Tobold's Blog
Wednesday, December 18, 2019
Dungeons & Dragons brand mismanagement

Imagine you had to explain the difference between the Diablo series of games and the Baldur's Gate series of games to a relative who doesn't know computer games very well. Would you talk about the differences in lore? Or would you rather explain that there is a big difference in gameplay, with Diablo being more action-oriented, while in Baldur's Gate there is more dialogue to read and tactical decisions to make? I would think that for most gamers the brands in video gaming are more related to gameplay. A turn-based version of Diablo would be as confusing to us as a Pokemon first-person shooter.

It seems that Wizards of the Coast hasn't understood that. They just revealed yet another Dungeons & Dragons computer game, Dark Alliance, which again clearly has nothing to do with the gameplay of Dungeons & Dragons. It's a co-op, action slasher game using characters from D&D lore. In the past years we had a idle clicker D&D game, a mobile gacha heroes collection game, and other abominations, none of which had anything to do with the gameplay of 5th edition Dungeons & Dragons. Weirdly enough the only game in the making that is actually based on D&D rules, Solasta: Crown of the Magister, is not supported by Wizards of the Coast, and is made independently.

Dungeons & Dragons as a brand is over 40 years old. People of all ages play 5th edition, which is a huge success. It is silly to think that computer versions of D&D need to be very simple and action-oriented, to appeal to a very young audience. This is not what the brand is about! If a D&D player wants to play a computer version of D&D, he is far more likely to want a turn-based game in which the computer replaces the DM. We want modern versions of the SSI Gold Box series, not Dark Alliance!


I actually enjoyed the old PS2 Baldurs Gate games. They were light but fun Diablo clones that used D&D as a setting, but completely ignored the PnP rules. However, that trailer was bafflingly bad.
That depends on what you think the Dungeons & Dragons brand really is. Is it just the core rule set? I do not know, but I suspect that TSR and Wizards of the Coast have together sold a lot more material around campaign settings like Dragonlance, Greyhawk, and Forgotten Realms than core rule set books.

And if the brand is as much the setting as it is the rules, then the brand can certainly be experienced through other mechanics. That doesn't mean every attempt will be great, but the reaction that it is bad because it isn't the 5E rule set is silly.

As for Pokemon, go Google "Pokken Tournament" and tell me that isn't pretty far from the core Pokemon RPG roots.
I expect the problem is that D&D is not a computer game. It's a social game with really simply strategy rules, rules so simple they can be resolved with a few dice rolls and a lookup table.

"Computer games" are inherently solo endeavors, even "on line" games where you're raiding are played by yourself, with the others at their own homes, also by themselves.

If you want to play D&D, everyone needs to go to a single house... where you don't need a computer to play the game at all.

You could, in theory, design a game system that merges the two... you all go to a single house, then a computer manages the game's simulation in a non intrusive manner. But then, care must be taken such that the computer doesn't steal the show... the graphics can't be so compelling that they get all the attention, for example.
Fun fact: Diablo was originally designed as a turn-based RPG!
Late to the discussion but : there is at least one proeminient exemple of a game created from the lore but away from the gameplay that is a huge success : WoW gameplay is far from the RTS origin !
On the other hand, the default lore of D&D has always seems very generic, and not that interesting ! So using the lore as a selling point seems a bit pointless.

A Pokemon FPS seems very interesting. Finally you can hunt for real those pesky pikachu ;-) Or use the other as handweapon, more than fighting dog. ;-)
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