Game Marketing Tips, Analysis, and News

Friday, January 7, 2011

Predictions For Adventure Gaming 2011

I get an excuse to show my game from the dawn of time.
I've dealt with other segments of the gaming market, so I might as well have a go at this one. Adventure gaming is in many ways the progenitor of the electronic gaming market, and is still a rich source of inspiration to electronic game designers. Roleplaying games, card games, board games, miniatures games and other less easily classifiable games are found in specialty gaming stores around the country, and some products make it into wider distribution through bookstores or other types of stores. Occasionally a product like the Pokemon trading card game breaks into wider mass-market distribution, but for the most part adventure gaming products are in limited distribution.

The industry has had its ups and downs over the past few decades. Once a sleepy little backwater of miniature games and war games, adventure gaming had its first big expansion when roleplaying hit with the introduction of Dungeons & Dragons in 1974. The concept took off and hundreds of products followed over the next decade (including my own roleplaying game Champions). Roleplaying was a phenomenon that got national attention, until the growth of electronic gaming (mostly computer gaming) in the 1980s took away some of its audience.

The next great expansion was the trading card game (TCG), which was led by Magic: The Gathering in 1993. Again, the phenomenon burst across the national consciousness, new stores opened, and many companies expanded (including Wizards of the Coast). Collectible miniatures games introduced in 2000 (HeroClix) was another boomlet, though not to the scale of the TCG.

The industry now is smaller than it was in days of yore (that would be the ancient times of the '80s and '90s). Much of the mojo (read: entertainment time and dollars) has been stolen by electronic games of all varieties. Still, there's great creativity in the adventure game industry and new products continue to attract buyers.

  • Publishers find more and more revenue coming from e-book sales. The e-book segment has grown tremendously, as witnessed by (I believe I was the first to put e-books into a retail store, on a floppy disk in Acrobat 2.0 format in 1995.) E-books have become much more acceptable as a format, especially with inexpensive laptops and now tablets making it easier to use them in a gaming session. The major problem is the pricing; most adventure game publishers still price e-book versions of their rules quite high, which means piracy is an issue. Since many adventure game publishers depend on physical book sales, they are loath to reduce prices on e-books and so make it harder to be profitable on paper versions of the same book. I predict we'll see more experiments with lower e-book pricing, and greater e-book sales overall.
  • The number of retail stores continues to shrink. Game stores are an endangered species, and increasing electronic distribution is part of the reason. Bookstores are also endangered, and the combination will drive adventure game sales even more towards mail-order, convention sales, and electronic sales. The rate of attrition will slow, as surviving retailers are (by necessity) good ones, and are adept at finding ways to bring in customers and offering a variety of goods for sale. In-store gaming is a big help, as are miniatures games.
  • The explosion of e-book readers will be good for adventure gaming. Not just dedicated e-readers like Kindle, but also tablets and smartphones. If prices are reasonable, then all the players can have easy access to rules without lugging around huge books. More e-book readers means more willingness to buy e-book versions of rules, or at least a larger potential customer base.
  • The growth of smartphones will be good for adventure gaming. Not just because they can be used to read e-books (not well, unless rules are formatted especially for them... which would be a great feature that some publisher is going to stumble upon someday). Smartphones are also handy little computers, as witness the number of die-rolling programs out there. Many other aspects of gaming can be aided by smartphones... and we'll see more of that this year.
  • Adventure game companies will increasingly turn to technology. By necessity, adventure game companies have embraced the Internet as an easy way to communicate with customers. Now Facebook is a becoming a very important tool for customer relations. Twitter is everywhere. Social media is great for marketing purposes, and for connecting a farflung network of fans. I think we'll see more connections with social gaming and mobile gaming... many small games would make great smartphone apps, and some of Reiner Knizia's games are making their way to Facebook. We'll see more of this...
Adventure gaming will have another bumpy year, as new technologies continue to disrupt the same old way of doing business. Companies that take advantage of the trends will continue to do well; others, not so well.


  1. You may have forgotten that One Book Shelf (owner of DriveThruRPG and RPGNow) are now doing Print on Demend books from the PDFs on their site via Lightning Source (who is own by Ingram). I assume by the end of this year, there will be a plan in place to sell POD PDF books directly to stores. Now retailer will never be out of stock on products.

  2. Hi Steve: What do you think about Adaments move to price ALL of their PDF at $1.99?
    John T>

  3. I think $1.99 is a great price, and hopefully they should get a huge surge of sales from it. The questions I would have is the increase in sales enough to make up for the price drop, and if the sales surge will continue. The nice thing about digital pricing is that it's easy to change, up or down, as you work to find the optimal price. The optimal price is, of course, the one that brings in the most profit for the publisher.

  4. You know I agree, Steve. This just adds fuel to the engine (and you know what I mean there).

    - SPF

  5. I think we're looking at a world where we see a book that one person would by for $20 will be purchased by 20 folks for $2 - thus doubling the revenue.

    I don't know that for certain, but that's where my bet is going on the table.

    If Gareth's right, this will gut the "pirate" trade of RPG products eventually.

    - SPF

  6. Louis,

    Yes, the POD revolution is going to make a difference, but I'm not sure how much it will help retail stores. Retailers shouldn't be out of stock very much given how fast distributors respond these days; out-of-stock is only a problem if they are sloppy with inventory or don't care or don't have the resources to keep their inventory up.

  7. Sean,

    It all depends on how large the potential market really is. Do potential buyers number 20 times the current buyers of $20 PDFs? I don't know, but I sure hope so. It's certainly easier to convince someone to drop $2 than it is to get them to part with $20.

  8. Steve: That assumes I sell to distributor. Why would I split the money with them (I sell to them at 55% off and they sell to retailers at 50% off keeping 5% for themselves) when they can order directly from me (via Lightning Source / Ingram) and I don't have to pre-pay for book printing and wait up to 60 to 90 days to get paid. When the book sells, the printing is paid for AND I get my money next month by the 20th.

    Better yet, larger book stores (Amazon, Barnes & Nobles, Books a Million) could order your book for their stores using this. I see a lot of upside potential in RPGNow's POD service let alone just selling direct to customers.

  9. Louis,

    I think selling direct to the retailers is fine, if you don't mind the additional work involved. The tough part is finding retailers who will actually push your products, or even remember to stock them... and that's the same problem regardless of whether or not you sell direct or through a distributor.

  10. Hero Games put all of their older materials at permanent 50% off, including the ebook versions which will be the only items at 50% after the hardcopies have sold out.

  11. Steve Peterson

    Thanks for doing this,

    One thing you did not address which I would be interested in hearing about is Virtual Table Tops and the rise of the subscription models like DDI, Paizos model, dungeon a day, along with the rise of Kickstart games (Open Design and my own patronage projects.

    Also your thoughts on Eclipse Phases creative commons approach to piracy.

    Again thanks for your time.

  12. There's a lot to comment on, Steve... but I think Virtual Table Tops are an important area that can have a lot of growth in the future. The subscription model is clearly working for Dungeon A Day, so I expect to see more of that. I think we'll also see more use of Creative Commons licensing, as the primary concern these days is building up an audience, and the best way to do that is to let people get involved with your game system by creating things for it.