[Drivethrurpg] "Most RPG Products Sell Fewer than 50 Copies"

Shipyard Locked

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Found this 2019 article about the 'metal tiers' on drivethrurpg.

If accurate, it's very sobering for people who are looking to foster new networks outside of D&D's colossal shadow.

 

A Fiery Flying Roll

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Found this 2019 article about the 'metal tiers' on drivethrurpg.

If accurate, it's very sobering for people who are looking to foster new networks outside of D&D's colossal shadow.

Unfortuately (in my view) I suspect most money being made in RPGs these days is being made on Kickstarter, not through sales.
 

Nick J

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I'm perfectly fine with the hobby being full of "labor of love" hobbyists producing things. This notion that everyone should be making a living off of a hobby or passion is odd to me. There will always be a few truly talented people that rise above the general melee and get some traction (as well as a few grifters and hucksters), but I don't think wealth means health when evaluating the state of the tabletop scene. . . Unless it's The Design Mechanism fulfilling their ultimate destiny to make Mythras the "one true game" to rule them all and finally knock D&D from its perch. :grin:
 

A Fiery Flying Roll

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I'm perfectly fine with the hobby being full of "labor of love" hobbyists producing things. This notion that everyone should be making a living off of a hobby or passion is odd to me. There will always be a few truly talented people that rise above the general melee and get some traction (as well as a few grifters and hucksters), but I don't think wealth means health when evaluating the state of the tabletop scene. . . Unless it's The Design Mechanism fulfilling their ultimate destiny to make Mythras the "one true game" to rule them all and finally knock D&D from its perch. :grin:
For me it's not that I expect most people in the hobby to have it as their primary job. Apart for anything else, to do so would require a massive shrinkage in the amount of people doing RPG content. I find that many of the people most convinced that it should make a living wage seem to be convinced they'd be part of the small group of professional designers, where the reality is most of them wouldn't.

It's a much more nebulous thing for me; there are absolutely games out there that deserve a wider audience and I'm not convinced "quality will win out" is true in the RPG scene.

Something that complicates this of course is the amount of shovelware crap on Drivethru. The people who put out 40 rubbish modules at two dollars each and hope that they'll make the money on aggregate.

This is even more noticable on Wargame Vault because of the lower number of products. There are some absolute unsung gems on there. There's also a lot of stuff I can't believe the 'designer' isn't embarassed to put their name to.
 

Doctor Wombat

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Writing D&D material for DMsGuild doesn't look much like a ticket to economic success either, given that 90% of the catalog is apparently in the "sold less than 50 copies" tier. And then WotC takes half of your income.
 

AppleJax

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Yeah. There are a lot of well constructed games that don't receive the attention they deserve. Quality doesn't win out. There are franchises that have been going on since the 80s and 90s which dominate the market regardless of how well or poorly they're actually designed. Because these games are so overdesigned and require so much investment, they dissuade the majority of players from ever trying more than one game.

I used to entertain the fantasy of making my own rpg products. I've given up on that in favor of other healthier markets like prose fiction, video games, and board games.
 

Shipyard Locked

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Writing D&D material for DMsGuild doesn't look much like a ticket to economic success either, given that 90% of the catalog is apparently in the "sold less than 50 copies" tier. And then WotC takes half of your income.

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PolarBlues

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Creating stuff and sharing it is practically the essence of this hobby. Whether one does the sharing commercially or just for kicks is a personal choice.

I've chosen to share my stuff for free. Partly because I believe in the hobby sharing ethos (Fudge was concieved as a free system and my stuff is Fudge-based), partly because I don't want the hassle of running a mini-business on the side.

I am pretty sure if my stuff were on Drivethru even with just price tag, they'd be way under the 50 download mark. A free stuff, they have enjoyed a much wider audience. These are rough estimates based on what Wordpress analytics tell me of my most downloaded games.

Bounty Hunters of the Atomic Wastelands (2014) 3500 downloads​
Cyberblues City (2015) 2000 downloads​
Lawmen v Outlaws (2018) 500 downloads​

Obivously not eveyone who downloads the game actually plays it, over even reads it.

So overall I am happy with my choice. I was never going to give up my day job either way. Kudos though to all those who are able to make their hobby als provide into a decent, secondary income stream. It's not easy.
 
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Lychee of the Exchequer

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I'm perfectly fine with the hobby being full of "labor of love" hobbyists producing things.
About our hobby, and on a slight tangent, I've been wondering for a long time if the RPG hobby can thrive without a commercial publisher with big/enormous sales power [like Paizo (big sales) and Wotc (enormous sales], to kind of drag the RPG publishing industry behind it.

For instance, regarding professional RPG designers, I'm under the impression that big publishers like Paizo and Wotc are major employers for them, and so can provide them a somewhat secure income, which enables those designers - almost all freelancers - to push their own projects alongside/ after their corporate work-for-hires.

And those freelancers can sometimes create their own companies and games (Kobold Press, Pelgrane) to add to the creativity of RPGs.

No corporate employers, no more sufficiently paying gigs for the pro designers around there.

Also, we live in a consumerist world, and I can't help but think that the attraction of RPGs would perhaps be less - even for the clients who enjoy small publishers products - if there weren't big companies advertising for RPG products.
I understand that there are people who will play RPGs even if D&D (for example) disappears, BUT wouldn't those GMs/players themselves have trouble finding numerous players if the total pool of players diminishes, because there aren't anymore big (fugly) companies to promote their commercial products ?

Perphaps I'm way off mark here, and anyway my mind isn't made up, so I'm interested in others' thoughts on this subject.
 

Vile Traveller

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Writing D&D material for DMsGuild doesn't look much like a ticket to economic success either, given that 90% of the catalog is apparently in the "sold less than 50 copies" tier. And then WotC takes half of your income.
I think DM's Guild and all the other DTRPG "community" programmes which seem to operate on exactly the same principle are really just ways for fans to produce stuff for official settings and maybe make a bit of pocket money on the side, instead of just hosting it on an obscure blog post somewhere. Anyone who finds themselves selling more than 50 copies on there should stop and move to another model, whether that's the normal DTRPG store or some other platform.
 

Gringnr

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A lot of what may sell 50 copies or less these days probably wouldn't have even been sold in the old days, because it's so much cheaper and easier to self-publish these days, at least electronically. And, let's face it, there's a lot of boring, half-assed bullshit on dtrpg.

As for large corporations making the hobby more accessible, yeah I can see that. I mean, if movie studios are doing well, they're more likely to gamble on indie stuff.

But I see a lot of the RPG hobby as analogous to, say, metal music. In metal, the best, most creative stuff often exists on the periphery. Sure, the starving artist may be a cliche, but I'd rather see a young, hungry band in a club than see a rich, famous established artist phoning it in in a giant arena. Not exctly metal, but I saw Rush twice on one year, at the same Phoenix venue, in the early aughts. They played the exact same set list both times. I was pissed. I get that it was for people who maybe missed the first show, but it was boring. I remember once I saw Metallica, and they played a medley of songs off of ...And Justice For All. A Medley?!? Really?!? The fuck you think you are, Wayne Newton? Total bullshit, and not why I got into metal at all.

Sure, some of the bigger non-D&D RPGs have been great - consistently, even. But there's a lot to be said for people doing it because they love it, or they're inspired.

I'd love for people to be able to make a living off of their art. But, as D&D has gotten bigger, it's gotten stupider, blander, and less interesting. Which would be fine if it was a gateway, but it's a closed room.
 

Dr Jack

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There's a lot of low value and very niche stuff on DTRPG. For example, how many sales of Old School Blue Map #51 are realistically expected? I don't mean that as shade on the quality of the product, it's just a small, niche thing to be selling. There's also a lot of stuff on there where shifting 40 copies is a decent enough result for the people who made it.
 

Tommy Brownell

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A lot of the smaller stuff would have been magazine or fanzine articles in the old days.
Indeed. I miss Dragon magazine. A lot of similar content is now out there on DM’s Guild, but now I have to sort through it, figure what’s good and what’s bad, and go from there.

I’ve said this about comic books but it’s true here: the good thing is the barrier for entry is lower than ever; the bad thing is the barrier for entry is lower than ever.
 

A Fiery Flying Roll

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There's a lot of low value and very niche stuff on DTRPG. For example, how many sales of Old School Blue Map #51 are realistically expected? I don't mean that as shade on the quality of the product, it's just a small, niche thing to be selling. There's also a lot of stuff on there where shifting 40 copies is a decent enough result for the people who made it.
That's where it becomes complicated. They have 447 products on there. If they shift five copies of each that's $2905.50, after Drivethru's cut. Certainly not enough to make a living, but pretty good if you're making money from your hobby.
 

JAMUMU

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Someone I know who's better versed in this side of the hobby has told me that it's settings where the money's at. That's what people buy, because it's the material that most people don't have the time/talent to put together themselves. I have no idea of the veracity of his statement, just putting it out there.
 

AppleJax

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Someone I know who's better versed in this side of the hobby has told me that it's settings where the money's at. That's what people buy, because it's the material that most people don't have the time/talent to put together themselves. I have no idea of the veracity of his statement, just putting it out there.
Define "settings." That's a very broad topic.
 

JAMUMU

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Define "settings." That's a very broad topic.
Going by what he said, fully fleshed out playable worlds, with plot hooks and factions and maps, mini-adventures, that sort of thing. Like Kobold's Midgard(?) or one of the many not-D&D knock-off settings.
 

Ynas Midgard

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Sadly, those wild wild west days are over. Now we're in an era of fan licenses. I would be violating Pinnacle's Savage Worlds fan license to, say, post Deadlands NPC stats on my blog.
What? That's ridiculous... You can only break the license if you agree to it (by using the provided notice and logo), right?
 

sharps54

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What? That's ridiculous... You can only break the license if you agree to it (by using the provided notice and logo), right?
If you use their IP without their permission they can ask you to take it down, that’s one of the reasons people got angry at Palladium back in the day, Kevin didn’t want his IP up on fan sites.
 

Yeti Spaghetti

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I think DM's Guild and all the other DTRPG "community" programmes which seem to operate on exactly the same principle are really just ways for fans to produce stuff for official settings and maybe make a bit of pocket money on the side, instead of just hosting it on an obscure blog post somewhere. Anyone who finds themselves selling more than 50 copies on there should stop and move to another model, whether that's the normal DTRPG store or some other platform.

As someone who just got started with this at DTRPG and is either getting close to or has recently hit the 50 mark (across a total of 3 products), I am considering my own website to sell independently. Still, I'm never going to make much of a "profit" given the costs that go into producing one module. All I try to do at this point is make printing and shipping profitable for print copies (I don't use a POD service). But I doubt that I'll ever reach the point where the money that I make on aggregate from digital and print sales pays for the production of a new module.

If I ever do reach that point, it will only be after a long time and a substantial personal investment. One way or another, it's a hobby, and hobbies are costs.
 

CRKrueger

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A lot of what may sell 50 copies or less these days probably wouldn't have even been sold in the old days, because it's so much cheaper and easier to self-publish these days, at least electronically. And, let's face it, there's a lot of boring, half-assed bullshit on dtrpg.

As for large corporations making the hobby more accessible, yeah I can see that. I mean, if movie studios are doing well, they're more likely to gamble on indie stuff.

But I see a lot of the RPG hobby as analogous to, say, metal music. In metal, the best, most creative stuff often exists on the periphery. Sure, the starving artist may be a cliche, but I'd rather see a young, hungry band in a club than see a rich, famous established artist phoning it in in a giant arena. Not exctly metal, but I saw Rush twice on one year, at the same Phoenix venue, in the early aughts. They played the exact same set list both times. I was pissed. I get that it was for people who maybe missed the first show, but it was boring. I remember once I saw Metallica, and they played a medley of songs off of ...And Justice For All. A Medley?!? Really?!? The fuck you think you are, Wayne Newton? Total bullshit, and not why I got into metal at all.

Sure, some of the bigger non-D&D RPGs have been great - consistently, even. But there's a lot to be said for people doing it because they love it, or they're inspired.

I'd love for people to be able to make a living off of their art. But, as D&D has gotten bigger, it's gotten stupider, blander, and less interesting. Which would be fine if it was a gateway, but it's a closed room.
Medley of Justice? WTF? What year was that? I remember seeing them in LA a few times and it was always like a 2 1/2 hour show.
 

migo

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Those numbers are somewhat misleading, as it does not account for titles sold via other venues, such as lulu, amazon, and the publisher‘s own website.
I doubt that would account for a change in order of magnitude. Because of how Lulu is set up, you're going to have a hard time discovering an RPG there, whereas DTRPG makes it easy. The publisher's own website could reasonably account for more, but most that I have seen link you to DTRPG anyway.
 

FreeGamer

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Found this 2019 article about the 'metal tiers' on drivethrurpg.

If accurate, it's very sobering for people who are looking to foster new networks outside of D&D's colossal shadow.

It's literally a 0-cost startup, which invites shovelware by the boatload. I'm actually surprised that only 72% do this poorly. I'd have expected it more around 90-95%, under the assumption that what we see on the homepage is only a tiny fraction of their overall product catalog. So I actually find this heartening.

I wonder what the numbers are like once the shovelware is accounted for. I know there's no easy way to determine what is shovelware since there's a large overlap between "imperfect earnest attempt" and "low-effort petty cashgrab," enough so that I assume this is an impossible task and the data we have is probably as good as we're going to get. Still curious, tho . . .
 

migo

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It's literally a 0-cost startup, which invites shovelware by the boatload. I'm actually surprised that only 72% do this poorly. I'd have expected it more around 90-95%, under the assumption that what we see on the homepage is only a tiny fraction of their overall product catalog. So I actually find this heartening.

I wonder what the numbers are like once the shovelware is accounted for. I know there's no easy way to determine what is shovelware since there's a large overlap between "imperfect earnest attempt" and "low-effort petty cashgrab," enough so that I assume this is an impossible task and the data we have is probably as good as we're going to get. Still curious, tho . . .
You could probably sort some of it out by looking at complete settings, adventures/modules, and systems.

An individual map or token, or a list of character options - anything like that - could be legit, but it's much more likely to be shovelware. If someone detailed an entire setting, even if it's low quality, they probably did put their heart into it.
 

AppleJax

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Going by what he said, fully fleshed out playable worlds, with plot hooks and factions and maps, mini-adventures, that sort of thing. Like Kobold's Midgard(?) or one of the many not-D&D knock-off settings.
Yeah, I can agree. A lot of groups don’t have the creativity or time to do that themselves. I have a fondness for modular design and adventures myself.
 

Spellslinging Sellsword

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If I do a search for File Type PDF it shows 105,971 results. Of those, 35,656 are in the $4.99-$19.99 price range which is probably the realistic range for someone to sell adventures, books, and campaigns. Most of the old TSR adventures are in the $4.99 price category, Savage Worlds core book and Cepheus Deluxe are at $9.99, Mork Borg is $14.99, and Kevin Crawford's core books are $19.99 for the full versions.
 

chuckdee

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Writing D&D material for DMsGuild doesn't look much like a ticket to economic success either, given that 90% of the catalog is apparently in the "sold less than 50 copies" tier. And then WotC takes half of your income.
Well, to be fair, they take 30%. DTRPG takes 20%. You still only get 50% so it really doesn't matter... but figured I'd point it out.
 

chuckdee

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I think DM's Guild and all the other DTRPG "community" programmes which seem to operate on exactly the same principle are really just ways for fans to produce stuff for official settings and maybe make a bit of pocket money on the side, instead of just hosting it on an obscure blog post somewhere. Anyone who finds themselves selling more than 50 copies on there should stop and move to another model, whether that's the normal DTRPG store or some other platform.
I saw a good analysis of this from someone who uses DMSguild... they get a drastically increased level of engagement (forget the numbers, but it was like 10 or 20 to 1. It was enough that 50% of the increased volume was a lot more than 80-85% of the lesser number.
 

BedrockBrendan

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Also a lot of the stuff that is up there is clearly not intended or expecting to make more than 50 sales (much of it is just niche resources by passionate fans for example). Then you also have the fact that the number of RPGs going up a day has reached pretty insane levels, so things that would have sold better five, ten years ago, aren't going to sell as well today. Also the top seller list is one of the big ways people bank on having good initial sales. To get on that list, the metric is based on the amount of revenue rather than number of copies sold, so you have a lot of higher priced items now in order to hit better top seller numbers (and I would imagine the higher priced items that end up not making the list add to the 50 and under thing). But ultimately it comes down to the volume on there. It would be pretty crazy if all the books going up on Drivethru sold 50+ copies because there are just so many coming out each day.
 

robertsconley

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Well, to be fair, they take 30%. DTRPG takes 20%. You still only get 50% so it really doesn't matter... but figured I'd point it out.
Worse
Summarizing in Section 4 of the license that the DM's Guild uses

Except for short promotional excerpts used to promote your Work, you may not display, recreate, publish, distribute, or sell your Work (or derivatives thereof) outside of the Program administered on Roll20 websites or through other platforms or channels authorized or offered by the Publisher.

The bolded words means even if you strip your content of Wizard's IP, you can't use your original content outside of the DM's Guild. It is predatory in the extreme.

However, I have made progress in getting OBS to remove those damn words from their boilerplate license they use for the other CCP. It not done yet as each program has to decide to change its license. So only Modiphus 2d20 program and Genesys Foundry have fixed it.

 

Vile Traveller

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I saw a good analysis of this from someone who uses DMSguild... they get a drastically increased level of engagement (forget the numbers, but it was like 10 or 20 to 1. It was enough that 50% of the increased volume was a lot more than 80-85% of the lesser number.
Yes I have seen the same numbers, but the problem is that anything published on DM's Guild is locked in forever (as mentioned by robertsconley robertsconley above). The big attraction is access to WotC's D&D settings, which can't be used outside the Guild. So anyone publishing on there professionally is exposing themselves to a significant risk which grows in line with their catalogue. It may be worthwhile as an intro to the scene, or a side-gig to raise visibility, but anyone making a living from RPGs would be ill-advised to put all their eggs in this one basket. To take a leaf out of WotC's and GW's playbook, even small-time publishers have merchandise webshops which wouldn't be able to use their Guild materials.

OT, there's a much bigger related issue out in the world of YouTubers, Facebook and Twitter reporters, and the plethora of other content producers who rely for their income on a platform completely beyond their control. Can you imagine what would happen if Google one day decided they need something better than Google+ YouTube?
 
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