This article provides an overview of RPG sales for 2011. As such, it’s a sequel to 2011: The Year in Roleplaying and The Top RPGs Over the Years—SA, 1/8/12

This article was originally published as Designers & Dragons: The Column #10 on RPGnet. Its publication followed the publication of the original Designers & Dragons (2011) and preceded the publication of the four-volume Designers & Dragons (2014). A more up to date version of this history can be found in Designers & Dragons: The 00s.

Game Stores Report Their Top RPGs

In recent years, individual stores have been among those most open to reporting their top-selling RPGs. This year, I’ve revisited some of the same stores that I talked to in the past, to see what they sold in 2011. They were kind enough to offer top 20 lists, rather than top 10, which offered some additional detail.

Zombie Planet (—the Albany, New York game store run by George Vasilakos of Eden Studios—recorded the following top-selling RPG books for 2011.

  1. Pathfinder Roleplaying Core Rulebook, Paizo (2009)
  2. Ultimate Magic for Pathfinder, Paizo (2011)
  3. Player’s Handbook for D&D 4e, WotC (2008)
  4. Ultimate Combat for Pathfinder, Paizo (2011)
  5. All Flesh Must Be Eaten, Revised Edition, Eden Studios (2003)
  6. Heroes of Shadow for D&D 4e, WotC (2011)
  7. Bestiary for Pathfinder, Paizo (2009)
  8. Neverwinter Campaign Setting for D&D 4e, WotC (2011)
  9. GM Screen for Pathfinder, Paizo (2009)
  10. Heroes of the Feywild for D&D 4e, WotC (2011)
  11. Beginner Box for Pathfinder, Paizo (2011)
  12. Mordenkainen’s Magnificent Emporium for D&D 4e, WotC (2011)
  13. Bestiary 2 for Pathfinder, WotC (2010)
  14. Savage Worlds Deluxe Edition, Pinnacle (2011)
  15. Deathwatch Core Rulebook, FFG (2010)
  16. Rites of Battle for Deathwatch, FFG (2011)
  17. Mark of the Xenos for Deathwatch, FFG (2011)
  18. Dungeons & Dragons Starter Set for D&D 4e Essentials, WotC (2010)
  19. Deluxe Dungeon Master’s Screen for D&D 4e, WotC (2011)
  20. Zombie Master Screen for AFMBE, Eden Studios (2011)
Top RPG Books of 2011: Zombie Planet

In broad strokes, Zombie Planet’s top RPG list looks about the same as last year. The Pathfinder RPG tops the list, but after #1 it shares the top ranks with D&D 4e. Both Savage Worlds and Eden Studios’ own All Flesh Must Be Eaten also make appearances. More broadly, these top game lines mainly sell their couple of core books and the newest releases. Thus, Pathfinder‘s excellent Advanced Player’s Guide (2010) is surprisingly missing from the list, as are older D&D4e books like Player’s Handbook 2 (2009) and 3 (2010) and almost everything from the Essentials line. It really underlines how frontlist the business is nowadays.

In the details, there’s some suggestion that Pathfinder is still on the rise at George’s store. It now holds 5 of the top 10 positions, as opposed to 3 in 2010. Part of that is clearly attributable to Paizo’s increase in player-focused releases, like the Ultimate books—but that raises the question of why Wizards isn’t putting out more D&D books. I also find it interesting that Pathfinder‘s core rules outsold D&D4e’s Player’s Handbook by 2 spaces, that Pathfinder‘s old DM Screen outsold D&D4e’s brand-new one by 10 places, and that Pathfinder‘s Beginner Box outsold D&D4e’s Starter Set—though for the boxes the Starter Set went out-of-print mid-year while the Beginner Box didn’t appear until October or so, so it’s not an apples-to-apples comparison. There doesn’t seem much doubt that Pathfinder is beating D&D 4e out for at least this one game store in New York.

You can see the benefit of bringing in ranks #11-20 here because it shows off products from FFG and Pinnacle, both of whom I suspect are among the top 6 RPG makers in the market today, but more on that later.

EndGame (—an Oakland, California game store—recorded the following top-selling RPG products for 2010. Last year, I wrote that the store’s strong indie support was obvious, but you haven’t seen nothin’ yet.

  1. Fiasco, Bully Pulpit (2009)
  2. Designers & Dragons, Mongoose (2011)
  3. The Fiasco Companion, Bully Pulpit (2011)
  4. Apocalypse World, Lumpley (2010)
  5. Microscope, Lame Mage (2011)
  6. Leverage: The Roleplaying Game, Margaret Weis (2010)
  7. The Dresden Files Roleplaying Game, Volume One: Your Story, Evil Hat (2010)
  8. Pathfinder Roleplaying Core Rulebook, Paizo (2009)
  9. The Inner Sea World Guide for Pathfinder, Paizo (2011)
  10. Technoir, Cellar (2011)
  11. Do: Pilgrims of the Flying Temple, Evil Hat (2011)
  12. Bestiary 2 for Pathfinder, Paizo (2011)
  13. Heroes of Shadow for D&D 4e, WotC (2011)
  14. The Burning Wheel Gold Edition, Luke Crane (2011)
  15. Bulldogs!, Galileo (2011)
  16. Player’s Handbook for D&D 4e, WotC (2008)
  17. Mouse Guard Box Set, Archaia (2011)
  18. Bestiary for Pathfinder, Paizo (2011)
  19. The Dresden Files Roleplaying Game, Volume Two: Our World, Evil Hat (2010)
  20. Eclipse Phase, Posthuman (2011)
Top RPG Books of 2011: EndGame

First up, I can’t help but offer a big hoorah! for the #2 ranked sales of Designers & Dragons. Beyond that, the 10+ indie games (depending on what you count) that made it into the top 20 are absolutely jaw-dropping. It really shows how much support can influence the sales of product (and Endgame is able to offer great support not just through friendly & knowledgeable staff, but also through their terrific play space which is used to run a couple of mini-cons every year where indie games are often featured; the most recent was a Fiasco-con, which occurred in mid-January). I’ll also especially note Apocalypse World and The Dresden Files, both of which made Endgame’s top-ten list two years running, a real trick in the modern world of frontlist sales.

Endgame also appears to be another store where Pathfinder has eclipsed D&D4e. I won’t dwell on that too much, other than to point out the comparison to last year. In their 2010 top ten, Endgame listed four D&D4e top sellers and nothing by Paizo. Pathfinder was definitely not a phenomenon in the store that year. This year, Pathfinder ekes in two in the top ten and D&D 4e isn’t to be seen at all until #13, after a third Pathfinder product, late 2010’s Bestiary 2.

ICv2 Lists

Though local stores can provide anecdotal evidence about the top RPG games and though they can more importantly show trends, they don’t give a definitive view of the industry as a whole. Fortunately, that gap has been filled somewhat in recent years by ICv2.

For the last few years, ICv2 has been publishing charts of the top 5 RPG lines based on “interviews with retailers, distributors, and manufacturers”. We don’t know their exact collection methodology—most importantly how many people they’re talking to—but nonetheless they information creates another interesting data point.

The ICv2 reports have been lagging quite a bit, particularly the most recent ones, so I’ve listed the reports for Q3+Q4, 2010 and Q1+Q2, 2011 below, which combine to show some trends as well.

Top RPGs (Q3, 2010)

#1 (tie) D&D 4e, WotC
#1 (tie) Pathfinder, Paizo
#3 Warhammer Fantasy RPG, FFG
#4 Warhammer 40k RPGs, FFG
#5 Dresden Files, Evil Hat

Top RPGs (Q4, 2010)

#1 D&D 4e, WotC
#2 Pathfinder, Paizo
#3 Warhammer 40k RPGs, FFG
#4 Dragon Age, Green Ronin
#5 Mutants & Masterminds, Green Ronin

Top RPGs (Q1, 2011)

#1 D&D 4e, WotC
#2 Pathfinder, Paizo
#3 Warhammer 40k RPGs, FFG
#4 Dragon Age, Green Ronin
#5 Mutants & Masterminds, Green Ronin

Top RPGs (Q2, 2011)

#1 Pathfinder, Paizo
#2 D&D 4e, WotC
#3 Warhammer 40k RPGs, FFG
#4 Dragon Age, Green Ronin
#5 Shadowrun, Caralyst

Top RPG Books of 2010-2011: ICv2

The information on D&D 4ePathfinder, and the Warhammer 40k RPGs generally supports information that we’ve seen from individual stores’ reports. It’s somewhat interesting to see Warhammer Fantasy fade after 2010 and that The Dresden Files made a temporary appearance then–clearly marking it as the highest profile indie release ever.

However, it’s the last two reports that really help us to paint a picture of the current industry. The appearance of Dragon Age and Mutants & Masterminds (which includes the very popular DC Adventures game) doesn’t match up much with the individual store reports, but it certainly seems believable given the strength of Green Ronin’s current licenses. The appearance of Shadowrun by Catalyst is somewhat more of a surprise, but certainly reflects the strength of the classic games that Catalyst is producing (and it reflects the general impression that Catalyst has recovered well since its large-scale problems of just a few years ago).

And with that data in hand, I think we can make some good guesses at one other datum for last year:

The Top RPG Companies of 2011

More than anything, I think figuring out who the top RPG companies are helps us to understand the shape of the industry at any one time. Based on the information detailed herein, here’s my best guesses for 2011:

Any year from 1998-2010 I would have had no problem telling you that Wizards of the Coast was the #1 RPG publisher. 2011 was the first year that I couldn’t say that with confidence. Too many individual retailers showed better sales from Paizo, while ICv2 has shown the top companies swapping places since 2010. In any case Paizo and Wizards of the Coast are doubtless the #1 and #2 RPG publishers, in some order.

(And I have little doubt that this shared lead in the industry—combined with the weakened 4e sales that must have led to it—is exactly why Wizards announced 5e this month.)

I’ve long suspected that Fantasy Flight Games was using its high-profile Warhammer license and its excellent penetration of the board game market to make serious inroads into RPG production. Zombie Planet and ICv2 both support this hypothesis, and so they’re very likely #3.

Based on ICv2’s reports and the profile of its licenses, it seems likely that Green Ronin is #4, but that’s a little more speculative, as we don’t see the same strength at the individual game stores reported here.

From there, it gets a little fuzzier. Last year I would have suggested Pinnacle as a top RPG publisher, as the Savage Worlds core rules are really reliable at showing up in various game store listings. However, they dropped back a little in 2011. This year, I might consider Catalyst based solely on ICv2’s reports. Maybe these guys are #5 and #6, maybe not.

And that is the state of the RPG world in 2011, from a slightly more statistical point of view.

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