Friday, January 20, 2017

Wizards Digital Game Studio Is Probably Not What You Think

So an announcement from Chris Cocks (Wizards of the Coast President) has created a fair amount of speculation about what's in store for digital D&D products in the future. Here's the quick summary of the press release.

Magic the Gathering Tactics
  • Wizards of the Coast is forming a digital studio.
  • The Magic Online team has been folded into this studio.
  • Wizards has been farming talent from other game studios.
  • They wish to "bring Magic and D&D to unexpected settings, genres, and platforms."

So what does this mean for D&D table top? Probably not much (if anything) and not for a long while despite what all the blogs are speculating online.

Rumors vs. Reality

What has caused a lot of rampant speculation is a couple PR-speak comments out of the release. For example, Chris Cocks writes, "What would it be like to throw fireballs as a Planeswalker in an MMO, or quest for treasure with your friends in a D&D augmented-reality game?"

Please note the above quote is not a product announcement. These are pie-in-the-sky possibilities being mentioned in an off-hand way to generate excitement about this mostly humdrum press release. There isn't necessarily an Magic the Gathering MMO already in the works, nor an augmented reality D&D game. These are just teasers of what they are thinking about.

I can tell you exactly what they are thinking about: profit. That means table top D&D will almost certainly not be a focus.

The Wizards of the Coast vaporware VTT from 2008-ish.
The video game market is worth $75 Billion worldwide. They are chasing after the Pokemon Go levels of revenue. In contract, the table top RPG market is more 1000 times less valuable than the video game market at somewhere between $25 to $30 Million. That is 4 orders of magnitude less. Collectible card games, buy contrast, do over $550 Million, so Magic will likely get the most focus early on. Notice that Chris writes "We are reimagining digital versions of Magic and other Wizards games."  D&D isn't mentioned by name in that sentence. They don't want to promise something they are certain not to deliver.

So, from a profitability view point, table top D&D is very low on the priority list. If there is an AR game being brain-stormed, it will likely be an idea to leverage the D&D brand similar to Pokemon Go-like experience where you walk around and fight D&D monsters in your neighborhood. That's just one possibility.

Neverwinter - the current WotC supported D&D MMO (Sorry, DDO!)

Final Thoughts

"Project Neath" from +MonkeyBlood Design (Glynn Seal) 
So if you are hoping for a cool 3D virtual table top with figures, tiles or terrain similar to the promise made waaaaaaay back at the beginning of 4th Edition, stop holding your breath. Those kinds of software ventures would not be profitable from the Hasbro/WotC perspective. Software accessories for D&D table top are best left to independent third parties.

This studio is looking to design something that will make a splash in the mass video game market, and while it may have the D&D brand, it won't be an accessory for D&D table top.

From my own perspective, I'm a bit skeptical about what Wizards of the Coast can bring to the table. Their digital initiatives have failed spectacularly in recent years. The only difference is that Chris Cocks is a software guy. He has real experience building and shipping software, so that could be a game changer for them. However, I have my doubts that yet another MMO could generate the revenue they hope for, nor can they recapture the lightning in a bottle that was Pokemon Go. We shall see.

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