Two important numbers: RPG sales were down 20% last year from the year before. The big reason for this is the D&D 4 release in the first year. The second important number is market share. D&D 4 is now down to its usual 50% market share in our store. That was partially due to a spike in sales, but it was also a result of a lack of new non-D&D product. Even though other games are making a comeback, it will take a while for them to begin filling up the shelves again. Until then, we'll be featuring an awful lot of used product.
I think what we saw was a pause in the RPG industry as publishers caught their breath. Perhaps they wanted to let D&D 4 have its year and save their new releases for later. Maybe the economy spooked them. The chart below supports that theory. At the tail end of the chart, D&D began to stabilize, while other role-playing games were coming back.
As an aside, other game stores experiencing this empty shelf phenomenon have talked about paring down their RPG sections, possibly re-distributing that space to other departments. I considered it myself, but decided it would be a mistake (and a heck of a lot of work!).
To give this some context, we do around six figures a year in RPG sales, which I think gives the chart some added weight. All RPG sales are highly localized. A store across town might have very different numbers, but I think D&D as dominant RPG is somewhat universal in large samplings. Also, as other stores report, D&D 4 sales are disappointing compared to 3.5. Sales are quite a bit lower, and I know a lot of that has to do with the online tools. Many of our RPGA players, for example, have stopped buying books, instead relying on their DDI subscriptions for new content. If that trend continues, you'll definitely see some re-aligning of retail space in game stores.
This is a stacked area chart, showing total RPG sales.
Blue is D&D. Red is everything else. That big spike is the D&D 4 release.