RPG Evolution: The Dragons Come Home to Roost

D&D has long striven to be more than a game, but a brand. Thanks to the game's surge in popularity, those plans are coming to fruition.

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Hasbro’s Strategy​

Hasbro’s association with the movie industry has long been a mutually beneficial relationship, in which toy sales surge with each new movie. Star Wars and Transformers are both examples of how Hasbro’s bottom line is impacted by the release of the latest film. Unfortunately, this strategy means Hasbro is reliant on third party schedules to produce revenue, and the pandemic highlighted just how much can go wrong with the complicated process of releasing a movie. No wonder the company wants its own intellectual property that it can monetize for movies and streaming.

This is why Hasbro's strategy has moved well beyond just producing toys and games. Hasbro divides their new approach into four quadrants: Toys & Games, Digital Gaming, Licensed Consumer Products, and Media (TV, Film, Digital Shorts, Emerging Media). Hasbro previously announced plans to execute on this four quadrant strategy with all of its licenses, including My Little Pony, Transformers, Magic: The Gathering, and Dungeons & Dragons. Some of those Media plans have been easier to execute than others, with Transformer movies running out of steam, the My Little Pony series winding down, and a Magic: The Gathering series yet to launch on streaming. That leaves D&D.

WOTC’s Strategy​

Wizards of the Coast has always struggled to justify its revenue goals for Dungeons & Dragons amidst high revenue brands like Magic: The Gathering. At one point, each division was given a goal of $100 million in annual sales, a number that was not reachable through tabletop gaming channels.

The solution was digital gaming. D&D tried several times to mimic the Massive Multi-Player Online Role-Playing Game (MMORPG) space, which it inadvertently spawned dating all the way back to Multi-User Dungeons (MUDs) and Interactive Fiction (IF). The idea was that if the company could own a slice of that digital engagement dedicated to off-brand D&D, they could reach at least $50 million.

It didn’t work. WOTC never had enough resources, the right partners, or the technical know-how to effectively launch a digital ecosystem that would last longer than a few years. Then something surprising happened: D&D became more popular than all the other Hasbro brands combined.
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The Dragons Take Over​

The passing of the previous Hasbro CEO created a power vacuum quickly filled by the staff shepherding D&D into the new age. The twin factors of the pandemic and streaming made D&D uniquely suited to a much wider audience, and it didn’t take long before WOTC was responsible for 72% of Hasbro’s total operating profit. In a very short period of time, WOTC went from a barely-mentioned division on Hasbro investor calls to the darling of the company, with CEO Chris Cocks taking the reins as Hasbro’s CEO in February 2022.

So what’s next? Sure enough, WOTC is executing on Hasbro's four quadrant plan for D&D. Let’s break it down:
  • Media: The juggernaut most likely to influence the other three quadrants is the upcoming D&D movie. There have been many attempts at making D&D movies that have all been commercial failures. This time around feels different, if only because there was a legal battle waged through proxies on behalf of movie-making behemoths (Universal Studios vs. Warner Bros.) for D&D’s film rights. It’s clear they think there’s a lot of money to be made with a D&D movie. Unlike other movie launches, Hasbro is supporting the movie with the full force of its license. For an example of what this might look like, see the above picture of the D&D Advent Calendar. Speaking of which...
  • Licensed Consumer Products: Advent calendars are interesting products because they can contain just about anything, but that thing has to be small. They also require a lot of creativity to produce, as 25 different items is a lot to put into one package. If the D&D advent calendar is any indication, we’re going to see a lot more of beholders, displacer beasts, mimics, owlbears, and gelatinous cubes. There are stylized, iconic images of each monster repeated across everything that’s in the calendar, including stickers, gift tags, pencils, and ornaments.
  • Toys & Games: D&D is a game first and foremost, so the release of the next edition (an edition that requires playtesting but holds out the promise for backwards compatibility) is the obvious prime mover in this space. In addition to the aforementioned licenses, D&D toys are starting to show up in the wild. Egg Embry wrote an overview of just some of the D&D action figures available. We can expect a slew of monster toys too.
  • Digital Gaming: The big news here is One D&D, which uses D&D Beyond as its base. With 13 million registered users, WOTC is banking on D&D Beyond as a base for propagating One D&D to the masses. For better or worse, this includes changes to the OGL with the likely plan to defragment any digital content that currently resides on third-party platforms. There has been several failed attempts at establishing a digital home base for D&D, so it’s really important they get this right.
Cocks has never hidden his digital ambitions for D&D, and now with the company’s full resources at his disposal, we’re about to see a four quadrant D&D plan in action. Hasbro and WOTC are all in on this plan, with the future edition of D&D, the D&D movie, and its reinvigorated digital platform all unified in an attempt to make D&D not just a game, but a brand expression.

Will it work? Perhaps the more relevant question for current D&D fans is ... what if it does?
 
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Michael Tresca

Michael Tresca


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talien

Community Supporter
Great analysis @talien.

Not sure if this derails the thread, but I think Magic's time is coming in about 10-15 years, when the Millenials for whom this type of fantasy and "brand engagement" will come into power as 45-55 year olds (currently that's Gen X, for whom D&D was our nerd/fantasy touchstone).

I mean, I guess we'll see
Totally agree, and I think your timing is about right too. Of course, by then the D&D-ization of fantasy will be pervasive, so it will be interesting to see what Magic brings to fantasy (presumably, further categorization of spells).
 

Clint_L

Hero
Totally agree, and I think your timing is about right too. Of course, by then the D&D-ization of fantasy will be pervasive, so it will be interesting to see what Magic brings to fantasy (presumably, further categorization of spells).
Yes, that will truly be the era of collectible card game fantasy. Magic and Pokemon will rule all. Except we will be playing in VR from within our underwater domes.
 


ThorinTeague

Creative/Father/Professor
Like many others, i am tired of the "new" version that is "compatible" with the "new" version so they can repackage the books in a slightly better or worse version of the game. The 5e was the last straw for me, and with the new generation of players who i have tried to DM, i have no interest in bending to accommodate their lack of intelligence, mind you a slim portion is not bad, but the bulk of them are. Also, the stuff they are releasing has very few rules or crunch and does little to help me as a DM. Now it is about collectable covers, and dividing the stuff up between many different areas so you can't just buy one book and be done.
I am a professor of art and art history teaching primarily students of the millennial age or gen z. I've worked with many many such students, for long enough now that my first students are in their 30s and married with children. After doing this for a decade and a half, I have concluded that they don't deserve their reputation. Now I'm not saying my classrooms are necessarily a perfect cross section of the American population. But I am saying my students are smart and work hard, and are all millennials or gen z.

I really feel like the way it's popular to dump on them is very unfair.
 

Vincent55

Adventurer
I am a professor of art and art history teaching primarily students of the millennial age or gen z. I've worked with many many such students, for long enough now that my first students are in their 30s and married with children. After doing this for a decade and a half, I have concluded that they don't deserve their reputation. Now I'm not saying my classrooms are necessarily a perfect cross section of the American population. But I am saying my students are smart and work hard, and are all millennials or gen z.

I really feel like the way it's popular to dump on them is very unfair.
This is from my experience, millennials or gen z. are not who i am specifically talking about, i am talking about the new players who have never played anything but 5e.
 


Von Ether

Legend
I am no 5e apologist. At all. In fact, I am not going to get monetized. I come from a generation that was working fast food to get through college and scrape a few bucks together for a concert ticket! We gloated about only needing books paper and pencil to have tons of fun!

My group is older, 100% college educated (if we are being weirdly elitist and focused on intellectual ability or grit?) and many of us have more than one graduate degree. We just played 5e last night and had a blast.

It’s a different game than 1e for sure, but the product is not packaged in any predatory way. The core 3 books are sufficient. If you want to buy “unearthed arcana and the wilderness survival guide” go ahead or don’t.

I only say this to distinguish normal marketing and products to what is to come (sounding more like what you are referencing).

But let’s deal with THAT when it comes to fruition and not throw eachother (potential allies) under the bus with overgenerlaizations.

Fwiw, we had a teenager playing with us and all of us were laughing and high fiving.

Now when WOTC starts charging us per laugh and high five in the digital landscape, then we need to tell THEM to get bent and not our fellow players.
Here, here.

I am so old school, I can't understand why we would turn away more gamers simply because they don't game like us.

This is a wonderful hobby and in a time when we finally don't have to over explain or defend our fun, why build fences when we can build bridges instead.
 

This is from my experience, millennials or gen z. are not who i am specifically talking about, i am talking about the new players who have never played anything but 5e.
Ah I think I understand you. It’s true that there has been a huge explosion of new players in the past few years, and they’re entering the hobby much differently than in the past. In the old days, someone usually had to teach you how to play a TTRPG or you had to slog through the books and figure it out yourself. Now, many of the new people (who skew younger) are joining the hobby after watching streams—they aren’t learning the game as thoroughly or with the same level of feedback most of us used to. They might in some cases even watch a stream and believe “being creative and entertaining” is all you need to play this game, not learning rules or honouring the social contract at the table—nobody told them these things matter, so they don’t know.

I don’t believe most new players are dumb, but I think there’s a plausible mechanism for the average new player today to be more naive or ignorant or misinformed than maybe the average new player used to be.
 

Von Ether

Legend
This is from my experience, millennials or gen z. are not who i am specifically talking about, i am talking about the new players who have never played anything but 5e.
Also don't forget there's a learning curve we all go through. I remember reading about how those kids playing in the new edition of the time, 2e, wanted stats for Gandolf, and that was silly.

Gandolf? Who needs TSR telling you what Gandolf is in your game?! Make up your own stats, that way your Gandolf is perfect for your game. How lazy!

We have a lot more variety of styles now compared to the original "dungeons are simply puzzle box rooms with a coat of fantasy paint on them.)

Styles change too. Sure some people like crunchy gaming parts, but do they also also want strict encumbrance rules and journey rules based on the odds reflected by actual historical and military research just as much? (While, there will always be somebody who wants that, the highly simulationist style of game design has come back in vogue since the 90s.)

Between those two things, and the maturity level/confidence of those at the table there's always going to be a culture clash between those who have played for 10+ years and the new crop of "kids."
 

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