It’s been a while since I’ve published a new Designers & Dragons article here, mainly because I’ve been hard at work on the new series of four Designers & Dragons books. The first three books, covering the ’70s, ’80s, and ’90s are now complete and have been sent to Evil Hat, and I’m about to start work on the ’00s. As usual, I encourage you to follow Designers & Dragons on FaceBook to get all the newest news.

Here, I’ve finally got my yearly look at RPG sales, this time for 2012. To put this in historical context, you should take a look at the reports on others years’ sales, which can be found to the right —SA, 4/28/13

This article was originally published as Designers & Dragons: The Column #25 on RPGnet. Its publication followed the publication of the original Designers & Dragons (2011) and preceded the publication of the four-volume Designers & Dragons (2014).

Game Stores Report Their Top RPGs

As usual, I’ve done my best to revisit past stores to give a continuous look at RPG sales in the same establishments.

Zombie Planet (—the Albany, New York game store run by George Vasilakos of Eden Studios—recorded the following top-selling RPG books for 2012.

  1. Pathfinder Roleplaying Core Rules [+0], Paizo (2009)
  2. Beginner Box for Pathfinder [+9], Paizo (2011)
  3. Ultimate Equipment for Pathfinder, Paizo (2012)
  4. GM Screen [+5] for Pathfinder, Paizo (2009)
  5. Star Wars: Edge of the Empire Beta, FFG (2012)
  6. Advanced Player’s Guide [!] for Pathfinder, Paizo (2010)
  7. Advanced Race Guide for Pathfinder, Paizo (2012)
  8. Bestiary 3 for Pathfinder, Paizo (2011)
  9. Player’s Handbook [-6] for D&D4e, WotC (2008)
  10. Ultimate Combat [-6] for Pathfinder, Paizo (2011)
  11. Heroes of Elemental Chaos for D&D 4e, WotC (2012)
  12. Marvel Heroic Roleplaying Basic Game, MWP (2012)
  13. Players Handbook for AD&D 1e, WotC (2012)
  14. Bestiary [-7] for Pathfinder, Paizo (2009)
  15. Ultimate Magic [!] for Pathfinder, Paizo (2011)
  16. Dungeon Masters Guide for AD&D 1e, WotC (2012)
  17. Monster Manual for AD&D 1e, WotC (2012)
  18. Savage Worlds Deluxe Edition [-4], Pinnacle (2011)
  19. The Dungeon Survival Handbook for D&D4e, WotC (2012)
  20. Ghosts of Albion Corebook, Eden Studios (2011)
Top RPG Books of 2012: Zombie Planet

There’s no doubt that Pathfinder did great in 2012, taking over the top four spots. Even some older books like the Advanced Player’s Guide and Ultimate Magic returned. Similarly, there’s no doubt that D&D 4e rather horrifically collapsed — which is pretty much what happens when you announce that you’re bringing a line to an end, and then only support it with a few releases. However, the AD&D reprints clearly saved WotC’s bacon — making it obvious why they’ve continued with the reprint trend into 2013.

As always, it’s interesting to see what other games are notable. Zombie Planet shows off: FFG’s roleplaying lines, soaring higher than ever with Star WarsSavage Worlds, which has made top 20 lists year after year, ever since the release of their Explorer’s EditionMarvel Heroic Roleplaying; and (rather surprisingly) Ghosts of Albion.

Marvel Heroic Roleplaying deserves an additional note, as all indications in 2012 were that it was a top-rate roleplaying game, one of the true success stories for the year. Despite that, MWP has since cancelled the line, probably because Marvel Entertainment had unreasonably high expectations for it — just like they did with their Marvel Universe Roleplaying Game (2003), which they reportedly thought could outsell D&D.

In a year like 2012, it’s clearly wrong to say that “nothing can outsell D&D“, but I think the year might have taught us that nothing can sell at D&D‘s levels. Sadly that meant that the whole industry was looking weaker in the absence of its lead game.

EndGame (—an Oakland, California game store——recorded the following top-selling RPG products for 2010.

  1. The Fiasco Companion [+2], Bully Pulpit (2011)
  2. The Dresden Files Roleplaying Game, Volume One: Your Story [+5], Evil Hat (2010)
  3. Bestiary 3 for Pathfinder, Paizo (2011)
  4. Monsterhearts, BWC (2012)
  5. Advanced Race Guide for Pathfinder, Paizo (2012)
  6. Bestiary Box for Pathfinder, Paizo (2012)
  7. Rise of the Rune Lords for Pathfinder, Paizo (2012)
  8. Microscope [-3], Lame Mage (2011)
  9. Advanced Player’s Guide [!] for Pathfinder, Paizo (2010)
  10. Marvel Heroic Roleplaying Basic Game, MWP (2012)
Top RPG Books of 2012: Endgame

I only included ten items from Endgame this year because they saw huge drops in RPG sales, resulting in the “top” numbers not being very meaningful past the top ten.

That big drop should be a story in itself. As I’ve said before, I think D&D started doing some real harm to the industry around 2011, because their product schedule became so untrustworthy that they were no longer driving players to game stores. I think the problem snowballed in 2012: because other publishers didn’t make as much money in 2011 due to WotC’s problems, those publishers weren’t able to publish products in 2012, and thus the schedule was emptier than ever. The publishers that were hit the worst in this scenario would likely be the indie publishers … and that’s always been Endgame’s strength.

The total lack of D&D products in this top ten, meanwhile, speaks for itself. Though Zombie Planet maintained some sales of the line despite it being declared dead at the start of the year, the same wasn’t true at Endgame.

As for the rest: we see Pathfinder doing alright, and again see that the Advanced Player’s Guide has gone evergreen; we also see the Marvel Heroic Roleplaying game doing well.

As usual, Endgame also gives us a peek at the top indies, this year again including Dresden FilesFiasco, and Microscope as well as Monsterhearts, the newest iteration of the Apocalypse World system (and though the related Dungeon World didn’t make this year’s kickstarter list, it was still a winner with a take of $82,879 and 2,455 backers).

But it’s unclear how important this particular list of top sellers was when we looked at the sales reports and had to scroll through pages and pages and pages of board game and card game sales just to get to the RPGs …

ICv2 Lists

Though I don’t entirely trust the ICv2 lists — which are apparently quite anecdotal — they still offer an interesting look at some of the best-selling RPGs of the year.

Top RPGs Summer 2011

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

Top RPGs Q4 2011

#1 Pathfinder, Paizo
#2 D&D 4e, WotC
#3 Warhammer 40k RPGs, FFG
#4 Dragon Age, Green Ronin
#5 The One Ring, Cubicle 7

Top RPGs Spring 2012

#1 Pathfinder, Paizo
#2 D&D 4e, WotC
#3 Warhammer 40k RPGs, FFG
#4 Dragon Age, Green Ronin
#5 Marvel Heroic Roleplaying, Margaret Weis Productions

Top RPGs Spring 2012

#1 Pathfinder, Paizo
#2 D&D 4e, WotC
#3 Warhammer 40k RPGs, FFG
#4 Dragon Age, Green Ronin
#5 Marvel Heroic Roleplaying, Margaret Weis Productions

Top RPG Books of 2011-2012: ICv2

I don’t think there’s any doubt that PathfinderD&D 4e, and the Warhammer 40k RPGs are currently the top three bestselling RPGs, probably in that order. It largely fits with the store info and my feel for the industry.

Though Dragon Age doesn’t show up at Endgame or Zombie Planet, anecdotally I hear about it doing well as a gateway game, and so it certainly could be a #4 RPG.

The fifth spot in ICv2’s listings seems largely worthless, except as a marker of some other games that were briefly hot. Of them, I find it most likely that Marvel Heroic Roleplaying was a top seller for at least a time.

And that is the state of RPGs in 2012, from a slightly more statistical point of view.

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