Sunday, January 22, 2012

It's Not Just A Game

The phrase "Dungeons & Dragons" has achieved widespread fame though not necessarily love and interest. Geek chic is the new normal but not everyone agrees. Sure, famous actors like Vin Diesel are seen buying D&D at their local hobby store but for many people they need to experience the Dungeons & Dragons brand personally before they're going to take notice.

More than just revamping the roleplaying game through D&D Next, Mike Mearls recognized in an MTV interview that Wizards of the Coast needs to grow Dungeons & Dragons into a multimedia brand. Perhaps medium would be more appropriate since I'm talking about making D&D available as a roleplaying game, a board game, a PC computer game, an Xbox Live Arcade game, novels, children's books, a massively-multiplayer online game, a social game, and the list goes on.

I never played the old TSR SSI gold box Advanced Dungeons & Dragons computer games (shown left) but my best friend in high school was playing them extensively. I am of the impression that hardcore gamers remember those classics fondly. Perhaps bring them back to iPhone, Nintendo DS, or another miniaturized platform as Square Enix did with Final Fantasy's sprite-based editions (I, II, III, or IV).

When you're curating a brand, like Square Enix did with Final Fantasy, you want to take your name to the customer where they live. You don't make the customer come into your space (PlayStation for Final Fantasy and tabletop roleplaying games for Dungeons & Dragons). This is exactly what the duopoly of Marvel and DC comics are accomplishing. Relatively few people read comic books any more but the brands (in this case the characters are the brands) have legions of fans among all ages. Superman has his own hit song that regularly plays on broadcast radio stations.

Magic: The Gathering appears to be following the lifestyle brand model of Harley Davidson by offering apparel in addition to the core product. Magic sales have doubled since 2008 and I suspect a large part of that growth is driven by exposure to the Magic brand through Duels of the Planeswalkers for Xbox Live Arcade (and now also PS3 and PCs).

Wizards of the Coast has definitely faced challenges in the past because of licensing agreements that give outsiders control of movie or video game rights. Recent changes should make fans happy and allow D&D to remain true to its essence while growing a broader audience. I don't play board games but I like anything that is good for the hobby. Sometimes what you try doesn't work. I hope the D&D managers don't let this cause them to act too conservatively.

I look forward to more experimentation by the teams at Wizards. You never know...


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