Posted by: markfender | October 4, 2011

WotC is Still Killing Gaming

Many moons ago, I wrote an inflammatory blog post about how Wizards of the Coast is a cancer on the industry. I made some crazy allegations at the time (well, maybe not so crazy) and I think it might be time to revisit them.

In that post, I quoted Chris Perkins at WotC on their new plans for D&D:

We’ve split the D&D creative team into two groups: the D&D RPG Group (focused on the 4th Edition D&D RPG and spinoff RPGs such as D&D Gamma World) and the D&D New Business Group (focused on D&D games beyond the RPGs, including board games and other stuff we can’t talk about yet). Both groups report up into Bill Slavicsek, the Director of D&D R&D and Book Publishing.

At the time, I was concerned that this would mean less emphasis on the D&D game and more emphasis on products with “D&D” on the box – less RPG products and more sundry other products marketing on the IP of D&D. Has this dire turn of events come true?

Well, to start with Bill Slavicsek doesn’t work there anymore. More of the “brain drain” I talked about before. But that’s not the main thrust. I’m more interested in my other prediction. This particular announcement came out in June of 2010. So I went back into the archives and checked to see how many D&D books were released between June 2009 and June 2010. I then looked at how many D&D books were released between June 2010 and June 2011. Has the output of “pure” D&D books scaled back since this split in the company?

Discounting ancillary products like Power Cards, Miniatures and Dungeon Tiles, between July 2009 and June 2010 Wizards of the Coast released 20 D&D products.They released 2 non-core products with D&D as a theme: a Heroscape boxed set and Three Dragon Ante: Emperor’s Gambit.

Between July 2010 and June 2011, Wizards of the Coast released 15 D&D products, again discarding ancillary products like power cards, dungeon tiles and Fortune cards. This includes a number of Essentials products which may or may not be just repurposed cardboardey things (I haven’t seen any of these products, so I don’t know). They released 3 non-core products with D&D as a theme: Ravenloft Board game, Wrath of Ashardalon board game, and the Conquest of Nerath board game.

That’s not a big change, but it is a noticeable change. Of course, you also have to deal with their lead-in times. I have no idea how many of those products were already as good as done by the time the split was announced. I also have no idea how much designer time is really needed for some of these products. Heroscape was a game they inherited from their parent company, so it probably amounted to writing up some new critters. The board games this year probably needed a bit more playtesting. Likewise, there were a couple of Monster Boxes released this year…I don’t honestly know if a designer looked at these or just a graphic designer did some Photoshop work on some cardboard tokens – I don’t know if those monsters were new to that box, or just republished monsters from previous products. I didn’t include Gamma World products in there, as I’m only interested in D&D at the moment.

So, what does this tell us? It tells us that my prediction were true, if not quite the dire state it might have been. The Essentials line of products don’t interest me, but there are new D&D products still coming out so I suppose that’s good. What concerns me more is the newer and greater emphasis on boardgames. It’s not too surprising that D&D 4e makes good boardgame fodder – dumb down the rules a bit, add in some “AI” for the bad guys, and you’ve got yourself a board game. So far, we’ve seen three of these, with more incoming. Is this the future of D&D?

Going from 20 products to 15 doesn’t feel like a giant drop off in D&D books, which I suppose is a good thing. It’ll be interesting to see if that number continues to drop as the relative success and popularity of the boardgames increase. Of course, 12 D&D books a year is still one book a month – which seems more than adequate to me. So I guess the title of this post was more inflammatory than it needed to be.


  1. Since my experience with 4E isn’t as robust (having only started with it about 12 months ago) feel free to disregard…

    I don’t mind the Essentials products and classes. I actually like them a little.

    Many of the classes revolve around Melee/Ranged Basic attacks, even those that are not STR-/DEX-based. Bladesingers (Technically not an Essentials class, but designed in the same manner) subsistute their INT for STR when making their MBAs, just as the Thief and Scout classes substitutes DEX for STR on their MBAs. Instead of normal At-Will attacks they get At-Will stances, movement tricks, or triggering effects off of an MBA. Some of those Essentials classes that don’t use MBAs very much have At-Wills that count as MBAs.

    This allows these classes to actually be effective with opportunity attacks while giving them the same mobility as charge monkeys like Barbarians.

    The other big thing that I like about them as that some of the classes come with Expertise feats built in. I hate how Expertise feats have become all but a first-level feat requirement for 4E. It’s stupid. Hitting is the most important thing in the game. If you put in a feat that is going to make me more accurate at all times while potentially giving other bonuses, of course I’m going to take that first.

    I’ve been running a game club for 10-to-12-year olds at one of my school buildings and we did a short 4E campaign as a part of it. One of them wanted to play a PHB1 Fighter. The rest used Essentials classes. He’s a smart kid, but the sheer volume of options available to him weighed him down to the point where he just picked “what sounded cool”, and his character didn’t really work. The kiddos running Essentials classes had no trouble building their characters. Not only did they pick “what sounded cool”, but those abilities actually worked pretty well.

    I’m not saying that WoTC should be catering to that crowd, but little gamers make big gamers, so it’s certainly smart to find a way to make their product accessible.

    My regular role-playing group isn’t particularly made up of optimizers. They like to drink beer and roll dice. They don’t play miniatures games and aren’t the most tactically-minded people. Our first campaign they ran PHB characters and hated it. The second campaign (at my urging) they ran Essentials characters and enjoyed it a great deal more.

    I recall that after last year’s GenCon there was talk from WoTC that they were concerned that they were releasing products too quickly, and that consequently their quality control and play testing was suffering, which is largely why they slowed down production on 4E products. Whether this is all corporate BS to justify their launch of the Castle Ravenloft, Wrath of Ashardalon, and Conquest of Nerath board games, I don’t know.

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