I’ve always wondered about this, mostly because I run into gamers all of the time , and most of the mechanisms that I’ve encounter yield a very small community, and also exclude me and most of the gamers that I have ever regularly gamed with.
For example, some years back, the sales numbers of Napoleons Battles were used to estimate the size of the historical gamers community, but of the 12 regular members of my first gaming group, none of us ever owned a copy of the game, so we didn’t count as part of the measured community. Also, of that original 12, I know that 9 never owned, and at least 8 have never played a GW game (I’ve lost touch with a couple of the guys).
I also find that gamers are everywhere, for example, my employer has approaching a 100 employees and there are are at least three (other) gamers and have been as many as seven gamers employed there at any one time. Additionally a couple others have spouses that game. That is a surprisingly high frequency of gamers in a random population.
Additionally, I stumble into gamers through work and elsewhere with a surprising frequency, usually finding that they are solo gamers or that they gamer at home with one of two other gamers. Over the years, by far, the most popular periods mentioned have been WII and the ACW. More recently, I’ve bumped into a couple of guys that play Star Wars games, though GW players have been exceedingly rare among random encounters over the last 30 years.
Gross sales tell you little about number of gamers for a lot of reasons. I still game with miniatures purchased in 1982; they last forever. A FOW tank costs as much as three Gaming models tanks of the same scale, so gross dollars indicates neither the number of miniature, games, and active gamers. And buying doesn’t equate to actively playing. I gamed more, when I had far fewer miniatures, and my purchases vary radically; in the last 15 years, my purchases have range from 70 to 1599 figs in a single year.
Most popular is a hard to qualify, for example 40K involves one rules set, while WWII involves all related rules sets, it would be an apples and fuel injectors kind of comparison. My experience in my random encounters has been the WWII dominates, ACW and ancients follows closely, Napoleonics chases at some distance, and sci-fi overshadows fantasy, but both are behind historical. WHile helping to organize events at conventions, the most popular periods were consistently WWII and ancients, usually followed closely by ACW and Napoleonics, with colonials usually rounding out the top five. The order could change a little some years, but those were pretty consistent. At the multi-genre cons, sci-fi and fantasy roughly equaled historical. This was based on frequency of events submitted, and monitoring number of players in the events, which still doesn’t tell us the primary preference of gamers in general.
At the local hobby shop, the most popular games are either cards or collectible miniatures, the events for those have far more participants than 40K or any other miniatures heavy game. Additionally, if you take a sampling from there, there would be no historical gamers (they don’t sell any historical games, FOW bit the dust), and fantasy is out numbered by sci-fi in the miniatures realm.
All of this is only the experience of one gamer in a very little bit of one country, so it would be silly to try to draw any conclusions from it. But over the last forty years, my experience has been that there are a lot of relatively isolated gamers out there; gamers who would be missed by most of the attempts to count us. While many may not “give a damn”, I am still curious to know how many gamers are out there and how many share my interests.