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D&D 5E Alphastream - Why No RPG Company Truly Competes with Wizards of the Coast

Staffan

Legend
Also not quite true. During 2nd edition Vampire came really close. And according to some may have indeed outsold D&D for a short time.

Note I dint believe it did, I don’t have any good evidence it did.
I can't be hedgehogged into digging up a source, but I'm pretty sure Palladium/Rifts outsold D&D for a short period of time in the 90s. That period was, of course, the half a year or so where TSR wasn't releasing any new product because of "a problem at the printer"*.

* The problem being that the printer wanted to get paid and TSR didn't have any money.
Sorry, maybe my level of English isn't right but I can't understand totally this phrase:

"Spain sold D&D branded bologna in the ‘80s, as part of the craze over the D&D cartoon"

Isn't Bologna an Italian city. And I remember to have bought some numbers of a comic adaptin episodes of the cartoon.
Bologna is also a type of sausage similar to mortadella. When referring to the sausage, it's usually pronounced "baloney".
 

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darjr

I crit!
I can't be hedgehogged into digging up a source, but I'm pretty sure Palladium/Rifts outsold D&D for a short period of time in the 90s. That period was, of course, the half a year or so where TSR wasn't releasing any new product because of "a problem at the printer"*.

* The problem being that the printer wanted to get paid and TSR didn't have any money.

yup, Ben Riggs covers this a bit. I’m sure many other RPGs did too. The vampire era was during a time when tsr still had product for sale.
 





Alphastream

Adventurer
That's my point. I'm surprised to hear that in this day and age. D&D's wild success is so widely known and so frequently touted that it seems incredible that anybody could think otherwise.

We have a thread about it every week at least just here at ENW, let alone the rest of the TTRPG online community. Mainstream articles come out every couple of months where a WotC exec states that this year was the best year ever, year after year. People talk about the Amazon rankings constantly. The Fantasy Grounds and Roll20 stats every quarter for the last 7 years have D&D with 10 times the players of the next highest game. The message that D&D is doing fantastically well is broadcast loudly and continually.

I find it hard to conceive of anybody who could genuinely think otherwise. I mean, I guess you get fringe deniers of everything, because internet, but are they worth commenting on?

It's come up a fair bit in the past couple of years. Usually its from fans, who want to believe a particular RPG will become dominant. I also think, however, that we can see it in some small and medium companies who act like they are competing with D&D. This can lead them astray, focusing on the wrong strategy. In general, companies will suffer by competing with WotC, and probably shouldn't be competing at all (unless they have trouble getting shelf space at the FLGS). Instead, they should be laser-focused on acquiring fans and building community, and on being profitable via careful accounting. Competing (especially with WotC) is a distraction.
 

Alphastream

Adventurer
@Alphastream thanks for stopping by. How long did it take you to get all that together for the article?

And for what it’s worth I like a cliffhanger.
Thanks! I've always kept numbers. I collect them almost like I collect minis! I have a file full of data from across the years and when I read or hear something interesting, I make a note. I make sure to track things I think may be in confidence and I only share that if another source can provide it publicly. The data in the article is just a tiny part of what I've collected over the years.
 

Alphastream

Adventurer
Tormenta is a Brazillian RPG with 20+ years of history and a recent successfull crowdfunding campaign for their new edition. Hardly anyone outside of Brazil nows about it.
There have been a number of super-interesting international developments. CoC being number one in Japan. Italy crashing the Roll20 servers playing RPGs (mainly D&D) during covid. And Tormenta being so big in Brazil it shows up on overall Roll20 charts.

These are really good indicators that RPG companies should be working on their international strategy. From sales to hiring. I've been fortunate to visit hobby shops in various countries (Belgium, Japan, Italy, Germany, etc.) and there is enormous growth potential for companies of all sizes. If I worked at an RPG company, it would be my number one task to grow the business internationally. There are some major challenges due to the relative economies (a pdf priced for the US is generally prohibitive in much of the global South). And how you get big in a country can be surprising (Japan's CoC grew through written accounts of livestreams!), but there is enormous potential.
 

I think about the bandwagon effect, and the Matthew effect, the inertia favoring the most popular brand. For example in a little city where most of players choose GW then the new players will not choose other titles by other companies because it is harder to find people playing that game. And D&D is very focused into the crunch, when in the internet age the metaplot is too easy to be spoilered, and you can find free "fluff"(lore/background) with the fandom wikis of videogames, movies, teleseries and comics. Here if a player wants to buy crunch, then they will would rather the system used by the most.

It is curious the case of Tormenta, a franchise by a 3PP with very good health after decades to be from a not English-speaker country. And the origin is an article in the Brazilian Dragon Magazine. I don't see it to be translated into other languages. Maybe WotC could offer some partnership deal like Exandria/Critical Rol.

Other factor is D&D to be ideologically neuter.

I wonder about a Japanese, or Korean, version of action-play game-show with virtual avatars.
 

Bolares

Hero
And Tormenta being so big in Brazil it shows up on overall Roll20 charts.
The thing is, Brazil's market is HUGE. videogames have caught up to that, movies have caught up to that, but the TTRPG industry still hasn't. I don't even think Tormenta has a clear win in Brazil over 5e, and Vampire and Werewolf still have an enourmous fan base in the country, but still the sheer amount of players make Tormenta appear on the chart. If I had to guess Brazil doesn't loose by much to american market sizes.
 

Morrus

Well, that was fun
Staff member
I also think, however, that we can see it in some small and medium companies who act like they are competing with D&D.
Ah, that's just marketing speak. Like how things are "the leading platform" before they even launch. Companies will always big themselves up, because it (is meant to, doesn't always work) create a FOMO. Even WotC does it.
 

Bolares

Hero
Ah, that's just marketing speak. Like how things are "the leading platform" before they even launch. Companies will always big themselves up, because it (is meant to, doesn't always work) create a FOMO. Even WotC does it.
Here in Brazil when PF2 came out (with a great crowdfunding campaign) fans were all excited that Pathfinder would once again surpass D&D. We are used to our own circles, where the smashing success of 5e is absolutelly obvious. But there are a lot of people outside our internet bubbles (no matter how big they are) that have no idea how massive 5e's lead on the market is.
 

billd91

Hobbit on Quest (he/him)
It's come up a fair bit in the past couple of years. Usually its from fans, who want to believe a particular RPG will become dominant. I also think, however, that we can see it in some small and medium companies who act like they are competing with D&D. This can lead them astray, focusing on the wrong strategy. In general, companies will suffer by competing with WotC, and probably shouldn't be competing at all (unless they have trouble getting shelf space at the FLGS). Instead, they should be laser-focused on acquiring fans and building community, and on being profitable via careful accounting. Competing (especially with WotC) is a distraction.
In a sense, they are competing with D&D as any prospective alternative game GM can tell you when they're looking to find players and all they're finding are people who want to play D&D. Every RPG competes with D&D. They just aren't and won't be competitive on its level. They won't have the market share. They won't topple the king (only 1 company has temporarily done so in the last 20 years and that was when WotC's last Hail Mary before 5e ended in a turnover).
But they do have to compete to find a little niche of space for their own - to convince people to play something other than D&D, at least for a while.
 

With a few exception period already mentionned D&D has always been number one. The reason for me is simple. D&D is generic enough so that any style can be reproduced with the rules. This is not so with many of the other systems out there.

Although a fan of the work of Lovecraft, I am still surprised at the success of CoC as a RPG. Sci-fi and horror are particularly niche in genre (as ttrpg goes) and from experience, niche genre excitement fades over time. YMMV on that though... But it is also why I do not do every campaigns in Greyhawk, FR, Dragonlance or Ebberon. We change the setting from time to time to shake things up. This both renew the interest and shake up the table with new (or old ones we are fond of) ideas.

I really think that the generic aspect of D&D is its greatest strength. After all, Cthulhu is Cthulhu and LotR is LotR just as Star Wars is Star Wars. At some point, their system is so integrated in the setting that to change setting means changing game system altogether. Not so with D&D. So many settings in D&D gives a unique chance to mix and match so much.
 


Here in Brazil when PF2 came out (with a great crowdfunding campaign) fans were all excited that Pathfinder would once again surpass D&D. We are used to our own circles, where the smashing success of 5e is absolutelly obvious. But there are a lot of people outside our internet bubbles (no matter how big they are) that have no idea how massive 5e's lead on the market is.

Yeah. I've had to explain to people (with admittedly slowly decreasing patience) that the time when PF1e was in real competition with D&D was a historical accident, and nothing whatsoever Paizo did was going to duplicate that again, no matter what they did with the PF2e design. It just wasn't going to happen.
 

I
But they do have to compete to find a little niche of space for their own - to convince people to play something other than D&D, at least for a while.

I'd argue they aren't mostly fishing in the pond of D&D players though; though D&D is the big dog, there are people who rarely if ever play it because they just don't like it on any number of grounds. There are others who will want to play something else some of the time just for variety. Those are the ponds they're really fishing in, where they're in competition with other non-D&D games.
 

I think about the bandwagon effect, and the Matthew effect, the inertia favoring the most popular brand. For example in a little city where most of players choose GW then the new players will not choose other titles by other companies because it is harder to find people playing that game. And D&D is very focused into the crunch, when in the internet age the metaplot is too easy to be spoilered, and you can find free "fluff"(lore/background) with the fandom wikis of videogames, movies, teleseries and comics. Here if a player wants to buy crunch, then they will would rather the system used by the most.

It is curious the case of Tormenta, a franchise by a 3PP with very good health after decades to be from a not English-speaker country. And the origin is an article in the Brazilian Dragon Magazine. I don't see it to be translated into other languages. Maybe WotC could offer some partnership deal like Exandria/Critical Rol.

Other factor is D&D to be ideologically neuter.

I wonder about a Japanese, or Korean, version of action-play game-show with virtual avatars.
If CR decided to go back to say Pathfinder, or even jumped to something like Call of Cthulhu, its disciples would leave D&D in droves. WOTC knows how much CR is driving sales, and will do everything their power to keep Mercer and his crew happy.

I have never seen data on it, would be very interested how many current players picked up the game via CR, and were never exposed to a proper session at a table before jumping into the game. I have run into a few at my gaming cafe, and their view of D&D is radically different than that of players pre-CR.
 

Bolares

Hero
If CR decided to go back to say Pathfinder, or even jumped to something like Call of Cthulhu, its disciples would leave D&D in droves. WOTC knows how much CR is driving sales, and will do everything their power to keep Mercer and his crew happy.
That's all conjecture. It not only diminishes all the successes of WotC with D&D, but puts the sole responsability of the health of the hobby on a (great) RPG show.
 

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