RPGs – Is It The End?

About a month ago I did an article comparing the Web traffic of major RPG companies and communities using Alexa data.  It was interesting to see how they ranked, but of more concern was that traffic appeared to be spiraling downwards hard.  I just went and re-checked and that trend continues; over the last three months all sites are down and some sites are down by more than 70%!

What

A quick rundown on traffic change over the last 3 months –

From looking at the graphs, a couple of these properties had a big spike in the June-July timeframe that is hurting their compare.  Take a look at Palladium.  But even without that they are way down off pre-spike numbers, more than 50% easily, and continuing to decline at a good rate.

Heck, even looking through the smaller properties, the best showing is Flames Rising, only dropping by 3%.

This seems to be to be a crisis.  At the company I work for, a large computer-related manufacturing concern, we know that Web traffic is directly proportional to our company revenue over time.  If our traffic was down 50% our CFO would shit a brick.  We’re down a little due to the economy, but nothing near this amount.

Why

Why is traffic to every RPG company and community site dropping?

It’s not the school year starting, if you go look at the maximum data Alexa will give you there’s no similar drop in 2007.  Basically, everything was doing fine, slipping slightly, until June-July 2008.  Some properties got a bump then, but ever since everyone from Wizards to dungeonmastering.com is in a death spiral.

Is it “the economy?”  Well, despite all of the furor in the media (in  my opinion this is a largely manufactured crisis by the current administration, YMMV) major sites aren’t going down.  dell.com is down just 2%, for example.  You could argue that the economic problems would have a more vigorous effect especially on discretionary/entertainment spending.  But I’m not seeing that anywhere else.  Check out amazon.com‘s stats – they are down only 11%.  (They had a June bump too!)   worldofwarcraft.com is down 25%, with no June bump.  Heck, fandango.com (movie ticket sales) is up 14%.  So there is certainly some slippage overall, and you could chalk up some 10-20% of it to the economy if you wanted to (though given some of the stats I’m seeing I think that’s more excuse than reality), but why is it is much worse in the RPG realm?  Also, the dropoff has been in progress for a while and the current “economic crisis” really just got sprung on us in September.

Is this Alexa data accurate?  I don’t know, I’m going to inquire especially because that “June bump” is appearing across all kids of industries.  Hey RPG publishers out there, are you seeing these kinds of dropoff in your site traffic yourselves, and are you seeing it correlate to revenue as well?

Is it “4e’s fault?”  Well, you could interpret the June-July bump as interest in 4e and the slide afterwards on Wizards and 4e-related properties as 4e not having staying power.  But all the smaller publishers are down too.  You could argue that 4e coming out has had a “chilling effect” on other folks who don’t want to release product in competition with the 900-pound gorilla.  (If that is the case, it’s time for folks to reverse their thinking, because apparently there’s a huge gap right now.)  I’m not sure this is the reason.  There are some possible data points for it – like that the indie/3p stuff is also down but not down as sharply, and communities focused on non-4e stuff aren’t droppping as badly (paizo.com, Flames Rising, rpg.net).  But I’m seeing the “June bump” on amazon.com as well, and RPGs have to be a very small part of their sales.

Whether it’s 4e-caused or not, I do see a dropoff in RPG product being released.  I heard of little from Gen Con that interested me, and every week I go and vainly click on the links in my blogroll to see if anyone’s releasing any new RPG stuff.  I just got a new Game Trade magazine and the games section seems to be very, very heavily weighted to board, card, and minis games with maybe 20 new RPG products for the rest of the year.  In fact, the companies that seem to be releasing the most product – Paizo, Mongoose – are doing pretty well (though Wizards and White Wolf have a good number of releases too, and are sucking).  Heck, I’m even getting grumpy because lots of my blogroll-buddies haven’t updated anything in a while (Trollsmyth and dungeon_grrl, get on it!).

What do you think – check out the data yourself.  Is it waning interest, the economy, 4e ruining the industry, what?

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12 responses to “RPGs – Is It The End?

  1. I don’t think there is anything new in the industry now to stimulate growth. 4e turned a complicated game into a funky morass. Most of the other sites listed are re-treading stuff that’s been around for ages and cater to those ho already game. Where is the new system to bring new folks in? Where is a $15 new RPG system that is simple and fun to bring new people in? The industry seems to keep grafting chrome onto the same frame and wonders why the dump truck sized behemoth isn’t getting any buyers? really? Take a look at the video game industry-the hardcore big games at $60-$70 are still huge, but casual games in general are the money maker. Low development cost, easy distribution, and pick up and play mechanics are becoming the standard. My mom who never played video games, now plays these simple games online like a fiend.

    It’s not rocket science to see the by lawyers for lawyers system text books of “fun” are at the root of the problem.

  2. @Fenway5 – I think there’s definitely some truth to that. It’s the same disease that has corrupted the rest of entertainment – all the movies that come out are “Something V”. (Yes, a new Indiana Jones is in the concept stage even now.) Comics are endless retreads of the same old proper names just different (In my same recent FLGS run, I got a free handout of Marvel’s “March on Ultimatum Saga,” which was a long painful plot rehash of “this universe’s” take on every single old hero/villain, it gave me a headache.

    Many of the games out now are retreads, it’s true. Mongoose Traveller, more Call of Cthulhu, D&D 4e. I love Call of Cthulhu, I have a metric ton of old stuff, but even I can’t get excited about yet another version even if it’s “somewhat different” (Trail of Cthulhu, Cthulhutech).

    I agree “that sucks” in the abstract, but it hasn’t hurt movies. And TV series are increasingly “noob-unfriendly” and require you to really know all of what’s come before, which is a move to the contrary of the “easy consumption” theory.

  3. To be honest, I don’t think it’s a bit issue.
    We’re following a hobby that is very much paper based, and I certainly spend more time in my local games shop (Or on the RPG Blogger network) finding out about new releases, add-ons and so, then I do on manufacturer’s websites.

    Doesn’t help that some manufacturers just have really bad websites which don’t really encourage you to visit them.
    Oh, and there might be a blip around the time Wizards revamped their websites. Think it was around June just as the 4e player guide launched.

  4. I don’t know that I trust Alexa’s numbers enough to hypothesize the demise of the cottage industry. Consider 3-month reach changes for other geeky/gaming sites:

    BoingBoing.net: -41%
    IGN.com: -33%
    GamingReport.com: -15%
    SCIFI.com: -31%
    Engadget: -52%

    If the Geek Infocalypse is upon us, then it’s taking out a lot more than just RPGs.

  5. Another factor worth considering is how Alexa gets its data. These numbers only describe how many people that have visited these sites and have the Alexa toolbar installed.

    In other words, there’s some heavy selection bias (i.e., people that know about Alexa and installed the toolbar). We also have no idea how large the sample size is relative to how much non-Alexa traffic for these websites.

  6. I think it’s just a temporary slump. Besides, Alexia only records data from certain people, and the software that Alexia uses is detected as spyware by many protective softwares out there. That can skew the numbers any direction. Of course, I could easily be wrong about that 😉

  7. All – although the Alexa traffic is only a sample based on browser toolbars, they have millions of installs out there and the data’s generally considered accurate until you’re below the top 100,000 sites, which a lot of these are (I delineate the two lists in my original article). I’d be a lot happier if someone who runs one of these sites chimed in and said “No, we’re not down even through Alexa shows us down 50%” or whatever.

    @Hammer – It’s not just manufacturers, but also community sites in here. rpgbloggers.com is down from .00016 to .00009 since my last article.

    @Kenneth – so the question is, are those sites really down, is the economy (or something) hosing all the geek stuff up?

  8. Oh, also, Alexa’s blog says that in April they changed to incorporate more than just the toolbar into their stats, though they’re unclear what these “other sources of data” are. The new rankings shouldn’t be responsible for the drop, though, as ranks were pretty solid through June-July.

  9. I don’t think that this is the equivalent of a gaming apocalypse, but I do think that it is comparable to the comic book boom & crash in the 90’s. For several reasons, competition with video games for one, probably contribute to any decline. However, I do tend to agree that games have just become too new user unfriendly. There isn’t any “great” systems out there for newbies. Nothing to really get excited about. Another contributing factor, possibly, is the fact that the RPG industry has failed to stay in step with current trends. Marketing for RPGs is next to nothing in terms of opening the hobby to new gamers. Those of us that have been playing for a while have seen almost everything and any excitement about new products is generally self generated. We create the buzz and keep it going until we get bored with it and move on. After that buzz, good or bad, dies down the product falls off the radar because it is the old guard buying and we already have a ton of books/games to play as it is. How can we not lose interest? Comics have been suffering in a similar way. Luckily for Marvel they got their heads out of their butts and realized the how to make those old characters new again to a new generation. Kids don’t wan’t comics anymore, they want movies and kids don’t want pen & paper RPGs, they want video games.

  10. Here Hammer…at least you have a local gaming store. If I have to travel more than 2 miles it aint local :p

    I have to agree with Matthew on how Alexa #’s are worked out. You also have to remember that Firefox 3 came out in June and it takes a while for people to get their toolbars and addons reinstalled. I’m still trying to find all my old addons as some didnt work after the FF update.

  11. I think it is mostly Alexa data at fault.

    All the sites I run are shown by Alexa as being down 15% – 20%. This isn’t reflected in the traffic I’m measuring.

    Such a huge drop across the board is nothing to with the economy. If 10% – 20% of net users had been driven off the net, we would see lots more obvious signs.

  12. OK, so sounds like Alexa has problems. I wonder if it’s disproportional though, or whether 10-20% is Alexa screwing around but high drops (like the 70%’ers) mean something? Ah well. I’ll go take Alexa to task, see what I can dig up.

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