D&D General Behold a final, and perhaps definitive, graph of D&D vs. AD&D sales over time! From Ben Riggs.


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TwoSix

"Diegetics", by L. Ron Gygax
Honestly, the only inference I can really pull out from those numbers is that whoever bought D&D also bought AD&D, and vice versa, all throughout the '80s. The numbers are pretty in sync, except for the 81 to 83 swap, which are still nearly identical in magnitude.

I'd also be willing to bet there's a ton of hyperlocal variation in adoption rates. If there's only 10 guys in your town that play, and one of them really prefers Basic to AD&D, that preference could easily drive buying patterns for all 10 players.
 

darjr

I crit!
Honestly, the only inference I can really pull out from those numbers is that whoever bought D&D also bought AD&D, and vice versa, all throughout the '80s. The numbers are pretty in sync, except for the 81 to 83 swap, which are still nearly identical in magnitude.

I'd also be willing to bet there's a ton of hyperlocal variation in adoption rates. If there's only 10 guys in your town that play, and one of them really prefers Basic to AD&D, that preference could easily drive buying patterns for all 10 players.
I think it also shows the player base was static or shrinking. Zero growth. Despite the number of Basic sets sold.

Makes me wonder if a better strategy would have helped.
 

Snarf Zagyg

Notorious Liquefactionist
Supporter
I don’t get you snarf. It was actually common knowledge that basic did a ton better sales wise than AD&D. Years and years of rumor and talk about it and some numbers too.

That's what I meant. I've known for some time (through rumor and through observation) that Basic did really well in sales, but this is where I am going to differ ... from the OP-

Despite the fact that the graph is biased towards AD&D, I believe it still shows the phenomenal strength of D&D.

Some observations.

+D&D peaked, then AD&D peaked. Did D&D act as an entry point for AD&D?

+D&D’s best year was 1981 when it sold 1,039,913 units. AD&D’s best year was 1983, when it sold 1,031,200 units. It’s interesting that in their best years they sold so nearly the same amount of product. Was that a sort of ceiling for the game at the time?


The issue I am having is that the speculation seems to be that these numbers (which, again, I am grateful to see) can be used to determine the "strength of D&D" relative to AD&D.

I don't think that's fully accurate. In other words ... there are two possibilities-

A. These numbers are capturing a vast amount of D&D play that occured during the '80s; or

B. These numbers reflect sales (which are good!) but for various reasons are overstating the amount of D&D (as opposed to AD&D) play in the 80s.


I lean heavily into camp B, and I think that this is supported not just by recollection, but also by contemporaneous evidence- the number of games at conventions. The amount of 3PP designed for the systems. The number of articles in Dragon (and other magazines) supporting play. And so on.

I could be wrong, but I also think that the resurgence of OSR has led people to re-evaluate B/X (which is good!) but also to over-estimate the actual importance of those systems to play in the 80s.

 

Reynard

Legend
Supporter
It's interesting that there was no Basic bump in 1989 along with 2E AD&D. I am pretty sure they put out some starter set. The black box, maybe?
 

overgeeked

B/X Known World
I think it comes down to trying to assign greater meaning to sales figures than they actually have. Sales are only an indication of sales. Literally nothing else. Sales do not equal quality. Sales do not equal how or even if people played. Sales do not equal people’s feeling for these games. Etc.

Sales are sales, nothing more.

My experience from the time is that everyone had various Basic books and boxes but no one actually played any of them. Everyone had and played AD&D.

It’s worth noting that these numbers are not corroborated in any way and that even by Ben’s own admission the chart is biased towards AD&D.
 

grimslade

Krampus ate my d20s
I think you are talking past each other. These charts only reflect sales, not the rate of play. D&D beating AD&D in sales is not surprising to me. I started to play with Moldvay, but quickly transitioned over to AD&D. I am in both of those charts. I don't think the majority of the player base bought everything. I know in my group we pooled books to play. There also wasn't a ton of converting between B/X and AD&D, you just ran it with whichever rules your group was comfortable with. I remember running Castle Amber with AD&D and played Village of Hommlet using basic.
 

darjr

I crit!
@Snarf Zagyg
OK. Yea. I’m a B, with a big caveat.

In that I think your B is right except it doesn’t include the people who played the basic set and maybe a bit of the expert, then stopped.

I personally have run into a ton of those folks. From GenCon and GsryCon and Gameholecon and several large on line events to here at home. Anecdotal as that is.

My question is, do those people count as “players” or dabblers or something else. Or are they so small a number they kinda don’t count?
 

jolt

Adventurer
This is purely anecdotal, but in my area, all the local libraries carried the B/X boxed sets for at least a few years. None of them ever carried AD&D. Potentially, that's a lot of additional exposure outside of hobby/game stores. I never bought a 1E PHB, MM, or DMG during the 80's because my older brother had them and he left them at home when he went away to college. It's only been in the last few years that I've gone back and bought the original 3 books. I learned about D&D from my brother. If he hadn't played I likely wouldn't have known about it until it showed up at the library (our K-8 school was right across the street so trips to the library were a weekly occurrence). It's also where I stumbled across the Fighting Fantasy gamebooks. The only real advertisement for (A)D&D (at least in the US) was in magazines like 'The Dragon', but the only people who knew about 'The Dragon' were usually the (A)D&D players.

Also, when parents bought the game for their kids, it was most likely to be the B/X game as that showed up in the bigger box stores every now and then while Advanced never did that I saw. For me, the 80's had more competition for my time than the 90's did. In the early 80's, Top Secret got more play time than either B/X or Advanced. In the 90's though, there was less competition for D&D than there was in the 80's. In the early part of the decade (when I was in college) the only real competition was Call of Cthulhu and a little GURP's. As a result, I bought tons of D&D 2E stuff, even though I liked it less, because far fewer games caught my eye.

It's different now with the Internet and everyone having access to everything but it sure wasn't like that in the 80's and even for most of the 90's. For example, I never even saw a single Chaosium product until I went away to college; they were just never stocked in my area. The same for FGU. You couldn't buy what wasn't available.

Sales numbers are interesting but they don't always mean much. Also, it's not an "either or" situation. Heck, I know people who bought both B/X and Advanced and never played either. They felt that B/X was too "kiddified" but bounced hard off Gygax's writing style and wargame-isms in Advanced. Conversely, you had people who bought both and used both; keeping the stuff they liked, ignoring the rest, and making stuff up as they went. That kind of freeform play seems less common now (to me anyway) but was very common back then - even in "official" tournaments and the RPGA.
 

CleverNickName

Limit Break Dancing (He/They)
Another observation: these sales are presumably for North America only. We don't have information for sales in the UK, for example, and TSR had an office there for years.
 

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