State of the Industry 2005: Another Such Victory Will Destroy Us
At this year's GAMA Trade Show, I managed to score a second copy of Comics & Games Retailer's annual State of the Gaming Industry; my first copy arrived in the mail while I was in Vegas. This will come in handy, because the bitter, salty tears one weeps when reading the State of the Gaming Industry can really wreck a magazine. And the good people at F&W Publications (who apparently purchased Krause Publications, the home of CG&R, way back in 2002) deserve better than to have their fine, fine magazine turned into a moist towelette.
Sadly, their State of the Gaming Industry numbers still don't deserve much statistical respect, still deriving as they do from self-selected retailer surveys, which is to say, in harsh scientific terms, from nothing whatsoever. But, risible though they are, they are pretty much all the numbers we have, unless we also have the ICv2 Retailers Guide to Games, which as it just so happens, we do, or at least I do, because I snaffled that up at GTS as well. ICv2 gets its numbers from asking around, which although a different kind of statistical noise, is still not what the prudish or the pedantic would actually call "data." Still, it is what it is, and that's all that we've got. Both sets of numbers are pretty much solely concerned with the "core hobby games market," which excludes sales of games to mass-market outlets like big-box toy and book stores, or Wal-Mart or wherever else people buy games who aren't reading this column.
First, Draw Lines Around The Body
And even the pollyannas of print call 2005 a "tough year," or (in James Mishler's evocative phrasing) an "extinction-level event." If you believe their numbers, it's not quite as bad as 2004, when the number of game stores dropped by 10% (ICv2) to 25% (C&GR); this year, the core market lost only 5% (ICv2) to 20% (C&GR) of its stores, net. So the pace of decline has slowed, at least in some measure; C&GR estimates 1,500-2,000 game retailers left in the North American hobby market. As a floor number, Games Workshop lists 798 North American "independent retailer accounts" active by the end of May 2005, so a good guess for the number of real, viable game retailers in 2005 should probably not be much higher than 1,500, and that's almost certainly a generous estimate.
And how much product did those 800-1,500 game stores move in 2005? Well, breaking out the ICv2 numbers is a little tricky, but between $600 million and $800 million is a good guess, down a great whack from the near $1 billion they estimated in 2004. (ICv2 allows as how it might have overestimated the CCG market in 2004, which I suspect means the lower number is more accurate.) C&GR goes even lower still; for 2005, their pendulum swings between a "pessimistic" core hobby games market of $140 million and an upper-end, blue-sky, "optimistic" (ha-ha!) total 2005 sales figure of $255 million - which was last year's "pessimistic" total. Ewww. If I had to guess, and I suppose I do seeing as I am writing a column on the topic, after all, I'd say the entire North American adventure game market (including completely arbitrary numbers for the mass market, as if to highlight how imaginary this result is) is considerably under $800 million. I might postulate something like $700 million, for example; it's a good, round number, anyhow, and it's surely in the ballpark.
So how would this nominal number break down? By our normal course of dealing, in which we apply the C&GR "pessimistic" number for RPG sales and the "optimistic" numbers for the other categories, we get about 7% RPGs (down yet again from last year's 10% estimate, but still higher than the 3% or less that ICv2 posits). That means a total North American RPG market of between $40 million and $20 million, which in turn means that PDF RPG sales (which were around $2 million in 2005) are approaching a real, significant market factor. Outside the RPG sector, 63% of the hobby game market is CCGs (which tracks with the ICv2 numbers pretty well, and is, if true, up from the 51% of last year), and 30% minis (divided about 60-40 between normal and "collectible" minis, at a guess), down somewhat from our 2004 share of 39%. Games Workshop seems (always assuming my exchange rate calculations are remotely correct) to have taken some of this beating; their reported sales in "the Americas" total to about $48 million, down rather from 2004's $70 million on the back of the softening Lord of the Rings bubble. Whichever area WizKids is in, they may have done $25-40 million or so in sales, although the Topps annual report contents itself with broad generalizations on the topic. (Topps Entertainment sales, which includes WizKids but is mostly sports cards and tie-in Yu-Gi-Oh! products that aren't CCGs, topped $120 million in 2005, but that's way outside our channel.) The "board, card, and family" game segment, per ICv2, was the only segment that actually improved its actual sales over 2004, perhaps as much as 15-18%, driven by strong German game penetration, the Ticket to Ride phenomenon, and the rise of major publishers like Fantasy Flight. The C&GR "miscellaneous" category, which I usually omit from these calculations, is where this stuff goes to live; "board, card, and family" game sales in the core hobby market might have totaled something like $30 million by their reckoning, but this is sheer and utter guesswork beneath even me.
But Who Would Get Pie, If Pie There Were?
And now that we've done all that skull sweat for the market as a whole, we once more ignore 93 to 96 percent of it, and concentrate on the RPG market, such as it is. Normally, we can at least assume that the top five companies in the C&GR RPG sales derby are roughly identical to the top five companies in actual RPG sales, but that presumption gets harder and harder to justify outside the perennial Big Two. This is likely a result of the drastically shrunken market - the statistical variation in C&GR surveys is now probably greater, in some cases, than the actual results. In other words, if we have a 5% margin of error in the survey (a laughably small assumption), we can no longer trust any market share numbers below 5%, because they are now damped out in statistical noise. With that said, Wizards of the Coast is incontrovertibly the number one in the segment, as always; C&GR chalks up 53% of the core hobby RPG market to the home of Dungeons & Dragons, (up from last year's reported 43%) which still chugs along despite a 35% drop in C&GR-reported sales numbers. White Wolf is still number two with 19% of the market (down a touch from last year's 22%), although their sales curve is, if anything, even worse than D&D -- C&GR reports monthly World of Darkness sales down 61% over 2004!
All else is noise. C&GR puts FanPro at number three, with 3.66% of the market (around what they ascribed to it last year); with no ShadowRun 4th releases except the core book, ICv2 says the game "died a dog's death" in 2005 and leaves it out of contention. ICv2 gives third place to Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay and fourth to Green Ronin releases in general; C&GR lists Green Ronin as fifth, and gives them 2.5% of the market. However, the C&GR survey lists WFRP as a "Black Industries" product, not a Green Ronin one - if you combine them, I feel secure in giving Green Ronin a unified third place crown, and something in the neighborhood of 3.5% of the market. (I think FanPro is closer to fifth or sixth.) Fourth place in C&GR terms is Steve Jackson Games, with less than 3% of the market (down from their GURPS Fourth Edition-driven third place, 5% market share ranking in 2004); likely looking at the relatively thin releases for GURPS, the game gets only as high as seventh place in the ICv2 rankings. ICv2 charts Mongoose at fifth and Margaret Weis Productions' Serenity RPG at sixth place; C&GR lists a more believable Palladium at sixth and a little over two percent of the market. (ICv2 lists Rifts at tenth place.) For my money, it's not likely that there's much daylight between Steve Jackson, Palladium, Mongoose, and FanPro in the generic "fourth place" slot around 2%, and I'd toss Hero, Troll Lord, Privateer, Goodman Games, Margaret Weis, and AEG down around the "fifth place slot" and 1% or so each. With AEG seemingly out of the running in RPGs for a while, I'd say Green Ronin is probably the new third place holder as long as they can keep riding the Black Library, unless Steve Jackson or Palladium come roaring back.
The State of Next Month
The next column will begin, no doubt, with a gripping and vital con report from ConQuest Sacramento, where I am scheduled to serve on April 7-9 as a veritable Guest of Honor. It may not have the savage wonder of Ropecon, in Finland, where I am also scheduled to be the Guest of Honor, on August 11-13, but I'm sure it will have its charms. Those of you with your game calendars out will notice that Ropecon is scheduled against GenCon Indy this year, so I won't be attending GenCon for the first time in 18 years. So that means I have to start off the Indie Game Roundup early; I've got a squeaky new copy of Jason Morningstar's wonderful The Shab-al-Hiri Roach slotted up for review. (If you are a wonderful indie game designer, and you had been counting on getting me a review copy of your wonderful indie game at GenCon, you might emulate the Roach and send me one earlier.) Also, our Late Game Reviews continue, with the Army of Darkness RPG. And then, well, who knows what then? Click back after the ninth and we'll all find out.