Steve Jackson 2009 Report to the Stakeholders

Steve Jackson games once again published its annual look back at its own successes in the previous year, which also happens to be a fascinating insight into the status of the games industry in general.

Not surprisingly, pen-and-paper RPGs continue to make up a shrinking proportion of SJ Games’ sales, replaced by its Munchkin line of card/board games,

Our 2008 gross was a bit over $2.9 million, only a small increase over 2007. However, it was considerably more profitable than 2007. . . . The Munchkin line, including the new Munchkin Quest boardgame, accounted for almost exactly 75% of our sales in 2008!

Jackson reports the company is working on some sort of iPhone app for Munchkin that is “largely coded, and being tested, as you read this.” Can’t wait for that to see what that’s about.

And those pen-and-paper RPGs? Clearly heading toward a largely all-digital sales model,

Our digital-product division, e23, is now four years old, and the second largest seller of downloadable files for the gaming community. Our e23 sales for 2008 were almost twice those of 2007. Our big goal for the year was to release at least 25 significant originals. We had 27!

However, we don’t want e23 to become a pure company store, and we do want to take advantage of the “long tail” effect, so we will continue to sell quality PDFs created by other publishers. At the moment, our third-party contract offers dramatically better royalties than does our competition, and we’ll do our best to continue that.

One the one hand, given all the doom-and-gloom among most content companies about piracy, the pen-and-paper RPG market seems to be getting by with selling non-DRMed PDFs (and it isn’t that the stuff isn’t pirated — it is easy to find all the SJ Games stuff on Torrents or Usenet). On the other hand, you have to wonder if there’s going to be any interest in RPGs much beyond the generations who played pen-and-paper RPGs before the arrival of the compelling computer versions.

Jackson writes in his summary on the state of the industry,

Writing this section was depressing . . . it was a tough year for the hobby. Traditional roleplaying continued to lose popularity, and big boardgames continued to gain, but the weakened state of the world economy is reducing many gamers’ ability to buy the really big games. On the other hand, the drop in oil prices, and that same weakened economy, has staved off further price increases from the Asian factories, so at least those really big games aren’t getting much more costly.

No new game-publishing powers made themselves known in 2008, and we lost WizKids. Late in the year, its parent company, Topps, abruptly announced that the division would be closing. I will miss WizKids; it was the best combination of creativity and strong backing that our hobby had to offer. WK had the “right stuff” to do good games, and the budget to turn them into really cool toys! Our hobby is diminished by its loss.

In fact, supporting GURPS with a couple new hardback releases comes down fifth in Jackson’s list of priorities for 2009, as compared to keeping the Munchkin train rolling and trying to come up with another board/card game hit.

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2 thoughts on “Steve Jackson 2009 Report to the Stakeholders”

  1. Yeah, it’s that bad. Over at RPG.Net there was a “What happened to CJ Carella” thread? In a lot of people’s opinion Carella’s the best pen-and-paper RPG designer ever, and he actually responded in the thread that basically there’s just no money in the p-and-p business anymore and he’s moved on to what looks like copywriting for websites, etc.

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