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

MNblockhead

A Title Much Cooler Than Anything on the Old Site
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!

That's why I haven't spend a lot of my money on this stuff, but I intend to get the pirate ship.

I think a model like that works best when you are running a nautical campaign where the party will have their own vessel. Also, it is abstracted enough that it is easy to put into a number of different games as different ships. I personally can see getting a lot of use out of this item.

For Beadle and Grimm, the set enhances a campaign the will run for many months. I can see how for many groups it can make sense. But for me, I'm putting my money into a digital display and custom-made case and will use that for all battlemaps and many handouts.

I've tried physical props in my games, from coins, to equipment cards, to potion vials, scrolls, etc. But we tend to prefer to track all that stuff on digital character sheets or with pencil and paper. We find the props more distracting than anything. Other people want their TTRPG to be closer to a sit-down larp session, and that's cool.
 

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EthanSental

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

It did sell out? I thought it still had about 75 left out of the 1000 that were created. Still it took 6 months for it to sell a 1000 copies...hopefully next box they create has levels with lower price points so more people can enjoy the items.
 

Kramodlog

Naked and living in a barrel
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?
It means the quality of D&D books is objectively bad and WotC doesn't have to increase the quality of its products cause they sell anyway. It is like Transformers movies. Thank the people who are mystified by streaming for that.

Hopefully, the blunder of e-sports will drive sells down and force them to up their game. Well, one can dream.
 

Parmandur

Book-Friend
The real shocker to me is the ever-increasing sales on the starter set and PHB; even though admittedly designed as evergreen, doubling or tripling sales year over year? Growth of 49% from one year to the next? I’m extremely impressed.

A lot of those sales are probably going to come from people who have been playing for a while at this point, but decided to get the book rather than continue using the Basic rules and cribbing a friends copy, or have heard that Lost Mines is one of the all-tiem great adventure modules and want to try it. Lots of new players, too, but the growth cycle feeds itself at a certain point if the barrier to entry is as low as WotC has been sure to make it.
 

Parmandur

Book-Friend
In terms of "objective" quality of D&D products, a perusal of the reviews on this site shows that every single book except for Hoard of the Dragon Queen has a recommended gestalt rating. I think the intersubjective reception by the community speak for itself, before popular sales are considered.
 
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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%.

If we assume that sales of the PHB at the start of 2016 were above sales of the PHB upon 5E's release (and there is no guarantee that is the case), a 49% increase from 2016 to 2018 is a massive win for 5E and points to a healthy future in the near term at least.
 

It means the quality of D&D books is objectively bad

What? Since when is the quality of D&D books "objectively" bad? I'd love to know where you're get that from, because I haven't seen many negative reviews of 5E books and my group is enjoying the heck out of our game right now. We finished the PotA campaign and are halfway through ToA.

The ToA campaign is probably the most fun I've had as a player in over 25 years of gaming.
 

Kramodlog

Naked and living in a barrel
Since when is the quality of D&D books "objectively" bad?[/qote]Since 4e? I kid, I kid. Since the first AP book Hoard of the Dragon Queen. Quality has varied, but stuff like Hoard, Storm King, Sword Coast, the Big Book of Beholder Random Tables, Mordenkainen, Tales of Yawn Cause Designers couldn't make an effort, Dungeon of the Lazy Designers, the MtG Campaign world that isn't MtG or a campaign book, are bad.

I'd love to know where you're get that from, because I haven't seen many negative reviews of 5E books and my group is enjoying the heck out of our game right now.
Your anecdotal experience doesn't mean anything. Popularity doesn't mean anything either. The Transformers films were popular, but are objectively terrible.
 

MGibster

Legend
As I've grown older I've come to accept that I'm not longer the target demographic for a lot of products. And what I would like to see isn't necessarily something that a company should use as a business model as they might very well go bankrupt. (Translation: I really miss when Mtv showed music videos but it's not a business model that works for a television network today.)

It's ironic that back in the age of splat books, the 1990s, I didn't have enough money for all the AD&D, World of Darkness, Rifts, and other game books I wanted and had all the time in the world to play. These days there aren't nearly as many splat books being produced, I've got plenty of money to buy them all, but I have neither the time nor the space to store all of it.

I'm probably not going to spend $400 on campaign material for an RPG but it's not out of the question. I get many hours of enjoyment out of RPGs and even when spending that much it's not a bad deal compared to other forms of entertainment. I'm glad companies respond to market needs and I wish them success.
 

Since when is the quality of D&D books "objectively" bad?
Since 4e? I kid, I kid. Since the first AP book Hoard of the Dragon Queen. Quality has varied, but stuff like Hoard, Storm King, Sword Coast, the Big Book of Beholder Random Tables, Mordenkainen, Tales of Yawn Cause Designers couldn't make an effort, Dungeon of the Lazy Designers, the MtG Campaign world that isn't MtG or a campaign book, are bad.

Your anecdotal experience doesn't mean anything. Popularity doesn't mean anything either. The Transformers films were popular, but are objectively terrible.

Ah, so my anecdotal experience doesn't mean anything, but your 'objective' opinion without any actual facts to back it up (i.e. anecdotal experience) does. Gotcha.
 

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