ICv2 had a chance to sit down with Wizards of the Coast CEO Greg Leeds last month for a wide-ranging conversation.  In Part 2, we talked about getting product ideas from fans, media development of WotC properties, plans for D&D and board games, and the top upcoming WotC products.  In Part 1, we talked about WotC’s strategy for retailers.

You did something new this year: using what fans are doing in terms of their play and pulling that back into Wizards of the Coast and developing that into the Commander product.  Tell us about that process, and is that something you will want to do again?
The lucky thing for us is that our fans are extremely vocal and we get a lot of input.  Much of it is really helpful in designing our product.  So on the Magic side with Commander--that was an idea that was born from the community.  We had our research and development people connect with that community in a variety of different ways, formal and informal, and the result was the launch of Commander, which has been even beyond our high expectations for the product.

I will say that it’s indicative of the way we approach all of our product development across D&D and Magic.  We are always in touch with our fans and we make sure we try to respond to what they are looking for in every product that we offer.  Of course, we also try to surprise them but we surprise them in a way that’s consistent with what we know they want to see.

Your parent company Hasbro has a robust media development program for television and movies, to the point that they’re making movies about properties we never thought we’d see, like BattleshipMagic has had some great video game development but nothing in other media. Are there any prospects there?
I can’t give you any specific plans on making Magic, D&D or any of our brands into films, but we are very well connected with our Hasbro folks in Los Angeles.  Something could happen, but I can’t say at this point.  From a television standpoint there is also Hasbro Studios and we are looking into the future from a Wizards of the Coast standpoint to see if there are opportunities for Hasbro Studios to work on some of our properties, but at this stage there is no news on that.

This year there have been some new developments in Dungeons & Dragons, and people are trying to read between the lines.  There have been some reductions in staff (a couple of long time people have left the D&D team), and also there has been a cutback in releases at the beginning of the year for D&D.  Are you reducing your emphasis on the role-playing game exploitation of the D&D property?
No, we are not reducing the emphasis on the roleplaying game property for D&D.  I need to correct you.  We have had some long time staff leave, a couple of people, but we haven’t reduced the overall number of people working on D&D.  We are constantly adjusting and tweaking our organization.  I think that any healthy organization has some amount of movement.  With Dungeons & Dragons, because of that direct personal relationship that our staff has with the gaming community, our ultimate customers, when someone changes it’s far more noticeable than it is in many other businesses.  But, I can tell you that in my 20 years of management experience I don’t think that I have seen an organization more stable over a period of 15 years than we have had in Wizards of the Coast or D&D.  You take the average tenure of our employees working on D&D and it’s extremely high.  We will have and have had occasional turnover, but D&D is a healthy, thriving business on the role-playing side and will continue to be.

We are always looking at our releases trying to time them out and making sure we are putting out the optimal amount of content, which is a balance between our hardest core fans that could never get enough, and our newer fans who are trying to get involved in the property but can’t be overwhelmed by having too much information or feel like they can’t keep up.  So our programs on D&D are designed to optimize that balance of keeping our most faithful fans happy and be able at the same time to bring in new fans to the property.  And that’s how we are working on our release schedule.

I will also say that our release schedule is related to what we were talking about earlier: trying to drive people into the stores to play D&D and of course while they are there, purchase some D&D products.  That’s the optimal balance we are trying to hit with our program.

Another area of D&D that’s been successful recently is the board games based on the D&D universe.  Tell us about that program and where you see it going.
Yes, the board game side of our business has been very successful, but we want to be careful that we don’t over saturate the market with the D&D board games, so we are constantly on the lookout for (just as we side on the RPG side) what is the optimal balance of the number of releases.  We have been very satisfied with the releases we have had and we will continue to have board games releases in the future but we will do it in a measured way and not try to overstep success and keep the market excited and interested for all the next products.

In terms of being sensitive to what the fans are saying, there are rumors that you are looking at some of your old products even all the way back to 1st edition D&D.  Are you looking at bringing back any of those products in a collector format or on any other basis?
We are always on the lookout for what opportunities can come up based on what our fans are interested in from the past. I think the “red box” launch was a good example of trying to take advantage of interest in a retro product.  We will always be looking for that, but at this point we have nothing to announce along those lines.

I wanted to ask about the Book of Vile Darkness, tied to the Syfy project in development.  That’s the only mature readers product in the D&D line.  Can you talk about the place of this kind of product in the overall D&D line and do you see more mature product as an opportunity?
The 4E Book of Vile Darkness will not be labeled a ‘mature content’ book, but it does allow for dungeon masters to broaden their campaigns to include darker subject matter as desired by many players.  The beauty of D&D is that every group is free to invent, imagine and explore their own adventures and stories according to the interests of the party.  We try to provide a variety of materials that cater to a reasonably wide variety of interests.

Anything new going on at Avalon Hill?
We will be investing in new Avalon Hill titles over a period of time.  But once again, from a board game standpoint, like the D&D response I gave you, we’ll do it in a measured way.

Did the consolidation of Hasbro’s game operations in Massachusetts and Rhode Island have any effect on Wizards of the Coast?
No.  The Wizards business will continue to operate as an independent wholly owned subsidiary of Hasbro, so the consolidation of the gaming business of Hasbro from Massachusetts to Rhode Island won’t have any direct impact on our business.  However, we have always had a very close relationship with Hasbro to find ways to take advantage of opportunities where they can help us or we can help them, and in the new gaming situation in Rhode Island that will continue to happen.

Tell us a little bit about the products you are most excited about over the next six months to a year.
It’s difficult to choose which new launch we are most excited about.  In terms of the most exciting launch for Magic, we have Innistrad.  This takes Magic to a whole new level from a mechanics standpoint and from a property and story-telling standpoint.  It’s just outstandingly fun and appealing.  The artwork is great; the graphics are fantastic.  So it’s got that combination of hard-core game appeal with beautiful dramatic storytelling.  Innistrad is something that honestly I can’t wait for.  I sit in meetings where they show artwork, and I’m mesmerized.  We bought a brand new high end projector just so we at our own office can look at this artwork and enjoy it as much as our fans do.

On the D&D side it would be Neverwinter.  We are standing here in the middle of the Wizards booth which is dedicated to the Neverwinter launch. It’s a multi-layered cake of offerings for the D&D customer.  We know they are going to be excited this fall.

Those are the two biggest things I’m excited about.

Click here for Part 1.