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


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iamarogue

Explorer
Paizo's in trouble?

I don't have firm data to back it up, but I'd say so. Their business model is quite unsustainable (hardcover releases every month or two). They positioned themselves as an alternative to D&D 4e which worked out well until 5e came out. Since then, Pathfinder sales took a nosedive. Not saying it's not a good game or that there aren't fans, but it used to be that new entrants to the hobby might just as likely pick up Pathfinder as D&D, but now it's 95% D&D. The announcement to come out with a 2nd edition is a huge gamble and sales dropped off even more after they did that. Starfinder isn't selling very well and they were forced to abandon their video game and also dropped their board game line for a long time before an announcement of a new model. But like I said, I don't have hard data. Let's just say I wouldn't be surprised to hear an announcement of layoffs
 

Parmandur

Book-Friend
I don't have firm data to back it up, but I'd say so. Their business model is quite unsustainable (hardcover releases every month or two). They positioned themselves as an alternative to D&D 4e which worked out well until 5e came out. Since then, Pathfinder sales took a nosedive. Not saying it's not a good game or that there aren't fans, but it used to be that new entrants to the hobby might just as likely pick up Pathfinder as D&D, but now it's 95% D&D. The announcement to come out with a 2nd edition is a huge gamble and sales dropped off even more after they did that. Starfinder isn't selling very well and they were forced to abandon their video game and also dropped their board game line for a long time before an announcement of a new model. But like I said, I don't have hard data. Let's just say I wouldn't be surprised to hear an announcement of layoffs

Is Starfinder not selling well? Isn't it the third or fourth biggest game on the market...? Or are you talking about your store specifically?
 


Michael Dean

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

The irony of this statement is amusing. Please point us to this definitive objective standard you keep referencing. Until then, I'll just keep assuming that you don't understand the difference between subjective and objective.
 

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