D&D 5E Where We've Been and Where We Might Be Going (or, What I Think WotC Is Doing)


Hasbro hopes the reorganization will allow it to replicate Wizards of the Coast’s success in digital games and licensing in other parts of the company and boost other properties like G.I. Joe, Ouija and Transformers, according to a person familiar with the matter. According to Hasbro Chief Executive Brian Goldner, the Wizards unit is on track to double revenue from 2018 to 2023.

Perhaps the Transformers rpg license is an attempt of other sections of Hasbro to emulate wotc? In any case, licensing the ip across various media seems to be the business strategy and probably drives wotc's editorial decisions to some, perhaps a greater, degree (descent into avernus for example). If they can create a good digital ecosystem (some combination of dndbeyond, dms guild, and a vtt) that would further allow them to increase revenue; in that case, they could maybe release soemthing like a Dark Sun adventure anthology, but only in an online format (I guess they could do this with the way things are set up now but I feel like dms guild is not the best platform for marketing a product).

In any case, Hasbro will inevitably keep pressuring wotc to product profit at an unsustainable rate, leading to bad/risky decisions and some sort of self-inflicted decline collapse.
 

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Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
I don't know if other Hasbro RPG offerings would have the power to stop WotC if they did want to go in to the sci-fi space (not that I think they will). WotC brings the big bucks, and if they say to Hasbro, we want to sell Sci-Fi, I could see Hasbro letting them, even if it steps on the toes of smaller RPG offerings.

This isn't about "power". There's every sign that Hasbro is trying to approach this with good business sense, rather than heavy-handed muscle.

WotC does good stuff, and at the moment have a pretty good name. You don't sully that name with heavy experimentation. You hand that to some other, mostly unknown people. If they do a good job, you buy them, and bring them into the fold.
 

Bolares

Hero
This isn't about "power". There's every sign that Hasbro is trying to approach this with good business sense, rather than heavy-handed muscle.

WotC does good stuff, and at the moment have a pretty good name. You don't sully that name with heavy experimentation. You hand that to some other, mostly unknown people. If they do a good job, you buy them, and bring them into the fold.
I don't disagree with you. I doubt WotC would do that. But I think if they did, Hasbro would let them.
 


Mercurius

Legend
Right. So, my thought is that you should not expect to see any serious work done with Gamma World in the near future. You might see "D&D after the Rain of Colorless Fire" or Darksun, but they aren't sci-fi.

After we see if the Transformers et al. flop, maybe you'll see WotC branch out. I still think it unlikely, but you might see it.
Yeah, I agree with that, for the most part. But "fantasy" is a pretty wide umbrella, with D&D being mostly a relatively narrow swath. There are realms in-between fantasy and SF that could be explored within a D&D context.

For instance, a setting built upon the ruins of a fallen high-tech civilization, which would require equipment and even rules, perhaps with mutations and such (sort of "fantasy Gamma World").

Of course all that could still just be D&D, just branching out further.
 

This is backed up by Hasbro going to someone other than WotC to do RPGs for Transformers, G.I. Joe, and such. Don't expect WotC to stretch into that space and have Hasbro effectively competing with itself.
I've been pondering why WotC isn't doing the Transformers and GI Joe RPGs. I suspect it might be simply because the Transformers/GI Joe business units have their own P&L, and any collaboration muddies that accounting. There might not be some master plan (or even discussion) between that business unit, WotC, and the Hasbro mothership. That would reflect my own experience in the corporate world. I mean, it took literally 20 years for two brands owned by WotC (D&D and Magic) to have a crossover--imagine how much more institutional resistance there is between WotC and another subsidiary of Hasbro.
 

Exactly - I don't foresee WotC going into the sci-fi space any time soon, because that would compete with Hasbro's other RPG offerings. But Spelljammer isn't sci-fi, so that's okay.
I think there is a low likelihood that anyone at Hasbro is worried that Gamma World might cannibalize market share from Transformers or GI Joe in the TTRPG space. It's a stretch that anyone at Hasbro is micromanaging the brands in that way. And even if they were, the risk of actual cannibalization is low. And even if there were cannibalization, how much money are we talking about? A few thousand bucks?

That said, there might be other reasons related to the overall vision for the D&D brand where WotC decides on its own not to go into sci-fi.

But that would make me sad.
 

I don't know if other Hasbro RPG offerings would have the power to stop WotC if they did want to go in to the sci-fi space (not that I think they will). WotC brings the big bucks, and if they say to Hasbro, we want to sell Sci-Fi, I could see Hasbro letting them, even if it steps on the toes of smaller RPG offerings.
This.
 

Spelljammer and Starfinder are space fantasy, and Shadowrun is cyberpunk+urban fantasy.

About G.I.Joe today war toys have got a bad reputation, and after the actions of Bin Laden Cobra has become too ridiculous as terrorist group, and more with those anti-camouflage uniforms. And the age of action movies of one-man-army like Rambo and company ended decades ago, and more when we are too used to shooter videogames where we learn the enemy doesn't fail when they are shooting.

Power Rangers is popular, but too simple for middle-grade audence who starts to wonder why an alien would create zords, machines with the shape of prehistoric beasts.

Gamma World could be interesting to test new ideas or to recover old titles, for example a Mad-Max version of M.A.S.K.
 

Stormonu

Legend
Don't forget the media blitz that has been going on since around 4E. We've had D&D show up in The Sarah Connor Chronicles, Big Bang Theory, Dexter's Laboratory, Stranger Things, Community, and a host of other TV shows and other media, as well as the rise of Critical Role and other "entertainment RPG shows" throwing a lot of light on the game and drawing both old and new to check out the game.

The pandemic has also helped a lot; people suddenly finding a lot of time on their hands and the likes of VTT's, Discord and other platforms making remote play possible.

As for where the game is going, WotC has suddenly found itself with a very large and diverse crowd; they started with a bit of a "hardcore" carryover (those who'd stuck out 4E, and some returns from 3E/Pathfinder), but a large chunk of their demographic wasn't even old enough to play in 3E days and they want something that fits with the fantasy they've grown up with - the LotR movies (and likely moreso the Hobbit), Harry Potter, Percy Jackson, Game of Thrones, various animes and the like. The carry-over from 1E/2E/BX/BECM is a smaller and smaller crowd, and the cry for carrying over old content is probably being replaced with calls for new content to bring the game into the 21st century.

Expect to see D&D revisions designed to make it "easier" to get on board and quicker to play at the table. We'll see some more nostalgia throwbacks/easter eggs to keep the old timers buying (and pique the interest of newbies who are curious what was so "good" about that stuff), but I believe we will see a rise in new, never-before-seen content as the designers align the game to modern media.[/I]
 

Mercurius

Legend
Don't forget the media blitz that has been going on since around 4E. We've had D&D show up in The Sarah Connor Chronicles, Big Bang Theory, Dexter's Laboratory, Stranger Things, Community, and a host of other TV shows and other media, as well as the rise of Critical Role and other "entertainment RPG shows" throwing a lot of light on the game and drawing both old and new to check out the game.

The pandemic has also helped a lot; people suddenly finding a lot of time on their hands and the likes of VTT's, Discord and other platforms making remote play possible.

As for where the game is going, WotC has suddenly found itself with a very large and diverse crowd; they started with a bit of a "hardcore" carryover (those who'd stuck out 4E, and some returns from 3E/Pathfinder), but a large chunk of their demographic wasn't even old enough to play in 3E days and they want something that fits with the fantasy they've grown up with - the LotR movies (and likely moreso the Hobbit), Harry Potter, Percy Jackson, Game of Thrones, various animes and the like. The carry-over from 1E/2E/BX/BECM is a smaller and smaller crowd, and the cry for carrying over old content is probably being replaced with calls for new content to bring the game into the 21st century.

Expect to see D&D revisions designed to make it "easier" to get on board and quicker to play at the table. We'll see some more nostalgia throwbacks/easter eggs to keep the old timers buying (and pique the interest of newbies who are curious what was so "good" about that stuff), but I believe we will see a rise in new, never-before-seen content as the designers align the game to modern media.[/I]
Yes, all good thoughts. I didn't forget the "media blitz," although I guess I probably should have mentioned it in the "rise of 5E" part as a major factor. I wasn't as much describing the factors involved, just the phenomena. But I imagine the single biggest media influence has been Stranger Things, which probably brought in new, young fans, and also some older folks bit by the nostalgia bug.

I think you're probably generally correct on the last two paragraphs. I think a key point is that even though "old-timers" represent a diminishing percentage of the total fan-base, they still have substantial buying power. If we take the demographics for the 50 million estimate, probably about 15% are carryovers from pre-3E eras (most of the 13% of 40+ and some of the 18% of 35-39 group, minus a few older folks who only just started playing).

Another factor is simply WotC making good use of their creative legacy--not to preserve tradition for traditions sake, but because it would be wasteful not to. I mean, think of that fertile period of the late 80s to mid-90s in terms of settings: Spelljammer, Dark Sun, Planescape, and Birthright all came out in a pretty short period of time.

So it isn't simply a matter of "old people like old stuff, and new people like new stuff." But it may mean that older stuff will be re-calibrated for a newer, younger demographic, at least to some extent. As much as the "setting purist" in me dislikes the idea of dragonborn in Athas, that might be inevitable (actually, they'd probably fit in quite well, although might need to be re-skinned a bit, so as not to dilute the coolness of the Athas dragons; tieflings seem a bit more incongruous with the setting, though).

Or with Planescape, I imagine the very Gen X 90s aesthetic will be ironed out a bit (to be honest, I hope so!), and Dragonlance art will likely do away with mullets and perms (someone will need to talk to Elmore and Easley). And, of course, WotC will almost certainly continue to offer narrative pathways that don't always involve solving everything through violence, and we'll probably never see Tika's boobs again, unless WotC starts an OnlyFans for her.

But I think, all joking aside, most of these worlds will continue to live within the D&D canon, and some of them will be actively nourished, even if in a somewhat different presentation. This will make some old-timers grouchy, but I think they'll be a minority.
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
I've been pondering why WotC isn't doing the Transformers and GI Joe RPGs. I suspect it might be simply because the Transformers/GI Joe business units have their own P&L, and any collaboration muddies that accounting.
Possibly, but honestly, that could be overcome if they wanted to. There's a more basic reason about getting work done.

Presumably, all the WotC staff are busy with the flagship, and with the revisions coming out for the 50th Anniversary, there's years worth of work there. There probably isn't any slack to build a completely separate game.

So, the choice would be to staff up WotC for a project unrelated to their current work, and then have to dismiss that staff if it doesn't go well (and you know how folks are about WotC firing people - very touchy) or find someone else to do it. If they do it poorly, you let it drop, and your real flagship goes on without incident. If they do well, you buy them.
 

Mercurius

Legend
Possibly, but honestly, that could be overcome if they wanted to. There's a more basic reason about getting work done.

Presumably, all the WotC staff are busy with the flagship, and with the revisions coming out for the 50th Anniversary, there's years worth of work there. There probably isn't any slack to build a completely separate game.

So, the choice would be to staff up WotC for a project unrelated to their current work, and then have to dismiss that staff if it doesn't go well (and you know how folks are about WotC firing people - very touchy) or find someone else to do it. If they do it poorly, you let it drop, and your real flagship goes on without incident. If they do well, you buy them.
Just to add onto this a bit, the question would be why. It made sense why Paizo created Starfinder; first of all, they're a smaller company, so smaller gains mean more. Secondly, Starfinder came out in 2017, although probably has roots going back to Distant Worlds in 2012, but it all fits within the paradigm of "We've made it big partially because of 4E's issues, but we need to keep growing."

Right now it doesn't make sense for WotC to spread out too much. D&D is a massive cash-cow and their focus should be--from an economic standpoint--maximizing it as much as possible. This is why I see them gradually but consistently expanding their offerings until they find the "pre-breaking point." I suspect that will be somewhere in the 6-8 major products a year. They can do that over the next few years, and then re-assess in 2024, after the revised books come out and then maybe ride that for a few years.

A non-fantasy (or quasi-fantasy) game might make sense as part of a "Wave 2" post-2024, but it might also not make sense until a few years after, if at all. But the point is, once they get over the hump of the anniversary, all bets are off as to what 2025 and on looks like. Too many unknown factors: not just how popular D&D is at that point, but wider cultural and societal issues.
 


dave2008

Legend
I am wondering if we will see more "official" 5e products on DMs Guild. I think it would be a great way to support settings. So instead of release a ravenloft, eberron, theros, etc. book each year, they can release them POD on DMsGuild. That would allow them to support settings with out having the cost of printing them. I actually hope this is what they do.
 

Ancalagon

Dusty Dragon
I think not starting the discussion with 3rd edition misses critical parts of the picture. 3rd edition was remarkably successful and spurred a renaissance in the tabletop gaming community. A key part of this was the license that allowed other publishers to add to the 3rd edition ecosystem, something never before allowed in D&D. And then Paizo and Pathfinder happened, because of that license. That 4th edition was remarkably restrictive by comparison was no surprise. It also contributed to 4th edition's ultimate failure given the volume of 3rd edition content versus the paucity of 4th edition content. Now we have 5th edition with a somewhat more open license even if it's not quite as open as that of 3rd. And again the 3rd party publishers have come forth to add major content to the game and again the edition is a hit. Heck, the people who run this very site just put out a massively successful Kickstarter campaign for a set of 5th edition compatible books just yesterday.

Bottom line: The availability of content is a huge driver in the success of any edition of D&D.
I agree with your conclusion to a degree, but... 3e was successful yes, but compared to 5e... a lot less so. The number of players 5e brought to the table hasn't been seen for a long time
 

S'mon

Legend
2015-2017 was definitely the golden era of 5e for me, and the chart definitely shows why - publication scarcity. WoTC produced a great game in 2014, and Xanathar's was a great patch for the bits that weren't so great. But WoTC really struggle to put out good quality adventures, even at the level of a good 3PP - the stuff I have from Sasquatch (RIP), Arcanum/Odyssey of the Dragonlords, and most Kobold Press stuff, is well above typical WoTC quality. So I don't feel that with WoTC, 'more is more'. It looks like 2018 is when I stopped buying everything they put out, only buying Mordenkainenen's (that with some reluctance), and the Essentials Kit is the only WoTC thing I've bought since then. I'm still spending a lot on 5e & RPGs, but when I want to spend money on some should-be-decent material, Kobold Press is the obvious steak-and-potatoes provider.
 


Hussar

Legend
I agree with your conclusion to a degree, but... 3e was successful yes, but compared to 5e... a lot less so. The number of players 5e brought to the table hasn't been seen for a long time
I'd take that a step further. The number of players 5e has brought to the table has never been seen before. Full stop. Even the halcyon fad days were never even remotely seeing these kinds of numbers.

We're seven years after release and the 5e PHB is still in the top 200 of all books on Amazon. That's just unheard of. Nothing before comes even close.

We really are in uncharted waters.
 

RobJN

Adventurer
I am wondering if we will see more "official" 5e products on DMs Guild. I think it would be a great way to support settings. So instead of release a ravenloft, eberron, theros, etc. book each year, they can release them POD on DMsGuild. That would allow them to support settings with out having the cost of printing them. I actually hope this is what they do.
This. This is what I've been saying for ages now.

1. WotC releases the settings into the Guild, for The Teeming Masses to tinker with.
2. WotC keeps an eye on who's writing/selling Good Stuff for each of the settings.
3. WotC puts together panels of Adepts for each setting, to do hardback Candlekeep-like anthologies every few years
 

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