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2013 RPGs by the Numbers

Trent Seely

It's amazing how much context plain raw numbers can provide. Above all of the speculative conjecture that can be provided by "analysts" and "industry insiders," the only data we really have to indicate how good or bad a year has been is historical data. For the unaware, I work for the Canadian government in statistical analysis and labour market development. Numbers are my bread and butter, when I'm not writing for this RPG haven. To that end, I wanted to take this opportunity to detail 2013 in numbers alone.

We tried something along the same lines last year, in which we looked at the past ten years of RPG releases to see what the prevailing trends were. There were one or two minor issues with the data set, in that a few titles were missing and PC games weren't highlighted nearly as they rightfully should have been (hindsight is 20/20, after all). However, the data as it was had been more than large enough to bear fruit. We know for certain, based on that painfully compiled information, that RPGs have been progressively edging away from consoles, mobile RPGs have had a meteoric rise, and the concept of "RPG subgenres" seems to rile everyone up. Ignoring the gripes over what differentiates each subgenre, it was very clear that the RPG genre in general has become more action oriented over time (and not everyone is a fan of that).

In discussing a year-end review with Michael Cunningham, I decided to look at the quantity and quality of the RPGs that we've seen in 2013. Examining both worldwide and regional releases, the intent of this study was to determine the "busy seasons" of the year for RPG releases, which platform received the most RPGs, how many RPGs Western RPGamers missed out on this year, and the general critical and fan reception of the few games we did receive.

As with last year's feature, the intent of this article is to examine trends. The game list that was compiled sought to record every RPG release of the year, but there is always a chance that one or two were lost in the cracks. It's more important that the overall movement of the datasets are examined. As with any review of data, white noise is always present when you examine information at a granular level; the impact of overall trends is more important than each singular game recorded. That said, if you wish to examine the dataset you can click HERE.

There were some pretty visible trends this year. We've seen roughly 250 RPGs released throughout the world, with at least 114 only being released to Japanese markets. Sadly, that means that Western audiences have missed out on 45.6% — almost half — of the RPGs released this year. Some of those games are bound to be localized at a later date, but this is a fairly clear indication by the market that the West isn't nearly as lucrative. Perhaps, the West might even be seen as a niche marketplace for the genre.

Though it will likely frustrate some traditionalists, the platform to receive the most RPG releases was not PC, console, or handheld; the mobile platform continues to rise in genre popularity and has seen approximately 100 RPGs this year. Some of these releases were simply ports of RPGs released for other platforms, but most of them were original titles. Of those original releases, a few were indie, however, far more than I would have expected were made by large studios. Basic intuition would indicate that the most popular mobile games are those that are pick-up-and-play (Angry Birds, Bejeweled, Candy Crush, etc.), but more time intensive RPGs seem to have no trouble thriving in the mobile world. Perhaps they are being developed for that market because the audience is bigger, but I would bet it has more to do with development costs. Developing an RPG for PCs, consoles, or handhelds has become a lengthy and costly process.

After mobile releases, the most popular platform for the RPG genre was PC. Part of this can be attributed to the growing indie market, as well as Steam's willingness to support indies, but I'd simply argue that PC is the easiest to develop for. Following PCs, the Nintendo 3DS and PS Vita received a strong amount of support. It's clear that RPGs and on-the-go gaming can still go hand-in-hand, and both 3DS and Vita have promising futures as far as RPGs go. Consoles actually received the lowest amount of genre support. Of the major consoles, PS3 was by far the best place for RPGamers to roost, however, it is also nearing the end of its console cycle and I don't see the PS4 or Xbox One being particularly good hosts to the genre. Next generation video game development is simply getting too expensive, and without several million people buying the games it doesn't make sense to invest in development.

It's interesting to examine the total number of releases by month. The fewest released in a month is about ten, whereas total releases can almost reach thirty per month during the busy periods. The winter months (December through February) receive, by far, the fewest amount of RPG releases. I'm not sure if this is related to total video game releases dipping during this season or consumer fatigue post-holiday season, or both, but there is a definite dip. Numbers begin to pick up again during late spring (March and April), but dip again shortly thereafter. By far, the busiest season for RPG releases is from late summer through the fall (August until November).

While looking at releases alone offers quite a bit of insight, I thought it would be pertinent to also examine the quality of the RPGs we've seen this year. This year, RPGamer has reviewed 43 games for PC, console, and handheld. The RPGamer rating scale, which is out of 5, tends to be a little more critical as it is weighted differently. For us, a great game is a 4/5 and a 5/5 is incredibly rare. Some would even call it the unicorn. To that point, averaging all of the scores we have distributed this year will give you approximately a 3.5/5. By our standards, a 3.5/5 is definitely a good score, though some would interpret it as a negative or average score by the standards of other media outlets. I'd advise everyone to examine our review standards HERE.

To further add perspective, I've compared the scores we've distributed to that of Metacritic user and critical metascores for the same games. If I adjust our system to be out of 10, the average we have for 2013 reviews is approximately a 7/10. The Metacritic critical average for those same RPGs is a 73/100, with user scores being about a 7.7/10. While this is limited information to go off of, considering it only takes into account the overall amount of worldwide releases, we can infer that there have been at least a few really solid RPG releases in 2013.

In 79% of cases, the Metacritic critical average for those games reviewed were higher than RPGamer's distributed scores. As I alluded to earlier, this can likely be attributed to other critical outlets weighting their score systems differently. In 72% of cases, the Metacritic user score was higher than RPGamer's distributed scores. Interestingly enough, the user scores were heavily influenced by user scores that appear to have been submitted before games were even released — compromising the data immensely. Furthermore, there were a few instances of users sandbagging the user score with 10/10s or 1/10s based on their own biases, or just a few positive or negative experiences with the game.

Without doing a direct comparison to last year's releases and critical averages, it is pretty clear that we've had a fairly successful year as far as role-playing games go. The genre still thrives, although it remains far more popular abroad than in the West. Still, a number of the RPGs which have made it to this side of the world are of fairly high quality and we now have more ways than ever of playing. I can only hope the same will be said about 2014's releases.

It's hard to estimate where the genre will head in the future, but if these trends continue I would expect fewer and fewer console RPGs and more mobile support. That could be a good thing for some and a horrible thing for others, however, the important thing to focus on is that the genre still exists in some form. Amazingly, RPGs continue to adapt to industry changes and consumer interests. As long as these games continue to be released, we will continue to cover them. In the meantime, I'll wish the best to you and yours as this year comes to a close.

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