This weeks announcement on the D&D Miniatures line (see WotC Now Exploiting People Less?) has been followed up with a pleasingly frank and honest piece of communication from Scott Rouse, the Senior Brand Manager* (D&D Miniatures Changes Explained). However this honesty just reveals how far WotC are from the gamers who buy their products.
Is it a Game or a Collectable?
Scott highlights how costs have increased significantly over the last couple of years and how official skirmish play of D&D Miniatures was dropping off. To tackle this, they focused on maintaining the quality of the products while reducing costs. Sound business sense, exactly the sort of thing that you learn at Harvard but somewhat missing the point. The miniatures are sold as a game yet they seem to have made no attempt to improve the game itself. Yes they released a new set of rules to tie in with 4e but what were they doing to encourage people to play the game? A game lives or dies based solely on the what it is like to play the game. High quality, flashy figures may help make that first sale but unless the game itself is good, unless everything is focused on making the playing experience brilliant. By focusing on the mechanics of the bottom line, WotC lost sight of what is all about.
No it is an Accessory
Having failed to maintain costs or boost game play, Wizards decided to ditch the entire concept of a game and remodel it as an accessory for 4e. Any loyal fan of the skirmish game is now left in the cold but that doesn’t matter. Now WotC wants people to buy the miniatures because they make playing 4e better. This is the most sensible thing they could do and what D&D Miniatures should of been right from the start in 2003. But being Wizards, where milking the customer is the name of the game, they could not simply sell the miniatures.
The new dungeon packs contain one ‘rare’ figure that is visible when you buy the pack, one ‘rare’ figure you can’t see and three random ‘common’ figures. Now can anyone give me a sensible answer to these two questions:
- If I’m a GM, wanting to use D&D Miniatures in my 4e game, why am I forced to buy random packs? If I know my dungeon contains 10 drow, 5 orges and a lich why cannot I just go and buy the 10 drow, 5 ogres and a lich?
- If they are an accessory and not a collectable, what is the meaning of ‘common’, ‘uncommon’ and ‘rare’? If by ‘rare’ they mean more expensive to produce, why not simply make that figure more expensive to buy?
Bribing the Players
As an enticement for players as well as DMs to buy D&D Miniatures, the Heroes packs will contain ‘brand-new character class powers’. This is a sound business practice but does nothing to improve the game. Firstly, how well play tested and balanced will these new powers be? WotC’s (and indeed TSR’s) track record is not that good with each new supplement having to make the characters ever more powerful in order to justify its existence. Secondly the GM, faced with a player presenting a new official, sanctioned power, has to either buy the figure themselves or become a subscriber to the D&D compendium in order to get a copy.
What are D&D Miniatures?
WotC cannot decide what they want D&D Miniatures to be. Originally they were part game, part collectable and part D&D accessory. Now Wizards have abandoned the game concept but are still stuck in this idea of collectables. GMs and players will buy miniatures by the hundreds if they make the game more enjoyable but random packs and artificial scarcity don’t make for a better a game.
*Actually, according to the article, Scott is Senior Brand Manger but I should not scoff at the typo. I once made the same mistake except I did it all the way through a 5000 word document.