Like most of you, I have a deep love and reverence for D&D. Not only what it means to me, but what it’s introduction did for my younger self and what it continues to do for me today. With that said, like most of you reading this, it’s been quite the week for our beloved RPG game. And while I have an affinity for all various RPG games and systems, D&D was my gateway to this wonderful world of gaming that I continue to enjoy.
After the initial verberations of the “leaked” OGL1.1 on the gaming landscape resided, we witness a truly inspiring, unified message from every corner of the RPG sphere. The response was clear. This new path that Wizard of the Coast was looking to travel down was a direct assault on the gamers, those companies that have supported (and helped grow) the D&D brand for years, and the content creators who have also been a big part of the growth and resurgence that the brand has seen in the past several years. I have friends who are directly affected by this new direction that Hasbro/Wotc is attempting steer towards. Directly threating their livelihood in the RPG industry.
As it’s impossible to read every single thing that has been said about this, I feel as if I’ve seen and ready the lions share of the various voices out there who have used that voice to make it heard. When it comes down to it, all of those voices, when stripped down to the core of their message are the same. And while I agree with all of those that I’ve come across, this one does the best job of really making clearest, best case for why what the current stewards of D&D are doing is wrong, and will ultimately cause it’s downfall.
The old saying, “those who ignore history are doomed to repeat it,” or something like that is really hammered home in the wonderfully written post through the AFK Tavern Facebook page. For those who aren’t aware, the AFK Tavern was a gaming restaurant/bar/tavern located in the Seattle area. It was featured in the great gaming movie, The Gamers: Hands of Fate.
Unfortunately, they were unable to survive COVID and closed permanently in November 2020.
Here is the post. Hopefully it resonates with you as it did me.
Skita i det blå skåpet…
One grognard’s thoughts and opinions based on hearsay, rumor, 5th hand information, urban myth, and shit that some dude on the internet said. Take this all with mountains of salt.
The OGL, DnD, and the whole Hasbro Shit-Show.
Hasbro fucked the community, and it may have fucked itself. Hasbro’s response to the whole OGL kerfuffle couldn’t have been less out of touch with their consumers if they had just posted “Let them Eat Cake”
But lets zoom out and give this whole thing a bit of context. In 1999 Hasbro bought WotC, but thats not really the start of all this… zoom out a bit more: April 10, 1997, WotC bought TSR.. but lets back up just a little bit more…
January 1989: Corporate Raider, Hostile Investor, and Certified Shit-Stain, Ron Perelman (not to be confused with iconic actor Ron Pearlman), hot off the heels of his aggressively shady hostile takeover of cosmetics giant Revlon, sets his eyes on his next “under monetized” golden calf, and settles on buying Marvel Comics.
Perelman takes the cover price of comicbooks from $0.65 to $1.50+. Comic lines are expanded from approximately 40 to 150+ per month. Gimmick covers at a steap upcharge are introduced. Comic Book Shops are forced into minimum orders, and mandatory pairings (if you wanted to carry Uncanny X-Men in your comic book shop, you also have to buy copies of some book that you’ll probably never sell). Perelman buys out distributors, starts offering direct to consumer sales, buys up toy manufacturers, buys up licensees, buys up clothing manufacturers, sticker makers, shifts heavy royalties onto the licensees that wont sell out to him. Perelman “vertically intergrates” most of marvel’s down channel economy, and what he cant acquire outright, he financially attacks, in a unending effort to squeeze one more dollar, one more penny, out of every customer. Not just Profit, but MORE PROFIT. More more more more. – sidenote: its has been mentioned that in biology unchecked growth is most commonly referred to as “cancer.”
Setting aside a lot of the more nuanced and detail leaden minutiae of the Comic Wars of the 1990s, the end result is that Marvel was leveraged to the hilt in its never ending expansion, the industry as a whole was super-saturated with product, and the retailers and licensees that made up the bulk of the actual sales (but not the profit) were getting squeezed tighter and tighter every month.
The Bubble Burst.
Comicbook shops began to close en mass. Comicbook Distributors began to fold with no shops to sell their inventory to. More Shops closed, unable to make minimum orders to open new accounts with a new distributor to fill the subscription box orders when their shelves were already over burdened with books they couldn’t sell. Comicbook readership basically evaporated overnight. Without a fanbase there was no one to buy the 150 books a month, the action figures, the stickers, the pajamas, t shirts, collectible cards, etc, etc, etc.
December 27th 1996, Marvel files for bankruptcy. The entire Comicbook industry imploded.
The local Comic Shops? The Comicbook Distributors? Those were also the retailers and the distributors for the Roleplaying Game industry as well. There are dozens upon dozens of factors that contributed to the demise of TSR, and those are many a tale on their own, and while the death of Comicbook shops were not The Vehicle, Perelman’s greed sure as fuck paved The Road that lead to WotC owning D&D in the first place.
A mere four months after the Marvel filing, in April of 1997, Wizards of the Coast, flush with cash from the Pokemon trading card game, bought TSR and all of it’s assets – most notably: Dungeons & Dragons.
Lets toss in some hand waving to skip over some details, A meeting takes place at WotC to sort through the complete mess that is the production, distribution, administration and finances of the newly acquired D&D. And what comes out of these meetings is the clear understanding that the game is only as viable as it is popular. Ryan Dancey (the man responsible for the OGL) uses the example of the telephone: If you are the only person with a telephone it has no value, the more people that have phones, the more people you can call, and the more value the phone has. (Mr. Dancey, and all those involved in the development of OGL are still kicking it around the industry, and have been quite happy to talk about those early days and the creation of the OGL, so I will not try to put too many words into their mouths, a quick googling will find you a plethora of recountings by these folks, who were actually there.)
In the midst of all this, somewhere around September of 1999, Hasbro purchases WotC, and tosses it into its warchest, and largely ignores the weird little company on the other side of the country, as the profits keep filling the coffers.
2000, D&D 3rd Edition is released. More hand waving here – The OGL is birthed into the wild, 3rd party publishers expand the game and the hobby to untold heights. As the old adage goes: a rising tide raises all ships.
There’s a few editions, an attempt at a different license, a handful of other controversies, but over all, nothing too earthshaking. So we will again hand wave away a lot of those details, as those stories again are better suited to their own telling, and so we skip ahead to just a few years back.
December 2017, Wallstreet Corpo-Scum, Connor Haley, founds Alta Fox Capital Management and sets his eyes on Hasbro. By somewhere near the end 2020, Alta Fox owns ~3% of all outstanding Hasbro stock, and begins laying the foundations for a Hostile Takeover of Hasbro.
…insert the opening bars of CCR’s Fortunate Son here…
11:46am, February 17th, 2022 Haley makes a bold, aggressive move. Alta Fox doesn’t fire shots across the bow of Hasbro; they Roll for Initiative.
Alta Fox nominates 5 of it’s members to Hasbro’s 11 member Board of Directors, while simultaneously launching a campaign called “Free the Wizards” – A marketing campaign to fellow shareholders that details out Alta Fox’s thorough research into Hasbro’s business segments. The propaganda piece quite succinctly articulates a strategy to spin WotC off from Hasbro, and that suggests this new WotC’s valuation would easily be equal to, if not more than current Hasbro’s valuation alone. More than doubling the shareholders money overnight.
(Alta Fox’s 100 slide power point indictment of the Hasbro BoD is incredibly compelling, and from my layman’s view in the cheap seats, there is not a lot for me to disagree with.)
In one violently-strategic, lunch-time email, Hasbro has gone from politely ignoring its core products & consumers for twenty-odd years, into an all-out Corporate War, with WotC being the battleground and D&D/MtG becoming the weapons. The community is, as always, the collateral damage.
To fight off this seizure of the Board, Hasbro has to deliver substantial returns to it’s investors, or risk the shareholders forcing the split. It must prove that it can effectively monetize Wizards, and quickly! – Not just Profit, but MORE PROFIT. More more more more. – Did we already talk about unchecked growth and cancer?
April 13th, 2022 – WotC announces that it has bought D&D Beyond. – It Has Begun.
Wall-Street rides for the Tabletop Industry, and Hell rides with it!
Hasbro/WotC unleashes aggressive “Vertical Integration”, buying up licensees, negotiating backroom deals with periphery financiers such as Kickstarter, drafting a new OGL and new strategy to tax (royalties, licensing fees, etc) or buy out the entire down stream markets – in short, Hasbro has gone Full Perelman in an attempt to fight off Alta Fox’s onslaught.
Make no mistake, the D&D Beyond acquisition, The new OGL, the licensing deals with Streamers, the Kickstarter royalty, the Paramount TV series, the VTT development, these are all just bloody engagements in a proxy war of nuclear proportions – and in my humble opinion, no matter who “wins”, they will leave the landscape of the industry and the hobby decimated in the toxic fallout.
PS: I do want to say that there have been a lot of posts going ’round suggesting folks call on WotC, call their offices and voice opinions. But keep in mind that WotC Employees are not calling the shots in this war, they are just following orders and doing their damnest to survive a hellish circumstance.
.. it aint them, it aint them, they aint no fortunate ones…
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