This is Audio EXP for the 15th of February 2020, and the title of this episode is ‘Hasbro will unveil Dungeons & Dragons’ future’.
[The following is a transcript of Audio EXP: #31]
It’s been a busy week of RPG news and not all of it good. So, let’s just dive in.
The headline is about the future of Dungeons & Dragons. We’ll find out on the 21st of February.
We know this because of the Hasbro’s earnings call with investors. Hasbro, of course, owns Wizards of the Coast.
I’m not an investor, but I think four brands were mentioned again and again in the earnings call. They are Wizards of the Coast, Magic: The Gathering, Dungeons & Dragons and eOne.
Let’s talk eOne first. That’s an entertainment company Hasbro bought. They make films and TV shows.
I speculate rather than bid for the license to make toys on Disney and Warner titles, Hasbro quite fancied having their own entertainment company with exclusive access too. Furthermore, Hasbro could use eOne to make their own toy lines successful.
Sorry to say, it is commonplace now for shows to made purely with the intent of merchandising success.
So, what about WotC and their two champion products? It’s clear both D&D and Magic: The Gathering are doing well but can’t completely hide the fact other areas are struggling. There’s no Toys “R” Us of note left to sell Hasbro’s toys now. It’s not a surprise to me to see Hasbro wanting to make more direct sales.
It also seems to be the case that Hasbro has been spending lots of money on both Magic: The Gathering and Dungeons & Dragons. In particular, on building digital products.
Magic: The Gathering is ahead of D&D when it comes to this sphere. Magic already has a suite of strong computer games compatible with Twitch and esports. D&D now as at least one computer studio, Tuque, of its own and there are other games rapidly approaching – Baldur’s Gate III, for example. None of these D&D projects has had a chance to earn back the money Hasbro has invested, though.
What does Hasbro plan to announce on the 21st? Well, we can only speculate.
I’ll be shocked if we don’t hear a lot more about digital. I think Asmodee Digital has got several high profile games out in the last year, and I think Hasbro will have taken note. I think they’ll have looked at how strong the D&D community is online, at Critical Role, and will have thought about how to make the most of that ecosystem.
In July 2018, Hasbro’s CEO Brian Goldner gave an interview with CNBC which triggered some concern in the D&D community. At first glance, it seemed to suggest that Goldner described D&D as eSports.
I don’t think he did.
He said two different things. He said;
Immersive board games like these could one day be “ripe for global esports competition,”
… but I don’t think the “immersive board games” he meant included D&D.
When he talked about D&D by name he said;
We’re also building a suite of digital games around Dungeons & Dragons and Magic: the Gathering. Our Magic Arena product is underway in a closed beta, we’ve had more than a million people sign up, and we’re very excited about launching that later this year. You’ll be able to play Dungeons & Dragons or Magic: the Gathering online, on a mobile device as well as face to face.
And so, in this follow-up to the 2019 earnings call, I think we’ll hear about this suite of digital games around Dungeons & Dragons. I think we’ll hear about ways to play Dungeons & Dragons online, on a mobile device as well as face to face.
I imagine Fandom, that’s the company who runs D&D Beyond, will be interested too. They’re not owned by Hasbro. We’re going to talk about Fandom again in this podcast because they’re not being passive and waiting to find out what happens, they have their own plans.
What do you need to play D&D online? You need either a D&D computer game, or you need a virtual tabletop. We know those D&D computer games are coming, no MMOs, nothing with eSports potential unlike Magic: The Gathering, but announcing a few more is entirely possible. We might even hear about Stadia, Playstation 5 or Xbox X projects.
If we hear about virtual tabletop news, then it’ll either be a bombshell that Hasbro is working on their own to rival Fantasy Grounds and Roll20 or news that they’re planning something extra with one of those incumbents.
Not only do virtual tabletops allow people to play D&D online, but they also act as marketplaces. If Hasbro wants to make more direct sales, then a shopfront like a virtual tabletop will be attractive.
However, a virtual tabletop doesn’t feel like something terribly close to anything else Hasbro has ever done.
There might be a compromise option. Kickstarter has seen a few projects like Gameboard-1 in recent months. These are flat-screen devices to lay on your actual tabletop and produce a digital map. You can move minis around on them and, depending on the technology, someone on the other side of the world could be following those moves on their board.
These electronic boards mean you can subscribe to board games, getting downloads for what the playing area looks like and electronic tokens.
A project like this would be a big one for Hasbro, but it’s a big enough company to do it, especially if they buy a start-up in this space.
The last bit of speculation I have for you here is whether Hasbro will announce a D&D partnership deal with someone like OBS, StreamElements or even Twitch and YouTube themselves. Magic: The Gathering just has; with $1,000,000 in the Greenlight Fund enabled with the StreamElements partnership.
In the interests of time, I think that we should move on to some of the other news. Let’s tackle the horrid mess that is the Judges Guild.
The Judges Guild was one of the first RPG publishers. It was founded in 1976 by Bob Bledsaw. Then, in 1999, Bob Bledsaw II brought it back to life.
Bob Bledsaw II and his son have been sharing racist, anti-semite and homophobic content in large quantities online. Concerned partners and friends have said they have talked to Bledsaw about it and he’s unrepentant. It’s not a mistake. These are his views.
So, as you can imagine, publishers have cut ties with the company. In most cases, this means no longer using those classic Judges Guild properties. Bat in the Attic Games, a small publisher, moved first and their explanation of why they could no longer work with Bledsaw acted as the expose of the unsavoury drama to the rest of the industry.
Frog God Games moved quickly too. Frog God Games had worked with Judges Guild for many years and even tried to rescue a six-years-late Kickstarter the Judges Guild had been running.
Sadly, that wasn’t the only racist encounter the hobby had this week. Osprey Games had to tell racists to back down.
The company has published Scott Malthouse’s Romance of the Perilous Land. This is a game set in a magical version of Britain, complete with monsters and fae.
The racists, many of whom seemed to think they were Vikings, didn’t like Romance of the Perilous Land because it wasn’t historically accurate.
To be clear, they didn’t object to the monsters and magic. They objected to the fact that the game showed a person of colour on the front cover.
Real Vikings, of course, would have found themselves fighting against people of colour when they raided Britain because these islands have been a diverse place ever since the Romans arrived.
For example, Hadrian’s Wall passes through a village called Burgh by Sands. Burgh by Sands was originally a Roman garrison of African soldiers. Those fighting men protected the area, and after their military term was up, most of them stayed in Britain to raise families.
Osprey didn’t change a single thing on the cover. It’s just a shame they felt they had to say anything at all.
Ah, gee, people can be so annoying at times. Let’s find some good news.
Let’s talk about the BAMFSIES! The BAMFSIES are awards for the best superhero RPG of the year and Geek Native hosted the results of the 2019 ballet.
1,500 votes were counted, making these BAMFSIES one of the most popular in the awards’ seven-year history. It was a close battle.
In third place in the people’s vote is City of Mist Core Bundle: Player’s Guide and MC Toolkit from Son of Oak Game Studio. In second place, Tiny Supers from Gallant Knight Games.
The winner only just qualified, just getting their game to market before the end of 2019. The winner of the people’s choice for the 2019 BAMFISES are Hit the Streets: Defend the Block from Orklord Games.
As it happens, an old superhero roleplaying game has made even bigger news this week. That game is DC Heroes.
You can’t really buy DC Heroes as it’s out of print. Allow me some more speculation and let me illustrate the exception. Over Christmas, the Watchmen Companion book was published in the wake of the TV show. That companion had Watchmen RPG material in it, and that’s a game that was powered by DC Heroes.
It seems pretty clear to me why DC might be toying with the idea of resurrecting an old RPG line if it has a juicy legacy like official Watchmen content.
The new DC Heroes news comes to us from DC Universe. That’s DC’s streaming platform, and they’re about to start airing an actual play of DC Heroes.
The show is called DC Universe All Star Games and the first features celebs like Freddie Prinze Jr, the wrestler Xavier Woods, Clare Grant and others. The game will be set in the 80s, and they’ll be playing teenagers stuck on detention.
I think the odds of a DC Heroes reprint are dropping.
Also this week, Free League Publishing announced the Free League Workshop.
This is a program that will allow you to write and sell content for many of Free League’s settings – but not the Aliens RPG – via Onebookshelf and keep some of the money.
In other words, if you have a Tales from the Loop adventure, you can get it published and sold via DriveThruRPG. You won’t get sued by Free League Publishing. You might even find that they help promote your adventure.
I imagine the Aliens RPG exclusion is all down to licensing.
The other third-party publishing deal that was re-announced this week is the Cortex Creator Studio.
In a way, this is old news. The Cortex Prime project was always supposed to have a third-party marketplace option like this, but that’s hardly been front of mind given the Kickstarter to deliver the books is about two years late.
What makes the re-announcement of the Cortex Creator Studio especially interesting is that Onebookshelf will no longer be used. Cortex’s new owners, unlike pretty much every other RPG publisher out there today, don’t need their help. They can do it themselves.
Who are Cortex’s owners? A company called Fandom. Yes, that’s the same Fandom that runs D&D Beyond.
So, our introductory story about Hasbro making a big D&D announcement on the 21st is now connected to our last story in the podcast. Almost out of the blue, but between Hasbro saying they’ve news coming, and before they’ve made it, Fandom has reminded gamers that they have their own RPG system and will be building a marketplace of third-party products around it.
Yes, I know. I’m speculating again. I’ve admitted previously that that’s a dangerous thing to do. I can’t help it, it’s all too interesting to ignore. I look forward with interest to discovering what Hasbro’s plans are and how the community will react.
On the note, that’s a wrap for this week. Let’s catch up again next week.
Hit us up with some intelligent observations in the comment box below.