Wednesday, January 9, 2008

D&D and Everyone Else

Here's a chart showing RPG sales for last year. We've got D&D at 43%, White Wolf in all its variations at 10%, Paizo at 10% (D20 support for D&D) and everyone else. All those other games comprise no more than 4% of the total. This includes a "misc" category that includes one-shot books and stuff that doesn't fit elsewhere (6% of the total). As I've said before, it's hard to get motivated about RPGs beyond D&D. Nothing else individually holds a significant share of the market, yet collectively other games comprise half of the total sales and can't be ignored.

D&D is the easy sell, and many stores would like to drop everything except D&D. That's pretty much all the big box stores sell, with an occasional surprise. You have to be a certain type of masochist or fan to carefully manage the 50% of RPGs that aren't D&D. I'm half fan, half masochist, so I endure. I'm the kind of store owner that wishes it was 1985, when you could run a "fantasy" game store on the sales of role-playing games alone, with no Internet to interfere. The difficulty in the care and feeding of role playing games is what keeps the big chains from elbowing in on that second 50% of sales, and why it's now so difficult to run multiple stores.

The game industry has been discussing the problem with "front list" versus "back list" when it comes to game products. It used to be that RPGs and other games could rely on the concept of the long tail. The sheer quantity of product means we sell less of more items for a shorter period of time. Stores can no longer carry the quantity of product they did in the past. A while ago there was the concept of a "full line" game store, a store that carried everything in a product line. The quantity available now means most stores can't come close to carrying the full line, and worse, many products are cycled through, not to return.

This cycling is sometimes called the "periodical model," in which products are brought in like magazines, kept until demand starts to wane, and then dropped, never to return again. For regular sellers like board games, we often do a rotation, not giving up on a game, but not stocking it all the time. The problem with the game industry is that the manufacturers are small and can't afford to design games using traditional methods only to have them chewed up and spit out under this model. Nobody knows what to do right now, other than to reduce the cost of production and possibly raise prices so they can sell profitably under the model. Those same strategies are why so many small companies are able to raise the quantity of games available, with techniques like printing on demand (POD).

Unfortunately, there's not a lot of incentive to create something special when it has a limited shelf life. As for the long tail, that portion of our sales has been taken over by the Internet, especially PDF publishers and the "secondary market." such as eBay and Amazon's used book program. The best we can do is offer to special order products, but even then, that long tail will include products long out of print, available only electronically or used.

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