ICv2 caught up with Wizards of the Coast CEO Greg Leeds for our annual interview (for last year’s, see "Greg Leeds on the Market, Retailers, 'D&D,' and Licensing"), to discuss the state of the industry and what’s happening at the company. He discussed the market and the company’s plans for Dungeons and Dragons, Kaijudo, and Magic: The Gathering.
What’s your assessment of the state of the games market and Wizards of the Coast’s place in it?
The games market is doing well from our standpoint. Our business is up significantly, particularly being driven by Magic: The Gathering. We’re seeing player growth, store growth and revenue growth across the board both here in the U.S. and on a global basis.
Is the market growing, your share, or both?
With the data we have, it appears that the market is growing. From our perspective, retailers, as is our goal, are becoming financially more successful, and with that financial success they’re investing in great play experiences and attracting more people to the industry in general and not just to our brands.
The vision for D&D which was hinted at a year ago is becoming clearer, with an ambitious transmedia narrative that all feeds back to the game but also has its own parts of the story. Can you talk about the overall strategy for what you’re doing with Dungeons & Dragons?
We are very ambitious with Dungeons & Dragons, and as you say, the strategy that we’re pursuing is starting to emerge. One of the most important things with Dungeons & Dragons is that we are able to take the same stories and themes and execute them across platforms, not just in the paper side of the business but the digital side. It’s beginning to happen now with the launch of The Sundering. It’s our opportunity to rewrite the story of the Forgotten Realms and bring the realms back together.
The first and most tangible example of that is Bob Salvatore’s book, The Companions, which is doing extremely well. We’ve got five other great authors who are working on The Sundering. Those stories will then be taken to digital and paper products.
On the digital side, we’ve got a really exciting line-up of things that will be coming out shortly. The Neverwinter launch from Perfect World came out in June and already has two million people who have downloaded the game. This brings a whole bunch of new fans to the D&D business.
Next month we’ve got a new mobile game coming out, which is a battle RPG called Arena of War. It will bring in all kinds of new players who want to have that RPG experience on a mobile device, either a phone or a tablet. On the traditional board game sides, we’re coming out with Lords of Waterdeep as a digital tablet experience sometime in early 2014.
As we bring the stories together with all of those expressions across those platforms, we think D&D is poised for a completely new generation of consumers and excitement around the brand.
Are you saying that the novels are the launch of the narratives and then they’re expressed in other media rather than it being a simultaneous thing?
Some things are done simultaneously and some things are done in sequence. In particular, one of the key characters in the novel line is Isteval, who will come in the mobile Arena of War game. In that sense, that there is sometime simultaneous and sometimes slightly delayed, but in over time they will be simultaneously experienced on different platforms.
Fiction, paper games, online games, and comics are all places where this narrative is expressed, is that everything?
If you include in paper games board games in a digital tablet format and in a paper format, yes. And we continue to work with our Los Angeles connections on the potential for a film. Unfortunately I can’t announce anything at this time but we are looking for all venues of telling our story.
Do you think a D&D movie will get made?
Yes, I do.
(Laughter) I can’t answer that because we haven’t made enough progress to be able to guess on that.
There’s litigation surrounding the property, isn’t there?
There’s not litigation involving us directly. There are some disputes over the titles but we’re making good progress in that area and I think that will be resolved shortly. The D&D brand and the stories within the brand are just too rich and engaging to not have a film made one day.
We recently did an interview about The Sundering and how it’s going to be playable with 3.5, 4 or Next rules and your folks made the comment that they’re disengaging the narrative from the rules so you can play however you want all around the same narrative (see "Exclusive Interview on The Sundering"). Can you talk more about that interesting strategy?
The idea is that we don’t want any of our audience split based on the rules they’re familiar with and like to play. We want to offer an opportunity for whatever your rules choice is so you can enjoy the narrative that’s coming up and the characters in the story lines that will excite the fan base in the future.
Is that the strategy going forward?
Yes, absolutely. That’ll be a strategy you’ll see for years to come.
Maybe take some share back from Paizo?
We’re not in a share game; we never have been. I’ve been with Wizards of the Coast for five years and we’ve always talked about how our role is to build the hobby gaming industry. We’ve said that from the beginning; we stick by that now. I wish the best of luck to all hobby game manufacturers. All of them.
We’re now about a year into the Kaijudo launch (see "Exclusive Interview: 'Kaijudo' Update" for recent events). Is Kaijudo meeting expectations for you?
Kaijudo is having great pockets of success with particular retailers, but we believe the opportunity is to expand that success to many, many more retailers. There are stores around the country that have participated in our Kaijudo Master Challenge series--24 specific stores with averages of 40 to 50 people participating. Those events culminated in a World Championship that happened in Seattle a few weeks ago. I was able to attend that and the vibe in the room was infectious. There’s excitement and energy among the people that have had that opportunity to play, experience and know the stories of Kaijudo.
Our role now is to take that to many more stores. We’ve got plans in place to do that. We’re using the full power of the creativity and the innovation of Wizards of the Coast to take our events in-store and show a whole new group of consumers how to have fun playing TCGs with the Kaijudo brand.
One of the things you did that helped build confidence with retailers at launch was to announce that you’d be supporting the game for at least two years (there had been a lot of games launched over the last 10 or 15 years that didn’t get that much runway). 2014 is the end of that two-year period. What’s going to happen after that?
We’re in it for the long run. We’ve already announced our 2014 plans in terms of the next season’s worth of Kaijudo Master Challenges. We’ve already committed for the foreseeable future; there’s no endpoint in sight. For us it’s just a question for how big Kaijudo can be. We know it’ll be a successful brand and we’re going to stick with it.
One of the surprises to us is that the market seems to have been able to absorb two new successful CCG launches, but in recent years there were a lot of CCGs launches that crashed and burned in a year or less. What does that tell you about the market?
What it tells me is what I’ve believed, which is that the hobby gaming industry competes in the general entertainment industry. When you think of that, it means that we are only capturing a small percentage of the total entertainment leisure time and money that our potential consumers have. So our opportunity in the industry is to build way beyond where we are today.
It’s not about trading share among the industry players or how many TCGs can exist. We think more and more TCGs can exist because there is so much time and money being spent on things outside of our industry that could be moved over if the fans get the experiences they deserve. That’s what we’re doing at Wizards of the Coast; that’s what other companies are doing; so I think there’s lots of room in the market for more TCGs and other hobby game experiences.
If you look at markets such as Japan, there are far more TCGs played there very successfully over decades, so we know the consumer’s appetite is there for great experiences. We just have to provide them and more will come to hobby retail stores to enjoy those brands.
That brings us back to Magic. You’ve had three or four years of spectacular growth--how do you keep that going?
Doing the same things we have been doing but doing them better. Our primary strategy on Magic: The Gathering, like the rest of our business, is to create great in-store experiences that rival any other type of entertainment our fans could have outside of the store. We’ve done well and we’re getting better and better. In the future we’re actually going to increase the level of excitement and engagement and experience that players have when they come to the store and play Magic: The Gathering.
We’ve launched Theros based on Greek mythology. It’s a fantastic story. There’s some exciting things players get to do when they come to our pre-release events and then continue in their Friday Night Magic events. As you can imagine, we have such a deep pipeline of new innovations that will be coming to Magic over the next few years. I couldn’t be more optimistic about the growth potential. We’ve had growth, but we’re nowhere near the end of the end of the Magic road.
What’s going on with Avalon Hill?
Avalon Hill is a really valued part of our vault of I.P. that we have at Wizards of the Coast. I can’t give you specifics now, but certainly in the future you’ll be hearing some things on Avalon Hill.
What are you most excited about coming from Wizards of the Coast in the next six to twelve months?
The most exciting things for Wizards of the Coast are the stories in Magic: The Gathering that are evolving with the Planeswalkers new game play, in-store entertainment starting with Theros, finishing through that block, and coming in future years.
The second thing I’m excited about is the rejuvenation of Dungeons & Dragons with the digital games that we have coming out and the new philosophy we have on our RPG rule sets which I think will pay huge dividends for Wizards of the Coast and for the industry, but most importantly for all those current and future D&D fans.
Last, I just can’t wait for Kaijudo to take off as it has in some of those stores that have got behind it, gone out and found new people to bring into stores, teach them Kaijudo, what the story’s about, how to play the game. I can’t wait until that starts to happen in more and more stores.
WotC CEO Interview
Posted by ICv2 on September 23, 2013 @ 12:49 am CT