The Future of the Tabletop Market

This article making predictions about the future of the tabletop market was posted on EN World. I think you might be interested.


  • I'm not sure if I really buy the correlation between comics and rpg texts, but then again I do feel like I'm a minority (maybe a not-insignificant one, but still a minority) by virtue of believing that RPGs don't become deprecated simply by age or a new edition. Obviously products do have interest-driven life cycles, but as movements like OSR and Oldhammer have shown there is definitely still interest in old gaming products, and a move to digital products removes a lot of the difficulty in accessibility that was one cause of those interest cycles.

    I know just about zilch about business, but I've always looked at e-book prices as being "artificially" inflated in order to keep dead-tree sales going, and that sooner or later the savings associated with digital production processes and no need for physical storage would manifest in publishers/retailers who have no reason to keep the old format and distribution channels afloat; I've never thought of it as a race to the bottom in devaluing content for the sake of short term sales or whatever (not saying there are retailers who don't do that, just that if both are going on at once it may be hard to differentiate which/how much of each is at play in any given instance).
  • I bought large parts of the TSR back catalog when it was on some ridiculous sale on DM's guild♥

    That was pure upside for them because buying those PDFs was money that went from me to them that probably wouldn't have otherwise. But I love having them♥

    Like when they made 5e the thinking was: "OK we don't have to make a profit on the game itself. We just need the game to stay alive and popular so we can sell t-shirts & movies."

    That was a good move because it made it so that we could have OGL, it made it so that they could have an "all editions are real D&D"-attitude with conversion rules and older editions made available (they reprinted all the old editions (except my favorite, Basic) leading up to 5e and now they're all on PDF). It made it so that they could have the basic rules free. It made it so that we didn't have to have a supplement treadmill with many volumes of the PHB / player's options etc etc.

    So according to that thinking, it doesn't really matter to WotC if the dam breaks because they want the game to thrive and the name D&D to thrive. Comics actually similar. Comics are selling really poorly right now but people are buying movie tickets to adaptations of the comics.

    (But they did end up making a profit on the game itself if I understand it correctly. Number one on a popular book selling site. Not that books aren't super expensive, they are T_T) (Comics are also expensive I only have one on my pull list rn: Exiles)

    Also when I'm on the topic of editions & markets. This is something I've been thinking of b/c PF2:

    Magic (the card game) doesn't have "editions" that break the game. Like I can still use my old Fire Elemental card right now if I want to. I wish D&D could have a similar evergreen model.

    I'm not saying PF2 is a bad game. But if I were Paizo — and look, this might be wrong because I'm thinking from the eyes of a consumer, not from the eyes of a business genius — if I were Paizo I would want to aim for more compatibility, not balkanize it further. People playing through WotC modules with Pathfinder rules or playing through Paizo modules with 5e rules. Embrace Pathfinder rules as a keeper of the 3e flame, expand the Beginner Box as their rules light gateway into full Pf, but also generally make it easier to use adventure paths and modules with 5e. Like embrace the "all editions working together kumbaya" attitude. Like on an episode of Dragon Talk a guest (Stephanie Powell) says
    That's the beauty of like the SRD5, right? As we get... you get the people coming out... and I mean Pathfinder basically came from you guys right? Is that not...?
    and the host (WotC employee) replies
    That's the rumor, I don't know the what the real history is [awkward laughing]
    (That was one of my favorite moments on a podcast ever)

    And then they start talking about the OGL and he says are you putting things up on the guild from your show etc etc

    And Powell & Prosser Robinson both say that they want to get involved with it but haven't yet.
  • tl:dr; I want more continuity & no more abrupt "edition changes". Just keep the game alive & awesome
  • tl:dr; I want more continuity & no more abrupt "edition changes". Just keep the game alive & awesome
    Just because this is a discussion forum, I'll float the opposite attitude for consideration:

    I want the game to die a quick death and decommercialize into a public domain art form. I need WotC like a fish needs a bicycle.
  • I want the game to die a quick death and decommercialize into a public domain art form.
    I want D&D-as-a-process to live, but the commercial brand owned version of it can die for all I care. I.o.w. when the OSR games were blossoming around 2008–2011 I saw that as D&D blossoming.
    I need WotC like a fish needs a bicycle.
    And I need them like a junky needs a fix. I.e. not having them might be healthier but I'm hooked♥
  • Digital vs Physical is sooo 2000s :neutral:
    And also not the problem.
    Like, at all.
  • I don't think trademarked properties "decommercialize", at least in the United States they don't. They can be cloned and made Open Source and all that, but there's no system for making the original game become public domain in a reasonable time frame.
  • That only holds true if you credit the name - the trademark - with special significance. If you follow the commitment of the playing base to purchasing the product, the picture seems quite different. Already D&D has a major parts of its original player base to non-commercial or third party workflows (OSR, Pathfinder...) that do not involve any sort of tithing to the most recent trademark-holder. I may say that I play "D&D", but I do not pay for it.

    D&D is, if anything, one of the least protected major intellectual properties known to American IP law. Unlike your average movie franchise or a best-seller novel, the substantial elements of a roleplaying game are not protected by copyright. Total decommercialization lurks constantly around the corner, as the trademark could fail by becoming generic (as it arguably already has, only being upheld by legal intimidation), or by people choosing to start calling their game something else entirely. I could call my game "fantasy dungeon skirmish rpg" instead of "D&D" and mean the same thing.
  • Oh, a lot of the older editions are in print again in PoD, including 4e, that's pretty cool! Yeah I don't want the "obsolesence" mindset
  • The 99 cent book is a fad that came and went in fiction ebooks. $3.99 is the new $0.99. Sure you can find free "books", but they are marketing vehicles and often incomplete meant to hook you to buy the real book to finish the story.

    That all said, free fiction and RPGs have been around for as long as computers. Many great designers started by giving away good games until they decided to sell a game. Some of those designers might have come from here.

    None of the commercial RPGs are racing to the bottom. There is no digital crash coming because people will pay for quality products. Even the idea of PWYW often leads to more money that a fixed low price because people download for free then send coffee money when they like what they see. Money that would never come their way had people had to pay $5 before they could see what they were buying.
    I know just about zilch about business, but I've always looked at e-book prices as being "artificially" inflated in order to keep dead-tree sales going, and that sooner or later the savings associated with digital production processes
    I really wish this belief would die in a fire! Most of the cost of a book be it print or electronic is in writing, illustrating and editing the book. The printing can be $2-$5 of the total of a book, the rest is to pay for the content creation. Saying PDFs are artificially high priced would be like saying every paperback book should cost $2 because that's how much a book costs to print. Both ignore the cost to create the content, the thing you are buying which should never be mistaken for the format the content comes in.
  • A barista spends three minutes making you a $5 cappuccino, you sometimes tip them.

    A game designer spends a year writing an RPG, you complain that the $9.99 PDF is too expensive.

    It’s a funny world we live in.

    BTW comic book sales are down, but over the past 5 years graphic novels are way up (+10% in 2013, +20% in 2014, +22% in 2015, +11% in 2016, -5% in 2017).

  • But like shipping the books, putting them on store shelves, keeping them there etc etc, doesn't that money?
  • edited May 2018
    Yes. It would be much closer to real economics to say that for your typical $50 mainstream hardcover rpg book (is that the price point anymore, I don't know), $25 goes to the retail shopkeeper, $10 goes to the printer, $5 goes to the publisher (marketing, editing, other product development), and the content creators (illustrators, writers) split something like $10 between them. Call it $5 per book for the writers, split between the five-ish people who write portions of your typical big rpg book. So maybe $1 per book per author or so?

    (Of course a real rpg publisher doesn't traditionally pay royalties so much as they pay work-for-hire - the publisher keeps that extra $10 per sold copy and covers their out-of-pocket expenses in hiring writers and illustrators with it. Generally less expensive for them, but also more risk.)

    In comparison, the same book in a digital format still has the same amount of work in writing, illustrating, development and marketing, but the printer and retailer are out of the picture. Instead, there's a PDF storefront that takes something like 15% maybe, so $7 off a $50 price tag, leaving the publisher and his cohorts splitting over $40 instead of $15 per book. If you wanted to keep the margins the same (that is, give the savings from digital publishing to the customer), that $50 book should cost about $15 in digital format.

    Similar numbers for your typical 200-page perfect bound indie softcover game:
    $20 Cover price
    -$10 Retailer
    -$3 Printer
    -$2 Illustrations budget
    $5 Author's share

    And if you wanted to keep that author's share stable, the pdf version would simplistically cost like $10 or so, to cover the storefront expenses.

    So if you care about maintaining traditional profit margins, it seems that pdf games should cost something like $10-$15 per game. Obviously the more expensive hardcover, full color books see more of a price drop when going digital than a cheap softcover book does. In both cases cutting out the traditional bookstore-type retailer is where the big savings come from: without paper books there is no inventory risk, and no need for a middle-man who covers that risk by buying speculatively and off-loading the books to the audience. That middle-man role is so very much work and risk that traditionally it has been difficult for game stores to make do with just 50% of the pie - it should be more like 70% if you wanted to maintain a prosperous network of hobby stores...

    (I don't personally think that attempting to maintain traditional forms is a worthwhile exercise per se, but that's how the numbers would seem to run. I don't even know what a typical pdf game costs today, but perhaps it's not very far off those numbers?)
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