Wednesday, January 12, 2011

News: Tales of WotC Woe

@InitiativeGames was kind enough to send me this Wizard's Ampersand article today which, near the end of the article, talked about some pretty bleak stuff.

I want to call out this section of this article written by Bill Slaviscek and call your attention to the highlighted areas below:

D&D RPG Product Release Updates

Despite the best laid plans, sometimes we make changes to the D&D product release schedule. Usually this happens well before we’ve communicated our plans, but sometimes we must make changes to schedules that have already been announced. That happens to be the case we have here.
The Last Set

We have made the decision to depart from prepainted plastic miniatures sets. Lords of Madness stands as the final release under that model. We will continue to release special collector’s sets (such as the Beholder Collector’s Set we released last fall), as well as make use of plastic figures in other product offerings. Check out the Wrath of Ashardalon board game next month for the latest example of this. Moving forward, we will continue to explore more options for players to represent characters and monsters on the tabletop, including Monster Vault and other D&D products that feature monster and character tokens.

The Heroes of Shadow product, originally scheduled for March and presented in digest-sized, paperback format, is moving to April to accommodate a change to hardcover format. Additionally, three D&D RPG products have been removed from the 2011 release schedule—Class Compendium: Heroes of Sword and Spell, Mordenkainen’s Magnificent Emporium, and Hero Builder’s Handbook. While this means fewer books, we plan to deliver just as much great content for players this year through other formats, including board games, accessories, and digital offerings. I’ll keep you up-to-date on the latest releases each month as we go along.

Finally, I wanted to let you know that we’re making a change to the way we handle D&D Insider content. Subscriber data informs us that the vast majority of you consume our articles individually, when they are posted, as opposed to downloading the monthly compilations. So, starting this month, we’re just providing the articles. There won’t be any more monthly downloadable compilations. This is not a reduction in content, just a clarification of presentation and putting the emphasis where the majority of you are using it. Corrections and updates to articles which used to appear only in the compilations will now be made to the individual articles a few weeks after the original posting.

None of this looks very good.  I must say though, that I understand why they would probably have to scale back on the minis front, but it comes off a little odd that they would end the collectible nature of minis and replace that with Fortune cards, another different collectible element.  I am relieved that they will still be releasing minis in things like board games though.  I plan on picking up both the Wrath of Ashardalon and Castle Ravenloft Board Games for my birthday this year.  Also, they will still be doing stuff like Orcus.  Another relief.

The release schedule got trimmed up considerably.  Knocking off three books seems like quite the trimming, but the Shadow book got hardback again, which is a good thing.  I know I like that a lot better.

Honestly, I think I found the last announcement to be the most disheartening.  I loved having my compiled dungeon and dragon magazine at the end of the month.  I love it that way.  It makes it feel like an actual magazine.  Too bad.  I thought it was also interesting that the two upcoming columns will be written by two of the much higher ups in the company rather than freelancers.  This could be a sign of more trims to come.


  1. This is awful news, as I've come to rely pretty heavily on the WotC minis in my gaming. I'll take the minis over the Fortune Cards any day!

  2. Yea. It is really bad news. I am actually way behind on getting minis. Next time I go to a con I will have to raid a commons bin if I can find one. I still use a lot of my old Mage Knight plastic minis for gaming. Taking the bases off of them and using them in place of the D&D stuff. They are also pretty cheap so you can build up a collection of those pretty quick. I will be picking up both of the board games so I can have a pretty nice, unpainted collection, really quickly. So much for hoping for some GW minis...

  3. Drat. I was actually hoping for the paperback Heroes of Shadow (paperback means a lower price point, which means less perceived risk for new players), and really looking forward to the Class Compendium... ah, well. Can't please everyone, I suppose.

  4. As much as I like the lower prcie point, I like having hard bound books more. I wish that it was POD and you could pick which version that you want, but I much prefer the old 4e Hard Covers to the easily destroyed soft covers - my GW book is actually taking a beating pretty hard...

  5. I sometimes feel WotC has a formal business plan, and sometimes I feel they just throw darts at a board with labels like "publish" and "cancel" randomly scattered over it.

  6. As amusing an image as a dartboard with business decisions on it is, I don't see WotC's behaviour as being random at all. Frustrating to the fans perhaps, but certainly not random. Take for instance the apparently confusing to some decision to remove collectible minis, yet release collectible fortune cards. If one thinks of them merely as two equivalent products with an identical collectible aspect, then the removal of one over the other seems randomly arbitrary. However, there is a lot more that differentiates those two products than their collectiblity. Fortune cards are much more profitable and more marketable than minis for a few big reasons.

    One, they are cheaper to produce. After the design process is completed, minis still require sculpting, casting in plastic, then hand painting for each unit. By contrast, once designed, Fortune cards need to be printed onto cardstock and cut, an inexpensive automated process that is little different than producing business cards.

    Two, fortune cards will need to be replaced. Being made of cardstock, they are not as durable as plastic minis. After years of continual use, a plastic mini will be just as good as new. After years of continual use, cardboard cards will be worn, torn, crumpled, creased, stained, etc and need to be repurchased.

    Three, minis are able to be used in any game as there are no rules inherent in the mini itself - a 2nd ed goblin mini will continue to be usable as a mini for a goblin for 3E, 4E, 5E, Pathfinder and pretty much any other conceivable game that has goblins. Fortune cards on the other hand, are system specific with rules printed right on them. The first set will ONLY be usable for the current version of 4E D&D. In order to force people to need to repurchase fortune cards, they need only change the rules and make the old cards illegal to use in official play. This can be accomplished with as small a change as errata updates or an entirely new ruleset as in D&D 5E. This method appears to be accepted for core rules books and setting supplements alike, so I see no reason it wouldn't be profitable for fortune cards as well.

    While I may not like any of these reasons above, I can't dispute the profitability of one set over the other. Far from being random decisions, they appear to be well considered, very profit-minded, and definitely according to a plan.

  7. @Spiralbound - definitely agree with you about a lot of this and I want to do a more in depth business analysis post regarding Wizard's apparent business strategy. I got my bachelors degree in International Business by discectnig Hasbro, so I guess it is time to get that Thesis out again and rehash a lot of it here for the blog. I guess I could put those papers up for people that want to read them, though it might be a bit dry if you aren't in to tables, numbers, profit figures, and growth information. I dig that though ;)

    So, like I said above, I will try and do a short business analysis of WotC on the blog this weekend and address some of what you said here. One of the things that I want to talk about a lot more thought is Distribution channels and International sales.