Dungeons & Dragons–The Legend Needs a Hiatus

“Dungeons & Dragons”  is one of the oldest, most famous and  valuable game trademarks in existence.  Even non-gamers instantly associate the game with dice, dragons and gaming in general. Often , D&D is the gateway game to the entire RPG hobby for players.  That level of name recognition and market penetration has tremendous value and Wizards of the Coast knows it.  The regular release of supplements and “D&D” branded products provides  revenue to Wizards. This is all well and good, but I think the endless editions, supplements and ancillary products threaten the brand.

Look at the current D&D landscape; 4th edition sold well, but divided the gaming community. Many longtime players ignored it or launched into endless edition wars in forums.  Others embraced the new version. Wizards recently made changes to the line and moved to the “Essentials” edition geared towards beginners. More infighting began and the community fractured again.  If that was not enough, now there is a push to use CCG booster packs in the game (Fortune Cards).  More fracturing and angry words resonate across the internet at the announcement.

Infighting aside, Wizards has D&D branded products everywhere, including:

MMORPG

Subscription website

Fortune Cards

Novels, too many to count

Comic books

Soda

Pillaging old campaign settings and repackaging them for a new edition(Dark Sun)

It all needs to end…for a while.

I absolutely want Wizards to make money with D&D. Profits equal more product, marketing (such as sponsored conventions, online events, etc) and a thriving RPG community.  That said, Wizards pushes the brand too hard, too often and too desperately for my taste. Brands require management and excessive exposure and licensing leads to the brand deteriorating. A famous example of this is “Star Trek.”

Star Trek rose from the ashes of cancellation in the late 1980s with “Star Trek: The Next Generation.” It was very popular and it spawned “Star  Trek: Deep Space Nine.”  DS9 did very well and along came “Star Trek: Voyager”. Still pretty good, but relied a bit too much on  Jeri Ryan’s ass for its ratings.  Still “Voyager” limped to a completion and did well enough for another series: “Star Trek: Enterprise.”

May Gene Roddenberry forgive their trespass.

Awful does not come close and horrific is inadequate. Enterprise flat-out sucked. Sucked so badly it killed Star Trek as a television franchise. So Trek rested and rose again with new vitality with the “Star Trek” movie, created by a new group of talented writers. Writers without three TV series worth of baggage.  Trek endured.

It is this same death spiral I see with D&D today. More and more product pushed to a very loyal consumer group without regard to the consequences. I think WOTC’s brand management is more interested in short-term profits than long-term health of the brand.  It is my assumption that pressure from Hasbro to wring more profits out of the brand during the recession is part of the reason, but I may be wrong. Regardless,  I want D&D to endure and the best way for that to happen is a hiatus.

Two years, bare minimum of no new product. Nothing. No board games, no comic books, no releases of any kind. Shut it down.  Move all the existing staff to new projects.  They did a great job, but you need to drill new wells before the old one runs dry. After one year, hire a group of talented writers from outside the company and start building a new version of  “D&D.” Call it “5th Edition,” since everyone will call it that anyway and let your new writer’s stable go crazy. Nothing is off the table except what came before. Stop pandering to 40 year-olds that want more “Forgotten Realms” material and start pandering to 13 year-olds! Stop revising 2nd Edition campaign settings and create fresh, original worlds to play in. Be original!

My rant is at an end. I love D&D, but too much of a good thing is still too much. A hiatus will breathe new life into the brand and guarantee its survival for years to come.

Trask, The Last Tyromancer

trask

Trask is a long-time gamer, world traveler and history buff. He hopes that his scribblings will both inform and advance gaming as a hobby.

6 thoughts on “Dungeons & Dragons–The Legend Needs a Hiatus

  • January 23, 2011 at 9:42 pm
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    over at the story games forum someone recently asked how those designers would re make DnD, this was my response.

    “I probably wouldn’t.

    DnD is around today because some people never stopped liking it when it stopped being popular. These people reinvented it a few times, each time fracturing the play base a little more. Fracture it many more times and your going to end up with smaller and smaller pieces. I’m not sure if the industry as a whole is shrinking, growing, or self sustaining but i get the feeling my time is better spent elsewhere.

    but thats not the point of this thread.

    as for what i would actually do? make it a component based game entirely using deck building mechanics that tie into light tactical games”

    If your curious here is a link to the thread.
    http://story-games.com/forums/comments.php?DiscussionID=13631&page=1#Item_51

    I’m not sure what direction WOTC should take with the property at the moment. I think raven loft is interesting, gama world is cool.

  • January 23, 2011 at 11:46 pm
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    I think your idea is interesting but unrealistic. WotC is changing directions in a hard way and I hate to say it but D&D is done. My forecast? WotC go down like TSR before them and they are bought out by a third party for a song (again).

    Now I didn’t buy into 4th edition, but as of late you have to admit the writing is on the wall.

    First Heroscape was turned into a D&D product. That failed horribly. This lead to Heroscape being canceled.

    Then they gave up the Star Wars license (canceling the miniatures line first I believe). Then the cancellation of the D&D miniatures line (canceling the miniatures game a few years back was a BIG mistake – it removed a large part of the D&D Miniatures market).

    This is the first I’ve heard of the new “plan” and it sounds somewhat like the plans of other game companies. Collectible games won’t work long term (Magic is one of the few products which has lasted). Some D&D players also play magic, but if I had to buy boosters to support my game? Don’t think so.

    I think WotC is struggling and pushing out the latest D&D boardgames is an attempt to get the product more mainstream than it is. The problem is they can’t get their product into mainstream markets (Walmart, Target, Zellers, ToysRus, etc.) because of who they are. For instance, once it was announced that WotC were taking over Heroscape the mainstream markets liquidated the product and removed it from their inventory. I don’t think WotC plays nice with the mainstream marketplace (I don’t know this, just a guess).

    D&D is a niche product and will never produce profit like Monopoly and WotC are fooling themselves if they think otherwise. Maybe this is a directive from Hasbro, maybe this is wishful thinking from someone at WotC trying to bolster their corporate profile.

    The bottom line is I still have my 3rd edition material and I’m never letting it go… 🙂

  • January 24, 2011 at 8:51 am
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    I think the divisions you have listed are not as deep or divisive as you imagine. The only true schism that happened was the release of 4E.
    Essentials did nothing to fracture the 4E players. The players will either use Essentials or not, much the same as if they would use the PH3 or not. The cards will either be used or ignored, much the same as any other supplement WotC has released. The only backlash that seems divisive is from those who already don’t like 4E.

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  • April 13, 2011 at 12:41 pm
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    I absolutely agree with this article (except some of the Trek comments) and am amazed and appalled at the way the gaming industry operates. All I see is the same games over and over and over. Redone to death! Give us something new, something fresh. Something original. Those of us who have been there from the beginning deserve it and dont want to see yet another version of the same game/supplement. Stop trying to milk it and start trying to revitalize it! A new coat of paint wont cut it. We already have everything we need and precious little cash to waste on rehash. We already have our faves and will stick with it. Stop moving backwards and move forward.

  • April 26, 2011 at 2:16 pm
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    As a 40 year old I want them to crank out more Forgotten Realms stuff, LOL! But seriously, if I were somebody running the place I would do exactly as you describe. D&D has been circling the toilet ever since v3.5 came out. And don’t they have anyone besides Salvatore writing any more? Come on!

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