Dungeons & Dragons

Hits, Crits, and Fails: What the $h!t, Hasbro?!

Dungeons and Dragons

At the risk of never getting a cushy writing gig for Hasbro, what the actual sh**, Hasbro?!

For those who didn’t hear, Hasbro laid off somewhere around a thousand people, almost all, if not all, of their Wizard’s of the Coast division (WOTC). This is darkly hilarious, since earlier this year Hasbro’s corporate hegemony tried to rip up the Open Game License, and they still have some apologizing to do to the D&D community over that. Having shot themselves so thoroughly in the foot, they now have proceeded to reload the shotgun, and put their left big toe at the tip of the barrel, making sure it is fully loaded and the safety is off.

Hasbro CEO Chris Cocks said in an email… 

*Checks notes* Wow, really? That’s his name? Huh. I wonder if there’s a way to creatively lampoon that. Sure seems like there’s some easy joke there… some low hanging fruit, if you will. I’m sure I’ll think of something.

So Hasbro’s CEO Chris Turgid released an email to his employees concerning the “headcount reductions,” and is choosing to refocus its efforts on “fewer, bigger, better brands.” And, while I’m sure Chris Dongheimer is trying to address actual financial concerns, the layoffs landing at the feet of the WOTC division seem more than a little suspect.

It’s true that Hasbro has been losing money, not necessarily due to the Open Game License fiasco, though I’m sure that didn’t help. That loss and bad publicity probably provided an attractive head to lob off when shareholders saw they weren’t getting yacht-fuel money this year. After all, they can’t control D&D the way one can control, say, Monopoly, which is just far too apt of a metaphor. 

But even still, WOTC was actually generating a profit for Hasbro, even with the missteps and bad press earlier this year, they were one of the divisions that had generated revenue.

Even if it wasn’t, Hasbro is a massive, global toy company that owns the biggest toy franchises in existence, one of which has been delivering consistently massive box office returns on consistently worse movies for the better part of 20 years. Hasbro owns the toy rights to almost every major franchise that has ever been successful, they own every classic board game, they own Play-Doh, GI Joe, My Little Pony, Playskool, Transformers, Nerf, and countless other high-profile toy lines that have, for decades, graced the Christmas lists of children everywhere.

So it seems more than a little suspect they can’t turn a profit on what should be a money-printing machine.

But it doesn’t take too much digging to see where Hasbro’s mistakes actually lie. Apparently they decided to shift their focus to toys for adults (not those) under the assumption that the nostalgia factor or something would make people fork over $1,000 for a self-transforming Optimus Prime. Which, don’t get me wrong, is an awesome thing… but I wouldn’t bet my rent money on ideas like this catching on in an economy where nearly half of everyone is living paycheck to paycheck.

Now, I absolutely did not want to talk about this. I wanted to talk about gifts to buy your players or DM, or on a more personal note, the loss of a gaming friend. The person who introduced me to this wonderful game recently passed away, and that’s a hard thing to deal with. That’s what I wanted to talk about, and to discuss the ways to pay tribute to good friends who have now gone beyond the veil. 

So I’m even more livid because instead I have to indict Hasbro. They gutted WOTC because of their own inability to make money overall. And just before Christmas? You couldn’t even let them enjoy the holidays before casting them out? Ebenezer Scrooge would have been more kind.

It looks like my prediction earlier this year might actually come to pass, that Hasbro was going to try to sell off WOTC for pennies on the dollar. Hey, Kobold Press, check that bank account, you can probably scoop the company up on the cheap. Make them an offer. They are very dumb and looking for immediate returns.

I wouldn’t be so angry about this if it weren’t a classic stupid manager decision on a brand that had nothing to do with Hasbro’s failures. If anything, the Dungeons & Dragons brand was pulling its weight fairly well. With a blockbuster movie, tons of tie-in merchandising, Hasbro was already riding a wave of success pioneered by other people that was delivering money to the door because of the OGL they tried to kill.

If Hasbro hadn’t tried to revoke the OGL, which was the butter part of their bread and butter for this brand, the profits, which again — WOTC was profitable — would have been higher. Maybe enough to offset some of their… less intelligent decisions at the corporate level.

So to punish Wizards for a move we all know was decided at the corporate level is some weapons-grade blame-shifting sleaze. Unless your intention is to de-value and sell off the brand, which again, paging Matt Mercer and his financial advisers, then this seems almost punitive against WOTC, like they decided to punish Wizards specifically for making them look bad in the press earlier this year.

Although, again, this is not entirely surprising, as even while successful, upper management was yanking plugs left and right on Wizards. Recently, Hasbro sank a lot of money into the D&D TV project, a thing you probably don’t even know exists because they did zero marketing for it and don’t even have functional links online for it, despite its launch earlier this year. It seemed like they were intent on shutting the entire thing down despite the shows having been filmed and edited, wrapped, and ready to go. Like, you already put in the money, you have the product, to not get it out there is just… really stupid. I shouldn’t have to explain capitalism to a corporation, looking at you Chris Phallus, but you only make money on products that people have access to buy, and your advertising only works if people see it. If you were looking for some of those missing profits, the call was coming from inside the house. 

Maybe you’re intending to write it off as a loss, but my brothers in Gygax, to recoup your costs by putting WOTC on the altar as the sacrificial lamb is just… well, thinly veiled spite. They were making you money. There’s a product sitting there that Hasbro owns, that they could have monetized, and they just didn’t. And now they ax the creators in their employ because they’re not making money on other brands?

And of course, it’s never the executives who make the bad decisions that suffer, it’s always the people who do the actual work and make the actual products. 

Hasbro CEO Chris Penis is still getting his nearly $10 million dollar salary this year, and he’s not getting laid off, despite his leadership literally being responsible for the state of the company. He probably also gets a contractually obligated bonus. I wonder how far $10 million dollars would have gone towards their bottom line, and if that might have made the difference between laying off a thousand people just before Christmas and turning an actual profit.

Again, to say nothing of the bonus that Chris Shlongington gets for his leadership abilities.

So even though it might mean more layoffs, I say screw Hasbro. Buy books and shop local this year, ignore the neon ads that crave your attention. And I get it, they do own just all of the cool stuff, but if they’re going to treat their people like this, and we don’t have a small squad of guilt-tripping ghosts lined up to haunt Chris Dickenstory on Christmas Eve, then let’s make sure they clearly understand the consequences of their actions.