5E "Labels" and D&D Gaming

S'mon

Legend
Today, 35+ are very active in the market. But remember that the market research under discussion was done back in 1999. That's before the boom of 3e, and again of 5e. The diversity of 3rd party materials (both game rules and physical aids like custom dice and GM screens and all) didn't exist. The market was a different place.

The 35+ of then are the 55+ of today.
Good point - I wasn't buying stuff in 1999; 3e brought me back and really it was 4e (& Pathfinder accessories) started my whalish habits. :)

One huge source of expenditure these days is plastic minis; not a thing in 1999.
 

Oofta

Title? I don't need no stinkin' title.
Based on what evidence did he say that, however, if no research had yet been done?
Well, there always seems to be an age bias in the marketing. They figure that after a certain age, people are set in their ways so therefore there's no reason to figure out what they want.

I personally prefer long campaigns myself, but then again I also like playing all levels.
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
Because that's a proportion with little market presence.

Most over 35s are happy playing the game they already have. They already have a favourite system and a shelf full of books to go with it. They don't particularly want to spend the time and effort to learn a new system. And this does double for anything outside core. I can imagine you buying the core three books of each new version of D&D. But I simply can't imagine you, with your stated tastes buying any source material in e.g. the Realms or Eberron. Or the Critical Role setting. You've got your own setting.
Perhaps,

But what will I consider buying, and not be alone in so doing? Simply put, anything that is or can be made system-agnostic. Adventure modules. Magic item and equipment guides. Setting material if it appeals to me (e.g. when the CR setting comes out I probably will give it a good long look).

Of course. One thing to remember about when it happened is that the least financially successful version of D&D was 2e, not 4e. It both got overtaken in sales by a rival (the World of Darkness) and was so unprofitable (unlike 4e which was raking in about six million dollars a year through DDI even after the launch of 5e) that it helped drive TSR to bankruptcy. WotC might have bought the biggest brand in tabletop roleplaying, but it had been an utter mess for years.
True, and though there were myriad reasons why TSR had gone belly-up let's leave those for another day. :)

People who'd stuck with 1e through 2e were people (like yourself) who'd probably stay with 1e going forward. They were happy with their game. And the 2e fans who bought everything would probably keep doing so as long as there weren't massive changes.
By and large yes, though (as you'll anecdotally see by looking around even just in here) many did jump from 1e-2e to 3e when it came out.

That said, and this has bugged me about WotC ever since they took over, why not market to all of us? Put out 3e (and later 4e and 5e) but keep supporting the older editions as well via conversion guides, edition-agnostic material and adventures (or more conversion guides!), and so forth.

When 3e came out they dropped the TSR editions like hot potatoes. Then, rather incredibly (and IMO rather foolishly) they even more blatantly did the same to 3e when they released 4e. They've done the same with 4e on releasing 5e but at least they weren't so up-front about it.

But the other huge issue WotC had was that in the late 90s D&D was the old person's RPG.
So market to the old people! :)

The popular RPG among teenagers and 20-somethings was Vampire: the Masquerade. WotC's two goals were to keep the 2e spenders (they spent money) and to win back the teenagers and 20-somethings (they spent money). They had data on what sold for 2e (player facing splatbooks) but needed more on what people were playing instead of D&D.
The splatbooks sold in large part because they and some settings were all TSR had out there to buy. Meanwhile those other games had new core books to sell.

In part they did that. I don't know if the over 35s cutoff came before or after an initial scan of the results.
This is a very good point, and something I'd never considered.

So now my questions are these: what would the results have looked like had all the data been included; and does the full data set still exist anywhere such that those results could be generated if they don't already exist?

That's ... not my experience. But I live in London, and people move around in London. A year or two is normal and people move away for jobs. Also a group I was part of that lasted 25 years had campaigns for a couple of years.
Yeah, London is a completely different environment than the small city I'm in. :)

And because 1e sets things up for the very long haul that way. Apocalypse World sets itself up for 6-12 session campaign - with significant character arcs in that time and possibly rewriting the world (which was created fresh and collaboratively for the campaign). In Pathfinder it took us about a year to get up to a level in the mid teens.
I'd just barely be getting settled in to a 6-12 session campaign before it'd be over.

PF has lightning-fast level advancement by my standards, as do 3e-4e-5e. I'd spend half my time trying to figure out what my character could do, just get it sorted, then have to do it all again because I'd bumped.

Financially if you are still playing 1e you are. It's a game that has been basically out of print for 30 years (yes I know about the recent deluxe editions). WotC is a business.
Out of print for 30 years now, sure, but at the time of the survey it had been OOP for less than ten years and still had a fairly strong player base.

Financially, if I'm a company I want to market to everyone I can, not just to a select group.
 

PsyzhranV2

Adventurer
Financially, if I'm a company I want to market to everyone I can, not just to a select group.
You still need to pick a priority demographic to focus your marketing towards. Part of being a distinctive brand or a product line within that brand is having a core consimer base with a distinct identity that your product caters towards.
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
Honestly, @Lanefan, you've got it backwards. They didn't design 3e to run 1 year campaigns and then market 1 year campaigns. They learned, through the market research that was done before 3e was designed, what some people were actually doing at the table.
I took the liberty of inserting the bolded word into your quote, to make it more factual.

Let's not forget, prior to that WotC market research, no one had that slightest clue. There was no market research done. At all. As mind boggling as that is, it's still true. No one had the slightest clue what the "average" gamer did.
All very true.

That's why they did that market research. To find out what the average gamer who was going to buy books (and that's the important caveat) did. Which revealed that D&D was largely a suburban phenomenon primarily geared towards young men in their teens and early to mid twenties. That's where the largest buying block was.
We'll never know, unless the raw data of all responses to the survey is still out there somewhere.

But I'm a cynical SOB particularly when it comes to business, and as such it's my contention that WotC very much saw short campaigns as a means of encouraging DM turnover and thus - as a DM on average buys something like 4 to 5 times what a player buys - a means of increasing mid-to-long term sales; and so they geared both their research results and their game design toward this end.
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
Today, 35+ are very active in the market. But remember that the market research under discussion was done back in 1999.
Actually the research itself was done in more like 97-98, wasn't it? The report came out in 99.

That's before the boom of 3e, and again of 5e. The diversity of 3rd party materials (both game rules and physical aids like custom dice and GM screens and all) didn't exist. The market was a different place.
Yes and no. Even then there were many 3rd-party materials (though not including rules as those hadn't been opened up yet) on the market - dice, screens, play aids, (metal) minis, etc. - though that market was catering to various games rather than primarily D&D.
 

MoonSong

Rules-lawyering drama queen but not a munchkin
By and large yes, though (as you'll anecdotally see by looking around even just in here) many did jump from 1e-2e to 3e when it came out.

That said, and this has bugged me about WotC ever since they took over, why not market to all of us? Put out 3e (and later 4e and 5e) but keep supporting the older editions as well via conversion guides, edition-agnostic material and adventures (or more conversion guides!), and so forth.

When 3e came out they dropped the TSR editions like hot potatoes. Then, rather incredibly (and IMO rather foolishly) they even more blatantly did the same to 3e when they released 4e. They've done the same with 4e on releasing 5e but at least they weren't so up-front about it.
At the time WotC was still trying to make sense of what made TSR flounder. Beyond just mismanagement, they came to the conclusion that TSR had been severely unfocused when it came to marketing and knowing their audience. Remember, they still supported both lines (Basic and Advanced) for about three years, between 1997 and 2000, so it wasn't an overnight thing.

In the end they needed to have a single Dungeons and Dragons game with a clear and focused brand. Continuing support for older edition would have muddied that brand.

Financially, if I'm a company I want to market to everyone I can, not just to a select group.
They had to pick whatever made business sense to them. TSR's demise showed them they had to focus their marketing, just like 4e showed them they shouldn't laser focus it.

It is a balance game between growing the audience and pleasing the hardcore fans. Not many new players, the core audience shrinks and ages away. Not enough support from the core audience, you just lose a ton of money.
 

billd91

Hobbit on Quest
Because the over 30 crowd didn't buy D&D books. That's almost word for word what Dancey said.
IF he said that, he was being stupid because it biases the study. But I doubt he ever said it. His document stated they selected the 12 to 35 age range to keep the study manageable and based on their internally determined probable market. He dangled the idea of doing a broader survey of the whole market, indicating at least a recognition that the picture of the market they were building was incomplete.

He made a big deal about TSR failing because of not knowing its market and then they pretty much cocked it up with their big study... at least the one they touted.
 

Hussar

Legend
Based on what evidence did he say that, however, if no research had yet been done?
You're presuming that they only ever did one study? That no preliminary research was done? That they just picked numbers out of a hat?

That's just mind bogglingly stupid if true.

Or, could it simply be that older gamers slow down their buying? I dunno, seems pretty likely to me.
 

Hussar

Legend
Let's put it another way.

I believe that gamers have always, generally, played campaigns that last 12-18 months. Are there those with longer campaigns? Absolutely. I totally know that's true. However, on average, most home games have a half life of about a year to two years.

As evidence of that, I present the following:

1. WotC market research found that this was true for gamers who were under 35.
2. Every single poll I've ever seen on every single gaming website for the past twenty years mirrors this same result - you have a huge number spiking at about 18 months, and then a pretty long tail stretching into the years longer.
3. Multiple Dragon Magazine polls over the years pegged their readership at around 20 years old. Give or take. Again, this mirrors both the WotC market research and every other poll I've ever seen. Meaning that the older crowd just isn't spending the money on the hobby.
4. Convention crowds - again, this is more anecdotal, but, convention crowds are overwhelmingly in their 20's - although that has been greying more and more as time has gone on. In 1995, seeing a 50 year old gamer at a convention was pretty uncommon.

So, now, the counter contention is that there is this rather large population of gamers out there, enough that they tip the balances of the averages, that play these multi-year, extended campaigns. Ok, fair enough. Where are they? What evidence is there that they exist in any significant numbers? Is there just this really big group of silent gamers that never come online, never participate in the larger hobby?

In other words, why do you believe that there are large numbers of these multi-year campaigns going on out there?
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
Let's put it another way.

I believe that gamers have always, generally, played campaigns that last 12-18 months. Are there those with longer campaigns? Absolutely. I totally know that's true. However, on average, most home games have a half life of about a year to two years.

As evidence of that, I present the following:

1. WotC market research found that this was true for gamers who were under 35.
2. Every single poll I've ever seen on every single gaming website for the past twenty years mirrors this same result - you have a huge number spiking at about 18 months, and then a pretty long tail stretching into the years longer.
Yes, I'll give you that WotC found this to be generally true for gamers under 35. Their mistake lay in then extrapolating that across the whole gaming market.

Anything in the past 20 years is tainted by both the WotC study and by 3e's speeding-up of campaign play.

3. Multiple Dragon Magazine polls over the years pegged their readership at around 20 years old. Give or take. Again, this mirrors both the WotC market research and every other poll I've ever seen. Meaning that the older crowd just isn't spending the money on the hobby.
Curious - got any dates on these? (I gave away my Dragon collection quite some time ago) I might have started reading Dragon when I was 21 or so, and on-and-off buying them not long after that for the following 18-ish years (kinda stopped once 3e hit), and the sense I got was the average age of the readership more or less mirrored my own except early on, when the average reader age was - or at least seemed to be - older.

4. Convention crowds - again, this is more anecdotal, but, convention crowds are overwhelmingly in their 20's - although that has been greying more and more as time has gone on. In 1995, seeing a 50 year old gamer at a convention was pretty uncommon.
I really don't fit any of your patterns, do I?

The first "geek" convention of any kind I went to, never mind gaming, was when I was about 38: a Star Trek convention in Vancouver. The first gaming convention of any kind I went to was when I was 42: GenCon. (might as well start big!) :)

So, now, the counter contention is that there is this rather large population of gamers out there, enough that they tip the balances of the averages, that play these multi-year, extended campaigns. Ok, fair enough. Where are they? What evidence is there that they exist in any significant numbers? Is there just this really big group of silent gamers that never come online, never participate in the larger hobby?
Not sure.

I know for sure that those of us online are just the very tip of the iceberg, but I can't say overall what that iceberg consists of. All I can speak to is our own crew, and of the 25-ish people I've played with or DMed since 2005 (when I joined ENWorld, my first real foray into online RPG anything other than a brief look at usenet in the 90s) I think maybe 5 of them have any RPG-related online presence (all here) of whom only one* besides me has a post count higher than about 5. Which kinda makes me the tip of our little iceberg, I guess. :)

* - and I haven't seen a post from that one in quite some time now, though that may be simply due to following different parts of the site.
 

Hussar

Legend
But, that's my point @Lanefan. Other than personal anecdote, do you have any actual evidence that points to the prevalence of lengthy campaigns and older gamers? Because, frankly, if we're playing dueling anecdotes, mine are pretty different than yours.
 

fearsomepirate

Explorer
Financially, if I'm a company I want to market to everyone I can, not just to a select group.
Marketing isn't just advertising; it's also product design. Outside of a handful of very, very boring products such as rice, drinking water, and toilet paper, there aren't a whole lot of things that have universal appeal. Changing your product to appeal to one group can and often does mean it becomes less appealing to some other group.

However, overly focusing your product on the people who spend the most money is a very late-90s thing to do. This was conventional B-school wisdom at the time, but most people have moved on. If you focus on the people who spend the most, you're focusing on established customers who already spend a lot of money and not doing anything to attract new ones.

The comic book industry basically destroyed itself by doing that. What we saw in RPGs and comics in this era is that by becoming hyper-focused on hobby shop enthusiasts, they failed to attract kids and thus create new fans. The reason 4e got made to begin with, and made the way it did, is 3rd edition was failing to attract new customers, and the splat machine ran out of its ability to print money startlingly quickly. WotC knew they had to get new players or die...and from what I read, 4e was quite successful at that. Problem is, it drove off a lot of old players, too!
 

Marandahir

Explorer
Marketing isn't just advertising; it's also product design. Outside of a handful of very, very boring products such as rice, drinking water, and toilet paper, there aren't a whole lot of things that have universal appeal. Changing your product to appeal to one group can and often does mean it becomes less appealing to some other group.

However, overly focusing your product on the people who spend the most money is a very late-90s thing to do. This was conventional B-school wisdom at the time, but most people have moved on. If you focus on the people who spend the most, you're focusing on established customers who already spend a lot of money and not doing anything to attract new ones.

The comic book industry basically destroyed itself by doing that. What we saw in RPGs and comics in this era is that by becoming hyper-focused on hobby shop enthusiasts, they failed to attract kids and thus create new fans. The reason 4e got made to begin with, and made the way it did, is 3rd edition was failing to attract new customers, and the splat machine ran out of its ability to print money startlingly quickly. WotC knew they had to get new players or die...and from what I read, 4e was quite successful at that. Problem is, it drove off a lot of old players, too!
Which is why 5e was made. 4e was INCREDIBLY successful in bringing in new, younger players who had never played D&D before. But it didn't have the technological tools or the cultural zeitgeist to capitalize on that new market, and it also fractured the current player base (something that was bound to happen anyway at any new edition change, and especially due to the mistakes of the SRD 3.0 & OGL and the burning of bridges with Paizo).

5e comes around, is developed with years of playtesting by fans of ALL previous editions in order to reconcile the broken base, has the technological tools to actually capitalize on the pdf and digital markets to make a SRD 5.0 actually WORK in WotC's favour (something 4e STRIVED to to do but WotC failed spectacularly with at every step of the way), and came into being alongside Twitch stream culture and in a world where Adventure Time and other mainstream media actively encourage fantasy roleplaying in people of all ages, rather than treating it as a niche, nerdy hobby to be shunned. It also has absolutely free rules to start, and methods for the DM to buy books digitally for the whole group without getting into the nebulous legal-issues of "circulating the tapes." There's never been an easier and cheaper time to get into D&D.

This is why 5e has to have elements of 4e in it (like Tieflings and Dragonborn and Battle Masters and Avengers-in-All-But-Name-Paladins and AEDU Warlocks in the Player's Handbook), to the chagrin of many 3.5e and earlier fans. 5e is the Nintendo Switch to 4e's Wii U. It's the Smash Bros. Ultimate of D&D editions: EVERYBODY is here (or at least that's the intention).

Every new edition of the game is going to either react to or build upon the previous editions, and I'd argue that they all do some complex of both. That includes 3rd party forks like Castles and Crusades, Pathfinder, 13th Age, and Adventures in Middle-earth. 5e found the happy medium in doing so, where it was able to learn from the lessons of the past editions and retain as many 4e players as reasonably possible, bring back into the fold as many older-edition players as reasonably possible, and bring in as many new players as reasonably possible.

3e had a huge data-driven survey ahead of its development. But that was in the late 90s. Big data has come A LONG way since then, and most of us are freely and passively giving up our data to online aggregators when we're not actively doing so because we WANTED to influence the creation and ongoing development of 5e. Big data is EXTREMELY important to a company's profit margins, and Hasbro was about ready to fold the D&D division of WotC several times through the lifetime of 4e, because the data they had used to project what would sell in 4e didn't meet the realities of supply, demand, price, and technology of the time.

DMs Guild is built in such a way: the more a product sells, the more its promoted by the system, and the more closely WotC scrutinizes whether they should be getting in on the $$$ with their own official version or something in that vein. That's WHY the semi-official Guild Adepts program exists. Why do you think Rune Knight Fighter and Noble Genie Warlock were in Unearthed Arcana after they showed up in Xanathar's Lost Notes to Everything Else? WotC saw a product that was successful, and archetypes that people liked, but might be able to do it better and to a wider audience.

That DOES NOT mean everyone will get on board with it. If you are not happy with 5e's official books (not to mention the wealth of options and tweaks available from DMs Guild, DriveThruRPG, and physical 3rd party products), then, yeah, it might suck to be you right now. But you'd be the exception to the rule; dare I say, the exception that PROVES the rule. You're not the target demographic, because you're happy with an older version of the game. Do they want to figure out a way to make you buy 5e? Sure, you could be a peripheral demographic – but only so much as you might buy what they're developing. And they're NOT going to spend resources developing material that ONLY your peripheral demographic is going to buy. To that end, they're not even going to open the DMs Guild to developing OD&D, Basic D&D, 1e AD&D, 2e AD&D, etc because that doesn't serve the data scraping purposes that are even more profitable to WotC than the fraction they get from every sale on the website. Your old editions just aren't worth the $ and time granted, and every dollar and minute the team spends on something that isn't the most recent edition is money and time lost from Hasbro's profit margins, and inches granted to competitors like Paizo that are attempting to push back into the market that has been dominated for the last few years by 5e.

I'm not saying I want Pathfinder 2 to fail, or that leaving you out to dry is a good thing. But it does not serve the market interests of WotC, and liberal allowances toward 3rd Parties to use their proprietary content is party of what allowed them to lose the 3.5e player base in the first place. They're not going to actively or passively TRY to split the market. They're going to do everything they can to CONSOLIDATE the market. And that means, they'll sell you ALL the back content from old editions on DM's Guild. But they won't make new content for obsolete editions (obsolete in terms of their market priorities, not in terms of playable or not). They might make special editions of old books again. That's like collector's goods. They like that – Beadle and Grimm have been very successful licensees for special edition collector's goods. But they won't develop for multiple editions.

Maybe in an ideal world, 6e will have rule system sliders to allow play to look like any previous edition's complexity. That was half-promised for 5e, and not met as it eiter didn't playtest entirely well or was going to be too much work in the face of meeting the goal of release by D&D's 40th birthday. Maybe there's an R&D team working on that still. But I wouldn't put my chips on it – at least not while 5e is still selling like hotcakes.
 

fearsomepirate

Explorer
One of the biggest changes in marketing culture since the 1990s is the appearance of books like Blue Ocean Strategy. The basic idea is that you need to be looking at the people who aren't buying your product and ask, "why not?"

Why did people quit buying?
Why do the kinds of people who bought 20 years ago no longer buy?
Why do some people have zero interest all?

You can't get everybody, but Mearls et al. consciously wanted to bring back lapsed 3.5 players, convince old duffers with dog-eared AD&D books to buy in, as well as draw in players who had never even played an RPG before. They've overall done a pretty good job of that. D&D is bigger than ever, and RPGs are bigger than ever due to D&D driving the market. This edition is really easy to get into, probably as easy as Cyclopedia, but still has enough going on for the super fans.
 

billd91

Hobbit on Quest
You're presuming that they only ever did one study? That no preliminary research was done? That they just picked numbers out of a hat?

That's just mind bogglingly stupid if true.

Or, could it simply be that older gamers slow down their buying? I dunno, seems pretty likely to me.
Here’s what they had to say about the 12-35 age bracket in their market segmentation study:
Ryan Dancey said:
This age bracket was arbitrarily chosen on the basis of internal analysis
regarding the probable target customers for the company’s products. We know
for certain that there are lots of gamers older than 35, especially for
games like Dungeons & Dragons; however, we wanted to keep the study to a
manageable size and profile. Perhaps in a few years a more detailed study
will be done of the entire population.
Doesn‘t sound to me that it was based on research that buying dropped off at 35 in the 1990s.
 

Oofta

Title? I don't need no stinkin' title.
Having run or helped run a couple of game days in a major metro area when we switched to 4E, I would just say that in my experience 4E may have attracted a bunch of new players at first but it did not retain them.

I think they did a better job with 5E. More approachable than 3.5 (or PathFinder for that matter) while handling all levels of play better than previous editions. Nothing is ever perfect of course, but I think the sales numbers for 5E speak for themselves.
 

MoonSong

Rules-lawyering drama queen but not a munchkin
The comic book industry basically destroyed itself by doing that. What we saw in RPGs and comics in this era is that by becoming hyper-focused on hobby shop enthusiasts, they failed to attract kids and thus create new fans.
It is not as simple, but I blame Marvel shenanigans for most of it happening. It began with the bad mismanagement in the mid nineties with then owner sacking the company for all that it was worth it, and raising prices to compensate for falling sales became standard operation procedure. Then the Hero-world fiasco happened -in short Marvel bought distributor Hero World in a bid to expand, it was a disaster that led to Diamond becoming a monopoly and brought down a ton of stores with it-.

Then in the mid aughts, Marvel noticed DC was more popular with female readers and without caring to find out why or how, it decided it had to be number one with women too, no matter the cost, and proceeded with extreme clumsiness. The process caused yet more price increases and more shops closing down. Nowadays, they don't even care anymore, they are using their comics as a way to test out concepts for other media. The result, with so many shops closing down, the remaining ones became a niche thing with cover prices so high that kids aren't likely to find one nor be able to afford the comics. When I was a teen, I could buy five to six comics with 100 of my local currency. Nowadays I can at most get 1, unless it is a Marvel title, because I can't afford a single Marvel title with that amount of money.

DC is not without fault here, tough most of their stupid decisions are the result of doing damage control every time Marvel screws up. New 52 takes the cake here, as it really really destroyed the local industry in my country. Before that, local made comics had begun to slowly colonize the newstands and grow little by little, but with the new initiative, newstands suddenly needed 13 spots each week for DC comics, so all local production beyond the eternal Tijuana bibles and reprints of the old classics stopped. And since new 52 didn't sell that well, the net result was a contraction of the industry. At least it was a good stopping point that made me stop caring for how the Conner-Cass-Tim triangle was going to solve itself.
 

fearsomepirate

Explorer
When I was a kid, you could get comics in the grocery store checkout aisle, in airport terminals, and in drug stores. Mom would frequently throw one in with the groceries. By the time I started college, the only places you could buy them were specialty stores...so nobody bought them except hobbyists.
 

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