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

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.

HasbroBOD.jpg

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

Hussar

Legend
Maybe not the exact same thing, but something equally disastrous and ill-conceived.

I keep coming back to the observation that the time when D&D had its greatest period of growth was when Wizards decided they couldn't make much money off the game itself so put out a minimal edition with unprecedentedly low levels of support to keep the game active so the brand could be promoted and otherwise they left it alone. Shockingly when they weren't trying to make it a huge brand it became a huge brand. They really need to think about why that might be the case.
I'd argue that a lot of WotC's and 5e's growth - say 2014-2018 (pretty healthy growth before things start doubling every year, year on year) - was the groundwork they laid out. You had a MASSIVE outreach with marketing with the public playtest, combined with all sorts of pop-culture appearances - Big Bang Theory, Stranger Things, the HUGE growth of public plays on Youtube and Twitch, things like that.

The success of D&D isn't really in selling books. The success is in marketing. Making sure that every book sold is an EVENT. And it's worked really, really well.
 

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Vincent55

Adventurer
The problem is, they either have a creative gamer run the business, which doesn't work or in this case tried to get someone with business sense to run it as such but has no interest or experience in the product other than money. So the key as can be seen from pathfinder is a balance of the two, this company started from scratch not too long ago and has even surpassed D&D once in sales. Because they know how to market and make and sell role-playing games and are very experienced in the industry. they are focused on one part, Hasbro has many different things and due to this they try and treat it all the same and are now seeing that this is not working. Role-playing games are like a wild animal, try and put that in a cage and it will fight to be free or die trying to do so. The best you can hope for is to befriend it and help it along and respect its wild nature. And in return, it will keep coming back each time with more of its family and over time you will have a group that likes that you feed them and thrive in your presence.
 


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.
There are a lot of CFOs who played D&D in High School and a reasonable number of CEOs as well. GenX is more and more coming into ther age and experience where they end up on public company Boards and the number of them that played D&D is pretty high.
 




Sure. Anecdotal evidence is still evidence.
You can find surveys about hours spent gaming by generation, but those are very focused on computer / mobile / console gamers.

It gets harder and harder to find specifics about things like D&D.

I started in the early 80’s. By the end of the 80’s, it is not a stretch to find people in HS in the USA that okayed at least a game or two during HS and even harder to find someone who does not know what it is at all.

Many CFO’s came up the accounting track. Accountants are pretty nerdy, even if they don’t get the same press as computer programmers.

It is not a hard conclusion to reach. I would say the the number that actively play like I do at my age as a percentage is small. But played or at least their kids play and they know what it is, very high.
 

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