July 19, 2017 by redben
It’s an exciting time of year for industry watchers, as ICv2 has just released the latest issue of their Internal Correspondence magazine. This one is the second of the two which are usually published each year. It puts some meat on the bones of the survey of the North American tabletop market in the previous year, as well as updating the sales charts for products sold via hobby stores.
The survey covers companies, distributors, stores, public accounts, and crowd funding figures, to estimate the size of the tabletop gaming market in North America. ICv2 have been able to track the astonishing year-on-year growth of tabletop gaming since 2008 through this survey and track trends within the industry also. Although it includes mass market sales, it excludes mass market, ‘non-hobby’ games such as Monopoly and Scrabble.
The headline is that the market growth shows no sign of slowing down, with the consistent growth of around 20% per year being maintained in 2016. ICv2 estimated growth of 21% last year, bringing the overall estimated value of the market up to $1.44 billion.
Collectable games remain by far the biggest sellers and account for a little over half that total. Magic remains the king of the hobby market, though the year belonged to Pokémon, which capitalised on its 20th anniversary and the success of Pokémon Go to have a storming year, blowing past Yu-Gi-Oh! to take second place on the back of sales which may even have exceeded the height of the Pokémon boom of the late-90s.
The new kid on the collectable block is FFG’s Star Wars: Destiny, which has quickly established itself as the number four collectable game. Destiny has been plagued with supply issues, with the first set, in particular, being very difficult to find. Even the second set, which had a much bigger print run, was still being sold as fast as it was coming into stock.
Our very own Dawn had to buy some whilst at Expo, so difficult has it been to find in the US. As ICv2 don’t break down revenue by game, it’s tough to know just how far behind the big three that Destiny is, and whether if supply had been able to meet demand, it would have been a threat to them.
There’s growth in every category, with the fastest growing market being role-playing games, though this should be tempered by the fact it is also by far the smallest category, accounting for just $45 million. D&D had a strong year and put more daylight between it and its nearest competitors.
Non-collectable card and dice games were the next biggest area of growth, not least because of growing sales in mass market channels. Cards Against Humanity remains popular, and Codenames has established itself as a consistent big seller.
The hobby board game market has tripled in size in just the last three years and has now left miniature gaming in its dust as the second biggest revenue generator. Although, at $305 million, it’s still less than half the revenue generated by collectable games.
After plateauing in 2014 at $125 million, miniature gaming has had a strong couple of years to break the $200 million barrier for the first time in 2016. However, it is the slowest growing area of the market at 17% last year.
A note of caution is sounded by ICv2, who note that whilst the market is continuing to grow, the pace of new releases is now outstripping this growth. It is leading to hobby stores seeing shorter and shorter shelf-lives for new games, with even evergreen sellers starting to suffer, though ICv2 do speculate that evergreens may be transitioning more of their sales to mass market channels.
The new issue of Internal Correspondence also gives the top sellers charts for Spring 2017. Whilst the survey covers all revenue generated by hobby games in North America, it’s important to note that these charts are only for sales in hobby stores. They exclude all sales in mass market channels, speciality stores (such as video game stores), and all direct sales.
It should come as no surprise to find that Magic, Pokémon, Yu-Gi-Oh!, and Star Wars: Destiny are the top selling collectable games. Nor that D&D is the top selling RPG. Moving on.
The hobby board game market seems to belong to Scythe, who in addition to picking up a swathe of awards has improved from #2 at the end of last year to take the top spot in 2017. Designer, Jamey Stegmaier recently announced that the game had gone past 100,000 sales. Bear in mind this is a game which had almost 18,000 backers on Kickstarter before even making it to retail.
Alessio Cavatore’s Labyrinth is proving to be a big success and holds the #4 spot. Kennerspiel des Jahres finalist, Terraforming Mars, has sorted out some of its supply issues to crack the top 10 for the first time at #7.
Another game held back by supply issues was Arkham Horror: The Card Game, though it still jumped straight to #4 on the non-collectable card and dice chart upon its release late last year. Whilst it has by no means solved those issues, greater availability has seen it take the #1 spot, the only one of FFG’s living card games to make the top ten.
ICv2 do note that Codenames, which has been knocked down to #2, would still be #1 if mass market sales were included. With Marvel and Disney reskins and a two-player version on the horizon, the future looks very bright for Codenames.
X-Wing retains the top spot over 40K in miniature games chart. This is probably the most misleading chart as since X-Wing took #1 around the time The Force Awakens was released, it has led some people to believe it’s now the biggest selling minis game. As a significant amount of 40K sales are excluded due to the chart only reflecting sales in North American hobby stores, 40K is still likely the biggest seller once all sales are taken into account.
Jumping straight in at #3 is Nolzur’s Marvelous Miniatures, a line of unpainted D&D minis from WizKids. Star Wars: Armada has made its way back into the top 5 after having dropped out last time. FFG did release a campaign earlier this year which has revived interest in Armada in my local area, so it wouldn’t surprise me if this is the reason for its resurgence.
Warmachine has found itself pushed down from #3 to #5 as a result, and the two lines which drop out are Age of Sigmar and Hordes.
Malifaux and Infinity are unsurprisingly noted as lines doing well outside the top 5, though more surprising is Knight Models’ DC lines, as these seem to have struggled to get adequate distribution in North America. One line not performing as well as expected is RuneWars, which has struggled on release. It may be that FFG are discovering why GW got out of the rank & file business, although with only two playable armies at this point there’s still time for the game to turn things around.
I’ll finish with some thoughts on where these figures indicate the industry might be going. As tabletop gaming sales increase in mass channels, which favour lower price point products that are easy to pick up and play such as Codenames, Catan, and Cards Against Humanity, and a glut of new releases fight for shelf-space in hobby stores, the market seems like it will be less and less favourable to ‘long tail’ product lines which require ongoing sales from ongoing releases (and the shelf space to match), which makes the miniature game industry less competitive against card and board games.
Even games such as RuneWars and A Song of Ice & Fire, which are packaged as board games with pre-assembled plastics, will still require a lot of shelf space to keep the multiple armies in stock which are necessary to keep the game playable for a local scene.
When these games are fighting against the latest big box board game releases, which need less shelf-space and can survive on a shorter shelf life, and consumers are increasingly burning through new releases to keep up with the market, then it wouldn’t surprise me to see more and more miniature games from larger companies migrate to a self-contained big box format.
What are your thoughts on this growth in the industry?
"...the market seems like it will be less and less favourable to ‘long tail’ product lines which require ongoing sales from ongoing releases (and the shelf space to match), which makes the miniature game industry less competitive against card and board games."