Thursday, February 01, 2024
Dungeons & Dragons becomes Chinese?
It seems that Hasbro, current owners of Dungeons & Dragons, are not doing very well at the moment. Games and toys are a very cyclical business; that is especially true for long-running franchises, where customers might well decide that when money is short, they don't need the latest D&D book or Magic the Gathering expansion, but can just continue playing with what they already bought before. Just before Christmas, Hasbro fired 1,900 employees. And as that didn't solve their financial problems, they are now considering selling Dungeons & Dragons.
Curiously they first asked Larian Studios whether they wanted to buy D&D. Larian has obviously made a nice pile of money with Baldur's Gate 3, which is a D&D licensed product. But as a software studio they aren't ideally placed to handle the pen & paper side of Dungeons & Dragons. And the price tag apparently was too rich for them. So Larian passed on the offer to their minority shareholder, Tencent. Which of course is a much bigger and much more diverse company, which could much easier afford and handle Dungeons & Dragons.
Nobody knows whether that deal will happen, but Chinese companies frequently have problems to get access to popular Western IP rights. Tencent is a company that is about 100 times bigger than Hasbro, by market capitalization, so they could well afford an IP which is popular with customers, but according to Hasbro under-monetized.
Of course some fans will protest loudly against Dungeons & Dragons becoming Chinese. But I would say that it has both advantages and disadvantages. Hasbro, and it's subsidiary Wizards of the Coast, are planning to move into the virtual tabletop space. And the track record of D&D digital tools over the last 4 decades is pretty bad. A more video-game oriented parent company might actually be better placed to carry Dungeons & Dragons into the digital age. Will Tencent dilute the IP with a bunch of cheaply produced mobile games? Probably. But who cares? Tencent owning D&D would make it a lot easier for their business partner Larian to make Baldur's Gate 4 or another D&D-based PC game.
Dungeons & Dragons has over 40 years of history of being a badly run business, from TSR, to WoTC, to Hasbro. I say, let's give Tencent a chance to do better than that. If we don't like what they do, we can still play older editions of D&D. Hasbro might also not sell off D&D completely, but just the rights to make D&D video games. We will see how all of this works out.