Posted by: markfender | November 22, 2011

Wizards of the Coast and Cross-Marketing

I was listening to the most recent episode of That’s How We Roll, which featured a candid interview with Peter Adkison, former CEO of Wizards of the Coast, when an idea struck me.

But let’s go back a bit. On their previous episode, they were discussing the ways that Wizards of the Coast’s marketing for Dungeons & Dragons had failed. One way mentioned by Fred Hicks was the Gamma World ruleset. To him, it seemed like a smart business decision – three boxes for a short contained game with tweaked 4e rules – and couldn’t understand why they hadn’t pursued that strategy for some other properties. Star Frontiers, Boot Hill, or Top Secret were the brands mentioned that could do with a short revitalization in that format. It seemed like a good idea to me.

Fast forward to the interview with Peter. He mentioned when they first acquired TSR, he immediately floated the idea of cross-marketing with their other huge brand: Magic: the Gathering. Somehow, he could never get the two sides of the company to agree on that and he apparently bowed to the pressure of the spreadsheet explaining how it would dilute the two brands and that forever-dreamed-up Dominaria D&D sourcebook never materialized.

You can sorta see where this is going. What’s a smart way to do that without diluting either brand? How about that same Gamma World method? Three short boxed products with some stripped-down D&D 4e components to model various Magic: the Gathering settings? After all, they’re continually building new worlds for the next expansion and I bet lots of people would be interested in exploring those settings in a different matter. Hell, they even follow the same product cycle – Magic: the Gathering sets are typically 1 core expansion and 2 follow-ups. Sounds exactly what this sort of boxed set needs. Magic has tried to expand into settings before, publishing the Planeswalker’s Guide to Lowyn. Apparently, this product failed. But I bet a lot of Magic players would still be interested in such a work exploring their favorite settings and, bonus, you can sell them a game as well. I don’t know about you, but I’d cry tears of d20s for a Ravnica setting box, no matter what system it used.

The good thing about this idea to me is how it keeps the brands separate. Gamma World was branded as a D&D game, but it didn’t need to be and I don’t think anyone got confused on that point. As a separate product from “proper” D&D, it doesn’t dilute the D&D line of products. Besides, the Magic flavor department has already written the damned thing for you. Plus, they’ve got all that art (that would fit perfectly fine on some Power Cards) stashed away somewhere. Plus, it might bring some Magic gamers over to the RPG side of the company. Dedicate some RPG developers to filling out the product, tweaking the rules, and maybe writing some adventures. Get your graphic design department on using the already-acquired Magic art on whatever accessories the developers decide the boxed set needs. Bam! You’ve just created a sweet RPG product and got a nice tie-in back into Magic. Neither brand gets diluted. The company makes more money. I CAN’T SEE HOW THIS WOULD FAIL!

Another bright spot is the inevitable 5e. Last time they announced a new edition, sales of the previous editions died out rather quickly. This would keep the D&D product line as a decent revenue stream during that transition time. I may not be interested in buying a sourcebook for a game line that’s about to end, but I’d certainly buy a stand-alone product with a full game inside that just so happened to explore a world I was interested in learning more about and gaming in.

So, let’s make this a thing, Wizards. Please, take my money.

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