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
 

log in or register to remove this ad

Russ Morrissey

Russ Morrissey

Jer

Legend
Supporter
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.
Go back to the other posts and look at the sales over time charts for that info. It doesn't really make the comparisons any better though - most of the sales on these settings happen in their first year of sale and then they flatline, so even if you cut out the sales after a certain number of years the broad comparison will remain.

Arguably the one setting really getting dinged in the bar chart is Greyhawk, because nobody has the numbers for the original Greyhawk Folio and given when it was published it's possible that it did very well in sales because everything D&D was doing well in sales in those years.
 

log in or register to remove this ad

Parmandur

Book-Friend
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.
Yes, the correspondence is there: but which caused which, the declining sales or the product release strategy?

WotC bet that it was the product management, and that seems to have been a good bet.
 

harbison32

Explorer
Please remember you have to take into account the years all of these settings came out when comparing them to each other. Greyhawk was pretty much the original setting (1980), Dragonlance (1984, I believe), Forgotten Realms (1987), Spelljammer (1989), Ravenloft (1990, when it got the full treatment), Dark Sun (1991). The "big 3" on the chart all have had the longest run so of course they have sold the most, and they're kind of typical fantasy. The other 3 are kind of niche, but Ravenloft would be the more fantasy adjacent than Dark Sun and Spelljammer.
 

Jer

Legend
Supporter
WotC bet that it was the product management, and that seems to have been a good bet.
The confounding factor in all of this is just plain overall bad corporate management on TSR's side. It's possible that any approach they took to shepherd the game would have failed because they just weren't as good at the business as Wizards was and were getting by on brand recognition and being the 800-lb gorilla in the room.

We haven't seen the same sales numbers from Wizards on their 3e rollout and products over time, but they seem to have struggled with the same problem that TSR did - high initial sales falling to a narrow tail over a shorter time than you'd want to see. I'd really want to see if that initial sales spike for 3e was higher and the tail fatter for the core books after Wizards did the 3e roll out - they were consciously doing things to try to build the player base and bring people back into buying D&D products who had wandered off through the 90s, but also 3.5 and 4e both came in a fairly rapid succession, which suggests that their approach was still having issues. And they at least seemed to actually recognize the problem and tried different strategies to combat it. TSR just seems to have done the same things over and over again with diminishing results each time.
 

Aw, left Mystara out.

I realize that the chart is labeled “AD&D settings”, but the setting is main theme of this chart, not which iteration of xD&D the setting used.

The total of the B/X, BECMI, and Rules Cylopedia core box/book sales, plus the Hollow World boxed set, Champions of Mystara box, plus the AD&D 2e core boxes (Karameikos, Glantri, and Red Steel) ought to be included as a single “Mystara” bar on the graph.
 

dinsdale

Stalked by a giant hedgehog
The other factor that is worth considering is sales/release. I admittedly haven't looked back the information on the actual number of releases (though when has a lack of knowledge prevented someone from opining on the internet), but if, for example, Forgotten Realms had three core releases in that timeframe but Dragonlance only one, then this could alter the potential interpretations of the data.
 

Haiku Elvis

Adventurer
Which came first: the chicken, or the egg...?
Technically dinosaurs but who's counting?

On a more relevant note. Does anyone know if the novels are going to be included anywhere in one of these charts? I had more forgotten realms game materials than Dragonlance but I had a whole lot of Dragonlance novels.
A. Whole. Lot.
 

Mannahnin

Scion of Murgen (He/Him)
Aw, left Mystara out.

I realize that the chart is labeled “AD&D settings”, but the setting is main theme of this chart, not which iteration of xD&D the setting used.

The total of the B/X, BECMI, and Rules Cylopedia core box/book sales, plus the Hollow World boxed set, Champions of Mystara box, plus the AD&D 2e core boxes (Karameikos, Glantri, and Red Steel) ought to be included as a single “Mystara” bar on the graph.
Including the core boxes/books would be too apples to oranges, I think. Those are primarily rules sets, even though Expert gave the basic intro to The Known World, which became Mystara.

I could certainly see putting Champions of Mystara, Karameikos, Glantri, and Red Steel on a Mystara graph. Hollow World I think is a bit of a stretch because it's really a distinct campaign setting on the same planet, isn't it? Maztica was broken out separately from Forgotten Realms.
 
Last edited:



RuinousPowers

Adventurer
Given the trends in core book sales I suspect it has more correlation with year of release than anything about the product specifically. Sales overall decrease pretty precipitously from the late 80s through to the bankruptcy.
This is a snapshot of 7 years, not one particular year.
Given the trends in core book sales I suspect it has more correlation with year of release than anything about the product specifically. Sales overall decrease pretty precipitously from the late 80s through to the bankruptcy.
What happened from 1995-1999 that hurt its sales so much when 1995 marked 5 consecutive years of economic growth?
 

Including the core boxes/books would be too apples to oranges, I think. Those are primarily rules sets, even though Expert gave the basic intro to The Known World, which became Mystara.

I could certainly see putting Champions of Mystara, Karameikos, Glantri, and Red Steel on a Mystara graph. Hollow World I think is a bit of a stretch because it's really a distinct campaign setting on the same planet, isn't it? Maztica was broken out separately from Forgotten Realms.
All of the rules sets included Mystara setting material. The Rules Cyclopedia had a whole chapter about Mystara.

Point taken about the Maztica / HW parallel.
 

Mystara numbers are coming. And the core books already have been.
Yeah, but to measure “setting awareness” / “number of sales impressions made by each D&D setting”, BD&D Mystara should be combined with AD&D Mystara. In the same way that the chart combines 1e FR and 2e FR.

The constrained conditions under which 2e Mystara was released is going to misportray and skew the setting as a “poor seller”, even though the setting had more sales than Forgotten Realms. Jeff Grubb quit TSR because of the dumb way that Mystara was presented in 2e (resulting in terrible sales) — he writes about that in his blog.
 

MGibster

Legend
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 didn't purchase any Planescape material until a few years back when I wanted to use it for a 5E game I was running. Man, I feel like I missed something special in the 90s. The setting is great and I think the art is simply fantastic. But I had absolutely zero interest in the setting at time of release.
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?
While I don't have anything bad to say about Dragonlance, I don't remember playing a lot of games using that setting, but I absolutely loved Ravenloft. I'm not at all surprised that Dragonlance outsold Ravenloft given how popular the former was. Ravenloft was pretty big, the novels were selling very well, but Dragonlance was even bigger.
 

MGibster

Legend
What happened from 1995-1999 that hurt its sales so much when 1995 marked 5 consecutive years of economic growth?
I can't answer for anyone else, but these were the years I abandoned AD&D and even sold off my many books. I had grown frustrated with the rules, electing to move on to other games like Legend of the Five Rings and Deadlands. I don't think I was the only one who was simply burned out on AD&D.
 

MGibster

Legend
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.
These threads are great, keep 'em coming. Getting concrete numbers we can use to interpret the past is a lot of fun. I've certainly been surprised by what I've learned in these threads. What's most surprising is the steep, steep drop in sales from the year a setting is introduced to the next year. I would expect a drop, but I didn't expect it to be so steep and for sales to remain anemic for years afterward.
 

Given the trends in core book sales I suspect it has more correlation with year of release than anything about the product specifically. Sales overall decrease pretty precipitously from the late 80s through to the bankruptcy.
My thinking exactly. And it should also be controlled by amount of items in the category. There were many reboots of the different settings and FR had lots of different regions and other supplements. Dragonlance not as many as GH or FR, nor RL.
 


Those numbers don't reflect supplemental materials.
Ah. Ok. But my question still applies to core products. From the ashes is not included? FR 1e or 2e? RL had 2 core boxes over the decade and one setting book. And it's still not controlled by time. Just saying maybe DS would fare better taking the confusor variables into account. I would love to have a look at the data.
 

Reynard

Legend
Ah. Ok. But my question still applies to core products. From the ashes is not included? FR 1e or 2e? RL had 2 core boxes over the decade and one setting book. And it's still not controlled by time. Just saying maybe DS would fare better taking the confusor variables into account. I would love to have a look at the data.
There are specific charts for each setting that breaks them down in other threads.
 

Visit Our Sponsor

An Advertisement

Advertisement4

Top