RPG Evolution: The Dragons Come Home to Roost

Thanks to the game's surge in popularity, D&D's brand plans are coming to fruition.

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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The rules may have improved, but there are still things lost by changing to a modern standard that had and have value. That charm meant a lot to me. Being exposed to that prose encouraged me to expand my vocabulary and reading comprehension immensely. The 1e DMG, I maintain, is still the most useful version of that book ever made IMO. It was formative, and it helped a great deal to make me the person I am today, a person I generally like.
Don't say 'modern standard'. Say 'the standard I liked was a standard that appealed to me when I was young and formative'. That's what applies the rose-coloured glasses. I understand that appeal. I played my first game of D&D in 1982. I was there. It doesn't change the fact that those rules were pretty much garbage.
 

Micah Sweet

Level Up & OSR Enthusiast
Don't say 'modern standard'. Say 'the standard I liked was a standard that appealed to me when I was young and formative'. That's what applies the rose-coloured glasses. I understand that appeal. I played my first game of D&D in 1982. I was there. It doesn't change the fact that those rules were pretty much garbage.
And how I feel is more important to me than the state of the rules.
 

Yeah that is a bit weird. I see PF2 as being more of an improved 4e than being particularly related to 5e trends.
As a 4E fan I don't really see much of 4E in PF2, I have to say. The structure is very different and it's a lot less "punchy" than 4E. It seems more like a natural evolution of 3.5E to resolve virtually all the faults of that, whereas 4E was much more about providing strong, fun tactical play and creating a set of lore that was more in line with how people would want the game to play (this is why 4E and Earthdawn aligned so much).
 

The rules may have improved, but there are still things lost by changing to a modern standard that had and have value. That charm meant a lot to me. Being exposed to that prose encouraged me to expand my vocabulary and reading comprehension immensely. The 1e DMG, I maintain, is still the most useful version of that book ever made IMO. It was formative, and it helped a great deal to make me the person I am today, a person I generally like.
This is interesting to me because you're largely talking about aesthetics, rather than rules. That's not a criticism, but stuff like the prose was more or less unique to Gary Gygax, who even the best of worlds would be long-retired by now. No-one is going to have a voice quite like that. The DMG was more a matter of dare I say it "vibe" and experimental advice than anything else, and very much of the moment (Gygax a wrote a truly awful book for DMs a few years later). The charm is absolutely in the aesthetic elements, and the whimsy, which no author would maintain. Indeed Gygax himself lost both, as can be easily seen with Dangerous Journeys a decade or so later, which is a rather tiresome/tedious work (imho, YMMV etc.).

Btw I saw this and I thought of you: A Brief Study of TSR Book Design - Sine Nomine Publishing | DriveThruRPG.com

I guess what I'm saying is, these things are going to be lost whether you go to a "modern standard" or not, simply because different people will be working on stuff. So I'm not sure anything later TSR or even WotC could really have done there. 5E has a less distinct and convincing voice than any previous edition, I'd say, and I do think that kind of rests on the people who designed it (the obsession with "natural language" - which is anything but - definitely doesn't help). On the flipside the PHB rules design is very strong.

I will say one thing re: vocabulary, RPGs in general - and I do think Gygax's use of language was significantly influential here! - expanded my vocabulary vastly, even though I started with 2E, and it really wasn't just D&D, all sorts of RPG books taught me words and ideas and ways of thinking about things, and even that periods of history existed that I wasn't previously aware of.
 

payn

I don't believe in the no-win scenario
As a 4E fan I don't really see much of 4E in PF2, I have to say. The structure is very different and it's a lot less "punchy" than 4E. It seems more like a natural evolution of 3.5E to resolve virtually all the faults of that, whereas 4E was much more about providing strong, fun tactical play and creating a set of lore that was more in line with how people would want the game to play (this is why 4E and Earthdawn aligned so much).
I can see some of the tactical differences, but PF2 is not much like 3.5 at all. It has tight math, hybrid multiclassing, tactical combat, etc.. Not much in common there. More so in common with 4E, while not being a clone of course.
 



Eyes of Nine

Everything's Fine
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
 

Vaalingrade

Legend
I can see some of the tactical differences, but PF2 is not much like 3.5 at all. It has tight math, hybrid multiclassing, tactical combat, etc.. Not much in common there. More so in common with 4E, while not being a clone of course.
PF2 is more like a Myriad Ways version of 4e. Where they took all the data from 3e that led to 4e and applied it in a different way.

A LOT of intents are identical, it's the actions that are different.

For example, cleaning up the Chaos of Actions; 4e went to Standard, Move, Minor, PF went for three actions that can be stacked to do bigger things; almost the exact opposite approach to the same issue.

It's actually a fascinating example of divergent evolution.
 

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