Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Taco Bell Effect

Lenina Huxley: Taco Bell was the only restaurant to survive the Franchise Wars.
John Spartan: So?
Lenina Huxley: So, now all restaurants are Taco Bell.
--Demolition Man

There's talk on the message boards about the impending demise of role-playing games associated with the bad economy. This comes from game store owners who have a hard time competing against the likes of Amazon, especially in a recession. I had a guy pull up the Amazon prices for D&D on his iPhone this week, as if I was delusional and didn't know about this great online invention from 1996. Ironically, I don't think it's the Amazons that are killing off our sales, it's the publishers themselves.

Those publishers with the strongest web sales presence make the books that many of us are dropping. They are bypassing the middle man, aka retailers, in hopes of gaining additional profit as well as solving the problem of the dwindling numbers of game stores. I can lose half my D&D sales to Amazon and still happily sell the game, but if I lose half my White Wolf or GURPS customers, it may drop my sales below a sustainable threshhold. I'll buy anything if I can guarantee one sale; GURPS and several White Wolf systems are now below that threshhold, so they won't get ordered any longer. Some publishers sell direct out of desperation, so perhaps it's not surprising that their books aren't doing well. As a retailer, however, I take this personally and it gives me additional incentive to drop them. To give you another useless sci fi quote: "'Bout 50% of the human race is middlemen, and they don't take kindly to being eliminated."

It might be unfair to revisit RPG market share in a new D&D version year, but what I'm finding is an increasing percentage of RPG sales going to Dungeons & Dragons. I've visited this topic before, and I've explained the long tail and the advantages and disadvantages of this kind of consolidation, but I think we'll be seeing more publishers fall by the wayside in this economy and more market share owned by D&D. What I see in each major, established game department is the leader taking about 50% of market share, with the rest divided among everyone else. Magic: The Gathering does this, as does Warhammer 40K. D&D did this until the last year. This year, sales for other systems began evaporating and 4E brought a lot of people on board, including a lot of dirty hippy gamers (DHG's). The restrictive D&D license should see some consolidation of D&D purchases towards WOTC as well, but that's an entirely different argument.

The Election: Like the stock market, I'm glad that to have one less unknown variable floating around out there, despite evidence that things are definitely not good.


  1. Because the small company's products really need to be seen and touched by potential buyers before they purchase, they are consigning themselves to an ever smaller market by leaving the retail scene.

  2. And here I thought you'd be writing about how Taco Bell leaves you bloated and gassy... but you probably have more sense than to eat there!

  3. Taco Bell is one of my favorite fast food places. Bean burritos with sour cream. Yum.

  4. I made the blog! Sorry I didn't buy anything.

    -Guy with Amazon on iPhone

  5. You caught me on a particularly stressful day. Sorry if I was short with you.