2008 saw another abysmal year for the collectible gaming industry – with the continued winnowing of the field, the stillbirth of even more games and the outright extinction of entire companies dedicated to the medium.

mutant-chronicles-starter-set-boxSo what went wrong in 2008?  The item that I keep calling people’s attention to is the spectacular failure formerly known as Mutant Chronicles.  This gem had a good heritage (great property, well-liked rules) and then totally imploded prior to release – inevitably switching to a non-collectible format before ultimately fizzling out completely.  Lest we think that this might have been mismanagement by an inexperienced publisher, this was Fantasy Flight, who as we all know, can do no wrong (‘k…maybe that’s a bit strong – they have to work really hard to do wrong?).

But Mutant Chronicles wasn’t the only collectible to blow up this year.  Remember Eve: The Second Genesis?  You’re probably the only one – this one debuted at GenCon and White Wolf isn’t even advertising it on their own website (and they haven’t posted new articles on the game since last year!).  We also had a relaunch of Dragon Ball Z (coming not too long after the line was shut down…), a wave of new-breed anime-based games (Bleach, Naruto) and two new miniature games (Monsterpocalypse and the World of Warcraft Miniature Game).  Let’s face it, out of all of these, only the-eye-of-judgmentMonsterpocalypse seems to have developed any legs and even that is really hard to determine (there’s a lot of collectible hate going ’round and Privateer Press doesn’t publish sales figures…).  And what about the must-have title for the Playstation 3’s magic eye accessory, Eye of Judgment – they haven’t officially killed the game, but with two expansions that haven’t done much to move the game along and no mention of a set 4 in sight, I think we can go ahead and write this one off.  Fantasy Flight took a number of their games out of the collectible realm this year, including the venerable Game of Thrones and Call of Cthulhu CCGs, moving them to a non-collectible, fixed set format.  No break out hits here – certainly nothing the likes of Pokemon or Magic.

So how are the stalwarts of collectible gaming doing during this down year?

  • pokemon_logoPokemon seems to continue to exist at a fairly steady level of play – while the game doesn’t seem to be gaining any traction, it certainly isn’t losing any, with expansions coming out regularly (we can’t get sales figures from Pokemon USA at this point…).  The trading figure game on the other hand seems on its way out, with only one expansion since its launch last year and zero news on the game on the company’s website, it looks like I’ll be able to snag these on the cheap before too long (it really is a nice little game, but they had some serious distribution isues in the US…).
  • The big man on campus, Magic the Gathering, seems to be doing fairly well.  With the release a few expansions that saw older players returning to the game (including myself).  Hasbro reported that sales were up for both Magic and Duelmasters (yeah…they still do that…in Japan), though they didn’t provide any specific figures.
  • Yu-Gi-Oh is another unstoppable beast. with Konami recently reasserting its control over the franchise with claims that the line continues to be strong – and at the rate that they continue to put out expansions, its hard to argue with them.
  • Bella Sara is a bit of a high point in the collectible sector with a widening array of media tie-ins, Peter Adkinson may be showing that niche products offer a glimmer of hope to this segment (though without the gaming…hrmm….).
  • wizkidsLest you think things aren’t all that bad, 2008 saw the total collapse of not only a game, but its parent company.  With the closure of WizKids this year, the venerable Heroclix game finally bit the bullet, in addition to a number of games (I’m looking at you MechWarrior) that probably didn’t help things.
  • D&D Minis seems to never get any love or mention, but even with the decision to repackage the game, it seems to be doing well enough to justify itself (at least as a relatively cool RPG supplement, if not as a game itself).  Its sister game, Star Wars Minis, also seems to be doing well, with a very aggressive release schedule for expansions.

monsterpocalypse2So was there any actual good news in 2008 for collectible gaming?  Well – a new hybrid game, Chaotic, has been getting some good press for its split offline/online play, but I’ll be honest, I don’t think its got any real staying power.  As mentioned previously, Monsterpocalypse seems to be doing well, but time will tell – if we hit a third expansion for the game, I’ll be impressed.

So what’s the future of collectible gaming?  Not good to be honest.  The format has really gotten a bad rap over the last few years and hasn’t seen a breakout hit in nearly a decade.  I suspect we’ll see a number of games launch in a fixed format that previously would have been collectible in nature – but I’m not convinced these will do well either (I’m only aware of one instance where this approach has worked – Heroscape – and even that seems to have been limited).  I suspect we’ll see many of the smaller games and maybe one or two of the larger games cease publication in 2009 or move to an online only format (though only Magic has been able to perform this successfully – and I’m not sure how successful it would be without the physical game to drive online play).  I’ll be very surprised to see any new collectible miniature games launch next year and I suspect that the only companies left standing in that particular market will be Privateer Press and Wizards (although if Catalyst can pull off their attempted purchase of WizKids, I’ll be very happy to be wrong).

So here’s the real question: if collectible gaming was responsible for the decline of RPGs in the 90’s, what are those gamers playing now that they’ve abandoned collectibles?  My money says they’ve moved on to board games – how about you?