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Hobby Games: It Was a Very Good Year

The hobby market continues to spiral upward year-after-year. Can the industry keep this up?

The hobby market continues to spiral upward year-after-year. Can the industry keep this up?

We have a few data points to indicate just how the hobby games market -- inclusive of tabletop role-playing games and miniatures -- is doing, and by all accounts it's doing very well indeed. But there were seismic shifts too, not the least of which being the turmoil surrounding the Toys 'R' Us toy stores. Toys 'R' Us' troubles set off a ripple effect in competitive markets that saw it as an opportunity, and one of those markets is the struggling book store chain Barnes & Noble.
[h=3]Barnes & Noble Isn't Great[/h]Barnes & Noble has been wracked by a variety of challenges, not the least of which is the decline of brick-and-mortar shopping for books. Various strategies have been enacted to combat this, and one of them is moving into hobby games. Non-books increased 1.9% for the retailer, including toys and games. When asked about their strategy, CFO Allen Lindstrom said:

I can tell you that we think it's a significant opportunity for holiday, toys comped at double digits in the second quarter and it's strong heading into the holiday season.​

Barnes & Noble seems to be banking on the holiday season to get it through its slump.
[h=3]Hasbro is Okay[/h]The effects of Toys 'R' Us' demise did not go unnoticed by Hasbro, parent company of Wizards of the Coast, who in turn produces Dungeons & Dragons. The company relies on the toy stores for its distribution and took enough of a hit to reduce its workforce by 10% by year-end. Despite those losses, D&D prospects are looking up.

Hasbro's CEO Brian Goldner hasn't been shy about touting the growth of D&D -- even if that enthusiasm led to some confusion as to whether or not D&D is destined for an esport. What's not confusing is that D&D is doing well. It got a rare shout-out on the latest earnings call:

The team also delivered another quarter of revenue growth for DUNGEONS and DRAGONS and late in the third quarter drove a strong release for an all new TRANSFORMERS trading card game.

That growth was explained in detail by Chris Cocks in an interview with Geekwire:

D&D Fifth Edition came out about four years ago and we’re on trajectory for our fourth year of good size, double-digit growth. In excess of 30 percent growth per year for D&D.

30% growth per year is nothing to sneeze at, but it's a broad stroke that's hard to quantify in the context of other mega-brands, like Magic: The Gathering. Booknet Canada zoomed in on data in Canada back in June 2018. The results are compelling:

With D&D Mordenkainen's Tome of Foes (9780786966240) making it into the top 10 print books in the country last week, we turned our attention to the Games & Activities / Role Playing & Fantasy BISAC category and found that there have been huge increases in sales for these books over the past four years. Within this category, many of the top titles have been Wizards of the Coast D&D manuals, and overall, the category has seen a 77% growth in print unit sales between 2016 and 2017, according to BNC SalesData. Sales for the Dungeons & Dragons Starter Set (9780786965595) have been slowly increasing over the past few years, but of particular interest is the growth in sales over the Christmas period. We compared the five-week period over the Christmas season for 2015 and 2016 and found that sales for this single title increased by 38%. But that's not all. Between 2016 and 2017, there's an even more incredible increase of 95%. Sales of the Player’s Handbook (9780786965601) have also experienced notable growth. Comparing the first 22 weeks of sales in 2018 against sales from the same period in 2016, we found an increase of 49%.​

There's every reason to believe that this trend will continue into 2019.
[h=3]Fans Are Awesome[/h]For other data points on just how well D&D is doing, we can look to the products themselves. Matthew Lillard, an actor known for his role as Shaggy in the live-action Scooby Doo movies, launched Beadle and Grimm's Pandemonium Warehouse in June 2018. Its flagship product: a $499 all-inclusive Platinum Edition for Waterdeep: Dragon Heist. Lillard explained the logic behind the pricing:

There's an echelon of gamer that would love handwritten notes, that would love to produce metal coins, that would love trinkets or a handcrafted trap. But there're a lot of people out there that don't have the time to execute that...We're definitely experiencing some blowback on the price, but everything we have in the box - everything we're delivering and the way the game is played - we think we're going to exceed what people expect.

Lillard's gamble is not one he's taking alone. Wizkids is releasing a fully-painted miniature-scale version of The Falling Star Sailing Ship for $250 in January 2019. That's nothing compared to the Black Dragon Trophy Plaque which will go on sale in 2019 for $450!

In retrospect, what's astonishing about the success of the hobby isn't that the tabletop hobby market is doing well in spite of the downturn in a major distributor; it's that consumers are now supporting a business capable of producing high-end luxury items in the hundreds of dollars. If these luxury products are any indication, the game industry does well when gamers do well. And that's something we can all be thankful for.

Mike "Talien" Tresca is a freelance game columnist, author, communicator, and a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to http://amazon.com. You can follow him at Patreon.

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Michael Tresca

Michael Tresca


First Post
In an economy where millions of folks happily lay out $750+ for new phone to replace a 2 year old one that still does the job, a $250 ship seems fairly affordable. My problem with a lot of cool stuff is where to store it. Using the ship as an example. It would be great during a pirate adventure. During a dungeon crawl, it is a large piece of shelf clutter. Same for that colossal red dragon that WOTC sold. Occasionally useful, but mostly just something that fills a shelf or cabinet.

But it is nice to see such things offered.

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Naked and living in a barrel
This growth is terrible. It means WotC has no incentive to increase the quality of D&D supplements. What a waste.


One thing to keep in mind with regards to both the luxury items and the success of the starter sets is that traditional gaming spaces and composition are radically changing. These items may seem like extravagant, even wasteful uses of storage space and money to a well established gaming group, but to the many new pub/bar groups and one shot pickup games being run on the regular they are great! Imagine introducing 10 new players a week to the RPG hobby, and having something like that ship or B&G set to astonish them. They are great when you do one shots of the same scenario, or similar, regularly. Many of the new players being exposed to these pickup games feel safe at least making the minimum investment to begin exploring the hobby, hence the strong sales in basic sets.

Michael Dean

This growth is terrible. It means WotC has no incentive to increase the quality of D&D supplements. What a waste.

This statement doesn't make any sense. How does one have anything to do with the other? Apparently, the quality is just fine for a lot of people. Or did you mean WOTC has no incentive to tailor their supplements to you, personally?

Regarding the starter set, the discounted price from places like Amazon is about what the adventure in the starter set might cost if published separately. So I think a lot of DMs are looking at that and buying the box solely for Lost Mines of Phandelver. I bet that if we could buy just the adventure on DMs Guild that the starter sales would shrink dramatically.

And, of course, only being able to legally get the books in print form, versus pdf, makes a huge difference in those sales. I wonder how much worse the physical sales would be if we were able to get a legal pdf of the PHB for $20 or $25?


I would like to see more books rather than those 'luxury items'.
Yes and no. I've been doing Kickstarter for board games for three or four years, now, and I've come to a point where I realized I've got more games than I can reasonably play -- unless my intent is to play each one just once. Instead of continuing to back games just because they look cool, my friends and I are starting to scale back and focus on playing through the games we own enough to really savor them. In the process, we're also getting the game organizers, limited edition pieces (or making our own), and so forth. We still pick up some new games, but we've largely turned to luxury experiences for what we enjoy.

What does this have to do with the topic at hand? I think it's pretty intuitive that, when I'm willing to drop $100 on an organizer for Gloomhaven -- itself a $100 game (depending on where you get it) -- as well as several other games in that sort of price range, that we'd be open to paying a bit more for a "luxury" version of D&D products. Granted, there are a few as of yet unreleased products that I'd love to see released, as well.

The problem, IMO, is what those luxury and "other" products are. So far, I haven't liked any of the special edition covers. I don't want anything that promotes the Realms, either. I'd gladly pay $250 for a leather-bound, evergreen Encyclopedia Eberron, though. I might pay something similar for a fluff-only collectors' edition of Greyhawk, too (provided it was done "right", which is another challenge). I'd pay for adventures that weren't set in the Realms -- I've all but given up on even looking at any adventures published after Curse of Strahd.

What I don't want to see is a return to books filled with power-escalating feats, boatloads of magic weapons, etc. as was the case in mid-to-late 3.5.


I'm glad to hear that D&D is doing so well.

I just have one quibble with the article. The mention of the Platinum Edition of Dragon Heist seems out of place, since we have no data on how well it has sold. The fact that one company is taking a risk and offering an expensive item is not proof that the market will support it.


I'm also surprised at the growth of the starter sets? I mean, there is a limit to how many of those are needed, right? But, good for them!

And, yes, DND is not everything in the hobby. However, I thought I read on here that if it's doing well, generally, it's good for the hobby as a whole?

The White Wolf thing seems to be them doing it to themselves, though, not an external force.

I'm torn on the luxury items. Over the years, I have gotten minis and metal coins but not something so big all at once. My concern with most luxury things is how specific they are. I mean, yes, a 3D ship is cool but I can count on one hand the number of times I have used a ship. Sure, I might use it more if I had it but not sure it would be enough for me to justify it. Or the Waterdeep Dragon Heist set. A lot of it is reusable but not all of it. I don't know. That's probably just me.

Thanks for the discussion! Very interesting!

I mean technically its good for the hobby but like in all things its for the most part a zero sum game. And players, especially D&D players are unlikely to move to different systems and by different games. Ergo the only thing that really the sales of D&D improves is D&D

Its alot like Disney and the animation industry yes it is a part of it but its such a massive force that it basically sucks the light out of everything else. Hell its even a common trope "All Animation is Disney"


I'm glad to hear that D&D is doing so well.

I just have one quibble with the article. The mention of the Platinum Edition of Dragon Heist seems out of place, since we have no data on how well it has sold. The fact that one company is taking a risk and offering an expensive item is not proof that the market will support it.

Well the Beadle and Grimm platinum edition is sold out so I assume that it sold good enough.


A Title Much Cooler Than Anything on the Old Site
I can understand your position, but it is based on the equation "books=games". For me it is more than that, books are also pleasurable readings and inspiration and sources for my hobby as DMsGuild author.

Regarding the luxury stuff, I never said they are a terrible investment. Simply, if I think to the dozen friends involved in rpgs who I know, I can't find none interested in spending hundreds of euros on that. Vice versa most of them would buy another mtg/dnd crossover book, for example. But it is only my tiny slice of world, obviously.

I get that. I bought Ravnica when Amazon had a great holiday sales on D&D books, just for the reading and artwork. I'll likely never run a Ravnica campaign and I don't see using much of anything in it in the near future. Also, I'm not putting down other folks fun. I mean, if I don't want something, I don't have to buy it.

But if you feel WotC's slow release schedule is not scratching your itch, there are so many great third-party products out there. I suppose if you only play adventurer's league, that won't help, but if you are buying the books largely for reading and inspiration, it doesn't have to be official, just interesting and/or inspiring.

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