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

MNblockhead

A Title Much Cooler Than Anything on the Old Site
Some folks on this thread obviously are living in a different world than me. The younger generation has such a wealth of information at their fingertips, which helps them quickly learn new games. The average new fan of the game certainly spends more time than I did in the 80s discussing the game, reading about it, and engaging in ways that just were not available to me when I was young (streaming, instructional videos, pod casts). I had Dragon Magazine and Polyhedron. That was all the TTRPG reading I did, other than the game books themselves. The only people I talked to about the games were a small, local group of friends plus an annual pilgrimage to Milwaukee for Gen Con.

We didn't have better system mastery of the games we played in the 80s. In many cases, especially with AD&D, we were just muddling along and making stuff up as we went along. Playing unintentionally home-brewed games because the rules were byzantine.

More naive or ignorant? Kids today can interact with people and their content from all over the world. If anything, I pity young people today for having less and less scope to be naive and ignorant. The ramifications of saying or doing stupid stuff even when young can haunt you for the rest of your life in the social media era.

Also I've read research about the average IQ consistently raising from generation to generation. Millenials and Gen Zs are likely, on average, more intelligent than my generation. I'm too lazy to look it up and provide a cite though, because I'm of the Gen X "slacker" generation.
 

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billd91

Not your screen monkey (he/him)
Also I've read research about the average IQ consistently raising from generation to generation. Millenials and Gen Zs are likely, on average, more intelligent than my generation. I'm too lazy to look it up and provide a cite though, because I'm of the Gen X "slacker" generation.
On this note, it’s worth adding that the generation most exposed to environmental lead poisoning in our developmental years is us - Generation X.
 

ThorinTeague

Creative/Father/Professor
Also I've read research about the average IQ consistently raising from generation to generation. Millenials and Gen Zs are likely, on average, more intelligent than my generation. I'm too lazy to look it up and provide a cite though, because I'm of the Gen X "slacker" generation.
Yes, gen z and millennials have a slightly higher iq than previous generations. They also work harder and (you’ll probably be surprised to learn) more committed to their marriages. That last one is because they feel less compunction to marry until they’re really really sure they’ve found the right person.
 

On this note, it’s worth adding that the generation most exposed to environmental lead poisoning in our developmental years is us - Generation X.
And all for nothing. The producers were well aware of the problem and had alternative additives. The cost would have been a fraction of a penny more, so instead they paid off the regulators to ignore the problem for almost 50 years. I think its quite possible Gnolls have higher moral standards than some people in the real world, lol (I mean 5e, genetically evil gnolls).
 

Vincent55

Adventurer
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."
nothing you said disputes the fact that they lack the critical thinking and intelligence to play, that is what i am getting at, of the players at the table i have had there are less than half like this. Now back in the '80s and 90's i still had a few but they at least tried, these don't even try they get mad and leave because it's too hard. Any way i have started screening more closely and have had to turn a few aways because they couldn't pass a simple test dungeon. But thats ok they can find someone to pay to play how they like, i don't charge so i tend to get a lot more people interested, many i have turned away.
 

Von Ether

Legend
I am a nurse and I have a quite a few lawyer friends. I understand critical thinking.

So you may not be wrong, but honestly most people don't have critical thinking skills and even fewer who find it fun to engage in.
 


Clint_L

Hero
Some folks on this thread obviously are living in a different world than me. The younger generation has such a wealth of information at their fingertips, which helps them quickly learn new games. The average new fan of the game certainly spends more time than I did in the 80s discussing the game, reading about it, and engaging in ways that just were not available to me when I was young (streaming, instructional videos, pod casts). I had Dragon Magazine and Polyhedron. That was all the TTRPG reading I did, other than the game books themselves. The only people I talked to about the games were a small, local group of friends plus an annual pilgrimage to Milwaukee for Gen Con.
Speaking to this from personal experience - I'm the teacher sponsor for the D&D Club at my school and they always hang around my classroom at lunch, etc. Yeah, they know way more than we did. This does not surprise me - they get just as into the game as we did back in the day, but have access to all the knowledge. One student, Virginia, knows AD&D (1e) inside out, better than I do, though she prefers playing 5e or, lately, Pathfinder 2.0. Another student, Jacques, learns about every possible exploit on the internet and constantly quizzes me on how I would handle them. He knows RAW better than me, by a mile.
 



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