D&D (2024) RPG Evolution: The Fox in the Henhouse

Before WOTC began rolling out its monetization plans for D&D, Hasbro was under fire for not doing enough. Alta Fox Capital's blueprint has turned out to be prescient.

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Who's Alta Fox?​

Alta Fox Capital is an activist investor firm which owns 2.5% of Hasbro stock. Activist investors are typically specialized hedge funds that buy a significant minority stake in publicly traded companies to change how it's run. Unlike traditional takeovers from private equity firms, activist investors use the media and proxy contests to force change within a company. As you can imagine, activist investors are often a company's worst nightmare.

For a long time, Hasbro's financial performance flew under the radar of investor scrutiny. That all changed when Alta Fox took an interest in Hasbro, and specifically in Wizards of the Coast. They launched their plan with a web site, Free the Wizards, which has since been archived. In retrospect, it's clear that Alta Fox's activism had an outsized influence on the Wizards of the Coast we know today.

The Case to Repair Hasbro​

Alta Fox argued that Hasbro's Board of Directors needed a shakeup:
Despite phenomenal growth in Hasbro’s Wizards of the Coast (“Wizards”) division over the last five years, the Company’s stock price has significantly underperformed the broader market and its own benchmark over every relevant timeframe. We attribute this underperformance to the Board’s exceptionally poor capital allocation and deficient investor disclosure and communication.
Alta Fox pointed out that none of the Board members had purchased shares of Hasbro over the last decade and received generous payouts (paid an average of $350,000 annually, higher than Apple) despite underperforming. According to Alta Fox, Hasbro's Brand Blueprint strategy was failing because it lacked financial discipline, an inability to sell successful branded video games, poor cost control (compared to Mattel), and underinvestment in its "crown jewel" intellectual properties like Magic: The Gathering and Dungeons & Dragons.

To fix this, Alta Fox recommended four nominees to the board: Marcelo Fischer of IDT Corporation (a cloud communications and financial services company); Jon Finkel, Managing Partner and Co-Chief Investment Officer at Landscape Capital Management and a former professional Magic player; Rani Hublou a marketing exec and Principal at Incline Strategies; and Carolyn Johnson, Chief Transformation Officer of American International Group, Inc. This dream team, Alta Fox argued, would shake things up.

Moreover, Alta Fox wanted Wizards of the Coast to be spun off. According to Alta Fox, Hasbro's Brand Blueprint strategy was a "cash cow" in which WOTC gave money to its parent company with little in return. They speculated that D&D and M:TG made up 90% of WOTC's 2021 sales. It quoted Cocks as saying that there was an 8x to 10x audience potential in bringing tabletop brands to the digital side of the business. Of the five reinvestment opportunities, Alta Fox's fifth recommendation was:
a one-stop-shop digital subscription & pay-as-you-go offering for a true-to-physical D&D experience (similar to how Arena is a true-to-physical MTG experience).
It all came to a head with an election contest by shareholders on Alta Fox's recommendations. Alta Fox lost the vote, and that should have been the end of it. But the efforts to revitalize Hasbro and WOTC in particular would be tremendously influential on the way the company is operating today.

Hasbro Takes Notice​

Although Hasbro rejected Alta Fox's proposals, its next actions were aligned with their suggestions. Hasbro brought on two new board members, Elizabeth Hamren and Blake Jorgensen. Both were executives with experience in gaming, technology, operations, and capital allocation: Hamren was chief operating officer at Discord Inc and worked on Xbox products, while Jorgensen previously served as chief financial officer for Electronic Arts.

That wasn't the only change. Directors were asked to purchase shares on the open market, just as Alta Fox had recommended. More to the point, the Brand Blueprint strategy that Alta Fox loathed got a revamp as Brand Blueprint 2.0. That was a four quadrant strategy in which Hasbro focused on a core group of eight to ten brands, including Dungeons & Dragons. The goal was to create $250 to $300 million savings annually over the next three years.

Cocks and Williams Lay It All Out​

In a USB Fireside Chat, Chris Cocks and new WOTC CEO Cynthia Williams shared their perspective on D&D's future:
You'll see us leaning heavily into the expansion of D&D through D&D Beyond, the acquisition that we did that closed this past May ... We have about 13 million customers, registered users, there that we will continue to serve by giving them more ways to express their fandom.
When Williams mentioned that the "D&D brand is undermonetized," it sounded a lot like the same claim made by Alta Fox. She pointed out that dungeon masters only made up 20% of the customer base, with an untapped player base that could be unlocked as "recurrent spenders," with more than 70% of digital gaming profits coming from post-sale. The D&D monetization strategy, according to Cocks, would be Hasbro's prime opportunity to implement Brand Blueprint 2.0.

We're now seeing that strategy in action. Although Alta Fox didn't get its board members listed, it seems it still got its way.
 

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Michael Tresca

Michael Tresca


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ThorinTeague

Creative/Father/Professor
Yeah I mean I never could have put any specifics to it but my gut always told me there were some ivory tower bean counters pulling the strings of puppets, that probably few to none of the public faces in this whole farce probably hold much of the blame. I'm sure nobody wanted this, but here we are... something must be done.
 



niklinna

satisfied?
Just to speculate, if Alta Fox would have been successful in having WoTC spun off, would this drive to monetize D&D still be handled in such a haphazard fashion? I mean, it's not like WoTC wasn't making a ton before this was all proposed. Why try and kill your golden goose?
Well now, there's a reason that fable has staying power.
 



Several of us have been saying over and over that the ultimate goal of Hasbro is to get players to fork over $5/mo to play D&D.

This article is a timely reminder as to a probable impetus for such a decision.
What do you pay every month right now to play D&D (or whatever RPG product)? Annual cost divided by 12. You pay for products or services of some sort right?
 


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