AD&D Settings Sales Comparison 79-98

I know there have been a lot of these threads, and I'm holding off on any kind of overarching summary/compilation article until they're all in, but this one in particular jumped out at me. Again, this is from Ben Riggs, author of Slaying the Dragon, a history of TSR-era D&D, going out next month.


This graph shows a number of legacy settings and the total sales of their core setting product. Forgotten Realms is, of course, the top one. Interestingly, the other two settings that WotC has revisited in 5E -- Ravenloft and Spelljammer -- are near the bottom of the chart.

Ben says he will be providing the remaining settings tomorrow, and I'll update this post with those when he does.
  1. Forgotten Realms
  2. Greyhawk
  3. Dragonlance
  4. Ravenloft
  5. Dark Sun
  6. Spelljammer

settings.jpg
 

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Russ Morrissey

Russ Morrissey


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Parmandur

Book-Friend
Okay, that makes a lot more sense now. The modules were pretty popular back in the 80s, but hardly anyone I knew was buying pure setting books.
Well, in this case, box sets, but yeah. Different animals. The audience for Setting box sets seemed to gravitate more towards Ye Oldde Tolkienian fantasy worlds...which WotC focused on when they revived the brand.
 

Jer

Legend
Supporter
Yes, this please! Spelljammer, Dark Sun and Ravenloft were all release much later in the presented timeframe than the other settings. The data as presented is misleading and should have been normalized in some way.
It's not misleading - it's doing what it says its doing.

However if you want to see the other graphs they're scattered in the other threads. Morrus said he's going to wait until they're all done to compile them, but if you go look you can pretty clearly see that the low sales on these are coupled with lower "spikes" in initial sales during the first year of the setting materials as well. And that the low initial spikes in setting materials look like they are highly correlated with dropping sales in the core books over time. It basically looks very much like D&D was just losing steam as a game through the 90s and TSR didn't know how to do anything about it other than flail and release more product.
 


Jer

Legend
Supporter
Which came first: the chicken, or the egg...?
If you aren't getting new players into the game and you're losing older players, your new settings aren't going to have an audience no matter how good they are.

The graphs on the core book sales strongly suggest that the number of new players coming into the game was diminishing pretty badly from the late 80s on. We don't have any real way from these numbers to see how quickly older players were leaving the game, but the numbers do at least support a hypothesis that the game was shedding actively purchasing players faster than it was gaining new ones.
 

darjr

I crit!
However combining the sales was part of TSRs justification for them, I think it’s been stated.
Ultimately though developing an extensive new setting and dividing the fans played a part in TSRs problems.
 


grimslade

Krampus ate my d20s
I like Ravenloft. Played a campaign or two, but there was no shortage of horror RPGs in the 90s. Gothic D&D horror is a pretty specific niche. I understand why the sales reflect that. The majority of the 90's was a recovery period economically too. Planescape Torment succeeded because it built off of the success of Baldurs Gate I and II. I wouldn't say that the Planescape setting was the selling point rather than a Bioware CRPG. Fantastic game. Loved it. I never played or purchased any Planescape tabletop product. Anecdata, I know.
I think the appeal and cries for republishing these old niche settings are because they have such an original and definitive style. One of the biggest complaints of FR is that it is a kitchen sink setting. Everything is there. But I think the real problem people have with FR is that it feels like a setting by committee. People loved the grey box FR setting because it still was predominantly Ed Greenwood's setting and not hundreds of authors' works. These smaller settings have a stamp of vision, ironically, even though both Spelljammer and Planescape were created to be the ultimate kitchen sink settings tying everything D&D together. They are their own definitive things and people want to experience it.
 

Okay, I suppose I can wrap my head around why Spelljammer and Dark Sun had such small sales: even though I think they're awesome, they don't fit the standard Dark Ages/Middle Ages European fantasy trope, so maybe casual players weren't so taken with them back in the day. Fine. But dude, Ravenloft??? Really?? One of the best settings for one of the best adventure modules ever published, yet its sales are half those of Dragonlance?

I'm thinking there must be a variable or two that I'm overlooking here...

EDIT: Okay, here's one variable I overlooked: time. Sales of all settings seem to have tanked in the mid or late 80s and into the 90s, so some of these might be just victims of a down market.

Thread on sales trends through the years
None of these figures correlate with the quality of the product. As I said, the later Ravenloft 2nd edition box set and campaign book were better than the original box but sold WORSE. For all the hate directed at Dragonlance SAGA it didn't sell any worse than 2nd edition products!
 


I thing broadly speaking Planescape would be an easier sell for that, except Planescape had a very specific setting that was, frankly, weird associated with it. That is of course why lots of people love it, but also why it probably isn't as good a choice for mass market appeal. "Pirates on Space Sailboats" is a pretty easy to grasp foundation, even if it isn't a complete picture.
My memory from the 90s was that Planescape was as hated as it was loved. Many people resented it for burying planar stuff in a weird cant and strange art.
 

Jer

Legend
Supporter
I mean I loved 2nd edition Ravenloft. And Planescape was ultimate high-concept D&D but I have to accept the fact that none of them were big sellers. And it has no relationship to quality!
Anyone looking at these graphs and thinking there's any correlation to quality - or even how much potential a setting concept had - is fooling themselves.

The downward slope of the graphs are all correlated with the downward slope of the core rulebook sales in general. I bet once all of the numbers are posted if someone assembles a massive graph of all of the setting info we'll see the same thing - very high spikes in initial sales with a decent tail on products released from 1980-1986 and then lower and lower initial sales with shallower and shallower tails very quickly in the years after that up to the bankruptcy.
 

kenmarable

Adventurer
Yes, this please! Spelljammer, Dark Sun and Ravenloft were all release much later in the presented timeframe than the other settings. The data as presented is misleading and should have been normalized in some way.
Yes, I was going to say much the same thing! Considering most of these settings didn’t exist for the majority of this timeframe there’s really very little useful information you can pull out of this graph on its own. (Maybe in combination with the other graphs, but that still would need to involve a lot of speculation and making assumptions.)

What would be useful is a line chart with values for every year and a line for each setting. Without that, knowing that the settings that were supported for a longer period of time had more sales isn’t all that insightful.
 

kenmarable

Adventurer
My memory from the 90s was that Planescape was as hated as it was loved. Many people resented it for burying planar stuff in a weird cant and strange art.
I’ll second this. Purely anecdotal memory, but it sure seemed like Planescape was even more polarizing than Spelljammer’s more silly aspects. At the time, middle ground opinions on it were pretty much unheard of.
 


Snarf Zagyg

Notorious Liquefactionist
I’ll second this. Purely anecdotal memory, but it sure seemed like Planescape was even more polarizing than Spelljammer’s more silly aspects. At the time, middle ground opinions on it were pretty much unheard of.

Thankfully, the period of time currently known as "now" is known for its unified discourse and middle-ground opinions shared by everyone!
 

Stormonu

Legend
"Pirates on Space Sailboats" is a pretty easy to grasp foundation, even if it isn't a complete picture.
Which is funny, because the Spelljammer accessories and adventures assumed you were Explorers*, not pirates! Pirates were the bad guys! (And scro...)

* or, more actually, gophers for the Elvin Armada.
 

The problem I have with this chart is some of those settings were in the market far longer than some of the others. I don't see how you can cmpare Forgotten Realms to Ravenloft or Dark Sun when it has almost a decade of extra sales.
 

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