This is Audio EXP for the 27th of February 2021, and the title of this episode is ‘D&D and Magic more valuable to Hasbro than toys’.
[The following is a transcript of Audio EXP: #85]
Have you learnt any real-life skills from playing games?
Do you think computer games like Overwatch which are a frantic rush of enemies and designed with team play in mind, actually teach anything about real-life teamwork?
Well, I asked that question at the end of 2020 when there was a copy of The Cinematic Art of Overwatch to giveaway and after about 100 responses, finally written up now, I can tell you that the overwhelming response is: they do.
85% of geeks thought shooter games helped with real-life teamwork. 80% of non-geeks did.
I’m not at all surprised by the results. Are you?
Let’s stick with computer games and merge in tabletop RPGs as there are two interesting bits of news to discuss this week. Well, I found both interesting, but not everyone did.
Let’s start on the agreement.
Hasbro’s restructure is significant. The toymaker now makes more money from Dungeons & Dragons and Magic: The Gathering than on toys.
As a result, well, partially, it’s forming three groups within the business, and one is those consumer products like toys, but it will also include board games. I’m not sure where Avalon Hill now sits after it was promoted internally and moved out from underneath Wizards of the Coast.
The second is the entertainment. That’s run by eOne, the movie maker that Hasbro spent billions on two years ago. That division is making the Dungeons & Dragons movie. Put a pin in that; I want to come back to that story later on.
The third is Wizards of the Coast and Digital. The “and Digital” means that in addition to running the money-making D&D and Magic: The Gathering, Wizards of the Coast will be responsible for Hasbro’s digital ambitions and licenses.
Regular listeners of this highlights show will know that I do like to discuss how vital digital is for D&D. Let’s not do that discussion again and, instead, I’ll ask a thought starter.
Are you ready for it? My question is this: will the first D&D 6e game be a computer game or a hardback book?
Wizards of the Coast announced a new hardback this week. I didn’t leak, but after WotC ran a digital teaser that made it very clear something Ravenloft was coming, Van Richten’s Guide to Ravenloft dribbled out as retailers slowly updated their holding pages to include the full book.
The second story that overlaps computer games with tabletop games hasn’t received much exposure, and so perhaps I’m overthinking it, but Fandom has bought Fanatical.
Fanatical is a bundle and discount site which specialises in computer games, but you can also get books and comics there.
It’s a legit site that bulk buys Steam keys and then passes on some of the discounts to customers while pocketing the rest.
Fandom makes most of its money, well, is it at least most well known for running lots of fan wikis for geek culture topics like TV shows and computer games.
To begin with, Fanatical will carry on as usual but Fandom now has retailer technology it can integrate. I imagine those wikis will now include links and ads for related games.
Fandom also runs D&D Beyond. They might try and have the “Hey, we should sell D&D books for D&D Beyond via Fanatical” conversation with Wizards of the Coast, but I’m sure it won’t be the priority, and I’m not sure how far they’ll get.
What’s more likely is Cortex. Fandom also owns the tabletop system Cortex, used in the Dragon Prince and Legends of Grayskull RPGs. Part of the Cortex Kickstarter promised that there will be a Cortex marketplace for third-party creators, like DriveThruRPG and the DMs Guild, for Cortex.
That’s not speculation. Fandom should be building a site to market and sell Cortex games.
And now Fandom owns a site to market and sell games that are much bigger than DriveThruRPG.
That’s why I think it’s an exciting story. I appreciate it’s a bit of speculation and a bit of imagining what a possible future could look like, but I absolutely think it’s worth keeping an eye on.
I’m sure Wizards of the Coast, now charged with all the digital plans for Hasbro, are keeping an eye on this strategic partner and their brand new games site too.
Another piece in this landscape are virtual tabletops, which are also marketplaces in their own right. The latest Orr Group report gives D&D a 52% share of all campaigns played on Roll20. Across Fantasy Grounds classic and Fantasy Grounds Unity, D&D has a 71% share.
Roll20 hit 8 million users in Q4 2020, and when I ran the math on something other than D&D, that works out to about 1 million uncategorised games. Those tend to be homebrew.
Imagine that 1 million people playing homebrew tabletop RPGs over a commercial virtual tabletop during the lockdown. How’s that for teamwork?
The virtual tabletop scene is far more competitive than the tabletop hobby they facilitate. Yes, Roll20 is the biggest, but Fantasy Grounds continues to press them, and Astral has DriveThruRPG’s backing.
The pay-once challenger Foundry also got another big boost this week as Free League Publishing announced Alien RPG and The Forbidden Lands modules for it.
Now, let’s loop back to that other Hasbro, Wizards of the Coast and eOne story I asked you to keep a pin in. You can take that pin out now.
Hasbro confirmed to investors that the D&D movie is filming and that they have commissioned writers for several D&D TV shows. Not one. But many.
Furthermore, these D&D TV shows will be part of a Universe. The implication is that these shows will be linked. You could imagine Netflix’s Defenders series or, heck, even Star Trek or Marvel’s plans for the Star Wars TV range. That. Hasbro wants to do that with D&D.
I think it’s a great idea but, well, good luck. Netflix are spending mega money on the Lord of the Rings TV series so let’s see what they manage to do.
Netflix, by the way, are working with Skydance and Production I.G. on a Terminator anime.
Just when you thought the screen life of that franchise was well and truly dead. Skydance is the company behind the last two Terminator movies. Make of that what you will.
Nightfall Games already have their The Terminator Quickstart out, and there’s a Kickstarter coming for the full tabletop RPG. I’m sure they’re happy with the news.
One another bit of related anime news that I just have to share is a clanger. Manga UK have instructed people to return their blu-ray or DVD purchases of season 3 of High School DxD.
There’s nothing wrong with the discs, so I’m not sure how successful this recall will be. In fact, the problem is an undisclosed issue with the British Board of Film Classification.
I cannot confirm but have been told that Manga UK, which is now owned by Funimation, should have put an 18-rating on the cover. Well, that’s certainly not there; the fan-service anime currently has a 15 certificate on those discs.
My hunch, rather than returning the discs, fans will recognise a potential collector’s item and keep them safe.
Another release for fans, this one successful, is from Modiphius. The British publisher of skirmish games and RPGs seem to have had a great few years with some high profile names. Their Dune: Adventures in the Imperium RPG is due out this year.
However, for me, it all started with Achtung! Cthulhu and that game is finally getting the 2d20 treatment. The free Achtung! Cthulhu quickstart is now out.
Sticking with games that are not D&D, the third edition of Whitehack is out this week too.
It’s sold via Lulu, and the early reviews I’ve seen of it are very positive. Whitehack has a devoted core of fans who appreciate the traditional fantasy game. I notice Christian Mehrstam seems to avoid the phrase “old school” when describing it; instead using words like traditional and pointing out what you can use the Whitehack to play most fantasy adventures released since 1976.
I also published a review of the Altered Carbon RPG this week. I didn’t back it at Kickstarter because I really need to stop spending all my money on the platform and because Richard K Morgan was seemingly supporting JRK’s transphobic comments at the time. Since then, Hunters have reassured backers that the author isn’t really involved.
I believe that. This RPG is clearly tied to the Netflix series. It’s a great setting, being both sci-fi and not one when players can phone in overwhelming support whenever they meet a challenge.
It was a really hard review to write. The headline news is that I think it could be one of the best cyberpunk tabletop RPGs published in 2020.
That’s not without some complications. I like that they flip most systems so that you’re trying to roll low and therefore trying to use as small a dice as possible; a d4 is much better than a d10. However, I’ll admit I really struggle to learn and remember the rules.
I don’t think the liberal use of icons rather than words helps me at all, but I can imagine it might help others.
This week there are at least two bundles worthy of your attention. There’s a very generous Hero System 6e and accompanying Champions deal on the Bundle of Holding.
Over on Humble Bundle, there’s a good Tales of Love & Adventure deal with point and click classics like Batman and Blacksad. I’ve not succumbed to that yet, but it’s very tempting.
As not to start and finish with computer games, let’s conclude with the Lovecraftian Deep Trouble in Oldport Bay. It’s a free to download micro-RPG from Zadmar Games, straight forward and a lot of fun.
On that note, let’s wrap there, so please keep safe, stay out of the cold waters of Oldport Bay, and we’ll speak next week.
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