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D&D 3E/3.5 5E's Initial Raw Sales Numbers Stronger Than 3E's!

It seems that the initial sales of D&D 5th Edition are very strong. Asked about how they compare to 3E and 4E, WotC's Mike Mearls says that "Raw numbers are stronger, but that's not the complete picture. end of year 1 is the key." The Player's Handbook has now topped the hardcover nonfiction sellers list at Publishers Weekly. As of right now, it's #1 in Fantasy Gaming at Amazon, and a week ago it was the #1 book on Amazon!


In other news, prompted by some discussion about the gaps between D&D edition releases, I whipped up this quick info-graphic showing the dates that each edition was released. [threadcm]http://www.enworld.org/forum/showthread.php?359004-So-I-have-been-out-of-town-for-a-few-weeks-did-I-miss-something[/threadcm]

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Total products? Sure. Books? Not as huge as you think, as Mistwell has cogently argued a few pages back.

I remember the outrage that happened last time when people would talk about buying books on Amazon instead of their FLGS. Now it is a point of pride that Amazon is where many books are being sold?

Seems to be a change?


5ever, or until 2024
Also note 4E had a good launch on Amazon as well. It is to premature to call it IMHO. Come back this time next year or even 2016.

Please confirm it. I posted what little I could find above, not even remotely the same order of magnitude. I can find nothing that says 4E was in the top 100 at amazon, but again I may have missed it.

But sure, see you next year.


We have some historical references:

- OD&D released Jan 1974, 1,000 copies. Sold 400 by summer, all 1,000 in 11 months. The second print run of 2,000 sold in 4 months. (Source of this and a couple of other figures is the highly recommended book Of Dice and Men. Interesting to note that these initial sales of OD&D way back then are favorable when compared to the sales seen by small publishers in the present day.)

- In 1978 the AD&D Players Handbook sold 10,000 copies in first 3 months. (This is far stronger than most mid-size RPGs see in the same period of time in the current day. The highly successful Kickstarter for Numenera had 6,000+ physical orders, though exact numbers of core books aren't known from all sources in 2013. FATE Core and Accelerated had sold about 9,800 copies by Q2 2013 but over a longer time period (see their awesome quarterly reports). Dungeon World sold 2,600 sales both print and PDF in the first 5 months - see their web site for the figures.)

- Ryan Dancey on 1998 2E sales: "The one thing I can tell you is that when TSR did the transition from 1e to 2e in 1998, they sold 289,000 [2E] Player's Handbooks in 1998."

- But, the Acaeum says, in an article on print runs: "In 1989, TSR sold something like 1,000,000 copies of the D&D boxed set in one year. It was amazing." The article also estimates that in the 3E era they were selling "150,000 to 200,000 Players Handbooks per year".

- Marketing statistics, found in the 1992 TSR Catalog: "First-year release sales of the hardcover accessories average 170,000 units" (speaking of 2E AD&D hardcovers).

- "[3rd edition] was the most successful RPG published since the early years of 1st edition AD&D," Ryan Dancey said. "It outsold the core books of 2nd edition AD&D by a wide margin." "We sold 300,000 3e Players Handbooks in about 30 days. And the trajectory of the rest of the product line mimicked the PHB." - Ryan Dancey

- Of course, Dancey also says, "I have a confidential source who was one of the people making the decisions about strategy for D&D who confirmed to me that 3.5 was put into production because sales of 3.0 were "unsatisfactory". He says that 3.5 was always planned, but printed 2 years early because of those declining sales.

- Preorders for the core books of 4th edition of D&D in June 2008 were extremely strong and - without any hard sales numbers released by WoTC - anecdotal evidence from local game stores supported the claim that it sold much better than 3rd at launch. (My notes aren't clear, I think this came from Dancey as well)

- Very pertinent to what Mearls responded to me in that tweet, Dancey writes: "Then Wizards did it again with 4e. I have much less visibility into the 4e strategies than the 3.5e strategies but what I do know correlates very strongly with the idea that 3.5's "success" was brief - maybe more brief than the 3.0 window. Since 3.5 was essentially just a tune-up to 3.0, and it had not produced a result that was satisfactory, 4e had to be much much more than just 3.75 - logically you can't justify 3.75 if your goal is a substantially larger business than 3.5, since 3.5 didn't generate a substantially larger business than 3.0." He doesn't talk about Essentials, but looking at the way 4E changed approaches (dropping the initial "Power" series of books, releasing Essentials, etc.), it seems likely that the same issues were taking place with 4E as with 3E. (We can argue various edition-related differences, but it is honestly the same pattern regardless of one's personal preference for an edition over another).

Here's my take-away. D&D has a great history of ever-increasing initial sales. 5E continues that tradition, showing both the quality behind releases and the enormous strength of the brand. There is no question that 5E is flying off the shelves (both stores and online). Mearls saying that 5E is beating even the incredible initial 4E sales is not that surprising given how well players new and old are reacting to the edition. He notes that the key is sustainability. To date, no major RPG has figured out how to get an edition to keep selling without releasing tons of supplements that show ever-diminishing sales (because each supplement is of interest to only a smaller portion of the initial audience and is therefore less profitable). Diminishing sales eventually trigger a new edition. Avoiding diminishing returns and the need for a new edition is pretty much the holy grail for major RPGs.

One of the goals of 5E seems to be avoiding the need for another edition for a long time (in turn requiring sustained high sales). 5E doesn't approach this in a vacuum. There are many changes in how this D&D release is being approached. Where Dancey once talked about WotC's huge expensive staff compared to Paizo's, the reverse is now true. Many of the desired but not profitable products (minis, DM screens, etc.) are being licensed to other companies. There is also an attempt to compete with the larger entertainment space and to not focus much (at all?) on other RPGs as competitors. The argument goes that there are tons of customers for everyone if RPGs can successfully market outside its own space. This leaner D&D is still managing rave reviews and unparalleled quality, so it will be very interesting to see if 5E can keep sustained high sales longer than other editions and similar RPGs.

(I mention Dancey a lot, since he has shared a lot of information in the past. Like anyone else, he is wrong from time to time and his proclivity for sharing guarantees neither historical truth nor accurate forecasting of the future. Same goes for my perspectives - I've been wrong plenty of times too.)


Crusty Old Meatwad (he/him)
Yes I am aware blogs existed back in 2003 along with message boards. THings like youtube, facebok, twitter etc did not so it is easier for word of mouth or whatever to get around.

Again, there was a lot of social media back then, it was just different names for essentially the same communications. MySpace was very big. AOL was big. Friendster was briefly big. Usenet was big. These names are mostly gone now, but back the they held similar positions to YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, etc.. People were on the net in 2000. It was not the beginning of being on the net by then, the net was firmly established hence the dot-com boom was peaking then. We all talked about D&D back then using those forms of communication. Just because the names have changed, that doesn't mean the quantity of talk has substantially changed.

Also note I am not claiming 5E had a bad launch, all things considered it seems to have had a good one. I just find it funny when people think it has out sold 3E when we know roughly what sales 3rd ed had in its 1st month and how many books it has sold in total. Same thing with TSR ear D&D we know how many books they sold.

Either Mike Mearls is just a dirty liar for repeatedly saying it's outsold both 3e and 4e for initial sales, or he's telling the truth. You say it's funny - so funny as in suspicious, as in you're calling Mike Mearls a liar, or funny as in haha, as in nobody but you is getting whatever joke you're trying to tell?

Unless things have changed though we do know that 5E is not as popular as 3.5 let alone Pathfinder in online games.

I am not sure why that is relevant to a discussion of sales though. Of course it isn't more popular INSTANTLY in online games, we don't even have the core books yet, the PHB is a month old, and people have not wrapped their prior games.

This is one of those reasons I keep talking about where we are right now, rather than trying to predict where we will be. Number of online games is a "where will we be" sort of question, since it's a given you really can't have more games of a game that isn't even out yet than those games that are already out right now and have been for decades.

We also know more people were playing Pathfinder at GenCOn during a launch event for a convention D&D invented.

Same argument as above. It was not the launch event for the core rules - we still have not had that. It was the launch of the first book. So all you could really have is games sponsored directly by WOTC. It's a silly argument to be making.

I'm not arguing it has not sold well but we do not know how well it is actually doping. It seems to have out performed 4E but that is probably not to hard as OD&D seems to be the only version of D&D that has not done that.

WOTC repeatedly said the initial sales of 4e outsold 3e. Indeed they painted a pretty specific picture of how each version has outdone the last in sales, however it's not catching the size of the market they think it could catch relative to other geek-oriented activities out there, hence the new edition was a concern over total market share of all geek related activities and not market share of D&D players. I will ask you again - are you calling them liars?

You do seem to be saying it's not selling well with this series of arguments and exaggerations you've made. You put a caveat in, and then you argue against the caveat as if the caveat makes it "Okay" to then go on to diminish every achievement 5e has accomplished so far (like #1 best seller, disproportionate number of positive reviews relative to other editions, etc..).

We can loo at the size of the D&D staff and the relative lack of upcoming D&D releases. It will be virtually impossible for them to sell more stuff than 3.0 for example because they have no products to sell even if they sell more PHB than 3.0 and there is no OGL support for it like 3.0 back in 2000 where you could buy multiple 3pp adventures and things like the creature catalogue.

This is just yet one more method of you trying to diminish WOTC. First, I don't care how many third parties sell D&D stuff, that's a totally different topic. Second, the idea that Paizo's total staff is somehow representative of prior WOTC D&D staff is flawed - show me where that is a good example of staff size? Their team is a pretty good size team relative to prior teams and RPGs in general. Yes, it's smaller than Paizo's team, but that doesn't mean they cannot sell as many products as they sold for 3e (the two facts are not really connected).

THis is why Mearls likely claimed they will know more after a year when follow on products sell as it wiill give a better indication to how well it is actually doing once the curious and the collectors stop buying stuff and the release bubble pops.

And there is another series of snarky cheap shots at WOTC, claiming sales are from the curious and collectors and that releases are "bubble pops".

So let's cut the BS Zard - is there a different version of D&D that you prefer? Is there bitterness there over something WOTC did that is lasting with you? What is coloring your perception that you feel the need to take cheap shots and diminish every accomplishment WOTC makes right now?


I'm sure you've thought of it, but I would guess the average product generates more reviews, overall, now than in 2000.

Sure, but he's comparing a 2014 product with a 2008 product and a 2009 product. Amazon was huge in 2008, so it's a much better comparison.


The owner of my FLGS (I'm in the UK) was telling me that he surprised at how well the PHB has been selling. "I can't keep them on the shelf" were his words. Although, of course, this is just one case; sales could be highly variable by region/store.

The various LGS I have been visiting suggest that the PHB has been selling very well. I haven't heard to the contrary.


Wandering. Not lost. (He/they)
Something noteworthy pointed out by someone named BadMike on the WOTC boards:

5th editon PHB has racked up more 5 star reviews in one month (159) than the 5 and 4 star reviews the 4th edition PHB accumulated over 6 years (145).

It's also more than half-way to all the 5 star reviews for Pathfinder Core Book, or PHB 3e...in a month.

I'm sure you've thought of it, but I would guess the average product generates more reviews, overall, now than in 2000.

Despite that caveat, that's an impressive number of 5 star reviews and an interesting comparison.

Is the PHB out of stock at Amazon?

It appears to be, which gives us another, quite positive seeming, data point.



Crusty Old Meatwad (he/him)
I'm sorry but trying to compare online services and usage from 2000 to now is absolutely ludicrous and makes me want to tell them to please educate themselves.

Well, that's insulting, and false.

Amazon was not selling back then like they are now because the populace didn't fully trust online shopping. The online bubble wasn't about shopping on Amazon or Ebay. FLGS and big retail bookstores are where most of your RPG's were bought and saying otherwise is just flat out wrong.

I cited the actual Amazon book sales numbers from 2000 versus now. It's not that different. It's up, but not by the exponential numbers people seem to think. When facts disagree with your instincts, facts still win. I've gone through the actual facts in this thread. You can review it, or just pretend you know better and not read it and tell people to educate themselves for disagreeing with your uneducated instincts.


I remember the outrage that happened last time when people would talk about buying books on Amazon instead of their FLGS. Now it is a point of pride that Amazon is where many books are being sold?

Seems to be a change?
I don't see this as anti-FLGS or pro-Amazon. I think its simply impressive that Amazon sales are high. And, Amazon is established enough to be important/meaningful. It is perhaps even more impressive, because now the LGS that are WPN members (and who run a high volume of Magic and D&D organized play) are allowed to sell these products two weeks in advance of Amazon. I've heard several cases of people canceling their Amazon orders to purchase from their FLGS because they wanted to get their books as soon as possible. I know other people who used to order from Amazon who know turn to their FLGS for the same reason.

It is great to see 5E do well on Amazon and at the FLGS. I visited a board game store in Belgium recently, and they were carrying the Starter Set and had made several sales despite not normally catering to RPGs. The stores I visit in Portland and Houston are seeing well beyond expected sales. Great news for our hobby.

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