Friday, November 23, 2012

Death of the Hobby or what about those sales? Part one

Okay I'm going to touch a much talked about subject with this one. Is the tabletop roleplaying game hobby shrinking? We see this touted about from time to time, how the hobby is going through a slow death, less and less people are playing, it's all a perpetual spin towards the end. Which of course doesn't mean a whole lot since people will keep playing but they just might not have any 'industry' support or some such.

Now the usual reasoning behind the talks of the eminent demise is usually centered around sales. Or how sales are so small compared back to, say, the eighties. Back when you knew you could sell a few thousand copies pretty easily with plenty more to come. Well at least the big companies could count on this. Of course there are problems with this, first off is that a lot of companies now days don't release their sales numbers and the sales numbers of some older companies are pretty questionable also.

The one big thing that almost all doomsayers buying into this reasoning fail to take into account is one very simple thing, variety. The number of games available now compared to the eighties just blows one side away. People are setting up their own micro game companies all over the place to sell their idea of a great game. You don't have just a handful of sci-fi games to choose from, you have a freaking catalog of them covering nearly every variety of genre twist that you can imagine. A listing of fantasy games may very well take a couple of volumes and that's being positive about it. So when people have more choice the purchases they make are spread along all of them thus leading to lower sales across the board for just about everybody.

I'm completely aware there were small companies before, don't get me wrong there, I own a few of them and have at least laid hands on three times that many more. But they required a lot more investment to get them to the market. Let's face in the eighties there were very few ways of getting your game noticed by Joe Gamer out there. You could hit the convention circuit hoping that sales there lead to good word of mouth afterwards that leads to others finding out about your game. But conventions cost money to attend and to have dealers booths at. You could advertise in one of the gaming magazines like Dragon and hope your little ad catches enough attention to draw some sales, again this costs money. Getting the shops to put your game on their shelves, requiring a lot of leg work and either traveling, phone calls, letter writing and maybe even giving a few copies away to prove it will sell. So it was hard to release a game and for it to be successful so many didn't do it back then.

Well now we have the internet. So getting in touch with folks and trying to sell your game may just require some time behind the keyboard. Not to mention the whole moving trend towards ebooks so you can just set up a free ten page demo of your game for anybody to download. It's easy. Well it looks easy to do, actually getting success out of it is another deal altogether. But when you don't have to worry about printing costs, warehouse costs, markdowns and what you get between distributors, shops and yourself it becomes a very attractive proposition. So now every Joe Gamer who thinks they have written 'The Game' are actually going through with making it available. All of which adds up to, as I said before, more people selling more games leading to less sales per company.

Now this is only part of why I think the shrinking of sales numbers are not an indicator of the health of the hobby. I have plenty more to say on the matter. But for the sake of easy reading I'll be dividing this one up into two separate articles, the other should be out next week. So what do you think about what I've said so far?


  1. I don't think overall sales are any less than in the past. I think the spend by customers is more diversified than in the past due to the cheap cost of publishing software and Internet sales.

    1. I'm right there with you, along with being spread out over a lot more people selling their games. I remember that if I wanted something that wasn't on the hobby shop shelf I had to find out the company name and then have the owner make a special order for it. Now it's just a few clicks away online. The ease of getting something different is so much better than what it used to be.