Category Archives: Market Research

Most RPG Products Sell Fewer than 50 Copies

DriveThruRPG and DMsGuild (same corporate parent) publish the number of their products that sell at different “metal tiers”. For instance, DriveThruRPG has had 10,719 products (as of today) sell 50 to 99 copies (Copper tier), compared to 1,792 products at that level for DMsGuild.

Extrapolating from these, you find that 72% of DriveThruRPG products haven’t even sold 50 copies, and 90% of DMsGuild products haven’t either. So if you’re looking for a quick market forecast for the RPG product you’re planning to sell through these channels, “under 50” is a good estimate (probably “under 10”).

It’s good to be the aggregator, though: DriveThruRPG has sold perhaps 8.8 million products, while DMsGuild has sold perhaps 1.5 million. (Those estimates will be off by an order of magnitude if non-metal products sell more than 4 copies apiece – my best guess, averaged across the two sites.)

DriveThruRPG DMsGuild
Metal Tier Threshold Products per Tier % Catalog Unit Sales Products per Tier % Catalog Unit Sales
No metal 0 86,454 72% 6 40,145 90% 2
Copper 50 10,719 9% 76 1,792 4% 73
Silver 100 12,061 10% 150 1,519 3% 145
Electrum 250 6,045 5% 330 647 1.4% 332
Gold 500 2,866 2% 647 316 0.7% 732
Platinum 1,000 1,198 1% 1,096 274 0.6% 1,253
Mithril 2,000 127 0.106% 2,542 93 0.208% 2,393
Adamantine 5,000 28 0.023% 6,500 14 0.031% 6,500
(extrapolated) 10,000 12 0.010% 12,000 6 0.013% 12,500
(extrapolated) 20,000 3 0.003% 25,000 2 0.004% 26,667
(extrapolated) 40,000 1 0.001% 40,000 1 0.002% 40,000

Note: Thanks to Tory for pointing out that the thresholds are off by 1. Minor effect on the math. Can’t trust everything you read! 😉

RPG Campaigns Played by System

Obsidian Portal, an online campaign management tool for RPGs, shares stats on the number of campaigns run in its system. I’ve created a Google Sheet with this data.

This represents the 129,098 campaigns created over the lifetime of the software (12 years, as it was created in 2007). As a result, you’ll see Pathfinder in second place at 18% of campaigns, due to its historic strength: it is doubtful that 18% of campaigns played today are in Pathfinder, given the loss of players to D&D 5e and the release of Pathfinder Second Edition.

D&D, across its editions, represents 47% of these Obsidian campaigns.

The Top 10 systems that aren’t D&D are:

  1. Pathfinder RPG (17.66%)
  2. Savage Worlds (2.40%)
  3. Shadowrun (1.94%)
  4. Fate RPG (1.88%)
  5. World of Darkness (1.83%)
  6. Star Wars: Edge of the Empire (1.80%)
  7. Call of Cthulhu (0.98%)
  8. Vampire: The Masquerade (0.85%)
  9. Mutants and Masterminds (0.72%)
  10. GURPS 4th Edition (0.70%) (1.25% if you add in earlier GURPS editions)

The full Google Sheet is here.

The Fall of the Gamebook and the Rise of Interactive Fiction

One out of five adult Americans with online access (90% of the population) have ever read any gamebooks, such as Choose Your Own Adventure, Fighting Fantasy, Lone Wolf, or solitaire RPG adventures such as the Tunnels & Trolls series. These books definitely reflect the 1980s, when publication peaked: those 35-44 years old (kids in the 1980s) are most likely to have ever read a gamebook (39%), compared to just 18% of those 45-54 years old and 30% of those under 25. While classic gamebook lines are being relaunched (e.g., Endless Quest and Choose Your Own Adventure), the genre is unlikely to return to its heyday.

Contrast that with interactive fiction. Interactive fiction in the 1980s was about text adventures, map making, command-line prompts, and sudden death, but modern interactive fiction focuses on narrative, delayed branching, and meaningful choices that shape a longer story arc.

A fifth of online adults have ever played any text adventures or interactive fiction games on a computer, tablet, or smartphone, such as Choice of Games, Infocom, or Twine games. The growth is in interactive fiction on smartphones. The younger the adult, the more likely they’ve played: 45% of 18-24 year olds, 36% of 25-34 year olds, and 26% of 35-44 year olds have played.

Smartphones reshape our cognition and our attention spans in ways that should lead to the continued rise of interactive fiction vs. traditional books. Interactive fiction presents short segments of text that then require a response, a medium well suited to the smartphone era.

This Researchscape survey of 1,000 U.S. adults was fielded online from April 22 to 23, 2019. For more, please check out the slides and general methodology.

Larger Households, Wealthier & Younger Americans Play Tabletop Games More Frequently

Only 13% of Americans play card or board games at least once a week, while 43% play such games once a month or more often. Americans go to the movies slightly less often: only 7% go at least once a week, and 39% go once a month or more often.

This is according to a Researchscape online survey of 2,000 U.S. adults aged 18 to 80 years old, quota sampled to reflect the U.S. population by age, gender, region, Hispanicity, and education. The survey was fielded from June 22 to June 24, 2018.

How often do you go to the movies? How often do you play card games or board games? (Not counting apps and video games.)

Frequency of play is driven by formal education and income, by age, household size, and Hispanicity.

The more formal education someone has, the more likely they are to play card and board games, and the more likely they are to play games more often: 72% of those without a high school degree play card and board games and 80% of those with only a high school degree (and no vocational or college attendance) do, compared to 90% of those with a master’s degree. When it comes to frequency, 23% of those without a high-school education play once a week, compared to 46% of those with master’s degrees.

26% of those in households making under $50,000 per year play board games at least a few times a month, compared to 35% of those making between $50,000 and $100,000, 40% of those making between $100,000 and $150,000, and 46% of those making $150,000 or up.

Those in large households play games more often:

  • 54% of those with five or more in their household play games at least a few times a month, compared to 46% of those with four people, 31% with three people, 24% with two or more, and 22% in households of one person.
  • The effect is even more pronounced for households with children: 57% of households with two or more children play games at least a few times a month, vs. 39% with one child, and 22% with no children.
  • 36% of those who are married or living with a partner play games at least a few times a month, compared to 30% of those who are single and 21% of those who are divorced.

44% of Millennials play board or card games at least a few times a month, compared to 34% of Gen Xers, 20% of Baby Boomers, and 17% of the Silent Generation.

41% of Hispanic households play games at least a few times a month, compared to 30% of white households.

Of those who play games once a week or more, the most common answer is 2 hours a week, the median amount of time spent is 5 hours a week, and the average is 7 hours a week. If you play board or card games 10 or more hours a week, you play games more frequently than 99% of Americans.

Hours Response % Cumulative % Inverse % Weekly Response % Weekly Cumulative %
0 87% 87% 13%
1 1% 88% 12% 6% 6%
2 2% 90% 10% 17% 24%
3 2% 92% 8% 13% 36%
4 1% 93% 7% 10% 46%
5 2% 95% 5% 15% 61%
6 – 9 1% 96% 4% 11% 73%
10 – 19 2% 99% 1% 18% 90%
20 – 29 1% 100% 0% 8% 99%
30 – 39 0% 100% 0% 1% 100%

Have a market research question about tabletop games? Please post it below, and I will try and answer it.

Only a Quarter of BGG Users Track Most or All Their Collection

Researchscape conducted an online omnibus survey of 2,339 U.S. respondents, and I snuck in some questions about board games. (The survey was fielded from May 26 to May 28, 2018.)

BoardGameGeek.com allows users to log every tabletop game they own. I’ve always wondered: How comprehensive are these collections?

Not very! Only 9% of BGG users have cataloged all of their games, and only 16% have cataloged most of their games.

None 11%, Some 38%, Half 25%, Most 16%, All 9%

Only 13% of those making under $50,000 had logged most or all of their game collection, compared to 32% of BGG users with higher incomes.

Some other findings:

  • More people have heard of Kickstarter (42%) than crowdfunding in general (35%).
    • Parents with kids at home were less familiar with either, yet paradoxically parents were more likely to have actually backed a tabletop game on Kickstarter than non-parents.
    • A greater proportion of Millennials have supported a game on Kickstarter than any other generation.
    • Respondents in households with annual incomes above $100,000 were more likely to be aware of Kickstarter and crowdfunding and were more likely to have backed a tabletop game on Kickstarter.
    • Both Trump and Clinton supporters had similar levels of supporting a Kickstarter tabletop campaign, while those who didn’t vote in 2016 were half as likely to have supported such a campaign.
  • Not surprisingly, users with BoardGameGeek.com accounts showed similar demographics patterns to those of Kickstarter backers.
    • As with Kickstarter, Millennials were also the most likely to have a BoardGameGeek.com account.
    • The higher the income, the more likely the respondent was to have a BoardGameGeek.com account.

Have research questions about tabletop gaming? Post them below.

Also see my post: The Installed Base of Board Games vs. BGG Ownership.

The Installed Base of Board Games vs. BGG Ownership

I’ve always been curious about what subset of board game owners log their ownership on BGG (BoardGameGeek). Jamey Stegmaier just shared the installed base of five core products. I cross-referenced that against BGG ownership stats.

Game Installed Base BGG Ownership Ratio
Between Two Cities 36,900 8,264 4.5
Charterstone 56,500 8,606 6.6
Euphoria 31,000 8,787 3.5
Scythe 147,678 34,777 4.2
Viticulture 54,780 7,007 7.8
Average 65,372 13,488 5.3

So sales outnumber logged ownership anywhere from a factor of 3.5 to 7.8, depending on title. This range will widen even further when you factor in games with four-digit sales and mainstream games (beyond the hobbyist games most frequently documented on BGG).

You can add data that you’ve seen to this Google Sheet. (Note: The number of Kickstarter backers, while public information, isn’t the same as installed base, and will vary even more dramatically, as different publishers might have very different print runs for the same number of backers.)

Update: James Mathe, in comments in Tabletop Game Publisher’s Guild, adds the following:

A slight problem with your analysis is that Jamey’s numbers are how many he made and/or sold into distribution. At any given time thousands can be sitting in distribution and warehouses and store shelves. So they are not #’s to customers sold by any means.

When I take an estimate of # of copies in the channel for my games and compare to the people marking them as “owned” on BGG – I get a 30-55% range on the 4 most popular games of ours.

Your number above would result in much lower %’s but as I said we don’t know how much is just sitting in channel versus bought. That variance for me is anywhere from 10-35% depending on my current inventory levels.

I guess the point here is that one can assume that even for indie companies who do most of their marketing online and BGG – they still can only expect about 20-40% of their sales to be marked there. Which implies pretty good saturation there as BGG probably reflects less than 10% of overall buyers (not to mention many BGG people don’t actually track stuff with the database).

Merch for Games No One Plays

When my youngest was 8, I created a simple microgame for us to play instead of the classic card game of War: Melee in the Mines. We played it about 50 times, so I created a free PDF version to share with other people. (It’s light but with some decisions: it has an average rating of 5 out of 10, compared to 2 out of 10 for War.)

It’s been downloaded less than 100 times, so imagine my surprise when I came across merchandise for it:

Basically, TwiceTheTees.com has created a number of templates for T-shirts for board games, video games, and RPGs, and then hit the BoardGameGeek database to come up with a list of game titles. This screenshot gives a flavor:

I’m certain the products are made to order rather than kept in stock.  We’ve reached the point where it is economical to algorithmically generate on-demand products for markets of virtually no one.

The Cult of the New: Preferences for New Board Games

The “cult of the new” is the obsession with new titles, which makes hobbyist gaming much like the movie industry. The online site, Yucata.de, offers free online games with human players. Here are the plays averaged across 111 games, relative to when each game was first introduced to the community. You can see that a new game peaks in 3 months, then gradually declines to half its peak after 2 years, dropping only slightly after that for the next 3 to 5 years.

Plays of Tabletop Games on Yucata.de In First Months of Release

Year Month Plays
0 1 394
0 2 1252
0 3 1434
0 4 1265
0 5 1137
0 6 1043
0 7 980
0 8 933
0 9 894
0 10 935
0 11 877

Plays of Tabletop Games on Yucata.de In First Years of Release

Year Month Plays
1 12 847
2 24 716
3 36 671
4 48 665
5 60 596
6 72 618
7 84 571
8 96 617

Source: Analysis of Yucata.de Play Data

Because new games are made available at once to all players, this data from Yucata removes the delay of the adoption curve typical of selling games through retail. In the real world, people have to learn about the game, read reviews, play it with friends, then buy it, then find time to play it. Yucata presents a clearer picture of the embrace and abandonment of games.

This cult of the new makes it hard for new games to breakthrough and sell on an ongoing basis.

To supplement this behavioral data, Researchscape surveyed online consumers to ask whether they preferred to play a game they had played before or one new to them. About a quarter of respondents had no preference, regardless of type of game. However, the least novelty was desired in card games, the most in video games: 3.4 times as many consumers want to play a familiar card game as a new card game, 2.6 times for a familiar board game vs. a new on, and just 1.4 times for video games.

Which card/board/video game would you prefer to play, one that you had played before or one new to you?

Card game Board game Video game
Familiar : New 3.4 2.6 1.4
One played before 38% 32% 13%
One new to me 11% 13% 9%
No preference 25% 26% 24%
Don’t play card/board/video games 25% 29% 54%

Sample Size: One-Question Polls; 115-262 responses; weighted by age,
gender, and/or region

This is an excerpt from a free Researchscape ebook, which you can download now: “Boardgame Concepts to Crowdfund: Dynamics of Tabletop Games”.

Last Game Played – Board Game Survey Results

Researchscape conducted a series of one-question polls as background research to its survey of Kickstarter backers.

In a poll conducted March 23, 2016, half the U.S. online consumers interviewed had played a game this year: 18% in the past week, 17% within the past month, and 16% earlier in the year. The other half had played in 2015 or earlier or couldn’t recall.

How long has it been since you played a card game or board game? (In real life, not on an electronic device.)

Option

Response
%

Cumulative
%

Within past week

18%

18%

Within past month

17%

35%

Earlier this year

16%

50%

2015

9%

59%

2014

3%

62%

2013 or earlier

7%

69%

Don’t know

31%

100%

Sample: Poll; 418; weighted by age, gender

When asked in a separate poll to distinguish whether their last game played was a card game or board game (an admittedly fuzzy distinction), 46% of players had played a card game, 25% a board game, and 29% couldn’t recall.

What is the last game that you’ve played? (In real life, not on an electronic device.)

Option

Response
%

Cumulative
%

Card game

46%

46%

Board game

25%

71%

Don’t know

29%

100%

Sample: Poll; 407; weighted by age, gender

The most commonly played card game is poker, played by 12.6% of respondents (not counting the 1.6% who named Texas Holdem). Uno is a distant second, at 9.4%. The family of rummy games was third in popularity, mentioned by 6.4% of respondents (variants mentioned included Gin Rummy, Progressive Rummy, Aggravation Rummy, and 500 Rummy).

The most commonly played board game is Monopoly, dominating its category at 33.2% of respondents. A distant second is The Game of Life, at 5.8%, followed by Scrabble at 5.2%.

What is the last card game that you’ve played? (In real life, not on an electronic device.)

Rank

Option

Response

1

Poker

12.6%

2

Uno

9.4%

3

Rummy

6.4%

4

Spades

5.4%

5

Solitaire

5.2%

6

Blackjack

5.0%

7

Cards Against Humanity

3.8%

8

Go Fish

3.2%

9

Euchre

3.0%

10

Hearts

2.4%

11

Pitch

2.2%

12

Cribbage

1.8%

12

Phase 10

1.8%

14

Texas Holdem

1.6%

15

War

1.4%

16

Canasta

1.2%

17

Apples to Apples

0.8%

17

Magic: The Gathering

0.8%

17

Rook

0.8%

17

Skip Bo

0.8%

17

Spoons

0.8%

22

Bridge

0.6%

22

King

0.6%

22

Old Maid

0.6%

22

Speed

0.6%

Never played cards

4.2%

Sample: Poll; 599

What is the last board game that you’ve played? (In real life, not on an electronic device.)

Rank

Option

Response

1

Monopoly

33.2%

2

The Game of Life

5.8%

3

Scrabble

5.2%

4

Candyland

3.5%

5

Catan

3.3%

5

Sorry

3.3%

7

Chess

3.2%

8

Checkers

2.7%

9

Risk

2.5%

10

Trivial Pursuit

1.7%

11

Apples to Apples

1.5%

11

Cards Against Humanity

1.5%

11

Yahtzee

1.5%

13

Clue

1.2%

14

Trouble

1.0%

15

Ticket to Ride

0.8%

15

Uno

0.8%

17

Pictionary

0.7%

17

Rummikub

0.7%

17

Sequence

0.7%

20

Backgammon

0.5%

20

Battleship

0.5%

20

Chutes and Ladders

0.5%

20

Cranium

0.5%

20

Cribbage

0.5%

Never played a board game

5.8%

Sample: Poll; 599

Despite the proliferation of brand tie-ins and thematic knock offs, the classic, original edition of Monopoly is the primary version of Monopoly played, by 70.4% of respondents. The most popular tie-ins were Star Wars (mentioned by 2.1%) and Disney (mentioned by 1.1%). Monopoly Electronic Banking was the only specialty edition mentioned by at least 1% of respondents (1.1%). Over 40 editions were mentioned, including opoly games (not licensed from Hasbro).

Monopoly Editions Played

Back To The Future Millionaire
Beach Body Monopoly Cards
Bible Monopoly City
Buildings Monopoly Millionaire
Christmas NFL
Cleveland Nintendo
Deal Pokemon
Disney Red Sox
Doctor Who Rolling Stones
Dogopoly Satanism
Dr. Who Simpsons
Electronic Banking Soccer
Girl Monopoly SpongeBob
Hard Rock Star Trek
Harry Potter Star Wars
Horses Steelers
Irish Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle
Las Vegas The Nightmare Before Christmas
Marvel Comics Toy Story
Michigan Vegas

Sample: Poll; 378

This is an excerpt from a free Researchscape ebook, which you can download now: “Boardgame Concepts to Crowdfund: Dynamics of Tabletop Games”.