After two great years, including a spectacular 2021, the hobby games channel grew 10% in 2022, capping a 14-year run of growth, according to an ICv2 estimate based on publicly released information and our interviews with game retailers, distributors, and publishers.  The 10% growth in 2022 comes after a spectacular 2021, in which sales in the channel grew 30%, and a strong 2020, in which sales grew 15%.  That’s growth of almost two-thirds for the hobby games channel since the beginning of the Covid pandemic.

We asked where retailers thought the growth was coming from, and heard that Covid impacts, including higher prices and the surge of new customers during the heights of lockdowns, were only part of the story.  Another factor cited by some as a reason for increased sales was improved supply.  Hobby game sales in 2021 were constrained by snarled supply chains, which caused the inability to fill full demand on products in every category, with particular shortages on key TCG lines, miniatures, paint and other accessories, and board games.  As supply increased, retailers had more product available to fill demand, which if off its peak was still elevated from where it had been pre-pandemic.

Responsible for around half of hobby game sales, the health of the TCG business is key to the health of the channel, and a further increase in TCG sales in 2022 after a blockbuster 2021 was a pleasant surprise.  The growth in TCGs was despite a general softening in aftermarket activity and prices in 2022.

For an explanation of how TCG sales could be up despite a softening in the important collectible segment of the market, look to the supply phenomenon mentioned above.  The availability of lines that had been in short supply in 2021, particularly Pokemon TCG, made it possible for retailers to fill nearly 100% of demand, so even if demand was off its peak, sales could be higher.  Another factor impacting TCG sales in 2022 was the increasing number of products.

Board and card game sales were also up in 2022, with the growth in the number of consumers cited as the primary reason.  RPG sales continued to expand in 2022, with a new season of Stranger Things turbocharging ongoing organic growth in the category.

The one category that had underwhelming results in 2022 was miniatures and miniature games, which appears to have been flat or less according to our interviews.  Part of the reason may be just the hangover from the massive sales on figures and paint in 2020 and 2021, which loaded up consumer collections and created backlogs of figures to be painted.

While sales were up in hobby game stores, it was tougher to get dollars to fall to the bottom line, with gross margins shrinking and expenses rising.  Those financial pressures, along with slowing demand growth and more reliable supply chains, which while not back to pre-pandemic costs and efficiencies were much improved, led to more conservative ordering by retailers, especially as the year progressed.

The number of hobby game stores in the U.S. was flat to up, we were told by distributors in the space.  The fade of the collectible fever of 2021 meant fewer stores trying to add one or two hot TCG lines and the departure of some stores that had done so at the peak.

Despite new challenges, there was much to like about the year for hobby game stores, especially the ability to get top line growth coming off two big years.  With growth coming from multiple categories, easing supply chain challenges, and a growing customer base, 2022 provides a strong base for 2023 and beyond.

For the top hobby game franchises in five categories, see:
Top Collectible Games – Fall 2022
Top Non-Collectible Miniatures lines – Fall 2022
Top Hobby Channel Board Games – Fall 2022
Top Hobby Channel Card/Dice Games – Fall 2022
Top Roleplaying Games – Fall 2022

The full-length version of this article appeared in Internal Correspondence, and is now available on the ICv2 Pro site, click here.

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