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Have there been any studies or polls about the most popular RPG setting genres, across systems? Intuition tells me that High Fantasy would top the list, but there are a bunch of strong contenders for the Top 5/10. Steampunk, SciFi, Horror, Gothic Fantasy, Noir, Historical, SciFi/Fantasy mix (e.g. Warhammer), etc.

The closest I've come is this page on RPGGeek, which is sortable by Highest Rating and Most Votes. But this is for systems (e.g. Savage Worlds is high on the list, despite being setting-neutral). It seems bizarre that after this many decades, there doesn't exist some market research or public studies about trends in the RPG market.

Is there any objective, authoritative information about the most popular genres among RPG players?

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Please do not answer this question unless you have a real answer to this question. \$\endgroup\$ – mxyzplk says reinstate Monica Apr 21 '15 at 14:24
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    \$\begingroup\$ Meta question about what could constitute a real answer. \$\endgroup\$ – Sardathrion - Reinstate Monica Apr 21 '15 at 14:57
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    \$\begingroup\$ For any medium other than comics (which really is dominated by the superhero genre) is there any objective, authoritative information about what genre is the most popular? (Having first defined what genre means, obviously.) I'm serious; my close vote hinges on it. \$\endgroup\$ – Hey I Can Chan Apr 21 '15 at 16:24
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    \$\begingroup\$ @HeyICanChan The word "popular" can mean different things to different people, but I doubt anyone would have a problem with "overall highest grossing" or "highest aggregate critic rating" as objectively "the most popular." For example, of the 50 Highest-Grossing Films of All Time, 46 are SciFi/Fantasy. That's 92%. Objectively, I think we can agree that SciFi/Fantasy films would be, at least in one sense, the most popular genre of films. Certainly not in every sense, but it would be an acceptable, objective answer. \$\endgroup\$ – Nerrolken Apr 21 '15 at 16:35
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Nerrolken So popular for this question means simply top-selling? That's... answerable, actually. Fair enough. \$\endgroup\$ – Hey I Can Chan Apr 21 '15 at 21:50
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Probably, but probably not publicly.

What you're asking for here is a very valuable bit of marketing data. I have no doubt that such a survey has been done, either by a big tabletop gaming company like WotC, or an independent marketing firm hoping to sell such data to other tabletop gaming companies. Putting together a study that shows the shape of the tabletop RPG hobby with any semblance of accuracy is going to be a difficult - and thus expensive - prospect.

In order to accurately know who is playing what games, there are a number of non-trivial factors to account for. For example, it's non-obvious where the lines are between different genres in the hobby. There are a large number of games that straddle lines between popular genres, and figuring out useful data out of player numbers for that kind of information is difficult. In addition, there's the problem of players who play more than one game. Do you count them under the game they play most? Do you count them under all the games that they play? I've personally played a few sessions of World of Heroes and Tyrants back in high school, does that mean that I should be counted in the W.H.A.T. bucket? What about mods and houserules? If I run a modern setting heist game using the Dungeon World ruleset, what genre of game am I playing? These kind of questions are the things that marketing analysts get paid to answer.

Thus, I'd be willing to bet that, while such a study probably exists, it's not available to the general public, and would be prohibitively expensive if it were.

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According to ICv2, for spring 2015 the top genre is Fantasy, followed by Sci-fi.

While only 5 products are shown here for this chart, it is 3 fantasy and 2 scifi products. This was intended as a quick introduction to ICv2.

If you want a broader answer, ICv2 offers many more figures for determining what is selling. I recommend using their sales figures and charts to get a look at the time frame you are interested in and going from there. this is by no means a comprehensive answer, rather one off the cuff over the current state of the industry. ICv2 offer many more resources for a deeper exploration of the question as a whole. I gave a brief analysis of the current sales stats, other who wish to look at a longer period of time or a larger list will get a different answer. In general however, as of Spring 2015, based on the Top 5 selling products, according to ICv2, fantasy is the highest selling genre.

ICv2 is one resource for determining these kinds of sales figures, others exist Im sure.

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    \$\begingroup\$ ICv2 records the top selling games, not genres. The game sales marks of only the top 5 don't necessarily equate to genre indications, which comes out differently when ranked as the summation of many multiple games. \$\endgroup\$ – doppelgreener Aug 30 '15 at 4:46
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    \$\begingroup\$ While I agree with @doppelgreener that this isn’t quite the same thing, it’s actual data that we can see, and it’s probably the closest we will see. I think that this would be an answer worth including if it just clarified a bit on exactly what the data is showing. \$\endgroup\$ – KRyan Aug 30 '15 at 13:58

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