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Looking Back on 2021's RPG Trends

With 2020 behind us, it's time to look back at what happened (or didn't happen).

DND2021.png

Picture courtesy of Pixabay.

The Pandemic Didn't Go Away​

A lot of plans around vaccinations, reintegration of in-person events, and other gaming engagements, didn't happen as planned. Their dates were pushed back, reduced in size, went virtual, or a combination of all three. In some ways, the virtual-ization of events broadened their scope, while in others it simply adjusted to the reality that not as many people were as interested (or had the funds) to go to in-person conventions. For more on how conventions are returning to form, see Egg's coverage of the Origins Game Fair.

Crowdfunding Accelerated​

Crowdfunding has shifted gears from becoming the occasional splurge for companies to test products, to their way of marketing products. And for good reason: customers are flocking to crowdfunding of tabletop RPG and ancillary products in droves. As Russ has outlined, there's more million-dollar-club members than ever before. And EN Publishing nearly hit that number with Level Up, with the company regularly using Kickstarter to distribute product.

Luxury Items Got More Expensive​

We detailed previously how the remarkable trajectory of Dungeons & Dragons meant it had lasting power, which in turn affected the market. A stable edition of a game means players with the means are more willing to invest in higher price points for product. This isn't going to stop any time soon, and for evidence we have The Yawning Portal Inn miniature from WizKids ($350) and Gargantuan Tiamat ($400). Beadle & Grimm's supporting sets are no stranger to this top tier level of product, with Curse of Strahd being just one example. Beth Rimmels reviewed that product in detail.

Dungeons & Dragons Continued to Dominate​

D&D was already accelerating before the pandemic and online play turbo charged the game's popularity. Not surprisingly, this inevitably had an impact on Wizards of the Coast and its parent, Hasbro. WOTC had $816 million in sales in 2020, with Magic: The Gathering revenue up 23% and Dungeons & Dragons revenue up 33%. WotC and Digital Gaming segment (reported together) were up 19% to nearly a billion dollars in 2020, with an operating profit of over $420 million -- $112 million than all of Hasbro's consumer products segment. This is a big deal for lots of reasons, not the least of which being that in the past it was reported that D&D was attempting to reach a goal Hasbro set for all of its games (back then, Ryan Dancey explained how the development team estimated the game could net $50M/year with the potential of reaching $100M/year). D&D is now well beyond that goal.

Company Accountability Increased​

Along with tabletop play's popularity and subsequent cash flow came a host of new challenges, all of them emblematic of a maturing industry. In addition to grappling with diversity and inclusion (WOTC hired a Director of DEI), employees began pushing for better rights (tabletop gaming manufacturer Wyrmwood Gaming's employee demands led to the resignation of their CEO), and unionization (Paizo Publishing recently recognized a union). The small start-up feel of these companies is no longer sufficient to manage their growth with skeletal HR and support staff.

Now What?​

It's probably a good bet that most of these trends will continue. In the next article we'll try to prognosticate what 2022 will hold.

Your Turn: I couldn't fit all the trends into one article, so what did I miss?
 

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Michael Tresca

Michael Tresca

sevenbastard

Adventurer
I feel like D&D went even more mainstream this year. Showing up in tons of TV shows, the cover of Sports Illustrated, and every celebrity did a live stream of it.

Prediction: the next presidential debate includes the question "with a new edition coming out how would you fix the Ranger?"

My vote goes to anyone who says spellless.
 


Only other trend I'd add is that the global supply chain crisis impacted the industry in a big way. It's impacted tons of industries, but given the tiny margins that most RPG publishers work with, and specific problems like the paper/cardboard shortages, some companies are claiming victory for managing to keep the lights on at all (and deservedly so).
 

My theory is we will see a lot of radical changes in the entertaiment industry, with more mergers and aquisitions, or changes amongs the CEOs' chairs in the megacorporations. Maybe some scandals will cause the fall of big companies.
 

Jimmy Dick

Adventurer
The industry has grown significantly and that is why you are starting to see employment changes. These companies are evolving to a point where they are not small startups anymore. Some are, but others are not. Also, employees are aging and entering a point where they want more security. Their hobby is now a full time job. Companies are going to be competing for the talent and the changing employment landscape should change the way they have competed for talent. Freelancing has been a mainstay of the industry, but as these companies grow larger they will start offering more full-time jobs with benefits in order to secure that talent.

We are going to see prices rise as well. The infamous "PDF piracy will wreck the industry" is a myth. Players will pay more for the gaming products. I don't expect huge price increases, but we will see the costs of rulebooks, supporting lore books, and all gaming accessories go up by $5, $3, and $1 respectively, if not closer to double those numbers. You can also expect the larger companies to start taking steps to bring more and more supplemental operations undertaken by third-parties in house like character builders, campaign managers, and maybe even VTTs although that may be much for most except the absolute largest companies. Either way, you can expect companies to begin to pull digital elements of their games under their roofs and to monetize them to increase revenue.
 

We are going to see prices rise as well.
Already have from what I can tell. Strixhaven AFAIK never went below $34.99 USD before tax on Amazon. Usually with pre-orders books were usually priced at their lowest $29.99 USD before tax. I cancelled my pre-order a few weeks before shipping so I may be wrong but looks this price may be the new price norm. I dont shop at game stores anymore so I can't comment on that.
 

volanin

Adventurer
Already have from what I can tell. Strixhaven AFAIK never went below $34.99 USD before tax on Amazon. Usually with pre-orders books were usually priced at their lowest $29.99 USD before tax. I cancelled my pre-order a few weeks before shipping so I may be wrong but looks this price may be the new price norm. I dont shop at game stores anymore so I can't comment on that.
I can confirm this. Got Witchlight, Fizban and Strixhaven through Amazon preorder as soon as they were made available. The first two were indeed $29.97 and Strixhaven was $34.99
 

aco175

Legend
It appears that they are doing things right from a dollar perspective and sales should track with what people are looking for to play. They seem to have things lined up to the 2024 re-launch and having these numbers with the problems with shipping and sourcuing is good to see.

I wonder how much of sales is tied to Covid and staying at home or online? Not sure how that will change once the pandemic is over-ish. I don't know if people will go back to other things or keep playing and spend their money there.

I also wonder how the problem with inflation will pan out over the next couple years. Things are going up 10% ish and I do not know if that will price some out. There are the free rules and free modules on DMsGuild so there are options, but overall things are likely going up.
 

dirtypool

Explorer
These companies are evolving to a point where they are not small startups anymore. Some are, but others are not.
I’m not entirely sure how accurate this is. Paizo is one of the biggest in the industry in terms of visibility and retail presence and they’re still very much a smallish operation with less than 150 employees.
 

Ghost2020

Adventurer
I kick started a bunch of things in 2020, still waiting on half of them to be fulfilled due to delays. And buy a bunch of things I mean like 20-30 kickstarters.

I don't think I'll kickstart anything else until all of those complete.
 
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Only other trend I'd add is that the global supply chain crisis impacted the industry in a big way. It's impacted tons of industries, but given the tiny margins that most RPG publishers work with, and specific problems like the paper/cardboard shortages, some companies are claiming victory for managing to keep the lights on at all (and deservedly so).
The shipping crisis hit both RPG and board game publishers pretty hard. The DUST Miniatures folks went out of business, and Kickstarter delivery costs went up enormously...
 

dirtypool

Explorer
I think my initial point may not have been as clear as I would have liked. Small or medium sized, Paizo is big for this industry. Bested definitely by WOTC, maybe by one or two others. Paizo and WOTC both still rely on freelancers, and both still struggle with paying a competitive wage.

The massive influx of new players has grown the size of the player base of this hobby, but it hasn’t expanded the overall marketplace for this hobby. New publishers are making names for themselves, but the overall size of the industry is still smaller than it was before the mid 2000’s crunch. Developers are finding it easier to crowdfund product than sell it through the traditional channels it would need to use to have the apparatus to pay salaried employees.
 

The massive influx of new players has grown the size of the player base of this hobby, but it hasn’t expanded the overall marketplace for this hobby. New publishers are making names for themselves, but the overall size of the industry is still smaller than it was before the mid 2000’s crunch. Developers are finding it easier to crowdfund product than sell it through the traditional channels it would need to use to have the apparatus to pay salaried employees.
True, it hasn't changed that much for us small (one-person) game creators. If anything, getting into print is harder at the moment due to the paper and cardboard shortages, which is why I'm still publishing all-digital only.
 


MNblockhead

A Title Much Cooler Than Anything on the Old Site
I feel like D&D went even more mainstream this year. Showing up in tons of TV shows, the cover of Sports Illustrated, and every celebrity did a live stream of it.

Prediction: the next presidential debate includes the question "with a new edition coming out how would you fix the Ranger?"

My vote goes to anyone who says spellless.
I'd love to start a thread on D&D questions you would ask in a presidential debate, but I suspect it would get thread-capped quickly because it would devolve into political arguments instead of light-hearted fun.

Still:

"If you were a D&D character, what class would you be?"
Probably wouldn't vote for the candidate who answered "rogue" or "warlock."

"If you could cast 'find familiar', what familiar would you choose?"
I'd have to vote for whomever answers "tressym"--I don't care that it is not RAW.

"When starting a new campaign, what do you cover in 'session zero'?"

And why limit this to the executive branch?
For Supreme Court Justice selection hearings:
"When selecting a DM, do you feel it is more important that the DM adjudicates rules as written or rules as intended?"
 

MNblockhead

A Title Much Cooler Than Anything on the Old Site
The industry has grown significantly and that is why you are starting to see employment changes. These companies are evolving to a point where they are not small startups anymore. Some are, but others are not. Also, employees are aging and entering a point where they want more security. Their hobby is now a full time job. Companies are going to be competing for the talent and the changing employment landscape should change the way they have competed for talent. Freelancing has been a mainstay of the industry, but as these companies grow larger they will start offering more full-time jobs with benefits in order to secure that talent.
Not only this, but this is a generation of game developers and artists who have witnessed the aging first generation launching Go Fund Me campaigns to cover health costs. They may have gotten into their field out of passion, like the first generation, but have plenty of cautionary tales of where passion without planning and protection leads.
 

Only other trend I'd add is that the global supply chain crisis impacted the industry in a big way. It's impacted tons of industries, but given the tiny margins that most RPG publishers work with, and specific problems like the paper/cardboard shortages, some companies are claiming victory for managing to keep the lights on at all (and deservedly so).
I think those issues have allowed for significant growth in things like Patreons for STLs. Since a lot of companies were dealing with supply chain issues in getting products made and to market, many digital sculptors realised they could cut out the middle man and sell STLs directly to consumers.

Combined with consumer-grade 3D resin printers becoming better and cheaper has seen massive growth in this area.
 

Not only this, but this is a generation of game developers and artists who have witnessed the aging first generation launching Go Fund Me campaigns to cover health costs. They may have gotten into their field out of passion, like the first generation, but have plenty of cautionary tales of where passion without planning and protection leads.

I think part of the issue though is it is really hard to stay fully employed in the industry. A lot of the people I admired ended up not doing much design work once they left TSR for instance. Even people who worked for major companies, like WOTC, often end up not being able to find more work in the RPG industry or in other related fields, when they end up leaving that company. And most of the work is freelance, so even if individual gigs pay well, which they often don't, it isn't like you get healthcare or retirement (and there is often time in between without an active freelance job for many). Everything in this industry tends to feel very temporary.

Also, most companies are 1, maybe 2, person operations, either just barely eking out profit, or possibly barely breaking even. There are people who have found success and stability, but it is something of a rarity, and even when it is attained, there is always the threat that it could go away if you have a bad year and run into cash flow problems. A lot of publishers and a lot of writers, work second jobs. And there are of course mid-tier companies. But I think the landscape gets pretty cloudy because there is a big difference between WOTC or Paizo, and a two-man operation doing indie publishing.
 

I can confirm this. Got Witchlight, Fizban and Strixhaven through Amazon preorder as soon as they were made available. The first two were indeed $29.97 and Strixhaven was $34.99
Strange how $4 will change your mind. IIRC werent 3.x books in the $40 range?
 

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