Today on CNBC’s Mad Money with Jim Cramer (the eagle-eyed among you will remember his cameo in the first Iron Man movie, smashing a coffee cup and declaring Stark Industries akin to the Titanic), Hasbro CEO Brian Goldner gave an interview wherein he discussed not only the better-than-expected revenue numbers after the collapse of Toys R Us, but also specifically name-checked D&D, to the surprise of many. Here’s the interview in full:
I’m going to pull out some selected quotes and opine a bit, but it’s definitely worth watching the whole thing (the D&D-related talk starts at the 4:30 mark, for those who don’t want to hear about product channels, moving manufacturing out of China into India and Brazil, and Power Rangers).
Q: …there’s always one brand that stands out that I thought was kind of a… not a dead brand, but just a so-so brand; you called out Dungeons and Dragons this time. I mean, that’s been around forever. How does that reignite?
A: Well, people are more into Dungeons & Dragons today than ever before. In fact, it’s enjoying it’s best year ever. It’s… It’s been… the past couple of years where it’s grown. People are re-engaged with that brand because it’s a face-to-face game, it’s immersive, and its, uh, a game where people really enjoy playing with one another. We have more new users coming onboard; double-digit new user growth, and we’re very excited about what’s coming up. In fact, we just announced this afternoon that there’ll be a crossover between Dungeons & Dragons and Magic: The Gathering in the fall, and I think our fans and gamers are going to be very excited about what’s coming for D&D.
We’re also building a suite of digital games around Dungeons & Dragons and Magic: The Gathering. Our Magic: Arena product is underway in a closed Beta, we’ve had more than a million people sign up, and we’re very excited about launching that later this year, so you’ll be able to play Magic: The Gathering or Dungeons & Dragons on a mobile device or online, as well as face-to-face.
Q: Now, how did you get a million so quickly, because what this makes me think, is that now you’ve got a lot of… a lot of people to sell into, you’ve got a lot of different extensions that you can do that you could just make this so that it comes alive for multiple years.
A: Well, once you build this mobile game, we’re also seeing that just [as] with the analog game, people are watching us on e-sports; we have about a million viewers a month watching a Magic: The Gathering game, and people watching Dungeons & Dragons on Twitch, and so we think over time we build this to be more of an e-sports property. It’s a very immersive game, and it’s perfect and ripe for global e-sports competition.
First off, I think it’s pretty clear that Mr. Goldner doesn’t really understand the difference between Magic: the Gathering and Dungeons & Dragons, and is conflating them in his own mind and in his responses. He seems to slip between the two almost interchangeably, and is almost painfully evasive when asked how that game in particular can “reignite.” He can’t wait to segue into Magic: the Gathering. And that’s not surprising in the slightest. Of the two, MtG is ten times the money-maker that D&D is, even with its great growth. That’s one reason Cramer wanted to ask him about it.
That said, I’m pretty sure the suits at Hasbro are seeing the rise of online gaming, where spectators seem willing to spend their time to watch people playing the game, and thinking to themselves, “if they spend their time, how can we get them to spend their money?”
The references to e-sports are telling. With the realization that in Goldner’s mind the space between MtG and D&D is very, very thin (especially with the crossover D&D setting that was announced, as mentioned in the interview), they might actually be looking at an Overwatch model. I actually saw an Overwatch show on television last night, some sort of big tournament, and tried to watch for a few minutes. Wikipedia tells me that’s what E-sports is; spectators watching people play video games. It was completely unwatchable, impossible to follow, and baffling that it could actually be on DirecTV.
It’s entirely possible that it’s just a generational thing, but aside from watching someone play Joust while I’m waiting for them to die so I can play, or watching a friend of mine play a truly epic game of Q-Bert, the thought of sitting down for a few hours to just watch someone’s screen jerk back and forth with occasional flashes while they play some game at a speed and level of skill I could never ever come near, just doesn’t excite me. I know there are people that, somehow, make a living at doing just that.
Now, when it comes to D&D videos, there’s a very different dynamic going on, just as there is when people watch Wil Wheaton play Settlers of Catan or whatever. You’re not watching strictly for the game itself. You’re watching for the interaction between the people; the witty repartee, the banter, the jokes and so forth, as much as you’re watching to see how the plot unfolds. I’m not sure that translates as well into the E-sports world of Overwatch and Star Wars Battlefront. Now consider what we’d be seeing with Magic: the Gathering. I’ve witnessed games, and there’s not so much witty banter between the players as there are occasional grumbles and “bet you wish you had this card!” snide remarks. I mean, who wants to spend money to watch this?
Yeah, I know it’s staged. But it’s still funny.
Can that translate into e-sports millions? I have no idea. I’m not the one who’s the CEO of a major toy and game company, but I’m also the guy who knows the vast difference between Magic the Gathering and Dungeons & Dragons, Ravnica crossovers notwithstanding.