News Digest for August 11, 2023

Hello everyone, Darryl here with this week’s gaming news! Wizards of the Coast AI artwork update, D&D playtest survey results, ICv2 quarterly industry sales update, and more!

For a quick summary of the week’s news, Jessica Hancock will bring you up to speed with EN Live's This Week in TTRPG every Friday.

Don’t forget, you can keep up with all the week’s gaming news in detail with Morrus’ Unofficial Tabletop RPG Talk. This week, Morrus, Peter, and Jessica go over all the news from the first days of Gen Con.

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In case you missed it elsewhere on EN World this week:
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It’s been six months, so time for more controversy from Wizards of the Coast! Starting late Friday night, allegations came out that artwork in the upcoming sourcebook Bigby Presents: Glory of the Giants was enhanced by algorithmic image generation software (commonly known as “AI art”). The allegations began after an interview with freelance artist Ilya Shkipin with an online magazine AI Art Weekly from December 2022 was discovered where Shkipin outlined his process for using “AI” in his workflow. Social media users began to speculate whether these processes were used on Shkipin’s art in Glory of the Giants. Shkipin posted a now-deleted Twitter thread showing that the artwork was hand-created but algorithmically “enhanced”:

There is recent controversy on whether these illustrations I made were ai generated. AI was used in the process to generate certain details or polish and editing. To shine some light on the process I'm attaching earlier versions of the illustrations before ai had been applied to enhance details. As you can see a lot of painted elements were enhanced with ai rather than generated from ground up.

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The controversy deepened when another freelance artist, April Prime, expressed concerns that her own concept artwork used as the basis for some of Shkipin’s work was used in algorithmic generation. Prime was hired to do concept artwork for the D&D sourcebook, but according to a clarification made on Twitter, was not available to complete the interior artwork “due to a move overseas”. In a post on Bluesky (which can only be viewed by those with accounts on the invite-only social media service, Prime said:

I feel so genuinely betrayed by WotC allowing an artist to use AI as part of their process for interior art in the most recent DnD book. Having concepts I worked on ran through a scraping program and turned into slop isn't really how I wanted to spend August.

Shkipin denied that Prime’s work was used in generation, stating in a pair of tweets:

To make it clear - processed only my own sketch, which followed the original concept thoroughly as it was expected. Sketch was approved, then some textures were applied. (Posted August 6)

Going to take a break from social media for a while and pick up a new hobby. Few things to clear up: No one else's art was processed besides my own. I followed the concept closely, the intermediate sketches were accepted as presented. Maw of Yeenoghu was painted fully by me. A lot anatomical issues were my mistakes to improve on or the fault of poor choice of references, few attributed to use of ai. Most criticism was fair feedback to grow from. See you all down the road! (Posted August 8)

A large part of the controversy surrounding algorithmic generative software is the sourcing of the databases for these programs, with many accusations of unethically “scraped” content from artists without their permission. Additionally, many services providing algorithmic generation have as part of their Terms of Service that any material submitted to the algorithm such as images or text can be added to the algorithm’s database to help “train” the algorithm. The source of material in algorithmic databases has been a large part of debates on regulating the technology in the European Union, and was at the center of the controversy around literary analysis algorithm site Prosecraft, which scraped the works of over 10,000 mainstream published authors without permission. Meanwhile, Wizards of the Coast previously ran into controversy this past January along with the OGL fiasco, having to refute rumors of “AI Dungeonmasters”.

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Wizards of the Coast made a statement via the D&D Beyond Twitter account addressing the controversy on Saturday.

Today we became aware that an artist used AI to create artwork for the upcoming book, Bigby Presents: Glory of the Giants. We have worked with this artist since 2014 and he's put years of work into book we all love. While we weren't aware of the artist's choice to use AI in the creation process for these commissioned pieces, we have discussed with him, and he will not use AI for Wizards' work moving forward. We are revising our process and updating our artist guidelines to make clear that artists must refrain from using AI art generation as part of their art creation process for developing D&D art.

The Onion weighed in on the controversy, posting a satirical article “Dungeons & Dragons Bans AI Art” featuring fictional “quotes” from people giving their opinions, including one from Josiah Ratliff, Singoloist, saying “The only emotionless beings that should be creating D&D art are its fans.”

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Wizards of the Coast released a video featuring Todd Kenreck and Jeremy Crawford discussing the survey results from the Playtest 5 packet. A quick note to help interpret the numbers: Wizards of the Coast sees anything below 70% satisfaction as an aspect of the game that needs work and anything under 60% needs to go back to the drawing board.

Weapon Mastery scored 80% with each individual property (except flex) scoring at over 80%. So weapon mastery will definitely be in the 2024 update with more integrations of that system expected in Unearthed Arcana Playtest 7. Despite being the most numerically advantageous property, flex scored low as players want the new abilities to add more tactical options, which flex's flat bonus didn't provide.

The Barbarian class got 77% satisfaction with most features scoring over 80% including as the average of all class abilities (so people like the class mechanics more than they like the class as a whole). The Path of the Berserker subclass got 84% percent satisfaction, which got an “Oh my god” from Crawford as the Berserker subclass was previously at under 30% satisfaction.

The Fighter got 75% for the class, but also had over 80% for individual class features. The Champion subclass went from 54% in the original version to 74% in the updated iteration. Players liked the fighter class not only utilizing the new weapon mastery feature but also being the best at it by having the most options.

The Sorcerer went from 61% to 72% with the updates, getting a mixed response for the new sorcerer-specific spells and excitement for the revised metamagic. Also, surveys show that players prefer classes to have their own unique spell lists similar to the original 2014 version. Meanwhile, the subclass Draconic Sorcerer got 73% satisfaction that “wasn’t as typically high as we see with this subclass”. Players enjoyed the draconic resilience and elemental affinity class abilities with scores for those in the mid-80s, while the reliance on dragon wings for the sorcerer-specific spells and characters not having the wings out all the time dragged the subclass down. This will be addressed in future playtests already as classes will go back to unlocking subclass features at levels unique to each class rather than standardizing them, which was already determined to be an unpopular move.

Players were dissatisfied with the Warlock’s new spellcasting approach as players prefer the distinctiveness of pact magic over the more standard spellcasting ability. Therefore, pact magic will come back in a future playtest with tweaks to give the class greater access to spellcasting abilities compared to the 2014 version. Also, the spellcasting ability score will be set rather than variable, bringing the class back in line with other classes, and the class will have more options for Eldritch Invocations.

Finally, the Wizard got a “mixed reception” with a satisfaction of 70% and individual class features averaging out closer to 78%. The main reason for the lower opinion of the perennially well-polling class is that players want wizards to go back to having their own spell list. Similar to the fighter being the best at weapons, players want the wizard to be the best at arcane magic, and sharing the spell list with other arcane casters waters down the class. The Evoker subclass scored well with individual class features at 79% and 80%, so changes there will mostly be about tweaks to make it just a little better.

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Robert J. Schwalb launched the much-anticipated crowdfunding effort for his new game, Shadow of the Weird Wizard. The game is a family-friendly spin-off of the more grimdark and heavy metal inspired Shadow of the Demon Lord RPG, using the same streamlined d20-based mechanics as the previous game with a more traditional fantasy setting. The 350-page core rulebook features the complete game rules including four easy-to-learn novice paths plus 40 expert paths and over 100 master paths for character customization along with 33 traditions of magic each with four magical talents and eighteen spells cover all tiers of play. The Secrets of the Weird Wizard rulebook for the Sage (gamemaster) will be about 325 pages with guidance for running games, a “slew” of traps and hazards, a full bestiary with over 100 foes of all levels, a dozen optional ancestries for player characters, and guidelines for making your own quests. The PDF of the player’s guide is available for $14 while a $49 pledge gets both rulebooks plus a quest and digital stretch goal rewards and the $99 level adds on physical copies of both books. The Kickstarter funded within minutes and will unlock stretch goals until Thursday, September 7.

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Sam Reich of Dropout announced that production on shows for the network will resume, including the RPG show Dimension 20. Previously, it was believed that Dimension 20 may not be able to return once previously recorded episodes were aired due to the SAG-AFTRA strike. Reich said in the Twitter thread that previous statements were made in misunderstanding of the scope of the strikes. From the thread:

We assumed Dropout's contract - the New Media Agreement for Non-Dramatic Programming - was struck because it wasn't specifically on a list of non-struck contracts. After speaking at length with our lawyers and with SAG, turns out that is not the case. So, Dropout can return to business as usual. And because our shows were never struck, talent can go back to promoting their Dropout appearances.
[…]
But make no mistake about it: We continue to support our striking performers and their cause. Between Dropout and me personally, we have donated $20,000 to the Entertainment Community Fund. If anyone doesn't feel comfortable working with us or promoting their work during the strike for whatever reason, we respect that position. While we already pay above minimums, we will continue to go above and beyond to reward and protect our performers and crew members, and plan to put even more of our money where our mouth is before the end of the year.

Reich closed out the thread by promoting the Entertainment Community Fund, a charity providing resources and emergency financial assistance to performers and crew members affected by the strike or other hardships.

The announcement comes at just the right time, as on August 8, Dropout announced Dimension 20: Mentopolis and posted a trailer. The six-episode series uses the Kids on Bikes system in a game where each player takes on the role of a citizen of the mindscape city of Elias Hodge (similar to the film Inside or the 1990s TV series Herman’s Head. Brennan Lee Mulligan will serve as gamemaster for the cast including Hank Green, Freddie Wong, Danielle Radford, Alex Song-Xia, Siobhan Thompson, and Mike Trapp. The first episode premiered this past Wednesday on dropout.tv.

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Gen Con has bounced back from the pandemic and set a new attendance record with over 70,000 attendees this year. The previous record was set in 2019 and, while the press release does not include precise numbers, attendance numbers for that year were reported as “over 65,000” and “nearly 70,000” in local Indianapolis press. The attendance record announcement was coupled with a statement that Gen Con has renewed its contract with the city of Indianapolis through 2030. This is good news for the city as the convention generates nearly $75 million in economic impact for local businesses, but comes after much controversy due to political issues surrounding the state of Indiana in previous years and issues with housing causing many to have difficulty finding hotel rooms for the convention. Local paper IndyStar reports that the $200 million expansion of the Indianapolis Convention Center and the construction of the $500 million Signa by Hilton hotel along was a “driving factor in Gen Con’s decision to renew its contract”.

Also reported by the IndyStar, this year’s big controversy was the theft of around $300,000 worth of merchandise from the convention. The thieves used a pallet jack to steal sealed boxes of Magic: The Gathering cards, mostly booster boxes and Commander Masters sets, from the staging area of vendor Pastime Comics & Games. The $300,000 claim comes from wholesale prices for the lost goods, not the retail or aftermarket value of the cards. No arrests have been made, but the IMPD has stated they have two persons of interests who are residents of New York City that investigators would like to speak with.

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ICv2 released its quarterly industry report on the tabletop gaming industry for Spring 2023. The headline says “OGL Mis-Step Shakes Up the RPG Business”, but you can’t really tell from the sales ranking charts as Dungeons & Dragons is still at number one followed by Pathfinder in second place with the usual shuffling of the next three spots taking place: Avatar Legends at #3, Vampire: The Masquerade at #4, and Dark Souls RPG at #5. However, the chart doesn’t reflect the events as much as it seems other games, particularly Pathfinder, benefitted greatly from the OGL kerfluffle (yes, after all the times I’ve referenced it I’m running out of words to describe it) with the release of Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves acting less as a sales booster and more preventing a sales decline for the quarter.

ICv2 also posted an update on their data collection methods despite making no major changes to their methodology in 2022:

Our primary means of collecting data about hobby games sales is interviews with key industry figures with good visibility to sales in various subcategories and channels. We also review data released by publicly traded companies, publicly available NPD data, and Kickstarter data and analysis. There were no major changes in methodology for 2022.

ICv2 published reports on the industry cover the fiscal year of 2022 which showed a 7% growth over 2021 with demand normalizing to pre-COVID levels. In other tabletop industry news for the Spring 2023 quarter, Games Workshop held onto the top spot in miniature sales despite being slow on restocks during the quarter, with Catalyst Game Labs stepping up with the expansion to the BattleTech line rising them up to the #3 spot behind Nolzur’s Marvelous Miniatures D&D mini line from WizKids. No big changes to the CCG market with Magic: The Gathering, Pokemon, and Yu-Gi-Oh taking the top three spots. Board and card games are down from expectations, likely due to inflation costs reducing demand for leisure purchases, with Wingspan on top of board games and Codenames at the head of card/dice games for the quarter.

In other financial news, ICv2 reports that sales for Wizards of the Coast and Digital Gaming were down 11% in Q2 2023. Sales for the quarter were $375.6 million, down from $419.8 million for the same quarter the previous year. The slump comes from a combination of a $25 million write-off on Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves and a downturn in Magic: The Gathering sales, which dropped 15%. Wizards of the Coast blamed the lower sales numbers for Magic on the release timing, which placed the big Lord of the Rings: Tales of Middle Earth release at the end of the quarter with revenue from those sales coming in Q3 2023. CEO Chris Cocks said that the Lord of the Rings set “is more of an evergreen set that will have a longer tail”. Meanwhile, Dungeons & Dragons sales were up for the quarter along with two million new registered users for D&D Beyond during the first half of the year. Operating profit for the quarter was only $142.3 million.


That’s all from me for this week! Don’t forget to support our Patreon to bring you more gaming news content. Until next time, may all your hits be crits! Note: Links to Amazon, Humble Store, Humble Bundle, and/or DriveThru may contain affiliate links with the proceeds going to the author of this column.
 

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Darryl Mott

Darryl Mott

If these guys stole all that product from GenCon in broad daylight while wearing tshirts for their own tiny company, then they’re even bigger fools than the mafia.

Yeah the definitely rolled a 1 on their disguise check.

A least we know the next edition of there card game will have a ton of playtest, 3 to 5 years worth depending on the sentencing.
 

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