The tabletop roll-playing games community can be described as a diverse collection of artistic minds. Enthusiasts seek out different styles, aesthetics, and group dynamics, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t trends. Those looking to break into content creation should be aware of the industry tied.
That’s not to say that your creativity should be driven by what seems to be popular at the moment, but understanding what the market wants is not optional. Knowing what people want to play allows you to understand why specific gaming mechanics are fun. The more information you have about the industry, the more skilled within that craft you become.
A master painter doesn’t just practice. They strive to understand the mechanics behind their art. They know the name of every shade of every color. They understand how negative space impacts the rich detail they work into their painting. Game designers should strive for this same level of understanding when they start a business.
To this end, this article details market data scraped from DrivThruRPG (DTRPG). I dive deep into trends, statistics, and correlations between various factors of the Top 100 bestselling books for the month of February 2023. My data extends far beyond the Top 100 Tabletop Role-Playing Games, so future articles will depict other types of data.
This data provides insight into what the market and the community want. These stats show more than simply what books sell well on DTRPG. I provide details that point toward various trends. I also offer suggestions as to how you can take advantage of this information. Use this data to help formulate a business plan or marketing strategy.
Why the Top 100 Tabletop Role-Playing Games
DrivThruRPG provides relatively transparent stats on their sales. No, they don’t provide a CSV or a quarterly sales report, but they do provide tools to locate popular books based on similar qualities such as gaming mechanics or genre.
The obvious category to research is the Top 100 selling tabletop role-playing games on the DTRPG. To understand what makes TTRPG successful, we must take a magnifying glass to popular games. I’ve broken the wealth of data I collected into two categories. Book Details encompass soft data such as rank, title, publisher, author, artist, and rule system, Book Metrics which cover price, page count, file size, format, etc.
|Price||Page Count||File Size||Format||Last Updated||Title Added||Number of Other Titles|
Though I collected all of this data, I did not necessarily find trends related to each of these categories. However, knowing what does not correlate with success can be just as important as knowing what does.
Certain factors may not be worth consideration. On the other hand, you may also identify an underutilized tool. Either way, keep these data sets and mine for both what they do and do not say.
Rank Isn’t Everything
I analyzed the list of the Top 100 tabletop roll-playing games on DrivThruRPG, which is updated weekly. For the majority of February, “Mythic Game Master Emulator Second Edition” took the coveted number one spot, but that doesn’t necessarily make it the big winner.
Another metric worth examining is the number of times a publisher appears on the Top 100 list. Obviously, if a publisher manages to make the top selling list, then they know what they’re doing.
The following is a breakdown of publishers with multiple titles on the Top 100 board, and this is a comprehensive list. Only 16 publishers have more than 1 book ranking that high. These numbers tell an interesting story.
Tabletop Role-Playing Game Publishers
|Publisher||Number of titles on the top 100 list.|
|Free League Publishing||6|
|Catalyst Game Labs||5|
|Onyx Path Publishing||4|
|R. Talsorian Games Inc.||4|
|Sine Nomine Publishing||3|
|Cubicle 7 Entertainment Ltd.||3|
What does this data mean?
There are several interesting facts worth examining, but we should start with the cold, hard numbers. A total of 16 publishers have multiple books on the top 100 list. If you count up how many books came from these 16 heavyweights, the total comes to 56.
So over half the books on the top 100 list came from 16 publishers.
Keep in mind that 73% of the bestselling titles came from 44 publishers with only 1 book ranking that high. This means 56% of titles are produced by 27% of publishers. These numbers clearly shine a favorable light on these 16 publishers. They know the recipe for generating solid sales in this industry.
However, this data also shows that nearly 50% of the top-selling publishers only made it on the list with one book. Smaller companies have a real shot of making decent sales. If we saw something like 80% of the titles coming from 20% of the publishers, the barrier to entry would be much higher.
Tabletop Role-Playing Game Authors
For those of us who are interested in breaking into the tabletop role-playing business, another dataset is worth considering, the number of authors per book. Titles with only one credited author make up 39% of the top 100. Additionally, two authors titles makeup another 12%.
In other words, solo writers and small teams make up just over half of the top-selling authors for the month of February. Teams with three or more authors make up the other half. It stands to reason that a single person with a good idea has a shot at success.
Other Factors Must Be Considered
Remember, making sales is about more than just writing good content. Yes, quality merchandise needs to be the backbone of your business plan, but other factors must be considered. Marketing, social media management, community building, and professional networking represent a sizable portion of this puzzle. Research these tools in detail and consider how successful writers leverage them.
Being an independent writer doesn’t mean doing everything alone. Some solo writers receive help from a publisher or publishing groups. This means you could potentially sell your work to a publisher or work with several writers to create a publishing company while still maintaining control and soul authorship over your own content.
Marketing can be challenging for an individual. It takes time and research to develop that skill. However, working with a group of like-minded authors could distribute that workload around. They may all take turns writing copy for ads, social media posts, or even producing videos. This frees up each individual author to work on their own book.
Some of the publishing companies behind these solo-authored books may be a group of likeminded authors working together. It’s another Avenue worth thinking about, especially if you’re just starting out. A community really makes a difference.
I will write another article discussing the popularity of various core rules, but I also think it’s important to examine the game mechanics of the Top 100 tabletop role-playing games. This data can inform your marketing decisions and help you understand your competition.
Only 13 core rule systems dominate the top 100 list. Considering the relatively small sample size, that shouldn’t come as a surprise. It also shouldn’t be a surprise that Dungeons & Dragons 5e and OSR dominate the list.
D&D is the best-known brand in the Tabletop Role-Playing Game industry. Of course, 5e and OSR will be heavy hitters across all metrics, but this popularity can be a double-edged sword. We see high traffic and demand generated by these brands, but we also see high competition.
Getting your title to stand out amongst the sea of content in this niche will be your hill to climb. If 5e or OSR is your system, then write for these systems, but plan accordingly. Understand what your marketing plan needs to focus on and overcome.
Developing a plan?
When it comes to marketing Tabletop Role-Playing Games, it’s important to take specific market characteristics into consideration. Depending on whether you’re writing for a D&D core rule system or a smaller brand, your strategy may differ because of the size and nature of the market. To develop an effective business plan, you’ll need to account for several key factors.
With larger game brands, differentiating your work from other titles will be important. On the other hand, less trafficked brands have other pressure points to focus on. For those writing for smaller core rule systems, focusing on networking may be more useful. These are smaller communities that may not have as much material, so if you can get them hooked on your products, they’re recommendations will carry a lot of weight.
Tabletop Role-Playing Games produced
It’s no secret that regularly producing content for DriveThruRPG yields better results. Your brand stays fresher. So how many games do the top-selling publishers have on DTRPG? How prolific do you have to be in order to make the top 100 list?
Well, it’s a little surprising. If the greatest measure of success found on the top 100 list is the number of titles a publisher has on the list, then we find a diminishing of returns of around 500+ publications. However, a direct correlation between the number of published titles and success on DriveThruRPG does clearly exists.
What can we learn from this data?
There are a few interesting facts hidden in these stats. First, the majority of publishers really hitting the numbers on DriveThruRPG do so with less than 500 titles under their belt. Publishers with fewer than 100 titles even make up the single largest group. Yet again we see that there’s room at the top for the little guy, but you do have to put the work in.
Second, this proves what we already know. Discoverability is key to success. In the face of so many publishers and publications, a solo content creator faces an uphill battle, but this battle can be won. It is being won, and they’re earning that victory by building a strong brand.
You need to develop quality content, then develop some more, that then some more, and then (yep you guessed it) do it again. People need to recognize your name, and they need to see it associated with solid content.
What do I do next?
First, think deeply about this data. Think about your goals in the industry. Find a publisher that already reached those goals and study them. Try to understand how they did it. You don’t need to copy them. You need to understand the tools that they’ve mastered.
Second, when you’ve settled on your goals, figure out what kind of marketing you need to do. Are you competing in the D&D/OSR niche, or is your community smaller and more focused? Look at the other publishers in that same niche. What do their ads look like and where do they show up?
Use this data to give you a blueprint. It should provide borders and lines, but it’s up to you to fill in the details. Hell, you might even find a weak point in a wall somewhere and exploit it. You may spot a hole in the industry, a hole your book can fill.
Please be sure that this information only guides you on this path. Don’t let it dictate where your go. You need to write content that you enjoy writing. Your career in this industry won’t last if you end up hating your own content. This data must never tell you what to write.
The next article will dive into settings and genres.