I thought maybe I’d be done after the second post in this series. But, you know, I couldn’t resist having and sharing a few more thoughts. And, since the D&D team actually posted something about all this hoopla-fran-and-ollie, there’s something to react to, place in my frame, and refine my thoughts against. It’s posted to their twitter, but here’s a straight-ahead link.
So, anyway, it’s long, and I’m not going to parse it down to its bits. On the whole it sounds better than what was being bandied about before. And, the fact that it says the things it says sure make it seem like what was being bandied about was, on the whole, accurate.
The big drop into the discourse yesterday (as I write this, 1/17/23 for the future people), was the idea that Hasbro was planning on an artificial intelligence dungeon master. And, as several on twitter observed, the mandatory license back would certainly make it easier to train up their aidm.
Since the thoughts I had, but wasn’t sure were worth sharing, were dungeon master-centric, here it goes.
The walled garden does not need dungeon masters. When I put up my thoughts initially I was thinking mainly about the customer class called “dungeon masters.” I was not thinking about artificial intelligence, though, and I should have been. What I was thinking about was the idea that, making up figures here, 80% of D&D players are player-character players. You know, rangers, and sorcerers, and tieflings, and war-forged, and all that good stuff. And these people buy a book, maybe a couple, and maybe some 3rd party material to make their characters bounce.
And then, like, 20% of players are dungeon masters, and they buy more stuff. Some of them maybe a lot more stuff, and maybe a lot of that lot more is actually 3rd party stuff.
And Hasbro wanted to get their hands on a cut of the money dungeon masters spend, and to encourage pc players to spend more money over-all. And Hasbro wants all the money.
And that’s the rationale for the walled garden. Set it up so the only place Dungeons & Dragons content lives is inside a service that cost some dollars every month just to log-in (and the floated thirty bucks a month sounds like a lot). Charge for access to the content store, and then charge for access to the content. Maybe charge for adventuring time, too. Who knows!?
There is, sometimes, discourse about how few dungeon masters there are in the world, and how many of the ones who exist are “forever dms,” and how that can really take a toll on those people, and how some tables break down because the forever dungeon master… just… couldn’t.
But the walled garden doesn’t have to worry about that. Maybe subscribers will become little atomized units of play. So players who want to play can find tables with players who want to be dungeon masters, and (aside from time zones) scheduling and commitments are easy! You don’t need friends and neighbors with bodies!
But what I was actually thinking about was Hasbro could hire dungeon masters. Then the issues with burnt out player dungeon masters would start to melt away. Staff dungeon masters could work on several campaign tables at once (not simultaneously, of course, but maybe). You know, a 40 hour week breaks down to 10 sessions per week of 4 hours each. That’s a lot, but maybe three days a week there are 2 sessions in a day, and the… whatever, I’m not Hasbro’s schedule monkey.
Now toss aidms into the mix, and Hasbro’s options really start to expand. Expand again. Aidms start by helping staff dms, and machine learning kicks in, and maybe aidms start to handle simple rail-roady things, and staff handle more complex things. Then aidms handle more complex adventures, and staff dms just sort of oversee what’s going on, solve weird edge cases, flip some switches if a table takes off in a direction the aidm doesn’t have the extra fingers for. In about a year, all dms in the walled garden are named Steve or Gwendolyn, and only live as a floating chatbox in the corner of the screen, or maybe even not that, and they all sound like the English voice for Siri on your iPhone.
On the other hand, The Motley Fool thinks Hasbro’s deal is kind of a mess, and maybe don’t buy Hasbro stock today, ya?
In case you missed it, or love to hear it, I think Hasbro’s plan was/is to position D&D as a service rather than a product, and pitch that service to players who haven’t even begun to play yet, and who don’t know about the do it yourself aspect of role-playing games. The various monetization add-ons (movie! tv! toys, beach towels, action figures, lunch boxes, socks, what-have-yous) are great for revenue, but are mainly geared toward drawing new players into the walled garden.
I do think the walled garden plan will/does contain a real-life table-top component, but as another on-boarding add-on. I expect it will be a booklet, or maybe a $50 hardcover as per usual these days in that line, that gives people to opportunity to roll up playable characters, have some adventures, and feel FOMO about the walled garden.
I imagine it will be some classes, some playable ancestries (or species or whatever, Hasbro doesn’t care what you call them), and options to take pcs up to 3rd, or maybe 5th, level. Probably 3rd. Enough to feel like the walled garden is worth it, but not far enough that players feel like they have actually accomplished something with their character, and decide to start over.
The crystal ball is about to close for the night, and as The Firesign Theatre says, “I see you are a sailor.”
Edit (1/18/23): For what it’s worth, a few hours after this post went up, D&DBeyond took to twitter to explicitly deny $30/mo and aidms.
So there’s that bit of p.r. to stick in your pipe.
Edit (1/19/23): the $30/mo and (apparently aidms) come from a faked slide on reddit. The reddit OP admitted to the fakery, and this was all back in Aug., 2022. I did my part to further propagation of these known falsehoods, and that was wrong. These changes are not in the works, and they are in the air, and specifically should not be. The people at D&DBeyond and Wizards of the Coast do not deserve grief for the fact that lies are flying around about their products or plans.
And also: I believe that Hasbro does have plans, and the people at D&DBeyond and Wizards of the Coast are going to be expected to implement them. Maybe not today, and maybe not tomorrow, but soon, and for the rest of your life. This whole three-post blog exercise was for me to say my “appears to me” thing, stand by it, and find out how wrong I was as time passes. I expected to be wrong, but I did not expect to further lies, and I am sorry that I did that.