Looking Back on 2021's RPG Trends

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


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


I can’t speak to 3.X prices anymore as I’ve purged everything except my $19.99 PHB and my $39.99 Star Wars CRB, but the $40 price point feels accurate.

The 4e stuff I have left is mostly the 34.99 or 39.99 price point.

I’ll also point out those 29.97 and 34.95 price points for 5e stuff are well below cover price, because those books list for 49.95

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A Title Much Cooler Than Anything on the Old Site
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.
True and that isn't going to be solved by unionization or better benefits at a small number of the larger publishers. Only growing the market will solve that. If I were younger and thinking of working in the industry, and if I didn't have the skills and personality for successful streaming or cross-over fandom/collector products, I would make sure to seek opportunities to write/create art in adjacent industries. With all the information available to young people today, there is not much excuse to not understanding that.


I don't know if I will back any future Kickstarters… only because I don't want to use that future payment method.
They’re building their site in blockchain architecture to enable crypto payments, not require them. Pretty sure they’ll still accept traditional currencies


Community Supporter
A lot of the date references in the article say 2020, are any of them meant to say 2021?
Generally speaking, we don't get data on 2021 until 2022, and this article was written in December of 2021. I'll be sure to write another one as more data becomes available.

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