Saturday, June 7, 2014

You've Got Them Beat 3 to 1? Are You so Sure That's a Good Thing?

Earlier this week the Escapist released an interview with Mike Mearls where they discussed a number of aspects of the new edition, but one exchange in particular stuck out for me. 

Bolding: So you guys probably have one of the largest development teams in roleplaying games, how many members is that right now?

Mearls: The team as a whole has about fifteen people. About half that are actually working on the RPG right now. The other half are working on other D&D stuff like Neverwinter, iOS games, licensing, or board games . . . (Inside the Launch of the New Dungeons & Dragons With Designer Mike Mearls)
After the article I watched with fascination as a number of voices raised their concerns over the low staffing - even going so far as to contrast the staffing numbers with Paizo's Pathfinder staffing. At first numbers for Paizo were thrown about without any clear understanding of reality and then Lisa Stevens, CEO of Paizo, stepped in to clarify the discussion.
We will very quickly have 20 people working on Pathfinder-related stuff from an Design/Editing/Development POV. In other words, the folks who work full-time on creating the print products that we make. That does not include the 5 members of the art department who do nothing but Pathfinder stuff. It doesn't include our Pathfinder licensing manager who spends his time on the minis and other licensed products. It doesn't include Erik who pretty much focuses on Pathfinder most of the time . . . (Mike Mearls did an interview for the Escapist Magazine and reveals PHB races, classes, and much more
By contrasting the two companies' staffing strategies it could be argued that Paizo places a greater emphasis on Pathfinder than does Hasbro on Dungeons and Dragons. Is that a realistic assessment of the situation though?

Let us assume for the moment that Wizards of the Coast is doing everything in-house. This means that the core rules, supplements, and adventures all have to be manufactured within the company. Doing so is a labor intensive effort that requires a larger staff to physically write each of these products and produce a quality line that will continue to satisfy their customer base. Editors, writers, designers and all the rest have to be hired and paid; but what if you take a large portion of that work out of house?

What if instead of allocating a small team of writers, editors, and production staff to build an adventure while the rest of your staff is focusing on finalizing the core rules you subcontract the job to another company? Suddenly your staffing needs are far smaller as you only need a solid core group to focus on your priority projects and all ancillary projects can be allocated to a group of quality subcontractors. For example you can partner with Kobold Press to create your first two published adventures for the new edition (see Kobold Press Designed Tyranny of Dragons Adventures for the New Edition of the Dungeons & Dragons Tabletop Roleplaying Game for more). By subcontracting out key parts of the process Wizards of the Coast has allowed itself to focus more clearly on their primary project, the core rules, and they've reduced their overhead in the process. 

It seems clear that Wizards of the Coast has adopted the subcontracting philosophy. They are having WizKids producing their miniatures line (see WizKids Partners with Wizards of the Coast for Dungeons & Dragons Miniatures for more), as well as, their new D&D Attack Wing game (see WizKids, Dungeons and Dragons Attack Wing News, with Pictures for more) and the new D&D Dice Masters Game (see WizKids Announces Dungeons & Dragons Dice Masters! for more). Kobold Press has created the first two adventures for the Tyranny of the Dragon adventure path (an interconnected series of adventures with a cohesive storyline), and there are rumors that Wizards of the Coast has been contacting other third party publishers for additional projects.

The question then becomes: does Wizards of the Coast need a staff as large as Paizo to produce a quality game? 

Absolutely not.


  1. I'm going to guess this "controversy" is fundamentally driven by people who WANT to work on D&D and can't get an opportunity. I get that, but it has no bearing on whether the game being produced is a good one.

    Every company faces the challenge of matching permanent staff size to ongoing workflow. Outsourcing is a good way to deal with this problem because it allows you staff to the size of your project for exactly as long as the project lasts. The contractors then move on to their next project, and you're left with the full-time staff you need full-time. This can suck for workers, since it means fewer full-time opportunities, but companies have to stay competitive, or everyone loses. Business success is measured via profits minus expenses. Companies that hire too many full-time folks fail for that reason.

    Finally, I get the impression that Hasbro Corporate has been underwhelmed by D&D's commercial performance, but they recognize the value of the brand. I can easily imagine a world where D&D (the game) is produced in much the same way comics are produced and for many of the same reasons--as a loss-leader that promotes more profitable sectors, i.e. movies, novels, video games. The staffing certainly appears to be moving that direction, which means that Hasbro hasn't made a giant financial bet on the game going forward. The trend will only reverse if sales are good and interest in the game revives.

    Shit. That was a lot. Now I have to go post this on my own blog.

    1. You forgot the people who disparage anything Wizards does because they want it to fail. Both groups are being equally represented. That said, it's a pretty standard way of dealing with things in the corporate world so that you can reduce overhead while maintaining, or exceeding, a level of quality that your consumer base expects.

      Now I'm going to go read your blog!

    2. I read the same article and came to pretty much the same conclusions. I guess the bright side is that the Christmas purges at WotC's D&D division would be cutting bone at this point, so I expect most jobs are relatively secure for now - or as secure as anything can be it the corporate world.

    3. My greatest fear for the future of D&D is that massive cadre of people who want to see D&D succeed _on their terms_. They will be "supportive" (and they are _more_ dangerous than the detractors because you don't want to disappoint them), but they will have these complaints and demands like "ooh, it's racist" and "no, that's sexist" and "who wants to do _that_ math?" They exert pressure to try to make the game into something that will fit everybody, offend nobody, take no chances, and generate only a piddling subsistence of polite interest. In other words, a very meticulously engineered flop.

      They say that every project needs a leader. I'll go one further and say that every project needs a despot, someone who has the force of law behind him, who can put his foot down and say "we're doing it _this_ way" if things get either too misshapen _or_ too regularly staid.

    4. I completely disagree with the despot line of thinking Territan. A despot harms his projects far more than does he help.

    5. 0.o

      I can't think of a single instance where a despot line of leadership actually works without destroying the creative aspect of a project. Without dissenting and different inputs of multiple sources the ability to change the direction of a project, good or bad, is severely hampered and many would invariably flop.

    6. This comment has been removed by the author.

    7. To add, the general direction and desire to move forward should be held by those working closely on the project. The leaders is not there to force feed it down their throats, but to nurture that piece of work along the path of development. His/her role is to help people stay interested in furthering their creation, especially when hitting roadblocks.

      Edited to reword, first time around was a bit clunky!

    8. I couldn't have said it better myself.

  2. Paizo does a lot of subcontracting as well. They have freelancers who write huge portions of even their core books. They are also farming out other production like the mmo and audio work.


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