The Sales of D&D vs. AD&D vs. AD&D 2nd Edition

The 2nd edition of AD&D sold well when it was released. Combined, the Dungeon Master’s Guide and Player’s Handbook sold over 400,000 copies in their first year. That’s a lot of books. Not the most ever sold by TSR, but a lot. To give some historical comparison, the 1981 D&D Basic Rules Set sold over 650,000 copies in its first year. To compare to previous editions of AD&D, the 1st edition DMG and PHB together sold over 146,000 copies in 1979. Putting those numbers together makes AD&D 2nd edition look like a solid hit. But it hides a deeper problem.

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Benjamin Riggs shares some D&D history! This was posted on Facebook and shared with permission.


AD&D 2nd edition didn’t have the legs that AD&D 1st edition did. Combined sales of the 1st edition DMG and PHB actually went up at first, selling over 390,000 in 1980, over 577,000 in 1981, over 452,000 in 1982, and 533,000 in 1983 before finally sliding to just over 234,000 in 1984, at the time when TSR began its first crisis. Meanwhile, the 2nd edition DMG and PHB would never sell more than 200,000 copies in a single year after 1989. In short, 2nd edition wasn’t selling like its predecessor.

But if AD&D 2nd edition looks small in comparison to1st edition, both shrink before the altar of Dungeons & Dragons. Including 1st, 2nd edition, revised 2nd edition, and introductory sets, AD&D sold a total of 4,624,111 corebooks between 1979 and 1998. Meanwhile, D&D sold 5,454,859 units in that same period, the vast bulk of those purchases coming between 1979 and 1983.

TSR could no longer put up the sales numbers it once did. Even D&D, which sold better than AD&D in either iteration, didn’t sell in the 90’s like it did in the 80’s. What had changed? Something changed, but what was it? Was it that Gary Gygax was gone? Had something gone wrong with 2nd edition? Was a rule changed that shouldn’t have been? Was it too complex? Not complex enough? Had RPGs been a fad that faded? Should the AD&D lines be canceled entirely to focus on the historically better-selling D&D?

These numbers should have been an occasion for self-reflection and correction all over TSR.

But they weren’t.

These numbers were left in the offices of upper management. Zeb Cook himself said he never saw any concrete sales numbers for 2nd edition. The decision by management under Lorraine Williams to keep sales numbers like those above restricted to the top of the company must be seen as a mistake. The inability of the game designers to know how their product was selling cut them off from economic feedback on their product. I see those numbers, and what I read is that TSR’s audience bought the 2nd edition books, read them, and just weren’t crazy about them. (Although I myself am quite partial to the rules, as they are what I grew up playing.) But Zeb Cook didn’t know that, so how could he make changes to improve his craft in the future?

Benjamin went on to note his source: "I have a source who sent me a few pages of sales data from TSR. It's primary source material. I don't have everything, but I do have the data contained in the post above." He is currently writing a book on the sale of TSR to Wizards of the Coast.
 
Russ Morrissey

Comments

der_kluge

Explorer
We're spoiled for choice here in the 21st Century. But back in the 1980s, "choice" was a lot harder to come by for consumers...especially kids.
Arkansas here, and the town I grew up was small enough, that I don't think anyone in my entire county even sold these products. My oldest sister acquired the red boxed set, and gifted it to me since she couldn't figure out what to do with it. I also didn't really grok the concept until I was well into high school. But if I wanted expansions, or whatever, I had to take a trip to Little Rock. Which must have been how I acquired the blue box.
 

David Howery

Adventurer
Things turned around shortly after you left, actually. 3.0/d20 revitalized that side of the hobby, and Storyteller kinda fell off my radar with nWoD, then WWGS went out of business or something for quite a while...
...now we have some 25th anniversary editions of the now-classic Storyteller games.
by 2000, I'd been out of gaming for a while, my job moved me around a lot, couldn't stay in a group... just had no incentive to keep going to cons. Also, I got tired really fast of the 'go online 3 seconds after it opens to register, or you won't get into any events you want'....
 

TwoSix

Lover of things you hate
My feel for it just that LARP, especially MET, and Storyteller were still vibrant and bringing in new players when TSR was in limbo and D&D's traditional demographic had been distracted by the M:tG phenom.
Not killed D&D, so much as was found standing over the body - and, as we all know from Perry Mason, therefore absolutely innocent!
Just to throw in anecdotal observations, my own experience wasn't so much that Storyteller took players from D&D, it's that it recruited its own set of players from a different pool of geeks than D&D had traditionally drawn from. There was a fair amount of crossover between people who played D&D and people who played TT Storyteller, and the same between MET and TT Storyteller, but very little crossover with D&D and MET players.
 
I didn’t see the word “fad” in this article, but D&D was a fad between 1979-1983, right?
It's there, and Yes (though one could quibble over which years encompassed the fad).
The article just used the word to make a statement of the obvious about D&D more interesting, by putting it in the form of a question about the hobby in general:
Had RPGs been a fad that faded?
(Heh... Technically, the correct answer to that question is "no" because only D&D achieved fad status, other RPGs remaining utterly obscure, to the point all RPGs were called "D&D" like plain-paper copiers being called 'Xerox' or colas being called 'Coke,' and the only way to explain another RPG to an outsider was often "It's like D&D, but..." and generally led to saying "no, we don't wear costumes" at least once.
 
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MGibster

Adventurer
I didn’t see the word “fad” in this article, but D&D was a fad between 1979-1983, right?
D&D was certainly very much in the public eye in 1985 when 60 Minutes ran a story on the game and included interviews with Pat Pulling and Gary Gygax. Of course maybe that mainstream attention didn't arrive until after the fad reached it's zenith.
 

Zardnaar

Hero
The market popped in 84 something like a 30% drop.

Big problem was they thought the growth would keep growing and they had hired 300 staff.
 

Jay Verkuilen

Dogsbody Waghalter
Yes, and it isn't like MET actually created the idea of indoor larp that wasn't hitting people with foam swords. I am pretty sure the first live-action game I played in was at a convention in Boston, January 1993, months before MET hit the bookstores, IIRC. And it had nothing to do with vampires...
The one and only LARP I ever played was in '92 or so before MET hit the shelves. I was at a con in my home town. It was, in fact, the first Vampire game I ever played at all as I didn't start playing it TT until '94. I believe (but don't have access to the book to check) that the idea of LARP is mentioned in the first edition of VtM in an appendix or sidebar and it got expanded out later.
 

Jay Verkuilen

Dogsbody Waghalter
The market popped in 84 something like a 30% drop.

Big problem was they thought the growth would keep growing and they had hired 300 staff.
Yeah, when one is on the exponential rise, it's really not a good idea to over-expand. Chances are good a plateau is coming soon because you're likely to really be on an S-curve.
 

Jay Verkuilen

Dogsbody Waghalter
Arkansas here, and the town I grew up was small enough, that I don't think anyone in my entire county even sold these products. My oldest sister acquired the red boxed set, and gifted it to me since she couldn't figure out what to do with it. I also didn't really grok the concept until I was well into high school. But if I wanted expansions, or whatever, I had to take a trip to Little Rock. Which must have been how I acquired the blue box.
Yeah, for some of my childhood/early teens, I lived in rural Wisconsin, almost on the Mississippi. There weren't any book stores nearby, much less game stores. My mom lived in Chicago so I had more access to big city stuff and ended up buying many of my game products there. I had friends who played and had obviously gotten the books and such themselves, but I don't know where they'd bought them. However, one thing families in that area did would be to take an occasional shopping trip to larger towns where there was a mall and, at least at that time, Waldenbooks and Toys 'R Us, both of which carried D&D. Of my friends group, I was one of the first people to play, but not the first. I eventually hung out with some kids a year or two older and they had more stuff. But in general, it just wasn't easy to get things back in the '80s.

This is not to say that D&D wasn't visible: It was advertised in comic books and, a bit later, the cartoon came out. And, of course, there was the Satanic panic---sigh.
 
I grew up in Oklahoma during the 1980s, at the height of the Satanic Panic. My mom had bought me the Basic, red-box rules set for my 13th birthday, and just a few months later the stores would stop selling them completely almost overnight. It would be decades before anything with "Dungeons & Dragons" printed on the cover would be for sale anywhere in the state. Heck, I had to trade away most of my X-Man comic books with a kid at school just to get a used (very used) copy of the Expert rules and The Isle of Dread.

Going to AD&D was never an option for me and my friends, so we stayed with B/X all the way through middle school and high school. If my mom had gotten me the AD&D books instead of the Basic D&D set, I'm sure the reverse would have been true.

We're spoiled for choice here in the 21st Century. But back in the 1980s, "choice" was a lot harder to come by for consumers...especially kids.
I would do such a trade 1000 times over. I think you made the right choice.
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
I wouldn't presume 5 million D&D players were necessarily raised on Mystara/Known World even if many of the products were set there. I played a lot of BECMI through the 80's and I had never even heard of Mystara/Known World until well into the 90s with Planescape and Spelljammer and their cross-setting references.
That's just it - so many DMs and players got to know that centrefold map in X1 Isle of Dread and-or (though less likely) the foldout map in B10 Night's Dark Terror and, like me until later, never realized they were in fact part of a bigger setting.
 

GreyLord

Adventurer
Well, if we use his numbers that he says he has a source for (which we haven't seen, but let's just take them) and calculate the number of players like 5e has from my guestimates...that would mean there were 50 million D&D players of BX, BECMI and AD&D.

Interesting numbers. That's double the estimated 25 million players of those years instead...
 

GreyLord

Adventurer
D&D was in the pop culture in the early 80s in a way I don't think it has been at any other time. D&D cartoon, brief appearance in ET The Extraterrestrial, the "Satanic Panic", ads in Marvel comics. And you could buy it in department stores.
This is true, and prior to this most recent year I'd probably say AD&D was perhaps the most popular during the fad that ANY edition of D&D ever was...

HOWEVER...it's getting more questionable to me these days...I think we may be getting to or surpassing D&D numbers.

D&D is sold in Book stores (which is not unusual) but now is ALSO in at least one Department store (and a few more depending on how you count). It's in Target at least.

You also have several commentaries on it in TV and films, and though there is not a D&D cartoon specifically, there will be D&D related cartoons coming out soon.
 

GreyLord

Adventurer
Are those US sales figures or Worldwide?
That's a good question.

My thought is that is the sales for the company, or that is what the author is implying. That would mean it would be total sales in their entirety, or that is what I expect the numbers they are giving are in reference for.
 

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