Who Are Roleplayers?

         A common question asked by role-players and non-role-players alike is: who are role-players generally? For example, what is the demographic profile of people who play RPGs? This is difficult to answer in general, but I will try to provide some pointers to some data.

Survey Data

         The best known survey done of gamers was conducted by Wizards of the Coast in the summer of 1998. A short post-card questionnaire was sent to over 20,000 households. Based on results of this, a more detailed followup survey was sent to 1000 respondents. A summary of the results of this have been made publically available as the "Adventure Game Industry Market Research Summary", available at the RPGnet website among other places.

         A shorter web-based survey was done by James Kittock in 2001, which was described in his "D20 System Product Interest Market Research Report". Unfortunately, the full article is no longer publically available. However, I provide the demographics results below with comparison to the Wizards data. Note that the Wizards survey was done only of gamers in the U.S. between the ages of 12 and 35. However, the Wizards data is far more reliable because of more controlled sampling and greater statistics.

    Wizards     Kittock  
Age Category
12-15 23% 1%
16-18 18% 5%
19-24 25% 18%
25-35 34% 63%
36+ * 13%
Male 81% 91%
Female 19% 9%
North America 100% 85%
Europe * 10%
Australia & New Zealand * 3%
Other * 2%

         There are many differences between these surveys. In general, the Wizards survey is much more reliable, but it only covers U.S. gamers between 12 and 35. (It was a marketing survey, and that was the target market they were interested in.) Thus, the Kittock survey is interesting as a different view. There are some basic conclusions which are clear. Tabletop role-playing is definitely an adult hobby at this point, although it is played by many children as well. It is male-dominated although not totally so. Kittock adds in a comment on the female presence in his survey:

Although 9% of the respondents were female overall, just 4% of the respondents classified as DMs were female. Furthermore, 30% of female respondents indicated that they never DM, while just 7% of male respondents indicated this. For the most part, DMing currently seems to be a male occupation. However, it is not obvious that females do not want to DM; it is possible that a niche could be created for products aimed at encouraging female DMs.

Internationally, RPGs are present throughout the U.S., Canada, and most of Western Europe -- notably England, France, Germany, and Sweden which have produced a number of RPGs which have influenced the U.S. market. There is also a significant gaming scene in Brazil, Japan, Australia, and New Zealand. There is limited play in other countries which is harder to estimate. As far as the total number of role-players, Ryan S. Dancey (an ex-vice-president of Wizards of the Coast) reported the following additional information in a UseNet post:

         In 1998, there were 2.5 million people who played a tabletop RPG monthly in the U.S. between the ages of 12 and 35. I suspect that figure has grown a little since that point and D&D has revived. Of that 2.5 million, 1.5 million played D&D monthly. We have some stats on the frequency of other games played -- I think they're in the market research study I released in '99. The GPA has a copy of it on their web site.

         We do not have a good number for Europe. The market research that WotC conducted in Europe came back with crazy figures like 2 million RPG player in Germany alone. Since we don't trust the data, we've not released it and we don't base any business plans on it.

Convention Data

For comparison, GenCon SoCal reported a survey of its attendance for 2004 in its packet for exhibitors. This is a high-profile but newly-formed gaming convention in Anaheim, California. You can download the GenCon SoCal packet as a 0.5MB PDF file. The data was reported in several places, notably a thread on "Indianapolis Monthly Article on Gen Con/ Gamers", and the Gamasutra Announcement for GenCon SoCal.

Demographics (Tabulated in 2004)
Male 77%
Female 23%
13 to 17 3%
18 to 24 5%
25 to 34 44%
35 to 44 37%
45 to 54 8%
55 or over 4%
Some high school or less 6%
High school graduate 0%
Some college 25%
Vocational or technical school 4%
College graduate 49%
Postgraduate degree 20%
Annual Household Income
Under $15,000 13%
$15,000 6%
$25,000 6%
$35,000 12%
$50,000 22%
$75,000 or more 40%
Types of Games Played
Roleplaying games 68%
Computer games 48%
Board games 48%
Online computer games 20%
Trading card games 15%
Miniatures 19%
Console games 14%
Own or Have Access to a Computer
Own 99%
Have access 100%
No access 0%
Have Access to the Internet
Have access 100%
Do not have access 0%
Amount Spent in the Exhibit Hall
Under $10 16%
$11-30 12%
$31-50 12%
$51-100 29%
$101-200 26%
$201-350 6%


Magazine Data

         Another view into the number of role-players is in the size of print runs, especially for popular RPG magazines such as The Dragon. Since this is sold regularly, it gives some insight into changing over time.

Dragon MagazineDungeon Magazine
Date(Issue)SubscriptionsPaid Circulation Date(Issue)Paid Circulation
Sept 1977 (#12)11647381   
Sept 1978 (#22)11447859   
Oct 1979 (#33)195110885   
Oct 1980 (#44)455820155   
Sept 1981 (#55)1153148119   
Sept 1982 (#67)1902960387   
Sept 1984 (#91)36974118021   
Sept 1985 (#104)36200107200   
Sept 1986 (#115)2958988758   
Sept 1987 (#127)2500373008   
Sept 1989 (#151)2680099628   
Oct 1990 (#163)2791291956   
Sept 1992 (#188)2368589985   
Oct 1993 (#200)2111677534   
Sept 1994 (#212)2010574753   
Oct 1996 (#236)1435754812   
Oct 1997 (#242)1243544163   
Oct 1999 (#266)1322431536   
Oct 2000 (#278) 38214 Oct 2000 (#84)23672
Oct 2001 (#290) 49627 Oct 2001 (#90)24663
Oct 2002 (#302) 51831 Sep 2002 (#96)36572
Oct 2003 (#314) 68585 Dec 2003 (#107)48238
Oct 2004 (#327) 62725 Oct 2004 (#118)37141
2005 (#339) Jan 061476254637 2005 (#130) (jan 2006 issue)32195
2006 (#351) Jan 071343846250 Oct 2006 (#142)31408
    January 200732391

Market Data

         Another question is what is the RPG industry (as opposed to players) like. The important question here is, who are the industry leaders? Ken Hite, a professional writer for several RPG companies, compared the reach of various companies in his April 2002 Out of the Box column. He reported the 2001 market share for companies as:

Wizards of the Coast: 45%
White Wolf: 19%
Palladium Books: 8.8%
Alderac Entertainment Group: 7.8%
Steve Jackson Games: 5%
FanPro: 4%
Everyone else: ramen

         Note that this is market share: i.e. percentage of sales of commercial material. This is not the same as people playing the various games. This can be compared with the 1999 WotC survey, which asked tabletop RPG player what games they played monthly, where multiple choices were allowed. The answers were:

Dungeons & Dragons (WotC/TSR) fantasy 66%
Vampire: The Masquerade (White Wolf) horror 25%
Star Wars (West End Games) sci-fi 21%
Palladium (Palladium Books) fantasy 16%
Werewolf: The Apocalypse (White Wolf) horror 15%
Shadowrun (FASA) fantasy / sci-fi (cyberpunk) 15%
Star Trek (Last Unicorn Games) sci-fi 12%
Call of Cthulhu (Chaosium) horror 8%
Legend of the Five Rings (Alderac) fantasy 8%
Deadlands (Pinnacle) horror / western 5%
Alternity (WotC/TSR) sci-fi 4%
GURPS (SJG) mixed 3%

These numbers are out of sync, since the Wizards survey is in 1999 prior to the release of D&D3, while the data that Ken Hite mentions is for 2001. Still, comparison is interesting. For example, the Lovecraftian horror game Call of Cthulhu is squarely on the map for play despite essentially zero market share. The same applies to a lesser degree to the Star Wars RPG and the fantasy cyberpunk RPG Shadowrun, which had been supported earlier in the 90's but whose support and marketing had essentially dried up by the time of the survey.

         The notable thing is that swords-and-sorcery fantasy is dominant due to D&D, while science fiction and horror are the dominant genres among the rest. The share for other genres is minimal. A few genres such as superheroes, western, and espionage have occaisionally made inroads into RPGs, but they are overall quite minor, it seems.

John H. Kim <jhkim-at-darkshire-dot-net>
Last modified: Mon Aug 15 23:35:36 2011