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D&D (2024) RPG Evolution: Where Are the Board Gamers?

Alta Fox and Hasbro have different ideas about what makes an effective Board member.

Alta Fox and Hasbro both have ideas of what makes an effective Board member. But their definitions of what makes a gamer qualified for their Board of Directors varies.


Meet Hasbro's Board of Directors​

For the longest time, Hasbro's Board of Directors seemed to be more focused on managing the company financially than managing its products. On the Hasbro web site, each Board member's qualifications are listed, touting a variety of financial, brand, and business skills. Until recently, none of them had any gaming on their resume.

The question of the Board's game expertise didn't come up in financial circles, because Hasbro didn't defined itself more as a toy company than a game company. Hasbro's products encompassed board games and toys, and while board gamers are certainly a hobby, they are not necessarily playing the same board game. As Magic: The Gathering and Dungeons & Dragons became ascendant, Hasbro rapidly transformed from a company that manages games to a gaming company. Most emblematic of this shift was Wizards of the Coast itself. Chris Cocks, current CEO of Hasbro, moved up the ranks as President of WOTC since 2016, and President and Chief Operating Officer of WOTC and Digital Gaming in 2021.

Digital is quite important to Hasbro, as is apparent from the word "digital" mentioned in Cocks' profile on Hasbro's site five times (three in the quote below alone):
Under Mr. Cocks’s executive leadership as President and COO of Wizards of the Coast, Wizards of the Coast grew by over 150% in global revenue, surpassing $1 billion in 2021. His bold new approach to customer segmentation unlocked numerous multi-hundred-million-dollar insights and led Wizard’s iconic brand MAGIC: THE GATHERING to multiple years of consecutive growth since 2018. Mr. Cocks was instrumental in the successful expansion into digital through MAGIC: THE GATHERING Arena for PC and mobile. Additionally, with Mr. Cocks at the helm, DUNGEONS & DRAGONS became a pop culture powerhouse with over 50M fans to date, and through innovative ideas in digital gaming and entertainment, the brand is set up for ongoing success. Prior to Hasbro, Mr. Cocks has had numerous brand management, digital marketing, technical, sales and general management experiences at companies including Microsoft, Leapfrog and Procter & Gamble, working on category-leading brands including Xbox, Halo, Fable, Leapster, Actonel, MSN and Windows.
With so much money locked up not in just games but gamers, Cocks was the leader Hasbro was looking for, but the Board he joined didn't reflect this new digital direction. It wasn't long before shareholders noticed the discrepancy.

Card Players​

We previously covered how Alta Fox proposed a slate of new board members as part of its activism to shake up Hasbro. The activist shareholder emphasized that the Board was lacking gaming and capital allocation experience. On the gaming side, Alta Fox touted Jon Finkel, the "Michael Jordan" of Magic: The Gathering "with a large following in the community":
Jon Finkel brings a unique blend of expertise in the capital markets, finance and the world of Magic: The Gathering (“Magic”) to the Alta Fox slate. He is currently a Managing Partner and Co-Chief Investment Officer at Landscape Capital Management LLC, a quantitative, market neutral investment management firm, where he specializes in overseeing the firm’s portfolio of investments and is heavily involved in strategy development and research. Prior to that, Mr. Finkel played various games professionally, including Magic. Mr. Finkel has won a myriad of accolades during his career as a professional Magic player and is widely considered to be one of the greatest players of all time.
Things didn't work out quite the way Alta Fox planned. Their proposal was rejected, but it struck a nerve.

Video Gamers​

Prior to Cocks' appointment as CEO of Hasbro, there was one board member already in the digital gaming space: Hope Cochran, appointed back in 2016. Hope Cochran is the Managing Director at Madrona Venture Group, a technology-focused venture capital group.
Prior to joining Madrona in January 2017, Ms. Cochran was the Chief Financial Officer of King Digital Entertainment, the creator of Candy Crush and other successful mobile games, from 2013 to 2016. In this role, she helped drive the company’s significant employee and revenue growth, guided the Company’s IPO and successfully completed a $5.9 billion acquisition by Activision.
Shortly after Alta Fox proposed new Board members, Hasbro appointed two board members with digital gaming experience. The week after Hasbro turned down Alta Fox's proposal, two Board members stepped down and were replaced by Blake Jorgensen and Elizabeth Hamren (pictured above). Blake Jorgensen is Executive Vice President, Chief Financial Officer (CFO) of PayPal Holdings, Inc:
Prior to joining PayPal in 2022, Mr. Jorgensen spent a decade as the CFO and Chief Operating Officer (COO) of Electronic Arts (EA), a video game company, helping to drive the transformation of the company, resulting in dramatic improvement in growth, profitability, and market capitalization.
Elizabeth Hamren is Chief Operating Officer at Discord, Inc.
Prior to joining Discord, Ms. Hamren served as a Corporate Vice President at Microsoft Corporation from March 2017 to December 2021 running product and engineering for Xbox consumer products, including developing and launching the Xbox Series X|S and leading Xbox Game Pass. Prior to that, from August 2015 to March 2017, she led Global Marketing and Sales for Oculus at Meta Platforms, Inc. (formerly Facebook, Inc.), where she launched the industry-defining Oculus Rift virtual reality headset.
Hasbro's Board of Directors now numbers 13. Of those, four of the Board members have gaming experience. And yet as the stewards of the D&D and M:TG brands, there's something missing.

Where's the Tabletop Gamers?​

Scott Thorne at ICv2 noted a curious discrepancy in Cocks' announcement:
One thing I do not see in Cocks’ vision of the future of Magic and Dungeons & Dragons: any mention of the physical products on which the digital versions are based. Given his background with Microsoft and digital gaming, that is not really surprising, though he does say he plays both. Hazarding a guess, I think Wizards has looked at the success Marvel and DC Entertainment have had with movies and online games based upon their comic book properties and hope to leverage the Magic and D&D IPs into success in the digital realm. The physical versions of Magic and D&D will remain important, in much the same way that Superman and Spider-Man are, important as source material but providing comparatively little revenue to the company. I think Wizards has looked at the success of Hearthstone, Marvel and Transformers and sees that as the future of the company.
It's clear that for Hasbro, the nearest analogue to dealing with tabletop gamers is the digital gaming space. That may well explain why there was so much focus on digital products in the leaked OGL:
For example, when we released OGL 1.0a, YouTube, apps, blockchain, crowdfunding, and other now every-day technologies and distribution channels didn’t really exist in the way they do today. OGL wasn’t intended to fund major competitors and it wasn’t intended to allow people to make D&D apps, videos, or anything other than printed (or printable) materials for use while gaming. We are updating the OGL in part to make that very clear.
While the Open Game License shares much in common with open licenses used in software, one place where they differ is the small, creator-owned space. D&D encourages every Dungeon Master to be their own designer, so it's not surprising that thousands of them have gone on to publish their own content on DMs Guild and DriveThruRPG. In its rush to get the bulk of fandom onto the D&D Beyond platform, it's clear Hasbro's video game-focused leadership didn't take that nuance into account.

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Michael Tresca

Michael Tresca

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Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal
I think role-playing is a much more inherently creative exercise than engaging with any current form of digital entertainment--even for players.
In terms of publishing under open licenses, you have creators of RPG content, and coders of software utility. Both are inherently creative.

Von Ether

I can't imagine anything less important to a board member than if they play games or have experience in games. That's not their role at all. If a board is involved in product decisions, that company is is real trouble.
But at some point of that philosophy loses nuance and selling paper clips = selling RPGS. It also seems that a lot of non-gamers have a chip on their shoulder against the customer. Maybe that's the same for all CEO, but I can't think that's good.

Yes, micromanaging is bad, but it's evident that overall in business that many board members are now much more short-sighted due to being more beholden to share holders than the business itself.

Direct stock purchase used to be a retirement strategy. Now it seems more like a casino run by lemmings and monkeys in trench coats trying to fool the humans into giving them money. (Which already happened with 410k - man I'd kill for a pension."


My feeling is that they don't know anything about their products, costumer and where they should/could go. Digital has become a buzzword, and everyone would like to jump in as there is nearly zero material investment and a lot of returns. If it is done right. But designing and publishing video games is an entirely different beast than RPGs and tabletop games.

The resurgence of RPGs and tabletop games came (IMHO) because (1) geeks have more cash now so they can pay for their pastime; (2) and they want to do stuff in person with their friends. Many of them spend all their working hours in front of a computer, and then they probably do some gaming online, but they also want to have some social activity. Furthermore, parents are not that fond of their kids just playing videogames. Nor when I was a kid, nor not as I'm a parent. I would much prefer them to play tabletops, and as a family we do play boardgames.
Add to this, that the #1 boardgame for a long time is Gloomhaven. Which is for all intent and purpose a DMless dungeoncrawl. Which for me signals that there is a market for such games. Include some minis and one can cash in some real money (look at CMON games...) Why not go into this direction and not toward digital?

I think Alta Fox has remained quiet until the rescent tweet because they are planning a Proxy war, they still aren't happy and blame CEO Chris Cock pissing off fans of both MtG and D&D, but after they got slammed by SEC over free the wizards they are more patient and silent right now, taking the openings presented to build up for a Proxy War for control of the board.

Von Ether

My feeling is that they don't know anything about their products, costumer and where they should/could go. Digital has become a buzzword, and everyone would like to jump in as there is nearly zero material investment and a lot of returns. If it is done right. But designing and publishing video games is an entirely different beast than RPGs and tabletop games.

According to Dennis Detwiler of Delta Green fame and a video game professional for almost two decades (retiring at the VP level), it's more obnoxious than that. The real goal is to eventually sell off the video game studio and the top dogs involved feel embarrassed they make their massive profits from a game company vs something sexier.

I guess there is no pleasing their dads during a country club lunch. :ROFLMAO:

Way too many people feel like they have to be taken seriously. Relax, have fun. Play a game.


Nice article.

I know there has been a lot of anger towards WotC the past little while, but I think they are trying to increase the brand in various ways. Some of that requires trying out new avenues. You can't succeed if you don't try. Unfortunately, that can bring good ideas and bad ideas while experimenting with what works.

I think some of the difficulties are the changing landscapes of toys and games today. Hasbro has focused on toys and games in the past with retail being a strong area. In the new generation, many parents don't give their kids toys as much. They will hand their kid a tablet or some other electronic device to keep them entertained instead. This will obviously cause a strain on the traditional toy market in some ways.

Going more digital isn't a bad idea, and getting people who have experience in the digital arena is a smart idea (most likely). I suppose the question is how to expand effectively into new circles of entertainment without upsetting the previous circles? That can be a hard balancing act.

I think Hasbro is trying to find it's way in a new frontier. Finding the right people for that can be tough. Forging a path that accommodates the customers and fans of all the original premises while attaining new fans of the younger generations is a difficult maze to navigate and find the best way through. I hope they find it.
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I think the challenge is that the Venn Diagram for experienced business executives and and experienced TTRPG gamers probably doesn’t overlap a great deal.

Back when this board were coming of age, D&D was a niche game for freaks and geeks like me. Now as the new generations come through the ranks I suspect that will change. I don’t think it can or should be forced though. It evolves naturally.

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