank #9)
12. White Wolf 
(Q1 Rank #10)
13. Lamentations of the Flame Princess
14. Dungeon Crawl Classics 
(Q1 Rank #17)
15. Doctor Who
16. Fading Suns
17. Kobolds Ate My Baby
18. Conspiracy X
19. Savage Worlds
20. Dungeon World

So, what’s interesting here?  Well, first of all, let’s look at what’s missing.  A fair amount.  Fiasco, Torchbearer, Dresden Files, Hillfolk, Victoriana, Deadlands Noir, Tenra Bansho Zero… all of them ranked last time, but are missing from this list, to be replaced by seven different titles.  That’s not to say these high ranking games from last quarter tanked for us in the last three months, as many of them are in the #21-30 ranking.  But what this shows is the ebb and flow of these second and third tier games.

Not every game is Pathfinder, or even Call of Cthulhu.  Which is to say that some games do well for us, but apart from slow and steady decent core book sales, may only put out a supplement a couple of times of year.  So a game like Doctor Who for example, may sell a couple pieces a month, but when a new release hits, we might move 6-10 of them, which gives the line a nice sales bump.  Plus the “hot newness” factor and exposure of the new release may momentarily revitalize interest in the game so that folks who have been on the fence about picking up the Core book might make the plunge. Lamentations of the Flame Princess is another game on the list that saw the benefits of a string of new releases, including a new edition of the core rules.

A few specific thoughts about this quarter’s list:

Kobolds Ate My Baby and Fading Suns are both brand new lines (or at least reprints of older lines with a lot of goodwill behind them).  Nice sales out of the gate were not unexpected, but I can’t imagine either game will see this list again.  And to be honest, I never would have guessed we would move so many units of Kobolds.

Dungeon World, the current darling of Indie Press Revolution, is only seeing a stronger and stronger growth curve, and while I expect to see it continue to do well, a lack of supplementary material means it probably won’t see the sales volume needed to stay on this list much longer.  Especially with the recent release of the new D&D Starter Set, folks looking for that old school feel may simply turn to that.  (Speaking of D&D, it’ll be really interesting to see where that old warhorse falls on this list in three months time, eh?)

The One Ring has been given an intense marketing push on Cubicle 7’s website over the past few months, which has really driven awareness.  We started taking pre-orders for the new Revised Edition on June 25th (the tail end of this reporting period) but other than that, there hasn’t been a new release for the game in months.  I expect a massive sales spike next quarter, with the new edition and a much more aggressive release schedule.  (By the way, any retailers reading this should be aware that Cubicle 7, through the BITS AND MORTAR PROGRAM, is offering the full complete PDF to customers who pre-order the Revised Rulebook from your store.)

Conspiracy X and Numenera both benefited from some in-store play as part of our new RPG Lab program.

Meanwhile, White Wolf is curiously still raising its head.  We stock a lot of the print-on-demand titles for World of Darkness (now through Onyx Path) but the vast majority of the sales volume here is from people picking up the pricey 20th Anniversary Editions of Werewolf and Vampire.

So what’s to be learned here?  Well, it’s those seven titles that switched out from last time that are most compelling to me.  Yes, those top five games are basically unchanged except for a bit of position jockeying, so the majority of my RPG dollars are coming from usual suspects.  And Pathfinder is #1 by a rather sizable margin, bringing in more than five times the amount that Star Wars or D&D do.

But those little guys… ranks 6-20 are important.  Those second and third tier games collectively, are as important as Pathfinder.  Yes, that’s right.  As it so happens the first five games are all tracked as individual departments in my POS system at the store.  Everything else is simply “RPGs: Other”.  I talked about this back in April.

That “Other” category? Brings in as many dollars as Pathfinder.  Often more.  This quarter, “Other” made 18% more than Pathfinder.  What’s the lesson here?  In case you haven’t heard it from me before… stock broadly and shallowly.  Yes, by all means go crazy deep with Pathfinder, Star Wars or whatever those alpha level games in your store are.  But providing a broad, shallow selection tells your customer that you’re serious about role playing games.  Your best RPG customers are grazers anyway, and like a little bit of this and little bit of that.

Your board game sections are driven by newness, right?  You’ve got your evergreens, like Catan, Ticket to Ride, Carcassonne and what have you… but it’s your selection and new hotness that drive sales.  Your RPG section should look the same way.  Your evergreens are Pathfinder, D&D, Star Wars.  But new stuff, flowing in and out all the time, carefully curated will reap large rewards.

So I’ll see you all in September, when I’m sure we’ll be talking a lot about D&D, Star Wars Age of Rebellion, The One Ring revised edition, and maybe the long-awaited Malifaux RPG, Through the Breach.

In the meantime, I invite all of you, gamers and retailers alike, to chime in with your thoughts.  What are you selling or playing right now that is exciting?