The Business of RPGs
GAMA Recap
The Role of Computers in RPGs
Beyond the Game Table
Who are these people, anyway?
D&D and Novels: How Do They Work Together?
Just What Is the Open Gaming License?
The Role of Organized Play
Tools Rule!
The Role of Market Research
Focusing the New Forgotten Realms

The Business of RPGs
The Role of Market Research
By Cindi Rice
Senior Business Manager, Tabletop Roleplaying Games

When we formed the Roleplaying Games (RPG) Brand Management team several years ago, we took a hard look at our sales trends to determine what caused the declining revenues that led to the near-demise of TSR, Inc. We discovered several surprising things, but perhaps the most significant was that our customers -- you -- were unhappy with the direction our products were taking. We had been designing products for us, not for you, blissfully unaware of how that affected our sales.

Well, that’s not so hard to fix, right? We could just start designing the products that you want to buy. That seems easy enough.

Not exactly. Though we realized you were unhappy, we still didn’t know what you wanted. Millions of people played our games, but we had regular contact with less than 40,000 of them. How could we find out what the majority of our fans really wanted?

That’s where market research came in. The first step was a large study we conducted in 1999 to assess our overall customer base. This study collected information on 67,176 individuals and chose a sampling of 896 people to complete a more in-depth survey on their gaming interests and behavior. Among other findings, we learned that:

  • 3% of the U.S. population between the ages of 12 and 35 (approximately 2.8 million people) play paper-based tabletop roleplaying games (TRPGs) at least once per month.
  • 59% of monthly TRPG players (approximately 1.65 million) play Dungeons & Dragons at least once per month.

These first tidbits confirmed for us that we had a much larger customer base than we were actually reaching. With approximately 1.65 million D&D players out there, we should have been seeing much higher sales. We definitely needed to make some changes to bring the company back to health!

Most immediately, we had to find a way to appeal to the people who were playing our games but not purchasing any products. Unfortunately, we had no established line of communication with those customers. Thus, we started an advertising campaign in several mass-market magazines (including Maxim); we also created a "reengagement" strategy to bring those players back into our stores and make them care about our product lines again. This strategy included the creation of our upcoming Wheel of Time RPG, since research showed that lapsed customers were very interested in that brand.

Our surveys also revealed that:

  • 46% of D&D players (approximately 759,000) have acted as DM at least twice.
  • Dungeon Masters spend five times more money on TRPGs than do players.

This information told us our key customers were Dungeon Masters, and that to keep our business strong we should provide products that appeal to them. When we followed up with smaller studies, we learned that DMs specifically wanted tools to help them develop their own campaigns, and material they could easily adapt for their existing games, rather than detailed worlds and intricate storylines.

In addition, we discovered that TRPG players prefer games that offer the following attributes:

  • Strong characters and exciting story.
  • Opportunity for roleplaying.
  • Complexity that increases over time.
  • Involvement of strategy.
  • Use of imagination.
  • Competition.
  • Add-on sets or new versions available.
  • Mental challenge.

Next, we had to figure out how to ensure that all of our products offered each of these elements to some degree. Our product lines already contained most of these elements. We just had to try to emphasize them more. This meant highlighting the increasing complexity (level advancement and options), strategic elements (returning to grid and miniatures in combat), and competition (through RPGA). We also realized that D&D itself did not offer enough in the way of strong characters or stories, relying instead on campaign settings for these elements. In response, we created the iconic characters and adventure path for the core D&D game.

From this first market research report, we crafted the first draft of our current RPG business plan, which outlined how many products our customers wanted to buy each year, how much they wanted to spend, what they wanted those products to be about, and how we could make the overall RPG experience more engaging and satisfying for them. Since then, we have done two more in-depth studies, more than 25 customer response card surveys, and countless convention and web surveys. Now, each time we receive more data, we reevaluate our strategies and make any changes necessary to ensure the satisfaction of the largest number of consumers possible.

If you’d like to participate in future market research surveys, visit the Wizards of the Coast booth at Origins and Gen Con, and watch this website for upcoming polls.

Did you catch last month’s Business of RPGs article?
Find out why life just got tougher in the new Realms.


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