Saturday, December 3, 2011

What if: Dungeons & Dragons for sale

It's clear D&D 4th did not turn into the lucrative cash cow that Hasbro wanted (needed?) it to be. For modern fans of the game (3.0+) 4th edition did not deliver, and for many classic gamers, it was a bit of an abomination.  Note this is not meant as edition wars stuff, its just the lay of the land.

How can I tell it failed?  4 things: Look at the rise of OSR during the 4th edition era.  I see that as a sign of Old Schoolers who may have rediscovered the game in the 3.+ era, but then went further back when 4th went forward.

Second the rise to dominance of Paizo during 4th edition era as gamers who liked the 3.5 rules, were happy to keep playing them.

3rd, the demise of 4th edition products: nothing says failure like people not buying your game, right Radakai?

Last: Distributors, they confirm Pathfinder out sells D&D in their channels.

Net result: people still wanted to play D&D, just not the official game as currently presented by Hasbro.

So let's put you in the shoes of Joe Hasbro (my these are expensive shoes): You have an RPG property that:

1. Is known world wide
2. Has a mixed public perception
3. Has high costs to support: art, publishing, warehousing, staff, support teams
4. Does not have a solid repeat purchase model
5. Has lost market share
6. Is in a declining/decaying market category
7. limited mass market placement (book stores)...which is on very shaky footing.

So if I am Joe Hasbro, why would I want to make 5.0?  Why wouldn't I license a company to produce the RPG for me....or maybe I just sell the RPG portion of the property outright.

 The boardgames do well enough for me, and I could make those in my sleep. For me they are cheap to produce, and I can charge a premium for them.  I have tons of miniature molds so I could dump out minis like there is no tomorrow into my games as modules.  A couple maps, some cards, a few scenarios and I'll make that random monster in red, blue and green for different power levels or what ever the kids call them.  I have enough clout to get these games into Target, Wal-Mart, and TRU. That's where the sales are!  So I'll make the board games I am good at and get them placed where I know they will sell.  We did D&D clue, so why not Greyhawk Risk...and Forgotten Realms Risk.  LotR Risk worked quite well... Why not a D&D version of Trouble? or Dungeonland instead of Candy Land?  Chutes and Ladders-how about Traps and Tunnels? What if Sorry was re-themed with magic spell cards?  Can I keep giving away million dollar ideas for free? Anyway, as Joe Hasrbo, I'll let some other schmo can relieve his dreams of the 80's (checkered bandana not included.)

GW did it with Warhammer RPG, so let's assume it happens, and Hasbro licenses, or maybe sells, the RPG business to someone: Who would it go to, and would (could?) they cancel the OGL as part of the agreement to take it?


New Big Dragon said...

I say we start a Kickstarter project to buy D&D from Hasbro!

Porky said...

I'm intrigued. There are plenty of guys with hands-on experience of production, Hydra's coming together and the community is pretty big as a whole.

Fenway5 said...

@NBG-love the kick starter idea! grass roots capitalism at its best baby!

@Porky-its interesting as the biggest company (Paizo) would have to kill the brand they createded-Pathifnder-to add D&D. BUT, if someone else got it, I think OGL would be toast...and so would all of Pathfinder's current products.

ADD Grognard said...

The two things that work against killing the OGL is the fact they built the thing so they couldn't cancel it and Paizo's pockets are getting deeper by the second.

They would have killed it off by now if they could.

The only thing that can bite us in the ass is people abusing the license through sheer ignorance. If you keep violating the terms they could ask for revocation. But even that doesn't stop what is already out there. That's in the license.

The board game idea is where they are headed. Notice the only major award they won this year was for Best Board Game. Hasbro loves it. Premium product, cheap to produce and 'useless to pirate' over the internet because of all the fiddly bits. 3 or 4 of those a year and you've got a profitable product.

D&D was already dead. We brought it back to life.

Porky said...

It would need a bit of head-scratching to accommodate Pathfinder and D&D. That said, there could well be firms currently off our radar that might see an opportunity, and maybe that opportunity would be to do something we wouldn't expect. The direction fourth edition took means fifth could go further still along a spectrum of tracks, or somewhere new entirely. After all, for large numbers of people D&D is probably still little more than a game with dungeons and dragons, with the actual gameplay a vague thing, potentially anything that could be made fun to spend time on.

One thing we have to accept as a possibility without action is that the brand may die a slow death until it has no value to anyone and just vanishes in an 'official' form. It may have no long-term future in anyone's hands.

But given the threat to the OGL in the meantime, I do think New Big Dragon's thinking makes good sense. The OSR could get together to go for the licence, maybe through a more financially integrated Hydra or an existing OSR publisher.

Maybe the OSR in a form like that could ask WotC for a licence? Get together a consortium and make a bid, to take the game off down a new road, on a parallel parallel history, as an official unofficial D&D, but keeping a far more porous barrier with the rest of the DIY community than we usually see in the mainstream.

I see no reason in principle why it couldn't run rings around other firms, show the error of recent decisions and place a group of old schoolers in a strong position to buy the IP in full when the time comes.

Tim Brannan said...

I want to look at your four things in detail a bit and I think you are seeing a spurious relationship.

4 things: Look at the rise of OSR during the 4th edition era. I see that as a sign of Old Schoolers who may have rediscovered the game in the 3.+ era, but then went further back when 4th went forward.

The OSR was beginning before there was a 4e. I recall OSRIC and GORE being discussed on the old OGF-l and OGL-l listserves long before 4e was even announced. The OSR was rising independently of the 4e movement. There is also only anecdotal evidence that the people "left" one version of the game to come to OSR-games. It is more likely that the players of the OSR games are still the people that were playing those games when they were new.
The OSR owes it's fuel to the fact that there is an OGL that allows it to happen.

Second the rise to dominance of Paizo during 4th edition era as gamers who liked the 3.5 rules, were happy to keep playing them.

This might indicate a failure on 4e OR a better product from Paizo OR gamers' unwillingness to change rulesets. I do think that 4e's greatest short-comming is it's direct compatiblity with previous versions. To be fair, the compatibility issue is there with 1st/2nd to 3.x and back too, just not as great.
I think it is obvious that 4e was not the knock out, drag out hit WotC would have liked, but is it a "failure" in terms of sales? I don't believe it is. Instead of the 800-lb gorilla, D&D is now the 400-lb gorilla and Pathfinder is the 350-lb one with the OSR coming in as a 50-lb chimp.

3rd, the demise of 4th edition products: nothing says failure like people not buying your game, right Radakai?

This is just a guess on your part. There are still people playing the game. Maybe you don't know of them, but that is the statistics of small numbers. I could just as easily say I know twice as many Ghosts of Albion games going as Pathfinder, but that doesn't realy mean anything. I do know there are a lot of 4e games going on at my FLGS.

Last: Distributors, they confirm Pathfinder out sells D&D in their channels.

I was talking to my FLGS the other day to set up some times to run demos of Ghosts of Albion. He was saying that 4e is not selling as well in the stores, but their 4e Encounters nights are packed. He claimed that most people are buying the game from Amazon. Again...stats of small numbers, but there is lot going here that is beyond just what we can see sitting in our chairs at home.

One last thing. Hasbro would never price the D&D license anywhere near what any other company could afford for one very, very simple reason. The IP worth of the "D&D" name is far more valuable than D&D, the game. Even if Hasbro killed D&D as a game, they can still use the D&D name and IP to sel other products. Products that our kids will buy because they will remember that daddy used to talk about the days of D&D. It might some other game or video game or even parcel out the rights to a few SciFi movies. So unless the amounts you are thinking is in the millons, then there is no chance at all.

ADD Grognard said...

@Tim- I could drag out a lot of stats and pages to look at but the post is essentially dead on man.

4e has failed, but worse yet the company has created an adversarial attitude with many players.

Pathfinder has been the top selling RPG the last 2Q in a row and tied with D&D 4Q of 2010. They would have been top in 1Q this year and it had already been teased that Pathfinder would take over the #1 slot and then suddenly a week and a half later WotC pull a Hail Mary and took the top slot by dumping back stock at discounts to distributors and managed to grab it at the last second. I think 2nd and 3rd Q shows it was a fluke and then all hell broke loose at Wizards with hirings and firings.

Amazon is the biggest game dealer on the planet and the Pathfinder Core Book is consistently at he top except for when there is a new release or promotion. The majority of top 10 selling items tend to be Pathfinder items and the difference when D&D is there that it is support product, being purchased by the base. The Pathfinder sales indicate new players entering the game due to the volume and position of the corebook being sold.

I will state that until D&D changes hands I will never purchase the product again nor any other item from WotC and I actively encourage others to do the same. It's not is a simple test:

What is the core collection you need to play Pathfinder?

Core book-Bestiary

Now what core books do you need to play D&D?

Good luck getting 2 people to agree on that. It tends to be a mishmash of 4e, Essentials and various accessory packs. No 2 people ever seem to agree on this question.

I'm not a Pathfinder fan but one thing I do know-they have their s*** together and their fans love them.

kiltedyaksman said...

Well said, ADD Grognard.

ADD Grognard said...

And this was the link I thought I had lost that shows an interest in the 'D&D as pure board game' idea from players:

From BGG-Subject: Castle Ravenloft System applied to D&D 4th Edition to play 4th Edition as a "pure boardgame"

So the scaled down 4e 'Adventure System' is already finding traction from players.

Fenway5 said...

Thanks for taking time to thoughtfully respond and to provide your own insights into my reasoning. I really appreciate a different point of view well stated and troll free.

Point one-rise of OSR: Yes OGL is important to it, and certainly people have played the old games for ages regardless of edition, yet the timing, growth, and creative burst all time with 4.0, not 3.0 in terms of "mass appeal." As to the why that is, I guess it will remain in the eye of the beholder.

Sales: 4th ed. did not sell well in term of Hasbro's wishes. Yes, any other RPG company would still be doing cartwheels, but in Hasbro's eyes-it was not 3.5 in terms of sales volumes and revenues. ...and it is not really a guess on my part.

Go to the ICV2 site. This is a public look at hobby retail, trends, products and companies. D&D 4th was top dog as of Q4 2010, but in 2011-its Pathfinder. This trend data comes form hobby store owners and distributors-not me in my chair. Second the cancellation or change in offerings of 4th ed. products signals a decline in sales as does laying off much of the creative team responsible for it.

4th sales would meet or beat yours and mine, but they are not meeting Hasbro's and as controller of the IP, that's the only one that matters.

From a strictly market/business mental exercise, its the (however remote) possibility of Hasbro licensing the RPG to someone, and what that could mean for the OGL (and its offspring) that interests me.

Fenway5 said...


Thanks for adding your infromation and opinions in. The D&D boardgames are doing well for them, and Paizo is the king of the market currently, I am curious to see what steps Hasbro takes nest with the pen & paper. I think the next D&D edition will focus on using cards like the latest Gamma World. That was a "market test" if I have ever seen one.

ADD Grognard said...

There is no doubt we would all crap in our pants to haves sales like D&D has enjoyed, especially in the recent past. The thing that struck me was an article at Icv2 talking about the 4Q 2010 tie between the giants and that the DRESDEN FILES came in third for overall sales-then they dropped the bombshell (in my opinion). 3rd place was obtained by selling about 4-5k units...over a 3 month period! Do the math on that and the 'industry' and the 'hobby business' are not separated nearly as far as one would think. James Raggi posted here:

about sales numbers and when you start breaking these down over monthly sales we live in the same general neighborhood as what are considered major commercial publishers.

I knew how bad things had got when Mearls was quoted in the now infamous Escapist magazine interview saying:

'The key is that when you look back at how D&D has gone forward; no one at Wizards ever woke up one day and said "Let's get rid of all our fans and replace them," that was never the intent. With 4th Edition, there were good intentions.'

When I learned what he was referencing it was that at it's peak the game had about 24 million players. This time period seems to have coincided with the end of 3.5 and the launch of 4e.

The numbers have dropped to about 1.5 million.

Now we would all love a million people playing our stuff but can you imagine (and from the heads rolling, canceled products (even entire product lines) and the people being hired) Hasbro's reaction?

The camp seems to be in general disarray, they hire Monte back and the 4e fans are screaming NOOO! because they don't want 'a broken old system' that appeals to 'grognards' and 'neckbeards'.

I don' think there is a winning strategy for a traditional rpg product at this point from Wotc/Hasbro. The board game (and yes, I agree with the card aspect being included as well) would seem to be the smart move on their part.

Let's see if the lights are still on at Hasbro.

Eric said...

I have always felt, that WotC was going to never again release a "new" edition. That D&D would just become something else.

Seeing that the Board Game model is so successful for the company, I could see products for 4e simply petering out, and dying with a sigh, as the Board Game model ramps up.

This is a model Hasbro knows and one Hasbro is very good at. Nine Hells, I h8s me some 4e, but I want the board games.

Last of all, I could care less about D&D dying off, or whatever, probably needs to die to make room for folks that have not sold their passions to Big Corporate America aka Hasbro.