Monday, December 10, 2012

State of the Mongoose 2012

It's been a hellish week and a half now for my poor wife, who started December with a bad case of strep throat, and has since been to urgent care and then the ER multiple times. She's in general care at the hospital now under monitor, as the infection simply kept getting worse and worse. She looks like she may be on recovery now, but it was scary for a while there.

Aside from that, I thought I'd share this really interesting assessment of the gaming industry for 2012 from the Mongoose point of view located here. Matthew Sprange seems to be sticking a fork (mostly) in the print RPG industry. Not totally done....POD and electronic seems to be Mongoose's expectations for the future, so it sounds like they are joining Steve Jackson Games to some degree in the camp of "companies who have decided the time, cost and effort to figure out how to expand the hobby is too much effort" and instead will now focus on their shrinking base. At least, that's how I'm reading it.

On the one hand I think this is probably a pretty accurate perspective. Matt mentions an unnamed publisher who's sales matched one of the bigger guys. If the unnamed fellow is Mr. Goodman and the game is Dungeon Crawl Classics (which did indeed get some high sales marks) recently, and the competitor is D&D 4E, then I could see those numbers. If he'd have named them, and they were....say....Barbarians of Lemuria vs. Pathfinder, then I'd have been shocked and worried.

One thing he also mentions is the contraction and disappearance of hobby shops (or was that only discussed in the other forum section talking about the State of the Mongoose? Ah well, will check later). This, I think, is probably something publishers need to consider: they can get "the hardcore crowd" online, a handful of guaranteed sales, no problem....or they can have a meaningful venue to expand the audience from, but without physical locations for a traditionally very hands-on, physical hobby they're not going to get it. And unfortunately the hardcore base for RPGs is fairly enamored with PDFs as a medium, and generally somewhat asocial, so the concept of "face time" with a broader public that is already getting a ton of face time from other media is anathema.

In short: I wonder if the hobby's contraction is because its core is too out of touch with the idea of how to go about publicizing and grabbing a share of the larger, fresher crowd of non-RPGers (I say "non RPGers" because there are more gamers now than ever; just most of them aren't playing tabletop RPGs anymore).

Then again, maybe its the world of fiction as entertainment, we've been stretched pretty thin, and its just possible that only the very specialized crowd of gamers who like tabletop RPGs can keep it going in the face of much flashier and more accessible entertainment media like video games, which strike me as the top dog in terms of siphoning off potential new players. In 1980 when I started playing the video game competition was the TSR-80 and the Atari 2600. Today it's WoW, Rift, and Skyrim, which offer some remarkably compelling experiences with zero hassle.

Anyway, something to think about.


There are two additional thoughts I had on this subject.

First: I still wonder just how much of the print and even PDF share of the tabletop RPG market is reduced by PDF piracy. I still feel that the single greatest factor in the devaluing of RPGs boils down to the rampant and pervasive tendency for gamers to grab something to check it out for free. This is probably related to the issue of shovelware, and how the RPG hobby also has been known, in the past, to dump torrential levels of cheap and easy splatbooks and other products on the market that we might have been willing to buy in ages past "just because" but for which there simply is no longer any disposable income to toss toward now.

Second: this isn't meant as a knock on Mongoose, but I also have to wonder to what extent Mongoose Publishing's own perspective isn't skewed by the simple fact that too many years of known problems has left their reputation damaged over time, such that their dedicated fan base has contracted out of a lack of trust. I still believe in Mongoose and will support them on the Traveller books I want, and anything Legend of course (but see below)....but my FLGS won't even stock their games anymore because of the reputation from years past involving editing and printing issues; people just don't but the stuff they sell around here, basically (except Traveller, and even that has diminished). So I sometimes wonder if Mongoose's reputation doesn't make it look just a bit worse off than it might otherwise be.

On Legend...even as I read about their "Cities" plans, for example, I know, from seing Skaar, City of Orcs, that they are probably just looking to retool old minimal-quality D20 era books for Legend. Most of the Legend releases are just reprinted/reformatted Runequest MRQ books so far, too (and not even edited beyond the basics, judging from books like Pirates of Legend that have errors/omissions that go back to the original RQ version still intact for legend). And the Monsters of Legend missing traits gap, for example. I mean, Mongoose might be looking at a core base that is (like me) willing to overlook all of these issues for the good meat of their games. I think a larger body of tabletop gamers are not so willing to accept so many editing and quality control issues these days, and when Mongoose's reputation for more than six years now has been synonymous with "poor editing and high errata" among almost every gamer I know, that's got to have an effect on their sales over time.


  1. It is so strange. I read these 'Doom and Gloom' posts all the time while every statistical report shows the opposite.

    Tabletop gaming is stronger now than it has been in ages.

    See these:

    Now there are other articles, many from well known economic reporting websites, but they all say the same.

    In brief, tabletop has been rising in sales every year since 1999 and video games have been dropping since 2005.

    Here's one:

    and this one:

    Part of the problem stems from the idea that D&D = the market when that is no longer the case. RPGs have moved full circle back to a hobby business as opposed to an industry where millions of units have to be moved or it is a failure.

    Gaming is growing stronger everyday. It's just not consumer product anymore.

    So chin up and feel the goodness. Gaming is evolving and lots of interesting things are happening :)

    1. Thanks for the info and the links. This shows that maybe the "State of Mongoose" is a lot more about the state of that specific publisher than anything else....the idea I was entertaining that maybe, just possibly, Mongoose has burned out of its goodwill over time, and that the contraction they feel is due to lack of consumer confidence in their product (also, lack of visibility; it's really hard to find their stuff if you aren't actively searching for it).

      That gets back to my peeve about Steve Jackson Games, too....I really feel like GURPS languishes because SJG decided to let it shrink, instead of trying to get it to grow. A lot of GURPS fans, myself included, feel that they made a deliberate decision to focus on a core and not take any risks expanding their market with the game, basically.

      I guess in the end, as you say, its better to look at the bright side about gaming as a hobby at large; it's still growing, even if it is changing.

  2. The greatest hurdle the older companies face is one that they don't see in many cases.

    Look at Paizo. Award winning products, best selling RPG in the US and the most amazing thing? They GIVE the game away for FREE. You don't have to purchase anything (except maybe dice...or just get a roller free for your internet device).

    That makes no sense...right?

    Why do they succeed? Because their fans LIKE them, better yet LOVE them...listen to a podcast or watch a video with Paizo interacting with their's like a Nuremberg rally.

    Even when you visit the dark recesses of the net where the file swapping/torrent scene is running they are the only company where a note will be attached to look at the pdf and go BUY it (or buy something) from Paizo because 'they deserve your support and they are a good company who make great products'. I have never seen that anywhere for any other product or company. It's amazing.

    The Kickstarter/Pre500 type programs I think are going to play a huge part in the future of commercial material. Things will calm down and it won't be as easy as it is now but when someone wants to sell a new product there is no better way to find out if you are doing it right than to have those types of programs where fans 'put their money where their mouth is'.

    Even Wargame/Conflict Simulations have made a huge comeback and for totally different reasons. The 3-D aspect of boardgaming makes it much easier to sell than to pirate. You can't pdf wooden cubes and I read a forum post by someone who was looking for pdfs of Arkham Horror. Everybody just started laughing (with over 4,000 color components...seriously...just buy it fool).

    It's a very exciting time to be involved in gaming. From free games to games that cost $99.99 the market place is hopping (the $99.99's that come to mind first are SPQR Deluxe from GMT Games and Field Commander Napoleon from DVG-and they (online shops) can't keep the Napoleon title in stock (I have missed it twice now...come on Christmas :).