Dungeons & Dragons has long been synonymous with role-playing games. The brand’s fame has traditionally helped it get the lion’s share of sales, leaving small publishers and independent authors to fight for crumbs. That all changed in January when publisher Wizards of the Coast, a subsidiary of game and toy giant Hasbro, attempted to change the Open Gaming License (also known as OGL). This attempt turned out to be a huge failure, and now its competitors are reaping the rewards.
At least one board game publisher, Kobold Press, reported that its sales quadrupled in January. Goodman Games, on the other hand, said its sales this month were the best since 2003. Nearly all other publishers that responded to our request for data reported sales at least twice what they expected, and some of them sold out nearly their entire year’s stock in less than three weeks.
“I’m sure you’ve heard this joke before,” wrote Magpie Games co-founder and CEO Mark Diaz Truman. “We indie designers have spent the last 20 years trying to get D&D fans to try something different and Wizards of the Coast did it in a month!”
OGL has been around for over two decades. It provides the legal basis for people to create their own tabletop RPGs alongside D&D. But the proposed changes to the OGL instantly created hostility between Wizards and the community. The fan backlash caused a stir in the international press, and an organized boycott eventually convinced the toy and game giant to back off.
In those few weeks, buyers spent an unusually large amount of money investing in competitors. Paizo, publisher of the popular Pathfinder and Starfinder games, announced that it has sold an “8-month supply” of Pathfinder core rules. Chaosium, the publisher of Call of Cthulhu, has also said that it is running out of stock several months in advance and has already received several new batches of books from its publishing partners.
Digital formats, which D&D has been reluctant to offer for a long time, are also gaining popularity.
“We are seeing a big surge in digital sales across all of our games and are seeing huge interest in each of our game systems,” Hunters Entertainment creative director Knoxweiler Burf wrote, noting the award-winning Alice Is Missing and Ragnarok.
Green Ronin (Blue Rose, The Expanse Roleplaying Game) and Free League Publishing (Mörk Borg, The One Ring, Blade Runner: The Roleplaying Game) reported that their January sales more than doubled. Evil Hat Productions (Blades in the Dark, FATE) also stated that sales “almost doubled from the previous month”.
“If you look back into January itself,” said co-founder Fred Hicks, “you can see which day [Wizards] crap myself (my birthday, thanks guys!) and how every day has gone up since then.”
Some indie developers are also taking advantage of the sudden jump in momentum to negotiate licensing deals and promotions that are creator-friendly, trying to attract new game developers as well as new customers.
“We really had a big splash [продаж] across the board,” said Chris Birch, co-founder of Modiphius (Fallout and Dune TTRPG). “At the same time, we launched our own World Builders Community Content Program, supporting creators to “become our future competitors” through a curated, supported program offering free marketing, workshops, free art packs and more through [DriveThruRPG]. This program received a huge response, and many authors who previously worked on 5th edition indie projects have come to us.”