Who Is Winning The Edition War?

The Orr Group (those people what run Roll20) have released an industry report every quarter since Q3 2014, detailing what games have how many games and how many players according to their data. Unfortunately, there are some weaknesses in the ways they collect this data. Rather than run an Orwellian police state in which gamers are carefully monitored to ensure they are playing the game they claim they are, the Orr Group just gathers up the data on how many players have a system listed in their profile and how many games tagged with a certain system currently have at least one active player in them. This means the players metric is a list of people who say they would like to play a certain system, not the number of people who have actually played in such a game on Roll20.

The games number, on the other hand, uses the system tag from the LFG system. Players looking for a specific system in LFG search by tag, and the dropdown to select the system tag to attach to your game is a necessary part of LFG listing creation. This means it is safe to assume that a strong majority (I would posit at least 70% and likely 90%+) of Roll20 games have an accurate system tag attached to them. This is why the Orr Group uses games rather than players to rank their current most popular systems from any given quarter, it’s much more accurate. This method also has a drawback, however, because a game listing created at Roll20’s inception in September of 2012 and abandoned before the end of October is treated as an active game just the same as one that just started last month and is still ongoing, provided that at least one person wanders into the game during the quarter when the data is collected, even if it’s just the GM looking up what battle music he had in the jukebox. Since RPG campaigns have a half-life of something like 3-6 months but the games remain full of assets that their GMs may want to review or recycle for other games (which will require him to access the game, thus marking it as active even if he only comes in once every three months), an equally important measure of the game’s actual popularity is the change in percentage between quarters, which indicates how many new games are (or aren’t) being created.

At the time of writing of this paragraph, I haven’t yet seen what the results of the data are, and have only looked at the data from Q3 and Q4 2014, so I’m going to state in advance a couple of limitations in this data collection. The data covers roll20 users only, which means people who play primarily offline are not counted, and decisions made by the Orr Group regarding roll20 can affect the numbers in a way that won’t be representative of the market in general. The Orr Group runs YouTube videos and podcasts and in these they talk about some games and not others, and while I suspect the affect this has on the numbers is small, it is certainly going to be much greater on roll20 than in the market in general. That Lost Mines of Phandelver is now available on roll20 is likely to artificially inflate the prominence of 5e quite a bit for no other reason except greater availability, whereas in meatspace 5e D&D shares shelf space with 4e and Pathfinder, an effect we should take into account starting from Q2 2016 (the data for which hasn’t been released at the time of writing, but should be soon, and may be released while this is sitting in the queue).

EDIT FROM THE FUTURE: The data totally was released while this was sitting in the queue. I’m too lazy to extend my graphs for now, so I’ll run an update post sometime. Also, statistically speaking your favorite game is probably losing (nobody has a majority of players, only a plurality). Let’s all try to avoid the very tiresome and predictable flipping out over this.

Q3 2014

Q3 used percentages without giving an absolute count of games, but I’m relying on percentages anyway, since that gives more reliable results. The Orr Group changes their sample size as their total number of games and players increases, and we don’t want games which are a dwindling market share appear to be on the rise just because roll20 in general is becoming more popular.

In this quarter I have combined World of Darkness, New World of Darkness, White Wolf (any game), and Vampire: the Masquerade into a single White Wolf category. Dark Heresy and Warhammer 40k have likewise been combined into a single Warhammer category. This is to help mimic a change in system categorization that the Orr Group is going to implement a little bit down the line. The major players, that is, the various editions of D&D and its spin-off Pathfinder, are not affected by this change.

Q4 2014

Here we get our first bit of real data. 5e’s marketshare has increased by an astounding 12.26 percentage points at the expense of about three percentage points off of every other edition except AD&D. It still trails Pathfinder in terms of absolute number of games, but it’s hard to tell if that’s due to Pathfinder having a much larger density of legacy games or not (especially since the 3 month gap between this data point and the last is within the average half-life of a campaign). Either way, 5e’s popularity in this quarter is almost certainly due to the release of the DMG. It was released towards the end of the quarter, so we can probably expect that release to keep helping them in Q1 2015. After that, the edition will have to stand on its adventure paths alone, against Pathfinder which is releasing plenty of the same.

Q1 2015

In this quarter, the sample size increases quite a bit and Warhammer Fantasy appears as a distinct category for what I believe is the first time (although it’s hard to doublecheck Q4 2014 since the detailed breakdown was made for ants). As predicted, D&D 5e continues to rise, taking now the first place in not only increases vs. decreases (it is the only edition of D&D to significantly increase this quarter, by 1.41 percentage points) but in absolute value as well. Editions that have existed since roll20’s inception have had the advantage before, but now momentum is in 5e’s favor, which means that even if 5e appears to hang onto the top spot in the future, they might have that spot only because of a large number of abandoned games from the edition’s initial release when lots of people tried it and most of then abandoned it, so it’s important to keep in mind that it’s the change in value between quarters, not the absolute value within one quarter, that indicates success. It only takes one person, player or GM, wandering into the campaign for any reason, for any length of time, to count a game as active, and it’s impossible to know how often this happens (from my anecdotal experience, it seems to happen once every 6-9 months per game, which means as much as a third of the games marked as active might not be).

Q2 2015

5e is still up and everyone else is still down. AD&D’s downward trend was small enough that it didn’t become noticeable until recently. Remember here that there’s multiple explanations for this: Roll20’s growing population might be less interested in AD&D, while it retains as many active games in absolute numbers as it ever had. On the other hand, a significantly higher amount of those AD&D games may be abandoned as opposed to other systems. All this is telling us is that people are not starting AD&D games very often.

Likewise, 5e’s continued ascendance means that they are definitely starting more (and more and more) games than Pathfinder, 3.5e, and 4e, but it doesn’t mean that any of the existing games for those editions have stopped. 5e’s rising portion of the total games could be due to people new to Roll20 being more likely to start a 5e game, rather than players of older editions jumping ship.

This quarter is also when the great system reshuffling took place, and Warhammer got collapsed into a single thing, as did World of Darkness. The White Wolf score in my data is now a combination between World of Darkness and Exalted only. This caused a fairly serious blow to both Warhammer and White Wolf’s numbers, which were otherwise fairly stable.

Q3 2015

Unless someone at the Orr Group is cooking the books, we can confidently say that 5e is a juggernaut. They’re up by another 2.72 percentage points and both their major competitors, Pathfinder and 3.5e, have been losing market share to them every quarter since inception. 5e is now within statistical noise of having as many games as PF and 3.5e combined (and bear in mind that PF and 3.5e are fairly similar games, so combining them isn’t unreasonable). 4e has lost vast amounts of market share each quarter and is now being driven down to the level of Star Wars, Shadowrun, Warhammer 40k, and other niche games.

My main question going forward is, can 5e hang onto their lead, or will they prove to be a fad? We’ll need about two or three years to decisively answer this and we’ve only got two quarters left, but it’ll be interesting to see how it does after their first year, anyway.

Side note: Why do non-D&D games make up such a paltry amount of the total? They’re all an order of magnitude smaller than the major editions of modern D&D.

Q4 2015

On the one hand, 5e has grown by a little over one percentage point this quarter. On the other hand, that’s within 5% (not percentage points, percent) of their previous total, and thus can be attributed to statistical noise. Back on the first hand, statistical noise for 5e is now one quarter of all 4e’s roll20 market share and half of AD&D’s. This is also the quarter when 5e was officially more popular than PF and 3.5e combined going by absolute games accessed (it’s been more popular than the two in terms of new games started for a while, but that’s because PF and 3.5e have consistently had negative growth), although they are still within statistical noise. The Force Awakens gives Star Wars games a major boost and they are now neck-and-neck with Warhammer 40k for the most popular non-D&D game.

Q1 2016

5e is up by 4.05 percentage points. I have sprayed my monitor with tea and my monocle has popped off of my eye. I am starting to wonder, just a little bit, if these numbers are really accurate. 5e is decisively more popular than 3.5e and PF combined in this quarter, 4e is within statistical noise of both Star Wars and Warhammer 40k, and AD&D is getting close to slipping off the chart altogether and being replaced with Dungeon World. Star Wars is still doing well due to the Force Awakened.

The Q2 2016 data isn’t out yet, so here’s some pretty charts.

Percentage of games per quarter, all systems:


Percentage of games per quarter, non-D&D games and AD&D (this makes it easier to read the data on smaller games):

chart 2

Quarter-to-quarter increase/decrease of roll20 market share for all systems:

chart 3

Quarter-to-quarter increase/decrease of roll20 market share for all systems except 5e (5e’s outlier growth, especially from Q3-Q4 2014, makes other data harder to read):

chart 4


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