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D&D 5E Sell Out: Hasbro and the Soul of D&D

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Oofta

Title? I don't need no stinkin' title.
But back to the original subject, I don't know that D&D can ever sell out. It's a unique form of art that exists in its fans as much as its creators. Just as D&D in the beginning was monetized from the very beginning, D&D still has a hobbyist core today. It's always going to be a little weird. No matter how many great big epic campaigns Wizards releases, there's always going to be someone that decides that they want to run a world where everyone is a mushroom, or stat up a two-butted dragon to fight their PCs. It's a game that invites creativity in this beautiful perpetual motion machine.
Well, I disagree with the basic premise that at one point D&D was somehow "pure" or that it had a DIY, hobbyist roots from a company POV. I mean, maybe back in the mid seventies with the first initial releases? But it became a business long ago in the mists of D&D history.

But the real "hobbyist" side of things has always been the DM and table, that's not going to change even if the basic premise is correct.
 

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Gadget

Adventurer
You know, I don't usually have the patience to read huge wall of text posts of this nature, but this one was surprisingly well written and thoughtful; or at least held my interest. So, bravo OP.

I was reading the first half and was thinking..."D&D sold out a long time ago, have you heard of TSR?" but then got about three quarters through the article and and thought..."Oh, yeah right." Very thought provoking at least. Like someone above said, a taller tree catches more wind, and I can see the fear of D&D getting so homogenized for mass corporate consumption becoming an issue. Not like when it was our own private kewl thing we did, before it was cool. Also, increased popularity does make it more visible and vulnerable to criticism on the grounds of cultural and racial sensitivity, if that can be considered a down side.
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
Not like when it was our own private kewl thing we did, before it was cool.

Part of the point being, I think, that it never was our own private thing. WE did not own it. We think of ourselves as if we owned it, and as if we have some entitlement to it for liking it back in the day, so we feel like we are betrayed when we are taught how that was never actually the case, and then we say they "sold out" to get back at them for our self-inflicted hurts.
 

embee

Lawyer by day. Rules lawyer by night.
The Beatles sold out.

If you listen to With The Beatles, it will sound radically different from Sgt. Pepper's. It's still The Beatles but it's not the same Beatles. Mainly because instead of being some garage band, they were bigger than Jesus. And that's not necessarily a bad thing. Success gave them more ability to fail.

You need to be able to fail if you're going to succeed.
 




ardoughter

Hero
Supporter
I have read the OP twice and I am not sure I get it. It appears to me to be about "selling out". I do not believe that D&D is capable of being sold out.
Let me explain: D&D is a ruleset and support material. What is created is what happens at the table and that is where the magic is at.
Even if the group is using a published adventure path one table's play through may have very little resemblance of another's using the same material.
So, what Hasbro/WoTC appear to be doing is creating a merch/multi-media franchise out of the D&D IP. The biggest risk that this poses to D&D is that it will fossilise the rules system. If a split like the D&D 4 - 3.x split is seen as a threat the rest of the franchise. I suspect that in the long run if the franchise creation effort is successful the people playing the video game or watching the movies/tv shows and buying the toys will not be playing the TTRPG. If that is the case the TTRPG can evolve naturally, its importance in the larger scheme is that it is there for those that go looking for it.
 

Mistwell

Crusty Old Meatwad (he/him)
Oh, no, I’m not blaming Gen X for destroying the economic future. I’m 100% blaming the Boomers for it. I’m just expressing jealousy that Gen X had the opportunity to gain a modicum of financial stability before the economy imploded, and consternation at their holier-than-thou attitude about “selling out”
Gen-X isn't holier-than-thou about anything. It's a defining feature.
These two are kind of the same thing, but it’s a good meme nonetheless.
Ah see I disagree. "We didn't do it" isn't the same as "We blame everyone else for doing it." To Gen-X, it's just a thing that's happened. Maybe someone is to blame, maybe nobody is to blame, we just know we didn't do it.
 
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The Beatles sold out.

If you listen to With The Beatles, it will sound radically different from Sgt. Pepper's. It's still The Beatles but it's not the same Beatles. Mainly because instead of being some garage band, they were bigger than Jesus. And that's not necessarily a bad thing. Success gave them more ability to fail.

You need to be able to fail if you're going to succeed.
Technically, the Beatles sold out when they connected with Brian Epstein and cleaned up their image.
 


Dausuul

Legend
I kinda want to take the last couple paragraphs of the OP, repost 'em in a new thread, and discuss that. Because those paragraphs are the real meat of the post, and they're interesting stuff I'd like to discuss. But I can hardly blame anybody for not making it that far.

Anyway--I share some of the concern about D&D's future, but it has less to do with Hasbro and more with history. D&D has had two "boom and bust" cycles now, and the root cause of the bust was the same in both cases: During the boom times, the company staffed up to unsustainable levels, which drove them to desperate measures when the boom receded.

The first bust, of course, was the collapse of TSR, which was super dramatic. The second bust was much less so, because D&D was now owned by Wizards and Hasbro, so failure didn't mean bankruptcy and lawsuits and blood in the water; and the OGL ensured the game would not die even if its owner did. But it was still a bust for all that. 3E's success resulted in a D&D team too big to justify its cost; Hasbro told Wizards that they needed to come up with a plan to reach $100 million/year, the "core brand" threshold, if they wanted to keep that staff; and thus was born 4E, with its aim to become a digital behemoth. We all know how that turned out.

So now, 5E. The 5E team made a point of planning for sustainability, limiting their release schedule and putting out more adventure paths (which players have to keep buying) than splatbooks (which they don't). All very smart stuff and it seems to have paid off. But now 5E is booming, the release schedule is ticking upward, Wizards is hiring, and Hasbro is putting money in. There does seem to be potential for another bust here.

But... is that even a bad thing? When I started writing this post, I thought the answer was a clear "yes," but now I'm not sure any more. The 2E bust resulted in an ocean of product as TSR desperately tried to juice sales. Most of it was drek, but there were quite a few gems as well (settings in particular), which people still love today. The 4E bust involved a complete reimagining and redesign of the game, and a lot of 4E's innovations were retained in 5E. Maybe even the busts benefit the game over the long term.
 
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Mistwell

Crusty Old Meatwad (he/him)
Discussing so-called generational differences is incredibly racist and Eurocentric.
I think if you're going to try to make progress with that argument, you're going to have to be more compassionate to the people you're targeting with it, and more thoughtful.

If it was just a drive-by-bash for fun or a rant just to vent frustration, that's fine too. Just figured I'd note that your comment, as it stands, probably isn't going to achieve anything beneficial.

EDIT - I see @Umbran warned prior to my reply, though I had not seen the warning at the time I replied. Sorry about that.
 

It's easy to ascribe a purity to something so far removed in time at this point. If I recall correctly, the percentage of gamers on these boards that started with the white or woodgrain box is very low. So it becomes, perhaps a form of myth-making.

It's funny to think that by the time I discovered D&D, Gygax had just been ousted from the company, but I had no idea that the name listed on the books was a past-tense employee.

Well, I disagree with the basic premise that at one point D&D was somehow "pure" or that it had a DIY, hobbyist roots from a company POV. I mean, maybe back in the mid seventies with the first initial releases? But it became a business long ago in the mists of D&D history.
 





Ulorian

Explorer
Thanks! I had a good time writing it. Unfortunately, as I suspected, 99% of the people aren't going to bother reading it before commenting.

Which, in fairness, is only about 10% more than average.
Brevity is the soul of wit, sir! ;) A good editor will get that read rate up quite a bit I would suspect.
 

The meat of this OP didnt really come until the end. 5E is a success because it is already a standardized product. The modularity promised during NEXT never really materialized. What we got was a good to go out of the box (but easy to hack) product. Which is exactly what D&D ought to be. The real die hards will figure it out or go to another product like Pathfinder, 13th age, Savage Worlds, etc. So, no D&D aint selling out, that happened awhile ago and folks are ready for alternatives if they need/want them.

This is actually what I worry about most. 5e is in theory far more hackable than the last couple of editions, and yet every day the social media pages full of new and casual D&D players are flooded with questions like, "Is it okay to add/remove X to/from D&D?"; lowkey disdain for homebrew content; a general zeitgeist that seems reluctant towards (if not outright opposed to) doing-it-yourself; and an undercurrent of gamer orthodoxy that the D&D rules shouldn't be adapted to other genres when a different RPG will serve.

Right here on EN World, there was a thousand-post thread not too long ago where one side of the argument seemed to be arguing that it's not okay to disallow officially published races or classes in your home campaign because reasons.

One shouldn't have to be a "real die-hard" D&D player to know that it's okay to tweak, tinker, hack, and homebrew.

In the original D&D rules, the hobbyist voice of Gary Gygax insisted over and over again that the rules were mere guidelines, a starting point for creating your own campaign. A few short years later, in AD&D, we have the voice of corporate Gary, who argues: "Many products might purport to be satisfactory for use with ADVANCED DUNGEONS & DRAGONS, but only those noted as OFFICIAL or Authorized AD&D items should be accepted. Do not settle for substitutes or second-rate material in your campaign; ask for approved AD&D products only!" and that if you house-rule your campaign, you aren't playing AD&D anymore, you're playing a "variant fantasy game." Which, of course, everybody either ignored outright or laughed at first and then promptly ignored.

I hate to imagine that 50 years later, Corporate Gary has won out over Hobbyist Gary in the end. But that's what it looks like. And through no real effort on WotC's part, either, even though it's obviously in their interest.
 

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