RPG Evolution: Looking Back on 2021's RPG Trends

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

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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 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.
 

R_J_K75

Legend
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.
 

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