What does this mean for the future of D&D?
In the last few weeks, Hasbro appointed Chris Cocks as CEO of Hasbro and Dan Rawson as vice president of Dungeons & Dragons. These guys are now in control of the most popular tabletop role-playing game in the world. They will direct where the game is headed and what One D&D will ultimately look like. If you are even passively interested in TTRPGs, these moves will impact you.
Who are these guys?
Both Cocks and Rawson possess powerful resumes. One thing of note, however, is the number of leadership positions they’ve held within tech companies. They both spent considerable time with Microsoft, and they both have a track record for cultivating growth and sales in this field. They know how to develop a successful strategy and deliver results with digital content.
It should also be noted that Cocks held the position of CFO at Wizards of the Coast before this promotion. In fact, he’s been a powerful and influential figure at WatC for years. When considering his experience in the tech industry as well as his position as CFO, it’s clear he must have played an important part in Wizard’s acquisition of D&D Beyond. Does this mean digital content will play an even larger role in the future of D&D than we previously suspected?
Wizards of the Coast unambiguously declared their intention to make digital settings an important part of One D&D, and why wouldn’t they? Another WatC IP, Magic the Gathering, excelled online. Of course, the part online platforms (like Roll 20 and Owlbear Rodeo) played in the recent surge in popularity enjoyed by Dungeons & Dragons must have been a factor. Hasbro sees the potential in these powerful and proven tools, and if they wanted to expand the role tech plays at WotC, they certainly placed the right people in charge.
What does this mean for the most popular role-playing game in the world? It’s too early to know exactly what these changes will mean for the TTRPG community. Concerns voiced by DM’s and players regarding the new digital tabletop currently under construction, center around the notion that we are witnessing the transition from tabletop to digital platforms. What will this do to our favorite hobby?
These concerns are valid, but we aren’t exactly facing a new monster here. Virtual platforms like Roll 20 and Owlbear Rodeo have been around for some time. It seems that WotC simply wants to have a more active online presence instead of leaving that part of the game in the hands of an unaffiliated third-party.
But What about the Homebrew?
The largest anxiety voiced by D&D enthusiasts is a potential restriction of the game. Third-party content creators have been pivotal to the popularity and growth of Dungeons & Dragons. If the game moves toward online content, could Wizards of the Coast tighten its control over the IP and how it sold? It’s certainly possible, but not necessarily likely.
Wizards of the Coast could go two ways in regard to third-party content. Moving the game toward digital distribution can give Wizards of the Coast the tools necessary to restrict the distribution of this material. They could make it harder to play the game on other platforms, but should they? They have lucrative deals with the homebrew distributors “DMs Guild” and “DriveThruRPG”. Why would they jeopardize these financially viable systems?
Perhaps Hasbro and WotC want to expand their business into platforms that they have yet to develop; platforms already capitalized on and earning money for other companies using the D&D intellectual property. They don’t need to change their current position on homebrew content to improve revenue. Yes, restricting the Open Gaming License (OGL) and maintaining an iron fist over digital distribution would give the company more control over the core IP. It could potentially even force more of the income to funnel directly toward the company, but it would also alienate a sizable portion of its customer base.
Why take the risk when you can have both?
The Open Gaming License has been a successful model for WotC. Additionally, taking the popular tabletop card game, “Magic the Gathering”, online hasn’t affected the in-person element of the game. Yes, there are substantial differences between the two products (D&D and MTG), but I don’t believe there would be enough of a reward in restricting access to the D&D game system to warrant the restriction or elimination of the OGL. MTG proves that keeping a game on the tabletop while simultaneously introducing a separate online version can be a financial success.
Personally, I prefer playing Dungeons & Dragons in person. I do play online and have a great time in that format. However, I enjoy sitting around a table with my friends more. Alternatively, others prefer playing online, and some people don’t care either way. I believe Wizards of the Coast already has the in-person format down, and the installment of Chris Cocks and Dan Rawson in these high-level positions indicates their intention to expand into the online format, not abandon the tested and proven business model. Ultimately, we’re just getting more D&D, not losing what we already have.