My passion for the TTRPG industry started at age 12. I fell in love with Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, but my interest didn’t stop there. Over the years, I found myself devouring rulebook after rulebook as if they were dime-store novels. From time to time, I would take breaks from the hobby. Life often finds a way to interrupt your fun. But I would eventually return to my favorite pastime. It’s a hard habit to kick.
As an adult, I’ve taken a more critical approach to the industry. I’ve seen trends change over the years, I’ve seen companies open and close, and recently I’ve seen a boom in popularity. It’s time to take a closer look at how the industry works. To this end, I gathered an enormous amount of market data from the monolith DriveThruRPG.
I used a web scraper to scour any useful detail from the TTERPG’s industry’s largest marketplace, and I’ve gathered some interesting insights. Many seem to share my questions about the industry, about what it takes to make it as a TTRPG designer. Which genres are the most popular? What type of books garners the most sales? Who are the heavy hitters and what can we learn from them?
I found a few answers…
TTRPG Market Data
I scraped data on a wide variety of subjects and various categories. I’ve examined genre, product types (Core Rulebooks, non-core rulebooks, maps and play aids, etc.), and top-performing products. I examined these groups for trends, to confirm or refute widely held beliefs, and to identify successful publishers for further research.
I’ve collected a lot of information. Too much to discuss in a single article, so I will distribute my findings over multiple posts. This article will break down the type of statistics I’ve gathered and give a broad, high-level perspective on the data. After talking to other creators and studying the TTRPG community, I believe this is a good place to start.
Future posts will take a close look at particular facets important to Indie game designers. Articles will cover how the various genres compared against each other. Then I will place a magnifying glass on each of the 7 genres.
DriveThruRPG offers customers the ability to filter through other types of relevant categories as well. For instance, “Product Type” is just as important to a writer as the genre. I will, of course, write an in-depth article on each of the 6 product types.
Maps and Play Aids
RPG Media and Software
Other Tabletop Games
Finally, I will examine titles bearing the Community Content stamp. I’ll explain what this stamp means and how the data can be used by indie game designers. The next few weeks will be filled with relevant information tailored to help give aspiring tabletop role-playing game writers insight into their craft.
Game Master Monday stars actor/director/writer Grant Nordine as Game Master. The show features a new one-shot with a new system and a new cast every episode. Everything from big-name titles (DND, Pathfinder, Call of Cthulhu) to indie RPGs are featured to show how ANY system can tell a fun, exciting, dramatic, and hilarious story.
TTRPG Statistics and Analysis
From each category, I collected information on the top-performing 1000 products for the month of April. I put an emphasis on products because DriveThruRPG doesn’t just sell books. They actually have an interesting catalog. Which I’ll discuss at length in a future article.
From the 7000 titles across the 7 genres, the 6000 products from the 6 different product types, and the 1000 books categorized as “Community Content”, I gathered data relevant to anyone interested in writing tabletop role-playing games. From each title, I scraped the following information.
Sale Price (if any)
core rule system
number of reviews
number of discussions in thread
date of the last update
days on DriveThruRPG
number of other titles produced by the publisher
minimum number of sails based on metals
minimum revenue based on metals
There’s a lot to go over…
This information is a little tricky and could be misleading, so I want to be very descriptive in how I gathered my insights regarding the number of sales of each title. To be 100% clear, I do not have the exact number of sales of any book save the ones I have personally published. This is not public information. There is no way to gather that information without simply asking each individual publisher, which I did not do.
However, DriveThruRPG does award each title a metal when it reaches a sales threshold. For instance, when a title has sold 51 copies, it is awarded a Copper Metal. If you ever wondered what those metals represent, it’s a measure of popularity based on sales. The gap between thresholds drastically grows wider as you ascend in metals.
By factoring the minimum number of sales necessary to obtain each metal, you can find the minimum number of sales for each title. If a title has a Copper Metal, we know it sold at least 51 copies. A title awarded the Silver Metal sold a minimum of 101 copies, and so on.
TTRPG Sales Data
Building a Horde of Gold
Using the metals awarded to each title, you can calculate the minimum revenue generated. If we know a particular book with a Copper Metal sold at least 51 copies, then we simply have to multiply its price by 51. Therefore, a book with a Copper Metal priced at $5.00 pulled in a minimum of $255.00 in gross income.
Keep in mind, this is gross income, not profit. Each of these titles has an accredited artist, and many books have multiple authors. This is also not accounting for the cut DriveThruRPG takes from each sale.
An even more important fact to keep in mind is that this information is a snapshot of a single month. We’re not looking at “the books”. Publishers can change their prices, offer sales, or participate in large-scale discounts offered by DriveThruRPG. The sales data provided by my research should not be viewed as a conclusive analysis of revenue.
I want to be very, very clear on this point. This information will not tell you what each publisher is making. It will give you a general, ballpark idea of the type of success each publisher and title enjoys. My sales data offers a big-picture perspective. We’re working with broad strokes and trends, not pinpoint data. I implore you to not get this confused.
If you’re interested in more of this kind of content, consider buying me a Kofi. I’d like to dive deeper into TTRPG market trends, but some of the software needed to collect this data requires subscriptions.
Anything you’re willing to donate towards the project would be greatly appreciated.
TTRPG Market Trends by Genre
Now that you understand what data was collected and how sales numbers and revenue are examined, let’s take a look at the trends.
The following charts illustrate the number of books within each genre.
It’s a surprise to no one that Fantasy drastically exceeds all other TTRPG genres. Though I’ve noticed many indie RPG designers were under the incorrect impression that Fantasy made up 80% to 90% of the market. In actuality, the fantasy genre teeters between 39% and 40%.
This is still a substantial portion of the market. The next largest genre, Science Fiction, makes up 16% of the TTRPG genre pie. That’s less than half the size controlled by Fantasy.
Obviously, Dungeons & Dragons is responsible for a sizable portion of this discrepancy. It is unquestionably the most popular tabletop role-playing game in the world, but there’s another factor at play.
D&D is also the oldest tabletop role playing game. It has a legacy of diehard fans dating back to the 70s and 80s. Though DriveThruRPG only dates back to 2001, Dungeons & Dragons enjoyed years of dominating the industry.
Legacy can Skew the Numbers
That legacy can paint an inaccurate picture of the market today. The Fantasy genre was an overwhelmingly dominating force between 2001 and 2010. However, interests may have shifted in the last 10 years. Unfortunately, the disproportionate amount of D&D content from the initial 10 years would remain on the site and continue to skew the numbers. Even if other genres gain popularity, it’s unlikely we would be able to understand these trends by simply examining the volume of content within each genre.
In order to get a more accurate picture of consumer interests, we would need to track the sales of each genre. I will be taking a close look at this data in the article focused on genre popularity. You can expect that article within the next week.
I’ll be listing links to future articles at the bottom of this post.
These articles will narrow down the data and focus on key areas like genre and rule system.
DriveThruRPG offers a plethora of unique gaming systems. Out of 6000 books, I tracked 119 rule systems. Many of them fell under the category “Other Unique System”. I also noticed a substantial trend of mislabeled books. This issue will be explored in future articles but for now, let’s take a broad, high-level look at the variety of game systems.
Because of the sheer volume, I separated out what I consider to be among the top-performing rule systems. These core rules had 50 or more products on one of the top 1000 lists. I identified 21 core rule systems that fell into this category. They are…
BRP (Basic Roleplaying)
Apocalypse World Engine
Year Zero Engine
d100 / d100 Lited100
Shadow of the Demon Lord
The Problem with D&D
Dungeons & Dragons presents unique challenges in terms of categorization. It is obviously the single most utilized core system on DriveThruRPG. Moreover, other publishers made the D&D SRD the backbone of their own core rule books. Worse yet, there are multiple editions with completely unique characteristics.
In order to obtain an actionable data set, I separated D&D into 2 major categories, D&D 5e and D&D OSR. D&D 5e products (settings, supplements, modules, etc.) are marketed for use with 5th edition. The D&D OSR category are products built with older editions in mind. These titles are meant to be used with the original Dungeons & Dragons or Advanced Dungeons & Dragons.
Anything bearing the tag OSR and does not attach the brand Dungeons & Dragons to its categorization has been grouped into a single category. There are several core rule systems that fall under this banner. Rule systems with the OSR tag and have less than 50 titles listed in the top 1000 titles of any genre or product type, will still be counted as OSR.
Many core rule systems fall under the OSR umbrella. Most of them are easy to learn, fast-paced, and brutal. The Old School Revival community enjoys trying out and supporting new systems. They’re not afraid to try something new or jump into a game they’ve never played before. When you break down the numbers, it’s clear that this category has a dedicated and substantial fan base.
What Comes Next?
Let’s dive into the dungeons of the TTRPG industry. By exploring the murky world of data analysis, we can gain valuable insight and level up our craft. Fantasy may be the dominant genre, but what’s the fastest-growing genre? D&D 5E may be the industries Goliath, but what rule system best fits the role of David?
This information has been available for years, it just needed somebody to scoop it up and sort through it. Future articles will be tailored to help designers formulate business plans, marketing strategies, and potential design choices. I’m not looking to tell you what type of book to write. I want to describe the battle map so you can formulate a strategy.
The next article will focus on genre. It will discuss what rule systems are most popular within the various 7 listed genres. I will identify the best-performing publishers in those categories and analyze their strategies. If there’s something specific you would like explored and discussed, please leave a comment or send me an email.
Until the next article, keep writing, keep imagining, and keep rolling the dice.
What is the most popular tabletop role playing game genre? Which TTRPG genre sells the most copies? What is the easiest genre to find success in? In this article, we’ll examine the numbers and find answers.