How big's the RPG market?

How big is the RPG market? Pretty damn tiny, is the answer. As of 2016/2017 it's about $35m in size, according to ICv2. That's of a Hobby Games market currently worth just over a billion dollars. The RPG segment is a mere 2.9% of the overall Hobby Games market, which includes boardgames, miniatures, hobby card games, and collectible games. Of course, the competition for RPGs isn't just boardgames or card games, it's entertainment; and on that scale, the RPG market is a tiny niche of the Hobby Games market, which is a tiny niche of the global entertainment market. Note that these figures are US and Canada only, and include Kickstarter sales.

UPDATE: the below $1.19B figure has since been revised upwards by ICv2 to $1.4B in 2017, with an RPG segment of $45M.

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The hobby games market as a whole is the size of one major movie blockbuster. The global film industry market was 38.3 billion in 2015. Putting that into perspective:


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The video game industry is even bigger, at $91B in 2016.


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However, the entire hobby games market is growing year on year. Just look at the latest stats: the market has grown from $700M in 2013 to $1.19B in 2016/2017. Of that, RPGs have more than doubled in size, from $15M to $35M. Boardgames have over tripled in size. There is definitely a tabletop boom going on right now, powered by a number of factors ranging from Kickstarter, to the introduction of US West Coast media (shows like Tabletop and outlets like Geek & Sundry have helped to mainstream tabletop gaming), and more.

Data from ICv2 and other sources.




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Russ Morrissey

Comments

TerraDave

5ever
Most TRPG sales through game stores are a relatively small number of books and box sets. 3 books especially.

A fraction of the volume on the board and collectible side (which seems to be getting frothy). And of course the costs are far lower then movies or video games.
 
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lyle.spade

Explorer
Interesting. Considering how sorry most Hollywood movies are, I bet that much of what folks are making up around tables with friends is of better quality. I'll take our little share along with a good story, thank you.
 

SpiralBound

Visitor
These charts are informative, but only tell part of the story. For consumers, they are as detailed as they need to be. If one is a prospective solo producer of a hobby game though, these pie charts are missing one important piece of information - how "open" are those market segments? For example, the "Collectible game" category is the biggest, so it's tempting to think it is a great category to design for. However, how much of that 52.5% is eaten up by MtG? Roleplaying games are doubly dismal as they are the smallest segment, and once you rule out the top 3-5 RPGs there isn't much left of that 2.9%. Despite being smaller markets than Collectible games, the card & dice games, and boardgames segments may be more enticing markets for aspiring game designers due to them having more room for new games to get noticed. The term "Hobby Games" is especially apt as it not only refers to the players of such games, but also the majority of the producers as well.
 

Gareman

Visitor
So...

1. ICV2 data is considered highly suspect.

2. It's all the game trade has to go on, so it's generally accepted. Nobody else is collecting data (publicly). It "feels" right.

3. The consensus, because nobody knows anything in the game trade for sure, is well over half of RPG sales happen online, mostly Amazon. When Wizards of the Coast allows Amazon to sell the Player's Handbook below distribution costs, well duh. It hurts new player acquisition as the FLGS is the acknowledged marketing arm of the game trade.

4.My guess based on my store sales (and talking with others) is D&D is probably 70% of these sales. My guess is the top 5 RPGs account for 90% of sales. Have I mentioned this is a guess?
 

Nikosandros

Golden Procrastinator
Is ICV2 able to estimate sales through non-hobby channels, like Amazon? I would imagine that a lot of D&D sales are of that type.
 

Cam Banks

Explorer
One thing that HAS been proven out based on information collected from a lot of publishers is that there are diminishing returns on supplements and sourcebooks compared to core books or core sets. Much of that can be intuited from the target audience, too - books that are only useful to GMs (like adventures, etc) aren't going to be bought by all of the players. White Wolf struck a huge chord with gamers because their splat books were useable by everyone. That's why that model has stuck around for so long.

Cheers,
Cam
 

Gareman

Visitor
Their methodology is asking publishers what their sales are. The vast, vast majority are private, so they can give ICV2 a number, or not, or something aspirational. I mean, it's better than nothing, but there's not some huge index where data is reliably compiled.
 

Ghost2020

Explorer
Book prices have also kept jumping up as well, that's a factor too. Maybe units purchased vs dollar amount? Probably not as easy to measure?
 

JeffB

Hero
It's tiny because RPGs are work and take lots of free time. Especially heavy systems like PF. 5E is still too heavy for most people who are not already D&D fans. FFG Star Wars is not as heavy as it looks, but the core products are intimidating. Luckily it has the marketing power of Star Wars.

The last thing most people (who are not really gamers) think of when they want to have a fun game to pick up and play whenever time allows, is shelling out $70 to $150 dollars on 300 plus page rulebooks. We don't bat an eyelash. But we are not those people anymore. If I had to pick up a 325 page players handbook to play in 1977, I would never have started. I'm sure there was less word count in ALL the LBBs and Holmes, and probably Moldvay too.

And having a $20 box game that is pretty easy to pick up is great, but then hitting them with the aforementioned encyclopedias of rules and/or adventure books just to continue on is an instant turn-off. Just pick up your phone or turn on your xbox and play whatever, or grab a board game with high replay value and get right to the fun. No volumes of rules, no needing to coordinate 5 people's schedules and find a place to play, no need to pick up an additional $50 adventure path because you don't have time to make things up/do math homework assignments.

During the NEXT playtest, Mearls said something to the effect of- D&D was no longer easy to just pick up on the spur of the moment and play a game whenever, and they want to change that. They have not done that. The game is still heavy, and their product model is focused on big adventure books that are not for new or casual DMs or people who just want to play a quick 2 hour game of D&D and feel like they accomplished something.

Until all that changes, and the rpg business models of the last 35 years changes, fans and the RPG industry will need to be happy with the small profits and teeny weeny niche of even the best selling games.
 
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LordEntrails

Adventurer
Thanks for putting this together. It does put a good perspective on things.

Our hobby is a tiny business, people often forget that and express their ignorance in many ways. (Expectations of new content, support levels, importance, etc).
 
One thing that HAS been proven out based on information collected from a lot of publishers is that there are diminishing returns on supplements and sourcebooks compared to core books or core sets. Much of that can be intuited from the target audience, too - books that are only useful to GMs (like adventures, etc) aren't going to be bought by all of the players. White Wolf struck a huge chord with gamers because their splat books were useable by everyone. That's why that model has stuck around for so long.

Cheers,
Cam
I think that's why many of the 5e books (other than adventures, of course) have a dual DM/Player benefit. Volo's Guide, Sword Coast Adventurer's Guide, and now Xanathar's Guide to Everything all have content for everyone at the table.
 

Paul3

Explorer
During the NEXT playtest, Mearls said something to the effect of- D&D was no longer easy to just pick up on the spur of the moment and play a game whenever, and they want to change that. They have not done that. The game is still heavy, and their product model is focused on big adventure books that are not for new or casual DMs or people who just want to play a quick 2 hour game of D&D and feel like they accomplished something.
As someone who has done just that, with 12 year olds no less, I couldn't disagree more. It is this accessibility (relative to PF or 4e) that has brought many back to the game. There is more depth if you want to get into it, but you can grab the basic rules with a rudimentary understanding of RPGs, and be off to the races.

The relatively small numbers are simply the nature of RPGs in general. There isn't a whole lot that RPG publishers can do to change what they are. The product model is always going to have constraints in that one person can purchase the rules and that might be it for purchases. How many groups have players that invest practically nothing financially in the game? How many hours can players play a game without purchasing anything? It is just the nature of the beast.

Collectible games more or less require constant purchases. They aren't marketing any better. It is just the nature of the game. Compared to board games, RPGs are in an interesting position in that I can sit down and play a game of Dominion in 45 minutes, which works for many lifestyles. RPGs, by their nature, require what....3-4 hour sessions, which is great for those that are into them, but bad for pulling in the casual player. In other words, what makes them awesome fun is also what limits their audience. You are simply appealing to a smaller group of potential customers, but with arguably a much greater intensity.

We just need to accept the limitations of the medium. It isn't because RPG developers are dropping the ball.
 

Lord Mhoram

Explorer
Not that this is important, but does anyone else find it amusing that in the last pie chart, video games is colored yellow - so it looks like Pac Man eating the other two segments in that graph?
 

JeffB

Hero
As someone who has done just that, with 12 year olds no less, I couldn't disagree more. It is this accessibility (relative to PF or 4e) that has brought many back to the game.

And my experience, running games for a handful of recent HS grads since they were 10yo.is the opposite. They want nothing to do with buying the books, learning the system, and have gravitated to the simplest rules systems over the years even as they have matured. They cannot be bothered with 5e and a whole lot of other games. They want to sit down and get through a fun adventure in 4 hour session. Not get through a couple combats and look up spell descriptions. Frankly, so do I. They would rather watch a movie, play a video game, etc. than deal with complexities. Frankly, so would I. Wait til those 12 year olds get into their later teen years and early adulthood and competition for their fun time goes drastically up.

The limited nature of RPGs is based on many factors, but one giant limitation is because of the Industry business model since the late 70s/early 80s. It now feeds off itself and its core group. It is "its nature" because the Industry made it that way.
 
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MNblockhead

A Title Much Cooler Than Anything on the Old Site
I think games like No Thank You Evil (NTYE) and Hero Kids could help TTRPGs break through to the general family games market.

NTYE is a particularly good example in that it comes in an attractive box, with attractive books, cards, and aids. An adult that has at least played more involved board games is not going to be intimidated by the rules and can read through them and be ready to run a game in under an hour. The add-on purchase of the adventure building cards increases playability without having to hunt and pay for lots of adventures or spend lots of time building your own. After playing several time through my 7 year old was able to run me through an adventure using the adventure-builder card set. The only thing that I don't like about NTYE is the name. But it may help make the game more palatable to highly religious families. If the game was a bit less expensive I would be buying it as birthday gifts when my son is invited to his friends birthday parties.

Hero Kids is similarly easy and their pdfs serve as both an adventure and a crafting activity. You can cut out and color the paper minis, and print out battlemaps. Even more so than NTYE, aver a couple games, my kids (6 and 9 at the time) were creating their own adventures and running the rest of the family through them (the meat-grinder fun houses that kids come up with are hilarious). Hero Kids should do a kickstarter for a box set for about USD 20-25 that contains a printed rule book, some 2D plastic minis for PCs and monsters, some bases for the minis, so reusable maptiles (like those in their Minotaur's maze PDF adventure), some six-side dice, and an adventure book with perforated pages that you can pull out and copy to make more monsters/characters.

If you can make a box set, kid-friendly TTRPG, with some toy-like features (cards, flat plastic minis, paper battlemap titles) that sells for $19.99 and get it into Target, Games by James, Walmart, and other retailers, I think it would do well.

Kids that grow up playing and making adventures from early grade school, will naturally gravitate to games like D&D 5e and even more rules-heavy games when they are older. You just need to get over that intimidation hurdle that most TTRPGs present.
 

ChapolimX

Explorer
the RPG market is a tiny niche of the Hobby Games market, which is a tiny niche of the global entertainment market
So we can say, backed by statistics, we are the coolest kids in town?
Plus, since the mainstream market of video games draw a lot of inspiration from tabletop RPG, we can say we are trendy too?
;)
 

choam10191

Visitor
There is definitely a tabletop boom going on right now, powered by a number of factors ranging from Kickstarter, to the introduction of US West Coast media, and more.
What does that mean, exactly? Do you always speak so elliptically in an article intended to be informative?
 

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