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Thread: How Important is the D&D Brand?
Saturday, 20th July, 2013, 10:25 AM #1
Myrmidon (Lvl 10)
How Important is the D&D Brand?
Is the brand identity of Dungeons and Dragons something other games should be targeting?
So You're Going To Sneeze.
Do you reach for a kleenex? A Tissue? A Puffs?
I'm betting that you do so in roughly that order. Most people will say kleenex (leading brand name), others will use tissue (generic term). And a few stubborn, difficult folks will say "puffs", mostly expecting to be misunderstood so they can vent a little spleen.
What The Hell Are You Talking About Kleenex For?
We are in the middle of a really interesting period for our hobby -- probably more interesting in the long run than the original boom in 3rd party publication that followed the d20 Open License release.
The dominant brand -- Dungeons and Dragons -- has been essentially on a re-design hiatus for over a year and a half. They're still out there, developing products that use the IP like board games and computer games. They're working hard to be open and stay engaged with their existing fans through the monumental open playtest program. But for quite some time now they haven't really been pushing their core product.
This has created a window for other products. Some were already well established -- Pathfinder, which was born in the sturm und drang over the 4th edition release, is probably the most significant. Paizo's product quality has been the standard by which all others are measured for a long time, and their evolution of the d20 ruleset is no exception.
But this past year or so has given rise to many other games that I think could have been easily ignorable in other circumstances. Clearly, the rise of the Kickstarter RPG engine has roared into the D&D vacuum, and systems that might have been minor boutique products like FATE have exploded onto the scene and have developed audiences they might not have dreamed of just three years ago. Other games that have been around for a while are also getting a bump in the D&D break -- Savage Worlds, for one, seems to be coming on strong on many fronts.
The interesting question, though, is how much does that all matter to D&D? With the D&D Next fallow period coming (eventually) to an end, will D&D come back from it's walkabout and return to it's top dog position? Or are the other games, other publishers, becoming viable contenders for the top spot?
Another Brand Example
Think about this: In conversations with people who are not gamers, which gets the point across more quickly -- "Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game" or "World of Warcraft"?
It's World of Warcraft, hands down. And even today, when the market dominance that WOW had years ago has eroded substantially, it's still the descriptor that has the cultural capital to mean MMORPG better than the actual term does (at least to outsiders).
Beating the Brand
Imagine someone who has never played RPGs before. She likes Star Wars, thinks Avengers was awesome, likes board games like Risk and Settlers of Catan, but that's as far as she's gone.
So, you tell her "Vin Diesel, Wil Wheaton, and Dan Harmon play Pathfinder." Does that mean anything to her? How about "Vin Diesel, Wil Wheaton, and Dan Harmon play Dungeons and Dragons"?
The difference is the power of the D&D brand. The vast audience of non-geeks out there has heard of Dungeons and Dragons. Their perceptions D&D are probably silly and wrong to our ears, but at least they know what it is; there's cultural capital there that these other games simply don't have.
When you come right down to it, when it becomes time to explain a non-D&D game to an outsider, we probably need to mention D&D as starting point.
Now, I'm not a member of the staff of any of those other gamesů.but I imagine that must get pretty galling after a while. Anyone else trying to take over the mindshare that D&D has is facing 35+ years of brand recognition, recognition reinforced by TV shows, movies, books cartoons, board games, comic books, and probably a breakfast cereal.
But Does It Matter?
The brand dominance of D&D isn't a bad thing -- even if your first choice RPG isn't Dungeons and Dragons. It's a reality that puts D&D in a position the other companies don't need to be in, however. For a long time now they have been the primary recruiters for the hobby.
Their sheer size, and their need for a large audience, has meant that they have need a flow of new players and new customers that they can't get by stealing them away from other games. (DDN seemed, at first, to be a bid to try to change this reality and try to win players back; I'm not so sure of that anymore).
But for a long time, I have felt like that's okay, because the other brands have been able to create their own audience by grabbing D&D players away from D&D. Someone who wants more story flexibility from D&D might discover FATE. Someone who wants faster action or wider variety of settings might discover Savage Worlds or GURPS. Someone who loves micromanaging might discover Rolemaster. Once you've been brought into the community there are games for every taste.
The question the #2, #3, or ambitious #10 games out there need to answer is Can We Compete For D&D's Position as the Gateway Game? And Do We Want To?
And if we want to, HOW?
Sidebar: Is there a Risk for WOTC?
When a brand becomes the generic term for the product, there are grave risks for the company with that brand. It's vitally important to defend the brand name, because once the brand becomes that generic descriptor (aka a Generic Trademark) the company may lost the ability to trademark their brand name.
So, It's actually important for the WOTC brand managers -- while keeping the Dungeons and Dragons brand on top of the heap -- from becoming the generic name for the heap of RPGs. They should cringe at the idea that their brand name is used when we talk about our hobby -- despite the fact that it remains the most clear way of communicating what we do to people who aren't part of the community.
They've got nearly 40 years of brand identity behind them, but if they aren't careful, they might lost the ability to control it. And that's why you'll never see a WOTC staffer use the term "Dungeons and Dragons" as a collective term, the way I'm arguing the general public might.
Back To Beating Them
For more than a year Pathfinder has been outselling D&D. That's not much of a surprise to anyone -- D&D's primary delivery method had become online via subscription, and they haven't been selling much except reprints of old editions for a while now.
When D&D comes back, they're going to roar back into the stores and it's going to be interesting to see if Pathfinder can remain on top. It's also going to be interesting to see if Wizards continues the subscription model for the game. I'd bet they do, but anything's possible. Maybe they'll just run the whole thing through Facebook. Everybody loves Facebook.
Any game property that really wants to try to compete for that brand recognition -- especially in the awareness of people who are outside the hobby -- needs to be creating that awareness through non-rpg IP.
Take a look, for example, at the way Defiance is both an MMO and a TV Show. The MMO is getting far more attention that it may deserve because people are also interested in the TV show. Can you imagine a similar tie-in show on SyFy for Pathfinder? A live-action show called "Pathfinder Society" about an adventuring company? Heck, I'd watch that, even if the effects and writing were Sharknado-level bad.
What do you think? Should companies like Paizo try to compete for that brand identity space in the general public?
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Saturday, 20th July, 2013, 11:08 AM #2
Guide (Lvl 11)
Paizo already is with the MMO they're "making"
Saturday, 20th July, 2013, 11:22 AM #3
Orcus on an Off-Day (Lvl 22)
No. They'd lose.What do you think? Should companies like Paizo try to compete for that brand identity space in the general public?
IMO, Paizo should stick to what they're doing - produce quality products, look to increase their profits, and generally expand. It's worked for them really well so far, so they should carry on as before. Don't fight D&D for name recognition, because they can no more do that than you could fight Coca Cola, McDonalds, or Ford.
But... if at some point they get an opportunity to buy D&D (highly unlikely, but not impossible), then they probably should. If only to make sure nobody else beats them to it.
Saturday, 20th July, 2013, 11:29 AM #4
Hydra (Lvl 25)
I don't think it's a binary choice. It's not "beat the D&D brand or have no brand at all". There's nothing to "lose" by promoting your brand. Of course, every company should compete for brand space, but that makes it sound like there's a limited resource of it. Every company should establish its own brand as best it can; that doesn't mean every company has to be the #1 recognised brand (though I'm sure they'd like to be).Originally Posted by delericho
So yes, Paizo should continue its efforts to establish its brand. It has a loyal fanbase, it's selling very well at the moment, it has an upcoming MMO (D&D has a couple); it's 40 years behind D&D, so it's a long hill to climb, but it can climb that hill for the next 40 years.
And it's not all brand. As they've shown, you can outsell the top brand without having the same degree of recognition. Although, admittedly, as I've said before - it would be pretty darn embarrassing for Paizo if they weren't outselling a company which isn't actually selling anything right now!*
*Reprints and weird lego type things I don't understand aside.
Last edited by Morrus; Saturday, 20th July, 2013 at 11:32 AM.
Saturday, 20th July, 2013, 12:53 PM #5
The Great Druid (Lvl 17)
I would like Paizo to try their hand at a Celebrity game like the PAX ones from WotC. I don't know if that counts as competing on a brand level or not, I just think it would be way fun.
Saturday, 20th July, 2013, 01:20 PM #6
Magsman (Lvl 14)
I believe that -before you can create a brand identity of your own or chip away at someone else's- you need to have a quality product. More importantly, the people you are trying to sell to need to believe you have a quality product. On that front, there are many companies which are doing great, and I believe a combination of a lack of D&D product a well as a perceived lack of quality (no matter if that perception is true or not) have given some of those smaller companies an ability to be seen. Now that they have been seen, the question is whether or not they can be unseen. Will people who were lured elsewhere come back to D&D once D&D has an active game again? Many people will probably play D&D and something else, but that is still something which takes away from D&D because the money spent on that something else is money that could have been spent on WoTC products.
I do believe D&D has a strong brand identity. I also believe it is one of the strongest brands in the rpg hobby. However, I'm not convinced it is still as strong now as it was ten years ago. I do remember times when I would say "D&D" when I really meant "tabletop rpg," but -now- I most often find myself and the other gamers I socialize with on a personal level being more specific with game names. With that in mind, my natural question is whether the D&D brand strength is the most important thing right now or if the financial strength of WoTC (and Hasbro) is the most important thing. In no way would I ever try to deny that D&D as a brand name is recognizable, but I will argue that -I believe- we're in a time where other rpgs could do just as well (if not better) if they had the same resources and support available.
Something else I believe is that the next big step for a tabletop game might be to drop the term "roleplaying game." I do not believe the term carries enough meaning. I also think the term is somehow both simultaneously empty of meaning and loaded with baggage because of games like D&D and WoW. For those who don't know what it is, it doesn't say anything; for those who do know what it is, it says too much or not enough depending on who you are talking to. I think many games would benefit from a marketing standpoint if they used something like "collaborative storytelling system." Depending on the particular game, different descriptors may work better, but my overall point is that I believe some changes in terminology might benefit a game due to the evolution of the hobby and the wide range of things that "rpg" can entail while simultaneously conveying little or no meaning to people outside of the hobby.
Saturday, 20th July, 2013, 01:28 PM #7
You are pretty optimistic about the D&D brand strength even though it is at an all time low. Not only on the primary market where Pathfinder now rivals and even surpasses D&D in sales, but also on secondary markets like Video games where while once D&D was a name indicating quality now doesn't mean anything any more or is even a negative term. How is D&D doing on the book market?
Also, what you write is pretty US centric. Outside the US the D&D name is a lot less stronger.
Saturday, 20th July, 2013, 02:25 PM #8
The downside of the D&D name is that it can serve as an anchor, dragging down the rest of the hobby. There's no reason that an rpg has to be about hodgepodge high fantasy, involve combat, use any physical aids, or have complex rules. There's no reason that the people playing it have to be white guys who don't get enough sunlight. And yet, there's a culture around D&D, and stereotypes beyond that culture, that carry a negative connotation to many and limit its popularity.
Creating or expanding a new brand name I think is beyond the capability of an rpg company. Pathfinder isn't really different from D&D, doesn't really have a different audience, and doesn't have an IP with any mainstream appeal. Maybe, just maybe, their MMO could change that. Given how rough the MMO market is, I wouldn't bet on it. I wouldn't watch a Pathfinder TV show, and I like Pathfinder (the ruleset) (some of it anyway). If I were a TV exec, I doubt I'd ever pay any money for an rpg's IP. D&D blew the only real chance this hobby has had so far to cross into cinema.
I think a more likely direction is to take a recognizable name and make an rpg out of it. And we've seen plenty of those, most of which haven't really been game-changers. The WotC Star Wars game probably had the biggest audience of any of these, I would guess. There's also all those Cthulhu-based games. Licensed rpgs, AFAICT, are usually released well after the main property, usually aren't advertised very well, and the design of the rpgs themselves often doesn't fit the task and sometimes just isn't good.
What I'd really like to see is some big, new film/TV show or computer game with an rpg attached, released at the same time and promoted in the same way. Buy the tie-in novel! Buy the t-shirt! Buy the PnP rpg! Sort of like what Defiance did, game and promoted together, as equals with roughly simultaneous releases. It seems to be that Dragon Age wasted the opportunity to do this; the PnP game was too little too late, though it seems to be doing okay for itself. Huge genre hits like The Walking Dead and Game of Thrones haven't hit this nail on the head either, which is a shame. Of course, given a simultaneous release, the success of a massive new IP would hinge on quality and on how well it was sold.
To me, that's the only way a new brand name could ever sit side by side with or even surpass D&D.
"Clear Eyes, Full Hearts, Can't Lose"
Saturday, 20th July, 2013, 03:04 PM #9
Hydra (Lvl 25)
So the D&D brand strength is not at an all time low. Sales figures are; that's because WotC isn't currently selling D&D.
As I said earlier, it would be pretty embarrassing if they weren't surpassing a product not currently being sold. Even I'm surpassing new D&D RPG sales.Not only on the primary market where Pathfinder now rivals and even surpasses D&D in sales
Saturday, 20th July, 2013, 03:05 PM #10
For other companies D&D has done it's job in paving the way, in that regard there really is no competition - D&D will always have been first. Owning the brand will mean that there will always be a following and interest, but that goodwill only goes so far.