A New Digital Direction for Wizards?
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  • A New Digital Direction for Wizards?


    When Chris Cocks, the recently-named CEO of Wizards of the Coast, took on his new position we speculated how his digital gaming background, strongly grounded in Magic: The Gathering, might influence the company's vision. Thanks to a letter he released in January, we have a bit more insight into how he plans to translate his vision into reality.


    Virtual Magic

    Cocks 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 Again

    Wizards' 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.
    Comments 54 Comments
    1. Kramodlog's Avatar
      Kramodlog -
      So we are entering a new cycle of WotC trying to digitilize D&D.

      Ashame they aren't focusing on producing orginal RPG content instead.
    1. Reynard -
      The virtual table top is the future of RPGs and it only makes sense for WotC to produce their own. Unfortunately the list of companies from which digital team members are drawn suggests video games.
    1. qstor's Avatar
      qstor -
      So much for campaign supplements...
    1. Saxon1974's Avatar
      Saxon1974 -
      Not sure is virtual is the future. I know many Including myself that like getting away from technology and just having face to face tabletop time. Take that away and I will probably just play a video game.

      I would like to see a forum and some digital character builder and some DM tools though.
    1. Lord_Blacksteel's Avatar
      Lord_Blacksteel -
      Quote Originally Posted by Kramodlog View Post
      So we are entering a new cycle of WotC trying to digitilize D&D.

      Ashame they aren't focusing on producing orginal RPG content instead.

      I'm not sure there's much of a conflict here. The article mentions a digital team. Those aren't the guys writing RPG material.
    1. Kramodlog's Avatar
      Kramodlog -
      Quote Originally Posted by Lord_Blacksteel View Post
      I'm not sure there's much of a conflict here. The article mentions a digital team. Those aren't the guys writing RPG material.
      The team writting the RPG could use more members.
    1. Sunsword's Avatar
      Sunsword -
      Quote Originally Posted by Kramodlog View Post
      The team writting the RPG could use more members.
      Respectfully, I disagree. There many former employees that can freelance and I like their current release schedule. I don't want monthly releases again.
    1. Jester David's Avatar
      Jester David -
      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.
      Well... that and MtG makes all the money while D&D chugs along producing a token amount of cash. MtG makes so much money an above average year for that game will boost the entire "games" division of Hasbro. I've described D&D's money as a rounding error when compared to MtG.
      WotC is the Magic the Gathering company and D&D is just this vestigial little subdepartment, likely smaller than the overall company's legal department.

      We are reimagining digital versions of Magic and other Wizards games.
      They don't mention D&D there, so it could be different board games.

      That said, he mentions a D&D AR game. Which is the catch. He's very likely referring to "D&D" as the brand, not "D&D" as the Tabletop Roleplaying Game, which is the centerpiece of said brand. They can make a multitude of D&D digital games and products, and none of them could impact D&D the roleplaying game. In the same way there's a multitude of Marvel Based video games and small properties, but almost none touch on the comic (apart from the digial comic reader app).

      The Return of Forums?
      That's a bit of a stretch given the actual quote:
      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.
      It sounds more like they're talking about the reporting/ event ordering & store finding system.
    1. Kramodlog's Avatar
      Kramodlog -
      Quote Originally Posted by Sunsword View Post
      Respectfully, I disagree. There many former employees that can freelance and I like their current release schedule. I don't want monthly releases again.
      I didn't say monthly release. Sigh. Strawman are too easy to use.
    1. Ashran -
      Quote Originally Posted by Sunsword View Post
      Respectfully, I disagree. There many former employees that can freelance and I like their current release schedule. I don't want monthly releases again.
      Also respectfully, the two or three times a year for a book (which might or might not interest me or my group, btw, but it is another topic) is imho too slow for me. And when most published books are seemingly updates from older stuff, it looks kinda lazy. The only thing giving hope right now it might one day change are the unearthed arcana, but even there it looks like old concepts updated to 5e. Don't get me wrong, I love theses articles but it would be nice knowing where they lead us...
    1. Oriyn's Avatar
      Oriyn -
      Honestly, I'm just fine with WOTC leaving the digital D&D up to Fantasy Grounds and Roll 20. It takes some of the work off their plate so they could focus on new content rather than re-inventing the wheel.
    1. Desrimal's Avatar
      Desrimal -
      I honestly don't believe that virtual tabletop is the future of d&d. Getting some friends together in the same room for a few hours is what d&d is all about.
    1. Morrus's Avatar
      Morrus -
      Quote Originally Posted by Desrimal View Post
      I honestly don't believe that virtual tabletop is the future of d&d. Getting some friends together in the same room for a few hours is what d&d is all about.
      That's what it's about to you. D&D is different things to different people.
    1. Desrimal's Avatar
      Desrimal -
      Quote Originally Posted by Morrus View Post
      That's what it's about to you. D&D is different things to different people.
      You're quite right of course! Does anybody know how many tabletop rpgs are being played online compared to games being played in people's houses, in shops or at conventions? I'm guessing most games are still being played in "offline". I might be wrong though?
    1. Saxon1974's Avatar
      Saxon1974 -
      Quote Originally Posted by Desrimal View Post
      You're quite right of course! Does anybody know how many tabletop rpgs are being played online compared to games being played in people's houses, in shops or at conventions? I'm guessing most games are still being played in "offline". I might be wrong though?
      That could be a function of geography as well as finding like minded people in your town is much harder then anywhere in the world. Would be interesting to see numbers for comparison. I think both can exist. (Online virtual and tabletop)
    1. Parmandur's Avatar
      Parmandur -
      Quote Originally Posted by Ashran View Post
      Also respectfully, the two or three times a year for a book (which might or might not interest me or my group, btw, but it is another topic) is imho too slow for me. And when most published books are seemingly updates from older stuff, it looks kinda lazy. The only thing giving hope right now it might one day change are the unearthed arcana, but even there it looks like old concepts updated to 5e. Don't get me wrong, I love theses articles but it would be nice knowing where they lead us...
      The UA articles are testbeds for the ~3 products a year; they've been pretty upfront on that, and their research showing three a year is optimum for most consumers.

      Sent from my BLU LIFE XL using EN World mobile app
    1. darjr's Avatar
      darjr -
      I don't know about the ratio of offline to online, my guess is it's pretty lopsided toward offline. However online seems to be very popular.
    1. DrGerm's Avatar
      DrGerm -
      All of this speculation about high technology intertwining with the greatest table top RPG.

      And I still can't buy a legal PDF of the 5e PHB.
    1. Parmandur's Avatar
      Parmandur -
      Quote Originally Posted by DrGerm View Post
      All of this speculation about high technology intertwining with the greatest table top RPG.

      And I still can't buy a legal PDF of the 5e PHB.
      PDFs ain't high technology, as such. You can buy the contents via Steam, for Fantasy Grounds, which is more high tech.

      Sent from my BLU LIFE XL using EN World mobile app
    1. TerraDave's Avatar
      TerraDave -
      This is an old story. Decades of digital initiatives with very modest impacts, but I guess someone has to keep pushing that virtual boulder.

      Fortunately, the real story is that the D&D tabletop game is selling better then it has in decades and has brought in millions of new players (like all those young people who visit ENWorld but don't post on the forums). WotC suits come and go, but my hardbacks are not going anywhere.
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