Friday, November 6, 2009

Brandification in Action

Take a good, long look at this image. That's the Official Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Woodburning Set, released in 1983. Tim Hutchings recently reminded me of its existence. Goodness knows how I forgot it. Apparently, it is true that the human mind protects itself against memories so traumatic that they might permanently do it damage.

Really, what can you say when confronted with a horror like this? I frequently catch flak, particularly from players who entered the hobby during the Silver Age, about my negative feelings toward things like the D&D action figures, which some claim "opened up" the hobby to a wider audience. I think that's patently ridiculous, but I understand the sentiment and at least a rational argument could be constructed that playing with action figures is a form of roleplaying and thus could lead younger kids to seek out the "real thing" later on. But a woodburning set that lets me make jewelery boxes and notecard holders? What the devil does that have to do with roleplaying or Dungeons & Dragons?

No matter how charitable I try to be, I can conceive of no logical explanation for how anyone at TSR could have imagined a woodburning set would contribute to the growth of the hobby -- the growth of D&D as a brand perhaps but not the hobby. Products like this are the ones that remind us that "lifestyle gaming," to use an unfortunate recent coinage, didn't start in the 21st century. TSR was trying to cultivate such a thing way back at the dawn of the Silver Age. And the woodburning set wasn't the only abomination from those days either. I distinctly recall there being D&D Colorforms, D&D puffy stickers, D&D flashlights, even D&D candy. I'm sure there were many other similarly bizarre D&D licensed products of which I am thankfully unaware.

Never having created a powerful intellectual property of my own, I suppose I don't understand the drive to exploit it ruthlessly through all manner of merchandising. D&D isn't the only IP guilty of this by any means, so I don't want to give the impression I consider it the worst offender. It's simply difficult for me to fathom how those three little brown books, the bastard child of miniatures wargaming and pulp fantasy, could in turn give birth to a line of rub-down transfers and beach towels. I have a similarly difficult time fathoming why anyone in charge of the IP thought that promoting the brand rather than the game would prove successful in the long run, but, as I said, I've never created a world-renowned IP of my own and there's probably something vital I'm missing.

75 comments:

  1. That has to be the most disturbing product to have ever been made, or licensed, by TSR. A napkin holder! Really?

    It's difficult to imagine my mother allowing it near our kitchen table, even in the heady days of 1983! :D

    Wow. Just wow.

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  2. "No matter how charitable I try to be, I can conceive of no logical explanation for how anyone at TSR could have imagined a woodburning set would contribute to the growth of the hobby..."

    Two hobbies are better than one? ;)

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  3. Damn! Missed that one back in the day. Probably just as well...

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  4. No matter how charitable I try to be, I can conceive of no logical explanation for how anyone at TSR could have imagined a woodburning set would contribute to the growth of the hobby...

    Come on James, you know it was about the $$$ not "growth of a hobby." Damn I guess you won't be buying the Official Labyrinth Lord Temporary Tattoos that will soon be in retail stores near you! (just kidding)

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  5. I do like the "official" note. This is not an unsanctioned woodburning kit, unsuitable for tournament play.

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  6. Still, if I see a woodburned D&D pencil holder at a yard sale, I will snap it up at once.

    I actually own Monster Manual Rub-On Decals, something I've never seen mentioned on D&D archive sites.

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  7. I think the labeling clearly indicates this product has nothing to do with a silly game but instead features "the famous fantasy figures" known and loved by all. ;)

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  8. I call dibs on the D&D beach-towels. Are there any with a succubus image?

    Why should the creators of D&D be any different than any other entrepreneurs? It's all about the money, and EGG was known as something of a self-promoter.

    Of course, i'm not interested in the hobby of woodburning, but I gather there is a large contingent of wood-burning role-players just aching for the re-release of this set.

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  9. I wonder how much TSR were actually involved in this. I know from my own experience, when we were looking at getting licensed characters for packaging toffee apples, we went through an agent rather than deal with the IP owner directly. It's just another revenue stream, and possibly more lucrative than producing products with those IPs yourself.

    That "the famous fantasy figures" line particularly makes me think NSI just purchased licenses and applied the official art packs to a standard box of wood + burner. They probably had a variation on "the famous _____ figures" on every different set.

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  10. @Jon: Yes, the "Famous Fantasy Figures" caught my eye.

    @Paladin: You always post before me and get the good stuff. My life could have been very different had I known about the D&D towels. I hope they were official.

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  11. I think it's cute. It seems entirely reasonable to me that there would be some subset of people interested in D&D and woodburning who would appreciate this. Or perhaps kids interested in D&D with fathers who are interested in woodburning and are looking for a way to connect with their kids. As a way to draw more players in or "open up" the hobby, it's obviously nonsense. But as a way for someone to combine two hobbies, it seems fine. Presumably someone purchased and enjoyed them and TSR made a bit of money, so I'm having a hard time seeing this as an abomination. Heck, when I was a kid that dice cup would have been pretty cool.

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  12. I share your feelings:

    http://shop.ryzwear.com/collections/dungeons-and-dragons

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  13. Actually you may be on to something with regard to IP. I believe that when Kaja and Phil were trademarking Girl Genius they had to produce items in a number of catagories in order to comprehensively cover their trademarks. Hence the short-lived test-tubes full of Jäger candies and the like.

    Could this be something similar perhaps, in order to protect all aspects of the D&D brand?

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  14. As stupid as this crap is, it is really more telling of the ERA rather than specific TSR stupidity. This kind of cross-product pandering was really just par for the course in the very late 70s and into the 80s. You could get a lunch box with just about anything on it. Many many brands were marketing this way so it just stands to reason that up-and-coming TSR would be following the model that so many other companies were. It is still happening today, usually with cereal.

    D&D was a pop-cultural force at this point and the company began behaving as such (like any other popular brand), rather than seeing itself as the foundation of a truly revolutionary hobby.

    Sure it is rediculous in retrospect, but they were really just playing ball as it was played in those days.

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  15. It's about the money. Someone went to TSR and said people will send you buckets of money if you let them put D&D on the stuff they're making.

    It's really, really hard to say no to what is basically free money.

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  16. For some reason, this immediately brings to mind the SpaceBalls Merchandising scene. I can just hear Mel Brooks calling out "Moichendising! Moichendising! Moichendising!"

    In fact, I feel obliged to find it on YouTube. Here you go:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xvmZ9SPcTzU

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  17. "It's really, really hard to say no to what is basically free money."

    Yeah. Or to having your name and creation featured in some new place. Money and pride.

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  18. I think that's patently ridiculous, but I understand the sentiment and at least a rational argument could be constructed that playing with action figures is a form of roleplaying and thus could lead younger kids to seek out the "real thing" later on.

    For what it's worth, I sketched out a campaign setting based on the action figures...

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  19. Seeing the woodburning set did make me feel a bit ill. All better now after sighting Daphne Zuniga. Thanks, Paul!

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  20. In defense of this project, the round wooden tokens with the burned character images in the bottom right of the picture would make great cheap substitutes for miniatures and look better than the cardboard chits I was using from my Battle Systems box set. If I would have got my hands on this back in the day I surly would have made hordes of wooden orc and goblin tokens.

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  21. The funny part is, there are folks that will claim, since AD&D is on the cover, that the woodburning set really is Dungeons and Dragons.

    At least, that's the argument when it comes to 4.0.

    For what it's worth, those rub-on transfers look kind of neat, and I have a stack of them, still in the packaging. My parents were avid garage salers, and one time came to the sale of someone who used to own a hobby shop. They just bought it all (they were like that). I got all sorts of kewl stuff, although I don't know how I'm ever going to use 50 Ral Partha "Evil Priestess" lead figures.

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  22. I choked on my coffee when I saw that woodburning set - that's a new one to me.

    I think when you've gone from selling shoes or being an insurance underwriter (not that there's anythiung wrong with those - they are just things Gary had done previously), to suddenly finding you are the owner of a successful cultural phenomena, the money is really attractive. This is the kind of thing that most people dream about happening to them - being a success and having their creation take off like that. Having enough money to live a good life, etc. At the point that TSR was licensing dolls, lunchboxes, beach towels, and wood-burning kits, I bet they had never encountered anything like this kind of success in their lives. I think their sights became set on simply growing into a larger entity by expanding their markets. Back then, when the game was fairly new, I think the mindset was different about marketing it. Today everyone wants to preserve the integrity of the game. Back then the mindset was obviously "how can we generate more revenue and attention?". Perfectly normal things that a growing company would seek out.

    Don't get me wrong - the wood-burning set is downright silly. But I think it was one of those products created to help make Dungeons & Dragons a household name - even to people that don't game.

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  23. Umm, this (and all the other crap - action figures, lunch boxes, beach towels, etc.) was released under a license -- some other company actually did all the work, TSR just collected a royalty check. It's not like they had game-designers pulled off creating game-product in order to assemble woodburning sets. If anything, the existence of all this junk shows how popular the D&D brand was back in the 80s -- the fact that some producer of woodburning kits or beach towels would consider it worth the money to acquire a license to the D&D logo and characters.

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  24. Umm, this (and all the other crap - action figures, lunch boxes, beach towels, etc.) was released under a license -- some other company actually did all the work, TSR just collected a royalty check. It's not like they had game-designers pulled off creating game-product in order to assemble woodburning sets. If anything, the existence of all this junk shows how popular the D&D brand was back in the 80s -- the fact that some producer of woodburning kits or beach towels would consider it worth the money to acquire a license to the D&D logo and characters.

    All true, but someone at TSR approved these licenses and either felt they were good for the D&D "brand" or didn't care much about that and just took the money. I don't see either approach to be particularly praiseworthy.

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  25. "Back then, when the game was fairly new, I think the mindset was different about marketing it. Today everyone wants to preserve the integrity of the game."

    Consider D&D branded soda, available right now:

    http://www.myjones.com/code/limited.php

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  26. I'd rather a company sell licenses to branded products than change the rules and call it the same game. If you create a new game, give it a new name, don't call it the same thing and change the edition number. If it's a great game, then people will buy it. I don't need my Monopoly to play like Clue, but with the Monopoly trademark on the box.

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  27. You're putting your finger right on it, James. There are two things being promoted here: The Game and The Brand. Unfortunately, the former is only a subset of the latter. The power of a popular IP leads to promoting The Brand. TSR isn't the only one guilty of this. WW went into "brandification" too.

    If people are clamoring for your IP, and are offering you what amounts to free money for t-shirts, hats, blankets and woodburning kits, why not take the money?

    The question I wonder about is if promoting The Brand was intentional or accidental? When I was at WotC, there was a concious effort to create a "network" and extract money from every point along it. It was all very cynical. That's why there are Brand Managers there today. If this was just free money coming over the transom, and TSR said "hey, why not?", then I can excuse them just a bit.

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  28. But the coloring book was cool? I don't like the Official D&D Coloring Book and said so a while back and got some pretty stiff push back on this blog. Hey, like what you like, but I still think the coloring book was a sell out.

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  29. @Ross It starts as free money and then becomes a way to monetize what you've got. (Says the brand manager. :>)

    When done right ancillary products become an extension of your product. I'd say that Blizzard is the best at doing this today. Everything they do is a way to get people to adopt the Blizzard lifestyle and always points back to (now) WoW and later things like Starcraft 2.

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  30. " the round wooden tokens with the burned character images in the bottom right of the picture would make great cheap substitutes for miniatures and look better than the cardboard chits I was using from my Battle Systems box set."

    I kinda like it, I used to make my own cardboard chits with a elcheapo printer on school. I guess i would buy it if I saw one. (I like chits more than miniatures)

    What i think is funny as hell is that it is the ADVANCED Dungeons & Dragons woodburning set, i wonder how did the basic woodburning set looked like.

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  31. Have you seen the 'official' D&D needlepoint kits? You could needlepoint little pillows with dragons on them that you hung on your doorknob to let people know you were playing D&D inside your room. Makes a woodburning kit seem just a little less lame.

    I thought everything that TSR made or licensed that wasn't specifically game related was pure crap --- that includes that unforgiveably awful cartoon that Gary worked on. When I got into the hobby, I was just a snot nosed kid... but I liked the AD&D books because they seemed to me like they were written for adults that sent me to the dictionary to look up words and the wargame references in the rules reinforced that impression. When they later rewrote the rules to be more 'kid friendly' and divided AD&D from "basic' D&D, I felt like they had taken a step in the wrong direction --- at least from my perspective. But maybe that's because I am a curmudgeon.

    Now about this woodburning set... Did any drug addled satan worshipping D&D player ever use this to burn an image of Mordenkainen onto his skin rather than a trivet or napkin holder?

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  32. But the coloring book was cool?

    Well, I think the artwork for the coloring book is cool; there's no doubt about that. As to whether the coloring book itself was cool (or wise), I'll admit to some skepticism. I have an appreciation for it as a historical artifact, as it includes little details about the World of Greyhawk setting that predate the publication of the campaign setting. Beyond that, though, you're probably right that it was another example of selling out.

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  33. No offense James, but the "selling out" comment is driving me crazy.

    What's wrong with selling out? What's wrong with taking the money people are throwing at you? Like someone said before, it's not like designers or editors or artists were taken off D&D projects and put onto licensing. Maybe, just maybe, selling out helped make the game the success it became. Where D&D is synonymous with roleplaying for the vast majority of people over the age of 30.

    I just don't get the desire for D&D/TSR to have stayed in the basement and essentially wither and die. What's wrong with success?

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  34. I just don't get the desire for D&D/TSR to have stayed in the basement and essentially wither and die. What's wrong with success?

    Nothing's wrong with success and clearly D&D was a success and was a success before TSR decided to license the production of Colorforms, action figures, and woodburning sets. Call me naive, but I think it's possible to be successful -- even phenomenally successful -- without reducing one's creation to a mere brand name without any real connection to the original idea from which it sprang.

    But I'm an idealist and think there's more to success than the number of products with your logo on it and the amount of money one makes. Feel free to call me a hypocrite when Hollywood drives a dump truck full of money up to my house for an anime-inspired movie version of my Dwimmermount campaign setting. I'm not made of stone.

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  35. The goofy woodburning kit serves to remind us that TSR's business blunders began early. A bunch of creative hobbyists got rich quick, blew a ton of money, and diversified indiscriminately because they thought it was the thing to do. (Gygax may have been a better businessman than the Blumes, but that's damning with faint praise.)

    TSR's poor strategic decisions contributed to the squandering of our hobby's only real shot at achieving true mass appeal, for better or for worse.

    James mentioned that "a rational argument could be constructed that playing with action figures is a form of roleplaying and thus could lead younger kids to seek out the 'real thing' later on."

    I know that was true for me. After years of entertaining my cousins with baroque interactive dramas involving our Star Wars figures, becoming a DM was a very natural transition.

    I thought the cartoon and the action figures were smart marketing, and I don't think they hurt the hobby in any way.

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  36. "Consider D&D branded soda, available right now:

    http://www.myjones.com/code/limited.php"

    D&D Cola - another new one to me -that's funny. See - the torch has been passed. :)

    Being "concerned about the integrity of the game" - I was referring to people that dont approve of the "selling out" - not so much what WotC's intentions are with it. They apparently are still doing it, but I can sympathize with that. Some people would call it "smart". I don't think I'd ever buy the D&D soda myself.

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  37. Meh. Methinks we doth protest too much.

    If somebody's love of woodburning can coincide with their love of D&D, I have no problem with it. A home-made napkin holder with a wizard burned into it is definitely a highly targeted way to let your freak flag fly.

    I for one tip my fez to the marketer who decided to make this happen, to the loving if slightly befuddled grandmothers who bought it for their difficult to understand grandchildren as birthday/holiday presents, and finally, to the magnificent, hyper unique ubernerds who once they got it in hand, set out to burn dragons and goblins into their pencil boxes and coasters, to go with the awesome drawings of barbarians fighting unicorns on their trapper keepers...

    Seriously, what the hell do we want out of this hobby? Gravitas?
    Please...

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  38. "I think that's patently ridiculous, but I understand the sentiment and at least a rational argument could be constructed that playing with action figures is a form of roleplaying and thus could lead younger kids to seek out the "real thing" later on."

    For what it's worth, I sketched out a campaign setting based on the action figures...


    The massively overrated Cory Doctorow wrote an essay a couple years ago about action-figure play as a kind of theatrical/semiverbal fanfiction or storytelling activity. The essay itself is a little 'meh' and Doctorow's fanfic apologies (like all fanfic apologies) are alternately unconvincing and embarrassing, but the broad point - that action figure play, even with licensed representations rather than 'toolkit' or more archetypal figures, is still creative play - still stands. And let's be frank - the pulp narratives of D&D are no more interesting or complex than the stuff bright kids come up with while playing with their GI Joes.

    D&D isn't just a thing unto itself, it's part of a continuum of imaginative play activities. Carrying on about dilution of the purity of the RPG As Art Object makes you sound like an indie rock scenester, which isn't too big a deal - I'm that way about some things. But please, please, try and get perspective about this: these tie-in products have no effect whatsoever on your gameplay, nor will any of these products shrink the D&D fanbase. They might not grow it, but they're not going to shrink it. And if they bring in money for the people making the games, you're better off, right?

    Personally I think the woodburning kit is kind of cool. Badly packaged though. Why the hell wasn't this marketed as a way to make cool storytelling props, rather than napkin holders? Yet there are worse marketing sins - indeed, the TSR kidz made more than a few of them without any help from licensees.

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  39. @James: I wouldn't call you a hypocrite, I'd call you successful. :)

    Regardless, my first D&D product was the redbox set that I bought at Sav-On Drugs (now CVS) for $12.00. I also owned (and still have) the coloring book, although I did lose my action figures. What I remember though is that all of those licensed products made me feel a part of something bigger and connected me to other proto-gamers.

    I just don't see the difference between the D&D logo or the Disney logo on a lunch box.

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  40. If it wasn't for these ancillary products I would possibly have not gotten into D&D at all.

    I watched the cartoon and had the action figures YEARS before I ever got interested in playing the game.

    They and the Endless Quest books pretty much set me up to be interested in such things.

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  41. Having started playing D&D as a kindergartener with my older brother by the time I was into GI Joes I ported the concept of rolling dice to hit as a way to solve the eternal struggle of action figure combat between my friends and I. I’m sure I’m not the only one among us who did. This GI Joe role playing/war gaming was easy to teach because you already knew the personalities of your character. Did it gateway any of my friends into the hobby? no idea, but it was more fun than the “I hit you”, “no way”, “yea way”, that happened before.

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  42. "What's wrong with selling out? What's wrong with taking the money people are throwing at you?... Maybe, just maybe, selling out helped make the game the success it became. Where D&D is synonymous with roleplaying for the vast majority of people over the age of 30."

    I keep a chart on my wall showing how many people entered the hobby each year (from a poll taken at ENWorld, the best data I've seen available). The upward spike in popularity is in the years 1978-1980. The clifflike dropoff is in the years 1981-1984, exactly the time period framing when things like the branded woodset were being churned out in 1983.

    Hypothesis: If we looked at a lot of companies, and a lot of merchandising products over the years, we'll find that expanding brandification is correlated to a dropoff in business success and popularity (not an increase). It's a canary-in-the-mineshaft that the leaders are not attending to their "core competencies" (in business lingo).

    As I've said before, consider the case of Bill Watterson who waged an epic battle to prevent Calvin & Hobbes from appearing in a host of merchandising that would have generated enormous added income. There must be some artistic reason to refuse such brandification.

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  43. @Delta I'm sure there is, but it's a lot easier when 1 person is doing all of the work (Aka Waterson) rather than a company looking to keep employing people.

    I don't know, Disney sure seems as popular today as ever and they're the kind of branding.

    There's a big difference between good and bad branding. (See Disney and Blizzard for examples of good branding.)

    Was the wood burning set a good idea? Hell if I know I don't even remember it. But I do remember the comic books, action figures, coloring books, and the cartoon.

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  44. No, I don't think you are missing anything James. Probably you only got what the brand manager at TSR didn't have. Taste.

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  45. Feel free to call me a hypocrite when Hollywood drives a dump truck full of money up to my house for an anime-inspired movie version of my Dwimmermount campaign setting. I'm not made of stone. I have dibs on the Dwimmermount beach towels (unless the Canadian Prime Minister's office beats me to it).

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  46. I just don't see the difference between the D&D logo or the Disney logo on a lunch box.

    There isn't a difference and that's why I'm opposed to the brandification of D&D. I would hate to see the game go the way of so many of Disney's properties -- hugely successful but utterly soulless and disconnected from their origins.

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  47. As I've said before, consider the case of Bill Watterson who waged an epic battle to prevent Calvin & Hobbes from appearing in a host of merchandising that would have generated enormous added income. There must be some artistic reason to refuse such brandificatiom.

    Watterson will always be a hero of mine for this very reason. His stance on the merchandising of his characters (and his decision to retire Calvin and Hobbes while it was still very popular) speaks volumes about the man's character.

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  48. In all honesty I'd love got D&D to be treated like a Pixar film. Great movies, awesome branding. Best of both worlds IMNSHO.

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  49. In all honesty I'd love got D&D to be treated like a Pixar film.

    The problem I've always had with a D&D movie or TV show or any such thing is this: what would it be about? Contrary to Aaron Allston's claims, D&D isn't a setting but rather a framework for an infinite number of settings. To tie D&D too closely to any single set of characters or situations -- and that's what a movie would do -- would be a huge mistake and I'm frankly grateful it's never happened.

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  50. Not talking about a movie so much as a great product with great branding.

    (And they did make a couple of D&D movies....)

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  51. (And they did make a couple of D&D movies....)

    Oh, I know, but neither was a success and I don't think anyone strongly associates them with the game (in the way that, unfortunately, people associate the Schwarzenegger film with Conan).

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  52. I don't really see the bad here.

    Plenty of things are merchandised and it isn't seen as evil.

    Assuming TSR got paid for these, seems like a good.

    I mean, it's not like there aren't star trek lunchboxes, bookmarks, underwear, etc etc.

    Not everything done with the D&D brand must solely be about growing the game. Sometimes cashing a check is ok too.

    At least, that's the impression I have. I never see any of them ;)

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  53. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  54. A counterpoint, which I'll soon elaborate on in my own blog: I encountered the D&D cartoon many years before any kind of roleplaying game, and I still think it informs my gaming a lot to this day.

    What finally got me into the RPG was...a cheesy comic book ad.

    Sure, it's no Colorforms, but it was pretty obviously brand-growing in the same vein as the action figures.

    Yet, at least in my case, it *worked*.

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  55. "What would it say about his character if the decision to fold up his tent cost 300 people their jobs? ... a business is bread and butter for real families."

    That's a ridiculous hypothetical. Enormously more likely: What if his decision to avoid merchandising saved 30 million families from spending money on unnecessary trinkets like stickers, mugs, and T-shirts? What if they could buy actual healthier bread and butter because of it? What if it forced some other up-and-coming cartoonist to create some new, exciting artwork instead? What if it saved Watterson himself from losing time and energy and soul to management duties, and never making real artwork again? (Having lots of NYC artists as friends, this is particularly keen to me.)

    Not all businesses are equal, except in the most unnecessary abstract sense. Random merchandising of cartoon characters is very low on the priority list of socially-valuable occupations.

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  56. "Random merchandising of cartoon characters is very low on the priority list of socially-valuable occupations."

    Frankly, so is publishing roleplaying games. We're a hobby based on ridiculous luxury.

    I think the woodburning kit's dumb, too. Hell, a former D&D brand manager has openly criticized TSR's broad use of the trademarks. So that's not controversial.

    Let's not pretend, though, that we're enormous bastions of integrity and taste just because we never owned one.

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  57. To all of those saying "why shouldn't TSR take the free money" you obviously don't know anything about brand management. TSR is an excellent example of *failed* marketing. Here was a game that was so popular at the time that it was featured in one of the most popular movies off all time (ET), and yet a mere 10 - 15 years later the company essentially collapsed. More importantly, the mindshare of the brand also collapsed. This is bad management pure and simple.

    Now, Disney was brought up up above as a negative example of brand management. This is patently absurd. Disney took success in fantasy animation, and grew that beach head into a multi-billion dollar company that essentially makes its money off of fantasy.

    Could TSR have become another Disney? Of course not. Could it have achieved a solid, mainstream mind share? Absolutely. The DnD / TSR brand was horribly managed. Full stop.

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  58. Now, Disney was brought up up above as a negative example of brand management. This is patently absurd.

    Speaking only for myself, it's not that I think Disney does what it does badly. It's that I don't think emulating Disney is what I want from the company that produces RPGs. Disney is unquestionably successful at profiting from its intellectual properties, but, many times, it does so in ways I find unpalatable and that weakens my affection for those properties. I don't want to see D&D follow that same path.

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  59. Who said Disney was a failed example? The closest we get is that Disney product is souless. :)

    As for TSR's failure, it's less bad branding and more bad upper management. Loraine was a disaster.

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  60. For those who think what James calls "Brandification" is bad, people should read some of the interviews Charles Schulz did for Gary Groth. Charles Schulz is a man who I consider to have a great personal integrity, yet he explains very clearly that he thought merchandising was a good thing, and that as long as it didn't compromise the strip, he was okay with it. He made a very good point about how it can help with other things.

    I don't see anything about the woodburning kit that would have affected the core product in a negative manner.

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  61. > I would hate to see the game go the way of so many of Disney's properties -- hugely successful but utterly soulless and disconnected from their origins.

    One could say we're a bit late there? ;) [p.o.v. is always relative]

    Just checking, then; on principle you'd rather have a hard core of 500 hardcore old-school fanatics and a dead game rather than 5,000,000 active new-school fans from whom the 'curious' can be encouraged to get 'back to their roots' /plus/ the aforementioned 500?
    It's not as though WotC is going to burn all the old books or anything like that... (Heck, even over here GW made a fuss above their 30 year heritage with GW even if that doesn't mean a damn to their current business plan any more and WotC is nothing like as 'bad' as that).

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  62. Just checking, then; on principle you'd rather have a hard core of 500 hardcore old-school fanatics and a dead game rather than 5,000,000 active new-school fans from whom the 'curious' can be encouraged to get 'back to their roots' /plus/ the aforementioned 500?

    I don't believe I've ever said anything even close to that. I have said that I think it'd be better for the long-term viability of the game if it didn't change editions as radically as it has over the years.

    It's not as though WotC is going to burn all the old books or anything like that...

    Again, I never said they would -- although their removal of the PDFs of the older material does make it much harder for interested newcomers to see the roots of the game for themselves. Buying OD&D through the second hand market is prohibitively expensive nowadays.

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  63. "Just checking, then; on principle you'd rather have a hard core of 500 hardcore old-school fanatics and a dead game rather than 5,000,000 active new-school fans from whom the 'curious' can be encouraged to get 'back to their roots' /plus/ the aforementioned 500?"

    This is a false dichotomy. Yes, pretty much everyone involved would like to grow the hobby. But radically changing the art in an attempt to do that has, according to the available data, been shown to fail time and time again.

    What if baseball, chess, or poker radically revised their rules every 8 years or so in an incompatible way? Do you think it would increase or decrease the number of people following it?

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  64. I don't know if it's failed. According to the data, there were more D&D players in the early 2000's than at any other time in the history of the game. (Shortly after the release of 3rd Edition)

    The data came from WotC and was said to cover all editions of the game.

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  65. The data came from WotC and was said to cover all editions of the game.

    Yes, I remember that survey, but I'll admit to always being somewhat skeptical of its results, particularly the notion that more people were playing D&D in 2000 than were in, say, 1985. That just didn't ring true to me and it called into question the entire survey for me.

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  66. @Wally

    You crack me up. I think there's some truth in your saying that James has a point of view that blinds him a little bit. And, really, he writes a like an academic which I find a mannered sometimes. Other times I think he says things in his way that come out perfectly for what he's trying to say.

    But you seem to be taking his style of writing -- academic to sound authoritative -- and push it right to its limits. Your way of writing is so orotund it's practically obfuscation! You imitate him slavishly in an attempt to outdo him with his own manner.

    But here's the difference, Wally. James cares very, very deeply about this stuff. And that resonates with a lot of us who remember it. You don't care at all. You are like a bully who sees what other people care about. You aim to destroy and invalidate that feeling at every opportunity.

    Fuck off, Wally. I wish you'd stop posting here.

    Chris Cunnington
    Toronto

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  67. > What if baseball, chess, or poker radically revised their rules every 8 years or so in an incompatible way? Do you think it would increase or decrease the number of people following it?

    Things change a bit quicker nowadays?
    All of those have had many radical changes, variants, etc., (seven-card stud is not "compatible" with five-card draw; is that a problem?) and none of those relatively adaptable games (compared with Bezique, for example) could hardly be called dead pastimes by any stretch of the imagination, nor is there any negative pressure exerted for the millions of players to /not/ play "as originally written" or any other variant, formal or casual.

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  68. "All of those have had many radical changes, variants, etc., (seven-card stud is not 'compatible' with five-card draw; is that a problem?)"

    (a) I'm skeptical that 5-card stud has had any "radical changes", in say, the last 100 years. (b) The original game and all of its variants are still in print.

    This latter point is the primary distinction between poker (et. al.) and D&D. It's also the primary reason why I think it's a really bad feature that it's owned and controlled by a single company.

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  69. I wish you'd stop posting here.

    You're not the only one who wishes that, but, alas, Blogger doesn't give me the option of blocking posters.

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  70. > It's also the primary reason why I think it's a really bad feature that it's owned and controlled by a single company.

    Joint ownership of IPR ain't exactly "common practice".

    If TSR had succeeded in merging with Games Workshop - who know pretty well how to wield their brand and torch the "opposition" - we might be lucky to have /any/ RPG being produced by the combined company nowadays.

    Things /could/ be worse, but kinda relying on people to follow words with actions and make 'em better (p.o.v.), too...

    > (a) I'm skeptical that 5-card stud has had any "radical changes", in say, the last 100 years.

    Secondary point being that there were presumably always a number of "traditionalists" who were happier with the original format(s).

    It's not as though the world is about to run out of 0e/1e (A)D&D books so, unlike superseded card/ball/etc. games where the materials can easily be used for the "new" games, it should actually be /more/ difficult to write pre-3e/4e(*jk*) into "history" if people actually /care/ enough.

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  71. You guy's will all feel silly when my injection moulded landshark handle potato peelers fly off the shelves!
    Just you wait.

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  72. As long as you've got the Jaws license I'm all there!

    :D

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  73. I thought Wally’s post in this thread was completely appropriate and legitimate. James, I’m saddened and disappointed that you would consider silencing people with dissenting views. Maybe I haven’t read enough of your blog (probably no more than a hundred posts and all their comments), but I’ve never seen Wally get so obnoxious that I thought it was a pure troll or flame, and that there wasn’t something useful and valid in it. Maybe I’m just not following closely enough.

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  74. Yeah, OK, two years late, followed from the link in today's post solely to date myself by saying:

    I owned the D&D woodburning kit.

    I can only assume it was bought for me on the strength of the Dungeons & Dragons name - that is, I have no memory of an (ahem) burning desire to own that particular item or start a new woodworking hobby.

    My love for RPGs survived and continues to this day, but as a gateway into the hobby of woodburning, I'm afraid the box failed.

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  75. I don't know why people are having trouble comprehending the rationale for this.

    Who sold D&D?
    Hobby and model shops.
    Who sold woodburning kits?
    Hobby and model shops.

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