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WotC won't fuck you
But Hasbro will fuck you up
I talk TTRPG art-form, its tools, its peripheric art. I really don’t like to talk about brands here, and when I do, it is clear I’m not a fan. This is why I have ever not touched Dungeons & Dragons when talking about that category of “old school fantasy" game” — there is nothing remarkable about it other than the brand.
While I still appreciate there are unique stories to be told with these types of games and stories that can only be explored through those types of games1, I lament their grasp over the art-form, limiting its growth and potential; keeping it fundamentally unchanged from fifteen years ago, with tokens of acceptance by including in its reproduction people that would not have been included in the 70s.
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This art-form potential does not have to be defined by this and who it deviates from these “old school fantasy” assumptions.
But for what I am talking about, that will not help me. No, I am talking to those that are in a position where their art requires Dungeons & Dragons. I want to talk about where you are, how you got there and about the anxieties about the future of the art that have escalated every week for the last six months.
For this discussion, I will start from the assumptions laid on this previous article. The same rules for branded content apply: you either start with money, trick someone with money to give it to you, or get lucky hustling for influencer work and get paid for that.
If your art requires Dungeons & Dragons, you are at the mercy of Hasbro and its subsidiary, Wizards of the Coast. That seems self-evident, but what does that mean? People frustrated dealing with them as partners and consumers may be frustrated by their lack of messaging and/or clarity, there is a group Hasbro is very keen and clear on their messaging to — investors.
So, what can we understand from the future of the tools that you need for your art? What will happen to Dungeons & Dragons?
Hasbro is undergoing a Grand Transformation: the corpo-talk called Blueprint 2.0. From last year up to 2027, every decision made by Hasbro is as part of implementing Blueprint 2.0. So, the future of Dungeons & Dragons is the future of Blueprint 2.0.
Moving away from games and toys to selling “consumer experiences”
Invest in Branding: pick some “High-growth, high-profile” Brands as the focus of Hasbro.
They seek to make more of the following of those Select Brands: Action Figures & Accessories; Arts & Crafts; Outdoor & Sports; Preschool Toys.
They don’t want to have retail or factories: they want to license stuff they put directly in front of the consumer.
So, even just taking this at a surface level, the goals driving decision pertaining said Brands — of which Dungeons & Dragons is one, is that they want to get more licensed digital Dungeons & Dragons goodies in front of brand consumer. By their own internal criteria, they claim to have been successful at pursuing said goals, with “growth in Magic the Gathering, Dungeons & Dragons, and Transformers.”
Have they? How does it feel, on the receiving end as a consumer and/or artistic partner, that successful growth? How working with Hasbro the last two years been treating you4?
But, has it really been working? Well, it has been working where they care for56. With a growth in “direct to consumer” to 21%, gaming 2% and consumer licensing 2%, and this little thing “On track to deliver $250-300M in annualized run-rate cost savings by year-end 2025; $35M achieved in Q1 2023”, they managed to make investors money and regain trust.
Okay, but what is actually happening? Where are those savings come from? Squeezing blood from you and employees, mostly. If we see the numbers, D&D revenue is from “digital gaming” from acquiring D&D Beyond, and Magic had its increased in sale by their absurd oversaturation of product releases and moving massive amounts of cardboard due to FOMO and confusion. They expect — and tell investors — that this will only growth, with them acquiring due to “return of in-person events” and “the Paramount movie” of “tens of millions” of new consumers for the digital-branded items. Meanwhile, the losses that are happening across every single department and subsidiary in Hasbro are pinned as the costs of retails points-of-sale and used as “evidence” they really need to push becoming digital-only.
But wait, what about that cost saving they are so proud of? Again, just from firing people. And they plan to fire $250-300M of them. That is what “performance excellence” means, as they openly admit7.
So that is the future that is being charted from the present: more digital-branding opportunities they hope to sell for a new audience. They need to save much more costs they got so far from firing people, so they gonna need to squeeze more and more who is left. Wizards of the Coast is basically being stripped to the bone to carry the reports and appease the investors. Because this is being considered a successful plan by Line Going Up, expect this to continue until 2025.
So this is Dungeons and Dragons for them. Let’s go back to what this means Dungeons and Dragons will be for you.
If you work directly with/for Hasbro, your work going to be done under worse conditions — if you are even hired. More likely to be freelancer, more likely to me under increasingly precarious contracts. If you are third-party, your ability to perform your art is even further endangered: you are encountering Blueprint 2.0 on the OGL fiasco8, acquisition and the consolidation of all things of the brand in D&D Beyond9 10. There is no DMGuild in the future; exploitative as it was, there will be, if at all, new marketplace — and one built for Blueprint 2.0. Which means they don’t want intermediaries between them and consumer— that’s you — and they want full control of digital licensing — that’s the thing you need to make your art. Any concession will be something you are going to fight for and will always seek to make your position more precarious. And these things are the tip of the iceberg: you will need to be vigilant, because Blueprint 2.0 will keep marching on and it will require stuff like that: if you get a marketplace, they will try to enforce and achieve Blueprint 2.0; they gave up on the OGL and they will control the brand licensing another way, etc.
They are not changing course. Look at what they are doing11 to stick to a plan that is clearly not working:12 slashing across the workforce, failing to capitalize on growth in the Global South despite their priorities in digital, dumping money on entertainment to get IP expansion, expensive licensing deals, send Pinkertons against people, etc.
What being tied to Dungeons & Dragons requires from you? Well, you gonna need to be okay with all of this. Hasbro wants to sell Blueprint 2.0 to the investors, which means going the extra mile to appease them as their confidence wanes with the castle of cards that is their obsession with becoming a digital branding company. This means appeasing the war-profiteering and planet-killing Blackrock, Vanguard, SSGA and other delightful architects of the world we suffer through. This means anything meaningful against their interests cannot be achieved; or at the very least, they will keep squeezing the more money their decisions cost them.
But somehow, you think you can be a force of change for Hasbro. I don’t know how; they keep piling up awards for Being The Best Beans even as they do all the things we know they do13. But let’s assume you can get them something they otherwise would not. It happened before. It did not work141516. And things only will get worse than they were three years ago: guess who was the majority of people fired this year so far? Not to mention attempts to unionize when they a) promise every investor meeting to fire and exploit better the workers b) have the freaking Pinkertons on retainer.
Maybe you keep your distance. As much as possible while still associating with their brand and IPs, you ignore Hasbro and focus on cultivating your small pocket community. Thing is, the more you distance yourself from Hasbro while making art that requires Dungeons & Dragons, the more vulnerable you are. You still are paid by influencing, and distance makes this harder and require more work. Doors will be closed to you for corporate events and partnerships. Other sponsorships will follow suit. Remember, they sent Pinkertons to steal the property of someone to protect themselves from people being made aware that they printed a worst set than Homelands, and that is selling five-cards boosters more expensive than regular ones17. And you will be competing in markets that Hasbro has no problems with AI-generated projects as long as you have a cut18.
Even when things go right, everything goes properly, even when you get the opportunity to add yourself to the chorus, what does that get you? You get to contribute your culture, identity, yourself to a project that then becomes presented by failscions and proud and active murder managers as Fantasy Israel, and you find yourself under the whims of those ten people controlling access to being exploited by Hasbro, having to be silent on or openly defending the Department of Defense and the military-industrial complex omnicidal project19, to be more specific, the preparations for nuclear war and an invasion of Russia and China20.
This is what being a successful member of the Dungeons & Dragons family looks like. Does this appeal to you? Then, by all means.
If this repulses you, there is no future for you as long as Hasbro controls Dungeons & Dragons. There is not future for the IP without Hasbro either. When inevitably the consequences of them scavenging anything for parts and transform into a Digital Brand Landlord catch up with them, this will be just another IP sold to a fund which will sit on it and aggressively prevent anyone from using it.
This is the future of Dungeons & Dragons. And because your art requires Dungeons & Dragons, that is the future of your art.
But… what if that was to change? What if you no longer had your cart attached to this train?
I know that when you are in such position, the artform and Dungeons & Dragons seem one and the same. And the influencing reach is much bigger within the Hasbro enclosure. But I assure you, there is a space for you to do your art within a much wider art-form.
Many of you will probably be thinking of switch to another “Old school adventures” games. I am not one to tell you what to do or not, but be aware those are controlled by IP holders that seek the same control over you Hasbro currently has — there is no future there either, so may be better to think of this as of a short-term solution. And of course, considering it is basically the same, you are exchanging the reach of a corporation for a smaller reach of another corporation.
A common lament is that the “entire community” must “move” to the same game. That not doing that, leaving Hasbro behind means leaving the art-form community. Thing is, there is not one: there is the Dungeons & Dragons brand. There is no community. A more long-term solution may be to create an actual community. Get involved, do things with other people beyond a Brand. Create spaces where you care for each other art and the cultivation of the artform. You’re already having to do influencing; this time do it for you.
It may seem you are giving up a glorious future for one of hardship; but when this brand has none, you are seizing hard-earning conquests.The road is difficult, but includes something else.
A future for your art.
And even those are unlikely to be made, as anyone designing tools for facilitating such art is condemned and dismissed by entrenched gaming ideology.
Maybe ask people who do art dependent on Magic the Gathering and Transformers or consume these digital, licensing focused new products feel too.
At least short-term.
Because it cannot work. We are talking them seeking “16x more traffic on digital platforms”