Thursday, April 26, 2012

Wondering

There seems to be this persistent notion online that Second Edition AD&D was the best-selling edition of D&D ever. Do people believe this because it's their favorite edition, because there were so many products for it, or for some other reason? I have no particular love for 2e, it's true, but neither do I hate it. Even so, the idea that it was the best-selling edition of the game seems, in light of the facts, highly unlikely.

43 comments:

  1. I thought 3.0 outsold all the previous editions. But I can't find any support for it.

    Are we counting total sales of all products? Or core books? Or "people playing"?

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  2. Frank Mentzer claims that his box set series was the best selling version of D&D of all time, but then he's not exactly an unbiased source for that.  He also doesn't have any numbers to back it up (or he's not able to disclose them if he does).

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  3. Perhaps because it was the edition that TSR overcommitted to - the adverts for 2e were everywhere, you couldn't eascape 2e adverts all over comics and magazines at the time. And I can see a line of reasoning that runs that, even though it ended badly, TSR's overestimation of suitable print runs was surely based on the success of early 2e products.

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  4. My - off the top of my head - guess would be that red box basic would be the best ever seller, simply on the basis that it was sold in toy shops.

    Of course, 2e was the edition that really began to show up in 'ordinary' book shops, too - at least here in the UK.

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  5. I don't know if it was the best selling version. The public view may be skewed by the enormous quantity of products published for this version. It was also the version most people associate with the immensely popular Forgotten Realms, and that left a mark in the public perception.

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  6. I don't know if it was the best selling version of the game, but the public view may be skewed by the enormous quantity of products published. It is also the version associated with the immensely popular Forgotten Realms, and that left a mark.

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  7. Matthew James StanhamApril 26, 2012 at 8:57 AM

    It sold plenty of material, that was the problem, too much material no main big sellers to compete with the original PHB/DMG. Last time I looked at sales speculations it was thought that the editions sold roughly equally, but the amount of effort that went into 2E was vastly more, meaning the profits were significantly less.

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  8. I think this is perception based on the proliferation of settings and supporting products.

    I agree with pornokitsch that 3.0/3.5 would seem to be the best-selling edition, especially if we include third party support via the OGL.

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  9. I'm with Jeremy.  There were so many obscure setting books, splat books, and optional rules tomes that people conclude it had to sell the best. 

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  10. Well I guess it depends on "best selling", I bet we could massage the definition so that every edition was the best selling in some way.  Most products over all, most products over x period of time, quickest selling in the first year, most $$.  I am sure 2nd edition fits one of those categories.
     

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  11. I seem to recall reading a pretty thorough debunking of the notion that 3e sold better than all previous editions, but I can't remember where. Regardless, I believe WotC later claimed that 4e outsold 3e, too, so I'm guessing "best selling" is a variable concept.

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  12. Indeed. I suspect the notion of "best selling" is vague enough that one can easily shoehorn whatever one wishes into and still be "right" in some sense of the word.

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  13. I guess it depends on what you define as "best selling edition". For core rules, I've seen a  number of exTSR folks state that Mentzers Red Box was hands down to biggest seller. In terms of shear volume of books sold, including core, splat, misc, etc, I would lean towards 2e. But my history with 3e is non-exisitant, so I might be wrong on that piece. There are some interesting print run numbers here:

    http://www.acaeum.com/library/printrun.html

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  14. Those who really know aren't talking, but the best evidence I've been able to accumulate over the years points to 1e, Mentzer Red Box, and 3e as the three biggest selling editions there have been in terms of volume. But 2e was around for quite a long time and I suppose it's possible that even though it never had as big a peak as the others mentioned it did as well or better through sheer year-over-year sales.

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  15. I haven't heard claims that 2E was the best selling edition in terms of the core rules, but I've certainly seen claims that it was the edition with the most books published for it (whether anyone bought those books is another matter).
     
    There was an ENWorld thread a few years ago with a bunch of interesting graphs (one with total RPG books per year, one with setting-specific stuff separated out, one with novels included):
     
    http://www.enworld.org/forum/general-rpg-discussion/264393-road-not-taken-what-if-there-had-been-no-d-d-4th-edition.html

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  16. I think the order of sales is something like this...

    1. Basic D&D (Mentzer)
    2. AD&D 1e
    3. D&D 3e
    4. AD&D 2e
    5. D&D 4e

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  17. Might we say that 2E was the most "impactful" edition of D&D?  Perhaps reaching the mainstream in the 80's and opening up fantasy role playing games?

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  18. i'd find it hard to believe, in UNITS, that any edition during the Home-Video-Game-Brain paradigm outsold the "D&D fad" era. 2E's launch still had some wiggle room to capture the remaining/residue of that previous era for sure. id assume the black covered books did way worse than the original 2E core books.

    at the end of the day it really doesnt matter. we all know this industry is a struggle and fringe market. you keep it alive out of love.

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  19.  The most impactful would still be Mentzer's red box selling in toy shops... IMHO

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  20. Any surmising over the sales of any edition of D&D is nigh impossible to perform accurately.

    I am still confused as to what the exact public opinion of 2e really is.  The most vocal people on the internet make it sound like 2e is the "red-headed stepchild" of D&D.  But I know there are lots of people, myself included, who when they think of D&D they think of 2e AD&D.  Hell, according to Mentzer Basic D&D was the best sold version of D&D, yet it was years before I even discovered Basic even existed.  Before, I thought there was just 1st (in which I categorized Original, thinking 1e AD&D was just an expansion to that), 2nd, 3rd, and now 4th.

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  21. I definitely remember seeing more product available for 2nd Edition.  So, as several people have already said, it depends on if you are talking core rules or overall product lines.

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  22. Yup, Morgan. That's just how I'd rank the sales success of D&D too.

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  23. True. Because that's when D&D stopped being some esoteric insider game for "the initiated" and could instead be learned and played by everyone.

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  24. Where can we get sales figures?  I think that is what we need, along with population figures to create sales/person scores which we can then objectively compare.  Isn't everything else speculation?

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  25.  Ah, but when TSR started to depend on D&D 2e, it only destroyed itself. So by that measure, I highly doubt that 2e was the most successful edition.

    OD&D (the version of The Game with the lowest quality) was instrumental in building both the D&D franchise and the industry itself.

    D&D Basic (the "red box" version of the game) was responsible for spreading both D&D itself and roleplaying per se amongst the cultures of the world, making TSR an highly successful multi-million corporation. How many (non-computer/video) games do you know that actually are made into a movie, for crying aloud? Where's MONOPOLY: THE MOVIE, for instance?

    Whereas D&D 2e put out many books, campaign settings, source books and several computer games. But the moment TSR made it its main product (to the point of stealing the Mystara setting from D&D Basic), it basically build its own tomb.

    Not so "successful", was it?

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  26. This page at Acaeum (http://www.acaeum.com/library/printrun.html) has some figures for print runs. A WotC employee said that they were selling 150-200k PHB a year during 3E, which seems to ring true from other stuff I've read over the years.

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  27.  Monopoly is in the works. Ridley Scott was attached at one point, and given the success of Battleship I still wouldn't be surprised to see it.

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  28. I've always been firmly in the camp that sees 2e in the 'red-headed stepchild' camp.
    Then again, I could be biased as it's the only version of D&D I play and encourage others to play.

    If you look at the amount of fan service each edition gets online, I'd say that 3e is the clear winner, though, that might not correlate to sales.

    At any rate, in my neck of the woods, the only people who play 2e are the people I DM for. I came to the realization long ago that I will never again be a player in the game I love.

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  29. Fixed link? Print Run

    2E hardcover, (wording is vague if this is actually hardcovers)
    170,000 units for 1st year

    3E hardcover (pre 3.5), thinks they are selling
    150,000 to 200,000 units per year

    1E DM Guide, first print run
    40,000
    second print run
    40,000
    third print run
    40,000

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  30. I did some comparison between the editions, and I was surprised by how much of my ingrained DMing rules actually stem from 2nd edition. There are quite a few unique rules to that edition that are not represented in the others. I did a comparison of Initiative Movement and Healing. In each case, 2E stands out from the others. I found only 4E stands out more (as it is a different game really).

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  31.  2E spawned a number of incredibly popular novel series and opened the flood gates for the SSI Gold Box computer games. I'd say 2E had the most broad media blitz and thus is likely to have touched, in some medium or another, more individuals than any other singular incarnation of the game.

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  32. Don't forget, Downfall was also made into a movie!

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  33. There are any number of ways to judge the "success" of an edition, but the one I'd fall back on are sales of the baseline rulebook: PHBs or starter boxes. If you count 3 and 3.5 as the same edition, then the combined 3/3.5 PHB sales easily make it the top-selling hardcover.

    The product that people overlook in this discussion, however, is the 1991 "black box" edition of D&D Basic. That was one of, if not THE, biggest seller TSR ever produced, with more than a half-million units shipped worldwide. I have no idea how that compares to Frank's 1984 red box, but I know that everyone inside TSR was stunned by the sales of the black box. 

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  34.  Yes. Those novels and computer games are the main reason Hasbro even cares about D&D. They are valuable, the game itself, much less so.

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  35. Nicholas BergquistApril 26, 2012 at 3:59 PM

    TSR's downfall had to do with Spellfire and some bad business strategies which allowed for tanking card game sales to get returned for full refunds by vendors, among other bad decisions they made. The focus on 2E (which in this case I think you mean their consolidation of the D&D and AD&D brands under one roof) was probably not even a blip on the radar with regards to the much bigger issues they had.

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  36. Personally 2e was probably my favorite because it was I played the most. There were flaws in it of course, but it was still really fun to play. Plus it had my all time favorite setting Al-Qadim. 

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  37. The first gold box game was out in 1988, 2E launched a year later.

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  38. Yeah. And my first edition AD&D hardbacks were bought at Walden Books and B. Dalton in the mall and Michaels (a big box craft store) and Toys R Us.

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  39.  Actually TSR's big problem was that their attempt to get the games into bookstores as a book distributor.  The problem was that the book industry has it's own customs, including the archaic idea of "returns" (so no sale is final until it is actually sold to the customer, and the books may be returned to the publisher - or destroyed - for full credit).  And given the very tight margins a game company operates on, it was ill-prepared when it overextended itself in order to fill the large orders required by the book distributor and then suffered the huge bout of returns - in both fiction and games - (which admittedly was something that hadn't actually happened to it before).   Couple this with the downturn through game distributors as a result of the card craze glut soaking up the retail stores reserves in inventory that was stuck on the shelf, and you have a situation where the doomsday clock was ticking as creditor bills (such as printers) came due.  This precipitated the cash-flow crisis that crashed the company and forced the sale to WOTC (who had the spare cash thanks to those self-same card game sales).

    Given their behaviour with SPI just a couple of years before (which was also suffering a short-term cash flow crisis that was "alleviated" by a bad loan from TSR), I actually have very little sympathy for TSR and feel that they got what they deserved.  Karma.

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  40.  Interestingly the boxed D&D sets didn't make as big a splash in Oz as the AD&D books did, probably because D&D never really caught on in the department and chain stores (you could find them there but people generally went to their FLGS instead).  And "Advanced" was an exceedingly big draw-tag.

    In a similar vein I think 3E had larger retail market penetration over here than either 2E or 1E, but that was mainly because of game store owners trying to cash in on the resurrection.  Most people were already quite happy with their 1E or 2E.  Unfortunately the rapid introduction of 3.5 severely curtailed  retail interest in the line ("Hey! I just bought the books and now they expect me to do it again") which carried on again into acquisition of 4E.

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  41. It should probably also be pointed out that pretty much the entire commercial RPG industry kind of tanked by the end of the 90's, with most companies surviving by downsizing.  TSR didn't, and as you mentioned, made a huge number of bad business decisions.

    2E didn't kill TSR, TSR killed TSR.

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  42. I don't quite get that. 4e split the base nearly in half, it seems counter-intuitive that it would have outsold 3x. 

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  43. People use to think that many books is a sign for very good sales, but is a bit more complicate. When you have a big potential buyers, you only need to launch a few books every year and you will win many dollars. But if you have a loyal but little community you need to launch more books every year to obtain the same beneficts.

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