I’d said this look at 2012 in review would be the last article for the current column, but I’m actually going to try and sneak in one more. Next month I’ll take a look at actual sales from game stores in 2012, if I can get various friendly game stores to oblige. In the meantime, join me on Facebook where you can keep up to date on the newest work on Designers & Dragons — including the upcoming completion of the new ’70s and ’80s books, which are due to Evil Hat in just a week! —12/31/12, SA

This article was originally published as Designers & Dragons: The Column #23 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 Platinum Appendix.

D&D Has Its Worst Year Since 1975: Last year I wrote that D&D was having a terrible year because they only put out eight roleplaying products. I hadn’t seen nothing yet!

On January 9th, Wizards of the Coast announced that they were killing their 4th edition D&D line. It was a stunning announcement for the fact that they didn’t have anything ready to replace it. It now looks like it might be August 2014 before the so-called D&D Next is released — which would make a full two-and-a-half year gap without a viable edition of D&D on the market.

Compare that to the precise one-year gaps that preceded 3e and 4e … but then those games had actually been in preparation for years before their announcement. That’s clearly not the case for Next which at best went into development sometime in 2011.

And if you want to talk about continuing bad signs, how about Monte Cook being announced as the Design Lead of D&D Next in January, then resigning on April 25th.

I’ve actually been saying that Wizards has showing signs of trouble since 2008 when they laid off some of the the company’s stars, and even moreso since 2010 when they started canceling D&D products for the first time ever. Even given that, I would never have predicted the cancelation of their main RPG line with absolutely nothing to replace it and the loss of the new project’s lead just three months after that. Those aren’t just signs of a company in trouble, they’re signs of a company gone horribly wrong. I’d predict that Wizards/Hasbro is out of the roleplaying business by 2016 if D&D Next doesn’t do great for them … and I don’t think two and a half years of dead air is a very good way to lead things off.

With that said, Wizards did get out what I expect will be the final four books for 4e: Heroes of Elemental Chaos (2012), Halls of Undermountain (2012), The Dungeon Survival Guide (2012), and Menzoberranzan: City of Intrigue (2012).

Their release of reprinted AD&D 1st edition books was certain more of a surprise, but it also looked a lot like a desperate attempt to find anything to sell — especially when you look at Wizard’s 2013 schedule which includes 2e and 3e reprints. The phrase “throwing everything at the wall and seeing what sticks” comes to mind.

When I wrote up my thoughts on 2011, I said that D&D had its worst year since 1978, comparing printed products. I think you have to go back to 1975 to find a worst year for new D&D production than 2012, as that year “only” saw the release of Greyhawk (1975) and Blackmoor (1975) — plus five print issues of The Strategic Review.

And The Industry Does Just as Badly: The roleplaying business has always been about the industry leader, which is to say D&D. It generates most of the sales, and it also generates lots of sales for other products, as people go into stores, pick up their newest D&D product, and then pick up something more from Chaosium or White Wolf or Green Ronin or whoever. With D&D pretty much dead in 2012, those complementary sales went out the window.

Some of us hoped that Pathfinder would help retailers pick up the slack, but that doesn’t seem to have been the case. There were at least three problems that I think kept Pathfinder from stepping up.

The first was that Paizo left the market free of “big” releases between their December release of Pathfinder Bestiary 3 (2011) and their July release of The Advanced Race Guide (2012) — one of three “big” products published in summer, following that six-month scheduling gap. Worse, no one else published a big destination product in the first half of the year — something that would have brought people into game stores in the way that D&D once did.

As for the other two reasons that Pathfinder doesn’t seem to be driving people into game stores …

The second issue is Paizo’s well-supported subscription system, which gets people to Paizo but not to the game stores. The third is the simple fact that Pathfinder just doesn’t seem to have the heft that D&D did. Sure, it’s passed D&D up temporarily, but having seen the game with the industry all to itself for a year, I now think we’re going to see D&D pretty quickly leap back into first place when Next emerges.

If there’s an industry left, that is, after two and a half years without a market leader!

KickStarter RULES!!: There was one bright spot in the roleplaying picture for the year, and that was Kickstarter. I was somewhat surprised to see that I mentioned Kickstarter in my 2011 year in review. I also mentioned how excited I was that games were managing to raise $10,000-$25,000. Compare that to 2012 when 20 different RPG and related products topped $100,000 (and three topped $1,000,000):

(Thanks to Sleeper & others for help in making sure this list was complete.)

  1. Reaper Miniature Bones, gaming miniatures ($3,429,235)
  2. Shadowrun Returns, RPG computer game ($1,836,447)
  3. The Order of the Stick Reprint Drive, RPG comic ($1,254,120)
  4. Ogre Designer’s Edition, classic board game ($923,680)
  5. Shadowrun Online, RPG online game ($558,863)
  6. Pathfinder Online: Fantasy Sandbox, online RPG ($536,073 + ongoing)
  7. Monte Cook’s Numenera, science-fantasy RPG ($517,255)
  8. Werewolf 20th Anniversary, classic horror RPG ($380,015)
  9. Dice Rings, gaming accessory ($344,069)
  10. Pathfinder Online Technology Demo, RPG online game ($307,843)
  11. The Complete Elmore Artbook, fantasy art ($299,914)
  12. Traveller 5th Edition, classic SF RPG ($294,628)
  13. The Guide to Glorantha, RPG setting ($260,962)
  14. Rappan Athuk, adventure for Pathfinder and Swords & Wizardry ($246,541)
  15. Horror on the Orient Express, a Call of Cthulhu adventure ($207,804)
  16. Dungeons & Dragons: A Documentary, history movie ($195,480)
  17. Through the Breach, skirmish-game / RPG ($192,182)
  18. Fate Core, indie RPG ($188,769 + ongoing)
  19. Tenra Bansho Zero, Japanese RPG ($129,640)
  20. Deadlands Noir, 1930s RPG ($117,648)

Clearly Kickstarter is cool because it allows publishers to test out the viability of projects and raise the money to print them in advance. However, it also gives them the ability to do really unique things. I think that Goblinworks is being really daring in trying to raise money to produce an MMORPG in small Kickstarter-sized chunks, with their second kickstarter now ongoing and looking for a cool million. I also loved Matt Forbeck’s successful drive to raise money to create 12 novels. Meanwhile, Hillfolk not only did great for an indie game, but it also showed a really clever incentive system for stretch goals — with new designers coming on board for every couple of thousand dollars raised.

I feel like Kickstarter is a boom waiting to bust, but whether that’s the case or not, I think it’s already been proven that it’s not the panacea to all of RPG’s woes. Hero Games successfully managed to raise money to publish two books that had been orphaned by the company mostly closing down last year, but their $15,000+ totals aren’t looking nearly as impressive as they would have at year’s start.

Hero has also had more mixed success when they tried to kickstart RPG books fully loaded with development costs. Monster Hunter did great with $80,000 raised, but Steven Long failed to raise $33,000 for Mythic Hero. Similarly, Blackwyrm failed to meet its modest $4,500 for a Champions adventure and Silverback Press just eked in its $9,000 for Champions Live Action.

I don’t mean to pick on Champions, but rather to say that if a company was having problems selling enough products before Kickstarter, then Kickstarter may not fix that problem.

Old is New Yet Again: Again, this trend continues straight out of last year. It used to be just retroclones, but now we’ve got a variety of games returning from the ’70s, ’80s, and ’90s.

I’ve already touched upon Wizards bringing back the greatest TSR hits of the ’70s with the original AD&D books. However, the biggest news in this category was probably the creation of Onyx Path Publishing to save the White Wolf line; they’re already doing a great job of bringing back the best World of Darkness games from the ’90s, though with their dependence on kickstarting and POD they’re also not doing anything for the overall market.

The reuse of the names TSR (by Gygax’s heirs) and FASA (by RedBrick) got big attention too, and RedBrick-FASA is bringing back even more classics from the ’90s like Blue Planet and Fading Suns. Again, I haven’t seen this stuff in stores, though, with the only report of publication coming from one of the online sellers.

RuneQuest 6 from The Design Mechanism is yet another example of the trend. So is Goodman Games’ Dungeon Crawl Classics — which unlike the others in this list is a thematic return to the past. It was also one of the most successful, showing up high on sales lists during the quarter of its release.

Yet More Media Licensing: Again, I said that I thought that 2011 was the zenith of the trend, but 2012 brought even more major media RPGs out, including Marvel Heroic Roleplaying Basic Game (2012), Star Wars: Edge of Empire Beta (2012), and Star Wars: Ege of Empire Beginner Game (2012). Atop existing Lord of the Rings (2011) and DC Heroes (2010) games, that’s almost all of the major media licenses now accounted for, with Star Trek being the only one conspicuously missing (and nonetheless available in Star Fleet variants that have been around for ages).

Massive Misogyny: Sadly, 2012 was also the year that RPG, comics, and other related hobbies were rocked multiple times by charges of misogyny.

The question wasn’t whether misogyny was on display in hobbyist fields in 2012 (because it was), but rather why. I’d like to think that it’s because there are more women in gaming (and other hobbies), and so unacceptable behavior is more likely to be called out, while the misogynists are simultaneously flipping out more because women.

Of course, some of the misogyny on display in our hobbies might have been a reaction to (or continuation of) misogyny being offered up on the political stage — starting when Rush Limbaugh called a woman a slut for wanting birth control, then moving to numerous would-be Republican legislators trying to delegitimize rape, including Todd “Legitimate Rape” Akins, Richard “Gift from God” Mourdouck, and Roger “Some Women Rape Easy” Rivard.

So, it wasn’t just These Hobbies of Ours having a trouble with women.

(Thanks to Sethra007 for some of the links here.)

In Conclusion: 2012 was much like 2011, but moreso. The lows for Wizards and for the hobby in general were lower, but the highs for kickstarter, old games, and media licenses were higher. Which means that I’m now looking for the next trend. Maybe in 2013, but more likely 2014; I think it might take D&D Next to get the RPG field out of its current holding pattern.

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