From time to time, I wonder: What are the cool kids playing?
That’s not as easy to find out as one might wish, but as usual on the internet, a number of people have already put a lot of effort into answering any question one might ask; and by triangulating their views one can hopefully come to a credible conclusion.
|Rank||ICv2: Sales||GenCon: Seats||GenCon: Events||Obsidian Portal: Campaigns|
|1||Pathfinder||Pathfinder (10,865)||Pathfinder (476)||D&D (~26,000)|
|2||D&D||D&D (7,734)||D&D (220)||Pathfinder 9,388|
|3||Star Wars||Small Press RPGs (1,920)||Star Wars (104)||Savage Worlds (1,270)|
|4||Iron Kingdoms||Legend of the Five Rings (863)||Call of Cthulhu (92)||World of Darkness (1,135)|
|5||Dark Heresy, Rogue Trader, Deathwatch||Call of Cthulhu (639)||Shadowrun (91)||“Other” (1,037)|
- I’ve lumped editions together, so for example D&D covers all the versions from OD&D to D&D Next.
- ICv2 looks at pop culture from the vendor’s viewpoint, and every 3-6 months they publish lists of what is selling best among the people they talk to. The latest figures are for Spring 2013; encouragingly, they report that hobby games are entering their fifth consecutive year of growth. They’re a bit coy about actual volumes, mind.
- GenCon Seats: Several sites, including RPGGeek and RPG Blog II, look at how much opportunity there is to play various games at conventions, usually GenCon. For GenCon 2013, RPGGeek forum poster brumcg shows the top 5 as these. The number of seats is a first approximation to how easy it would be to get into a game of a specific RPG. My favourite, Savage Worlds, would be in 8th place by this listing, with 441 seats. (I picked GenCon because it’s easy to get hard numbers, and it’s the biggest.)
- GenCon Events: RPG Blog II takes a view based on numbers of events rather than numbers of seats, and notes that the D&D and Call of Cthulhu sessions include many different editions, and that if you lump all the Savage Worlds sessions including Deadlands, Hellfrost and other settings together it would be in the top 5 rather than 6th place.
- Obsidian Portal Campaigns: ICv2 and GenCon data are arguably skewed by what manufacturers and vendors are promoting at the moment, but Obsidian Portal – essentially an online wiki for your campaign – should avoid that bias as the numbers reflect what individual groups want to play.
- I did consider looking at how many blogs there are for each game, but the Old School Renaissance movement and OD&D seem to punch above their weight in this area; more recent games like Pathfinder and Savage Worlds seem to appear more in forum posts than on blogs.
What are the cool kids playing? Pathfinder, by a country mile – about 40% of all events and seats at GenCon are Pathfinder, and sales have outstripped D&D for the last several years. D&D has a larger installed base, to borrow a term from IT, but it’s fragmented across 9 or so different versions, all of which individually are at best on a par with Pathfinder, and usually much smaller.
Arguably, of course, Pathfinder is a form of D&D, and if you look at it from that angle, the RPG hobby consists of D&D plus debris – it outnumbers the next nearest contender 20 or 30 to one.