Virtual MagicCocks mentioned Magic: The Gathering and Dungeons & Dragons in the same paragraph, implying equal footing. This is new for the CEO role, who previously focused primarily on the money making card game:
We will bring our characters and worlds to other games and experiences. What would it be like to throw fireballs as a Planeswalker in an MMO, or quest for treasure with your friends in a D&D augmented-reality game? We want to play games like this too, so we hired David Schwartz, an industry veteran with 25 years of experience leading projects at Microsoft, Electronic Arts, THQ, LeapFrog Enterprises, and Midway Games. He is building a publishing team to explore partnerships and collaborations that will bring Magic and D&D to unexpected settings, genres, and platforms.
There's good reason for why past CEOs have been cagey about discussing the two brands in the same breath -- the tension between the Magic: The Gathering and Dungeons & Dragons divisions is well-documented. There have been no less than three attempts to make a Magic: The Gathering role-playing game, all thwarted by concerns that one brand would somehow harm the other. That seems to have changed with Cocks' arrival, which precipitated a Fifth Edition Dungeons & Dragons campaign supplement that roughly sketched out a Magic: The Gathering setting. It was warmly received. There's no way to know for sure if Cocks' influence was the reason for the sudden change of heart, but it seems likely that the CEO's background certainly helped pave the way for future cross pollination of Wizards' most successful franchises.
Cocks also specifically referenced augmented reality gaming. We discussed how D&D in particular is ripe for an augmented reality supporting app that helps visualize certain aspects of D&D through a user's phone.
Digital Yet AgainWizards' frustrating inability to launch a comprehensive digital platform is well-known amongst D&D fans. Cocks focuses primarily on Magic: The Gathering but he does reference "other Wizards games":
We are reimagining digital versions of Magic and other Wizards games. We recently created the Digital Games Studio, a group of all-stars led by industry veteran Jeffrey Steefel. Jeffrey's team includes experienced Wizards game designers and industry talent from Dire Wolf Digital, Valve Corporation, Cryptic Studios, Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment, Activision, BioWare, and many others. The Magic Online team is now included in this group, as well as digital art and game design. They're all thinking about how players might tap mana and prepare spells in the future, and I can't wait for you to see what they're working on.
For D&D, the virtual tabletop is probably the most likely candidate for a "reimagined digital version" -- and in this regard WOTC has largely ceded ground to Roll20 and Fantasy Grounds. You can read more about the history of WOTC's attempts and failures at replicating D&D online in this article.
The Return of Forums?Finally, Cocks referenced connecting players online:
We will make your Wizards experiences more efficient, connected, and convenient. From getting matched in a big tournament to tracking your achievements to simply getting friends together for game night, there's a lot that goes into a good experience with a game outside of the game itself. A revamped technology team led by longtime Wizard Arron Goolsbey will be focused on connecting these kinds of in-store and online interactions so you will have cohesive and connected experiences with our games.
Again, WOTC's track record here isn't great, with the most recent issue being the complete removal of all of WOTC's digital forums for D&D .
Where Do We Go from Here?Scott Thorne at ICv2 notes one curious discrepancy :
One thing I do not see in Cocks’ vision of the future of Magic and Dungeons & Dragons: any mention of the physical products on which the digital versions are based. Given his background with Microsoft and digital gaming, that is not really surprising, though he does say he plays both. Hazarding a guess, I think Wizards has looked at the success Marvel and DC Entertainment have had with movies and online games based upon their comic book properties and hope to leverage the Magic and D&D IPs into success in the digital realm. The physical versions of Magic and D&D will remain important, in much the same way that Superman and Spider-Man are, important as source material but providing comparatively little revenue to the company.
Cocks' letter is grand on vision and short on details, but directionally it addresses three major weaknesses in WOTC's attempts to move D&D and its other properties to the next stage. In a connected, digital world, WOTC's D&D remains stubbornly analogue with much of the need to play and connect filled by third parties. Cocks' record as a digital gamer and his willingness to experiment is a promising sign that WOTC will return with a comprehensive digital strategy in the near future. We can only hope.
Mike "Talien" Tresca is a freelance game columnist, author, and communicator. You can follow him on Patreon.