Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Why isn't there a Full Magic: the Gathering Setting for Dungeons & Dragons?

I saw this post over at the Nerds4LifeBlog, and it got me wondering about something I've contemplated over the years.

Why the Hell hasn't Wizards of the Coast developed a campaign setting (or settings!) based on the implied setting of Magic: The Gathering?

I mean, the stats on the available lore is simply astounding. Over the last 25 years, they've put out cards representing more than 9,000 creatures (which includes NPCs), 1,800 enchantments and 1,500 sorceries (spells), and 1,400 magic items. Plus a whole metric crap-ton of other stuff that seems to be just begging to be turned into D&D stuff.

From a business point of view, it would make an enormous amount of sense. The 5th edition of D&D has an enormously good reputation, and is arguably the most popular version of the game since 1st edition AD&D. The fact that there is an enormously larger customer base for Magic: The Gathering than there is for Dungeons & Dragons would seem to point to the idea of drawing players from the one into the other, to grow the mutual customer base.

In fairness, Wizards did take a step in this direction with Zendikar in 2016, but it was a rather lifeless attempt. Clocking in at 38 pages, it has no class or background options, no magic items, and only three new monsters with stats. There's nothing in the way of maps, discussions of civilized nations, or anything that would actually lend itself towards an ongoing campaign. There are some new race options, which is nice, but the whole thing really comes across like an afterthought, which is reinforced by the fact that it came out as a free pdf, and received very little in the way of marketing.

It's entirely possible that Zendikar was floated as a sort of trial balloon, to see if a fuller treatment might be worth doing. But if that was the intent, the lack of marketing and support kneecapped the effort from the beginning.

I'd be willing to bet that the majority of players of either 5E or MtG even know it exists.

But I do honestly think there's an enormous potential to bring in tens of thousands of Magic: The Gathering players into the D&D sphere, possibly drawing D&D players over to Magic, and boosting sales for both accordingly. But it would need a full-fledged effort, with hardcover books, adventure paths, and the whole nine yards, along with a dual marketing campaign to link such a thing with a really big Magic release with appropriate cards and so forth.

To be honest, I'm surprised it hasn't happened yet in the 20 years the two games were under the same roof. It looks like found money to me. Perhaps they have some secret internal marketing that tells them it would be a waste? I honestly can't see how.

It would work the other way, too; fans of D&D settings (myself included) tend to be completists. Imagine the additional sales of Magic cards if there was a set of Greyhawk, or Ravenloft, or Athas cards to be had. I realize that Magic card sales dwarf anything that a legacy D&D setting could generate, but if you're going to make a new Magic release anyway, would it cost that much to do a drop of research and come out with D&D-appropriate cards? Imagine a Castle Ravenloft land card, or an Iuz creature card. Sales would doubtless increase, and moreso if they did a little research to make them meaningful, at least from a setting background perspective.

I shake my head in bewilderment that this hasn't happened yet.

7 comments:

W Grelle said...

I agree with your assessment. It seems like a no brainer. FYI, they have produced more than Zendikar. They've also done Kaladesh (33 pgs), Innistrad (40 pgs) and Ixalan (47 pgs) just came out yesterday or today.

MP said...

There have actually been several of these:
https://mtg.gamepedia.com/Plane_Shift

They seem more like an after-school project that the writer puts together for fun, than an attempt to build a salable product. I'm not saying they're bad; just limited by the fact that that they're a one-man operation and probably done off the clock (with WOTC's blessings, of course).

The fact that these worlds are designed around the assumptions of MTG also creates difficulties in adapting them for D&D. Those difficulties aren't insurmountable, but you would have to sacrifice some of the "feel" of the worlds to make them fit into D&D's framework.

Jeff said...

I've been asking the same question for years, and not just for MTG. Hasbro also owns G.I.Joe and the American Transformer rights. Why has there never been an RPG or tactical game for either of these?

I was once discussing 4th Ed with someone, during the time it was winding down, and he had little good to say about it. I then asked him what if they use the system to make a G.I.Joe game. He stopped a moment to think about it, and replied "That would be awesome!".

It wouldn't take much effort, really. Hint that you are looking for submissions for a freelance work on the subject, and they'll have to hire someone just to look through them all.

Melan said...

This has come up a few times, and we do have a definitive answer from Ryan Dancey. It was not a missed opportunity, but a deliberate business decision to keep the two brands and product lines separate (until Zendikar, anyway). Here is what Ryan wrote on the subject in 2013:

"Hi! I was the brand manager for Dungeons & Dragons and the VP of Tabletop RPGs at Wizards of the Coast from 1998 to 2000. I can answer this question.

There were plans to do a Magic RPG and several iterations of such a game were developed at various times. After Wizards of the Coast bought TSR, there were discussions about making a Magic campaign setting for D&D.

After the release of 3rd edition, we had planned to do a Monstrous Compendium for Magic monsters which would have been a tentative cross-over product to see what the interest level was for such a book.

In the end, the company made the decision to keep the brands totally separate. Here's the logic.

D&D and Magic have fundamentally incompatible brand strategies. This is was once expressed as "asses, monsters & friends".

D&D is the game where you and your friends kick the asses of monsters.

Magic is the game where you kick your friends' asses with monsters.

(Pokemon, btw, was the game where the monsters, who were your friends, kicked each-other's asses.)

There was no good reason to believe that a D&D/Magic crossover book would sell demonstrably more than a comparable non crossover book. And such a book should be priced higher than a generic D&D book - in the way that Forgotten Realms books cost more than generic D&D books (that's the price premium for the brand). There's a fear in sales that the higher the price, the less volume you sell.

The brand team for Magic didn't want to dilute the very honed brand positioning for Magic as a competitive brand, and the brand team for D&D didn't want to try and make some kind of competitive game extension for D&D.

In the end, I think the company was well served by this decision. It eliminated a lot of distraction and inter-team squabbling at a time when neither team had the resources to fight those battles.

Today you might argue there's a different reason. The #1 hobby CCG doesn't want to be entangled with the problems within the D&D brand."

(quote from https://www.reddit.com/r/rpg/comments/1prop9/mtg_why_doesnt_hasbro_just_release_a_dd/cd5e669/?context=3 )

Lord Gosumba said...

I truly hope Wizards doesn't defile Dungeons and Dragons with Magic. Wizards has done enough damage over the years. Keep them separate. This is coming from a long time Old School gamer, so consider me a purist on this issue lol.

Also, I cannot think of a bigger break on D&D that Wizards got than from Stranger Things. Now it is becoming cool again to be a D&D gamer once again! Sad thing is it will be Wizards getting the boon, not TSR.

grodog said...

Some additional context from John Rateliff @ http://sacnoths.blogspot.com/2017/09/twenty-years.html

Allan.

Joseph Bloch said...

So it sounds like the common refrain is that internal politics at WotC has kept this from happening for a long time. Sigh.