Rolling Dice in Crisis: The Unexpected Boom of Tabletop Gaming
Over the last few years, there has been a significant shift in how people are choosing to spend their leisure time, which has not only been reflected in their activities but how they are spending their money.
After a shared experience of isolating lockdowns, search, revenue and survey data shows people are flocking to more social and potentially more affordable, in-person entertainment.
Tabletop gaming has seen an unexpected boon during a time of distinct consumer economic pressure, especially in the United Kingdom - where spending on other entertainment formats, such as streaming services and cinema tickets, is falling.
Massive consumer interest rise in Warhammer and D&D
Google Trends’ publicly available data gives insight into “search interest”. This 0-100 scale shows how popular a particular topic or search term is over time.
Warhammer and Dungeons & Dragons, two of the flagship behemoths in the tabletop gaming world have led the charge, both experiencing a huge growth in general interest over the last 3 years.
Google Trends UK data has shown:
A 49% increase in “Warhammer” interest since 2020
An 85% increase in “DnD” (Dungeons & Dragons) interest since 2020
While there has been a Dungeons & Dragons film and we’ve previously researched the boon to D&D that Stranger Things provided, these trends seem to not be connected, with their subsequent interest fading.
At Merchoid we’ve seen first hand the growth in Warhammer’s popularity, with the brand featuring in our top 3 brands of 2022 when it came to year-on-year merch sales increases.
Record revenues in the tabletop industry
Increased interest in tabletop gaming is also driving record-breaking revenues.
Games Workshop +53.8% revenue since 2020
Games Workshop, owners of the Warhammer IP saw a revenue increase of over 50% coming out of the pandemic, recording £414.8M in 2022.
Wizards of the Coast +46.1% revenue since 2020
Wizards of the Coast, owners of the Dungeons & Dragons IP saw a 46% increase in revenue - amounting to $1.3Bn - in 2022, which also makes them the only division of Hasbro that has grown in revenue since 2020. Meanwhile, consumer products and other entertainment categories are falling.
Merchoid survey confirms net uplift in time spent on tabletop and board games
A survey of 1,479 Merchoid customers in June 2023 showed 37% of respondents are spending a “little more” or “a lot more” time on tabletop and board games than before lockdown.
A digital plateau
Despite offering new, cheaper, ad-supported entry-level subscriptions, streaming service Netflix experienced its first net loss of worldwide subscribers in 2022 and is currently at its slowest rate of growth since launch. With a slow uptake of the new cheaper tier, it is predicted Netflix will lose 700,000 UK customers in the next 2 years.
There is a similar trend with Disney+. Despite enjoying growth during blockbuster releases such as The Mandalorian, the service has seen consistently lost subscribers for the last 2 quarters.
Even the behemoth of the video game industry in the UK has taken a hit. In 2022, the value of the UK video game market declined by 5.6%, marking only the second time in a decade that this industry has seen a contraction.
Merchoid survey shows 65% of people have cancelled or recently cancelled their streaming subscription due to cost
These figures present a compelling picture of an industry in flux. The digital entertainment giants that once seemed unstoppable are now grappling with stagnation, and in some cases decline - creating an environment ripe for other forms of entertainment - like tabletop gaming - to rise and flourish.
"In essence, consumers are swapping screen-time for playtime, investing in tabletop games that stimulate real-life interaction over digital counterparts. This already thriving trend naturally draws more people, as tabletop enthusiasts connect with fellow players, fostering a growing community. As we journey through the post-lockdown era, we expect tabletop gaming's winning streak to continue, securing its spot in the realm of entertainment." - Simon Ward, Director at Merchoid
UK cinema admissions down 33% from pre-pandemic levels
This picture extends onto the high-street with data from Ibis World showing that the UK cinema has yet to recover from the effects of lockdown, with admissions at ⅔ of the levels they were in 2019.
Streaming and cinema up prices to protect profits
While Netflix has increased prices most years, with their Standard subscription going up 50% in the last 6 years, they have also taken controversial action to crack down on password sharing to try and protect profits.
We’ve seen a similar jump in the average UK cinema ticket price. While most were reduced during the pandemic to entice viewers back, cinema tickets saw an 11.4% average price increase coming out of the pandemic.
Despite tickets still being cheaper now than pre-pandemic projections, cinemas nationwide and around the world have failed to recapture their old audiences.
It's clear that the appeal of shared, tangible experiences is more potent than ever. Amidst global uncertainty and economic pressure, people looking for ways to unwind are seeking not only solace but also engagement, community, and affordable entertainment - and they're finding it on the tabletop.
Samantha Whitehouse, owner of Slice & Dice, a tabletop gaming cafe told Merchoid: “We've had to move to a bigger venue just over a year after opening as we couldn't keep up with demand on weekends and we kept getting enquiries for bigger groups/events. We've seen a massive increase in people using our venue for celebrations, occasions and friendly catch-ups because they love having the game element to keep them all off their phones.”
James Dance, Founder of Loading Bar believes the combination of tabletop gaming being relatively cheap, along with the social interaction has been behind the rise of popularity they have seen: “Tabletop for us has been steadily increasing, I think for a number of reasons, it allows people to play in person in a way that they don’t with online games. Warhammer and most tabletop games are tactile physical things, even with say Cards Against Humanity there’s an added please flipping a card over that isn’t the same in digital conversions.
We’ve certainly seen far more people looking for spaces to play D&D or other RPGs in a space together which has probably been after a number of groups formed over covid and people took up the game.
As an aside I think they continue to prove popular because it’s not the most expensive activity (Warhammer aside). Heading to a board game space offers something social that scales up to bigger groups without large expenses like say Crazy Golf, Axe throwing etc. with libraries of games you can either have a go to favourite or discover something new every time you visit.”
Nick Smith, owner of Ludoquist in Croydon commented: “We have room for 24 people, and since the pandemic we regularly get that many people on the waitlist who we can't fit in."
"Tabletop gaming is redefining value in entertainment. As streaming service prices climb, people are pivoting towards board games - a one-time purchase for endless fun. It's not just about the game; it's about the community, shared experiences and the lasting memories. Tabletop games are proving their worth time and again, delivering a replayability that truly goes the distance". - Simon Ward, Director at Merchoid.
In-person element of tabletop games is hugely important in post-pandemic world
A survey of 1,479 Merchoid customers in June 2023 showed over 3/4 of respondents say that the in-person element of tabletop games and board games is important to them.
Great games to play with friends and family
Whether you’re tired of screen-based entertainment or just looking for something new to mix up your downtime, we’ve got some great games to keep geeks of all ages entertained.
Available while stocks last, check out: