Isn’t it funny that this is a question about whether gaming is dying in the USA… and thus far nobody from the USA has answered. (Too late? They’re all dead?)
One thing that bugs me about this topic, is that it’s often impossible to discuss it without people accusing you of either Doomsdaying, or blaming somebody. But I’m not interested in either. These are just plain observations, without value judgment.
If we’re speaking of historical tabletop gaming, then yes, I’d say it’s dying out in the USA. My observations are purely anecdotal and personal, but for what that’s worth:
- The average age at game conventions has steadily increased to the point that the average attendee is now easily in his late-50s or early 60s. HistoriCon and Fall-In look like some sort of pensioners’ rally. This is the result of not really recruiting anybody new in 30+ years. Do this simple experiment: Google Image-Search for “Historicon 2015” and then do the same for “Salute 2015” or any other British convention, and look at the people in the photos. The differences are striking. There might be a final mini-boom in attendance because so many of the people are retired now and have more time… but I doubt that will translate to an increase in sales since retirees generally have less money.
- Twenty-five years ago, many if not most of the leading hobby manufacturers, magazines, and game authors were in the USA. Today it’s hard to name even half a dozen who routinely sell more than a few thousand units per year. The hobby’s most productive and creative new ventures are located in Britain, Aus/NZ, or the European continent.
- From the (admittedly limited) perspective of my own business, I’ve seen the size of my American customer base shrink by about one-half in the past 15 years, while my British and Australian customer bases have exploded. For my most recent game, for example (Blücher) only about 20% of the sales were in the USA. Nearly half were in Britain. For the previous game, Longstreet, which is a game about the American civil war (!) I sold as many copies in Australia as I did in the USA. I now ship 60% of my products directly from the printer to my UK distributor, because there’s no point in shipping to the USA first and having to re-post them overseas. (Sixty percent!)
- Sure, this might mean that for some reason perhaps my products no longer appeal to an American customer base, but… conversations with retailers in the USA have led me to believe that what’s actually happening is that nobody’s products appeal to an American customer base much anymore. I don’t know everybody, but of the retailers in the USA that I know, none of them has experienced a growth in sales among their American customers. (Overseas… yes, but not here at home.) In fact, I know three of them who either have stopped going to conventions or who are planning to stop, because it isn’t worth the expense anymore. Attendance is falling and more importantly from their perspective: the American customers aren’t buying much new. The remaining ones are sticking with the old games that they bought years ago and aren’t interested in new stuff.
Now, Okay… this is the Interwebs. That means that somebody will be along in a few minutes with an anecdote that allegedly disproves all of the above. (He went to a recent gaming show in Arkansas and saw that somebody had brought seven young kids there, so the hobby must be doing fine!)
I can’t claim any sort of scientific proof for this, only my observations, as above. But I am routinely struck by the fact that whenever I see groups of American gamers, there are a lot of white-haired heads (those who still have hair, anyway), and not many signs of recruitment or growth in membership.
This has certainly changed the way that I plan to do business. Given the extraordinarily high cost of shipping overseas from the USA, and the fact that domestic sales keep shrinking, I’m looking toward partnerships with British or European publishers as a way of reducing costs to those customers, as well as more electronic documents like PDFs. It just doesn’t make much sense anymore to print hard-copy games in the USA, when you have to ship most of them overseas because there aren’t enough American buyers anymore to justify the cost.