Hey folks! For those who haven’t heard the news already, D&D Beyond has officially been purchased by Hasbro for $147million! That’s no small sum! Today we’ll be looking at what the D&D Beyond purchase may mean for our industry through the lens of a VTT developer.
First up, there was a lot of surprise online that D&D Beyond wasn’t already owned by Hasbro/WotC! With that in mind, we’ll start out with a quick history lesson:
D&D Beyond was originally created by Curse Media, formerly owned by Amazon (This is the reason that Beyond was originally a Twitch-only login). Curse Media was purchased by Fandom in 2018, bringing D&D Beyond along with it. That brings us to today’s D&D Beyond purchase announcement. While news of the purchase has spread far and wide, the actual sale won’t be complete until either Q2 or Q3 this year.
A New VTT On The Block?
As many have already surmised, this is more than likely the first step towards a full 5e VTT. We know from an announcement in 2021 that new digital tools are in the works, we saw the June 2021 survey that contained a question about a VTT and subscription service, and there’s plenty of rumours of Wizards of the Coast hiring developers for a VTT project. Based on all the gossip online and around the industry, it’s pretty safe to say at this point that Wizards of the Coast is looking to develop a full subscription-based VTT, likely to release alongside D&D 5.5e in 2024.
This is quite a wise move for them, as the number of people playing online has skyrocketed due to the pandemic. As a larger number of players are exposed to digital tools, Wizards can capitalise on this by providing an official D&D platform, keeping 100% of the profits to itself rather than relying solely on royalties from third parties.
By acquiring D&D Beyond, a solid chunk of the code required for a VTT is taken care of. There’ll a little bit of work to do to integrate it with the rest of the VTT platform they’re building, but this gives them a huge step up. As touted by D&D Beyond themselves, Beyond already has the following features:
- Character builder
- Integrated dice rolling
- Access to the basic rules of the game
- Combat tracker to help you keep tabs on the action
- Monster encounter builder to Dungeon Masters plan challenging fights
This is like 80% of what a VTT needs. Throw in a way for multiple players to connect to the same session, a map display, and some form of communication, and you’ve got yourself a fully fledged VTT. Given WotC’s track record with digital tools, Beyond provides a solid foundation to work from. The dev team that comes with it also helps.
What does the D&D Beyond purchase mean for other VTTs?
The big thing that this most likely means is that we’ll never be seeing an API for D&D Beyond. Wizards of the Coast’s protection of their assets is the primary reason that an API has not materialised to date. This is something we expect them to double down on.
Unofficial D&D Beyond Tools
The bigger implication here though is the continuation of ‘unofficial’ D&D Beyond support. From Foundry’s D&D Beyond Importer mod, to Above VTT , to Encounter Plus, there are a large number of tools out there that are currently skirting an incredibly grey area of licensing. Neither D&D Beyond or WotC have approved these tools. They’ve essentially been operating in a “we’ll turn a blind eye” situation. Knowing WotC, it’s incredibly likely that as the release of the VTT draws near, the creators of these tools will start receiving Cease and Desist letters and takedown notices.
We’ve seen this play out when a bunch of DnD 5e character generators were sent takedown notices back in 2017/2018 as Beyond was gaining in popularity, the most notable casualty at the time being Orcpub (In the case of Orcpub the ‘legal issues’ are only rumoured to be WotC). Not only will this remove external support for D&D Beyond, forcing people to move onto their platform to play their games, it will also provide a whole bunch of marketing as news sites report the takedowns with a convenient link to Wizards’ new service.
In terms of licensed content appearing in other VTTs, this is one that we’ll have to wait and see. Wizards has quite a good relationship with the major VTT platforms. Not publishing content on those platforms would sour those relationships and remove potential revenue streams. On the flip side, the latest Orr Group Industry Report shows that 55% of Roll20’s campaigns and 60% of their userbase plays DnD5e. We can safely assume that 5e has an above 50% play rate on other VTTs as well.
Given that Roll20 has a userbase well into the millions, if WotC believes that they can capture a sizeable percentage of this market it’s entirely possible that the recurring income from millions of new users will easily offset any adventure module losses from sales in other VTTs. There’s also an existing 10 million-strong userbase that Beyond brings to the table. Many of those users use Beyond in conjunction with a VTT. Having their official VTT integrate directly into Beyond will cause a lot of people stop using their current VTT of choice. When this happens, a lot of subscription-based VTTs will be feeling the heat as users swap over to WotC’s service. Non-subscription VTTs won’t hurt as much at first, but will see less new users over time. 5e is by far the dominant game in the TTRPG industry, and Wizards is banking on it.
As unlikely as it may be, we do very much hope they decide to provide a public API. It would be an excellent tool for the community, while keeping content centralised on Wizards’ platform. Paizo already has an adequate model for this that could be adapted for D&D content.
Other effects of the D&D Beyond purchase
Outside of the VTT sphere, a few things will change with Wizards now directly owning Beyond.
Up until now, D&D Beyond has been a third party service, with a really good licensing deal and the legal right to use the D&D logo. A licensing deal in place means that Wizards has to consider how it treats Beyond compared to other retailers. Beyond can’t sell products cheaply as it has to pay royalties to WotC, and WotC can’t provide things to Beyond cheaply without threatening their relationship with other resellers. Now that Beyond is fully in-house, all potential licensing issues disappear. We’ll most likely also be seeing a smoother content pipeline from WotC into Beyond. We’d wager we’ll eventually get digital-only products, as they have much higher profit margins.
Physical Books x Beyond
A lot of people are speculating that this deal will lead to physical ownership of 5e books unlocking content in Beyond. This isn’t something we think will happen. The effort required to validate all existing 5e purchases makes the task essentially impossible. Unfortunately, your current physical purchases will be staying purely on the material plane. While 5e will most likely be left in the dark, the 5.5e rollout provides a ‘fresh start’ to content. This allows WotC to support integrating physical books with the platform from day one. Warhammer 40k books already have redeemable codes in the back for use in the 40k app, so this is well within WotC’s power to do. Adding codes to 5.5e books will also push more people towards the subscription-based VTT.
And finally, the amount of data that Wizards now has access to has increased by magnitudes. This is the largest thing from the purchase that we shouldn’t discount. For the first time in history, a TTRPG company will both create a system and run a platform that millions of people use the system with. Just from the Beyond purchase, Wizards gains a lot of data on how 5e is played. Which classes and subclasses are used more often? What are the most popular monsters to throw at players? How long does average sessions runs for? How many players there typically are in a party? The level of insight they now have into how people actually play 5e is insane. It’s something that will only increase over time as they work towards a fully fledged VTT.
From Hasbro’s press release on the the D&D Beyond purchase:
“The strategic acquisition of D&D Beyond will deliver a direct relationship with fans, providing valuable, data-driven insights to unlock opportunities for growth in new product development, live services and tools, and regional expansions“.
When you can see exactly how players use your product, you can start to make changes to affect uptake. If Feywild adventures are getting disproportionately high playtime, we’ll start seeing more Feywild adventures popping up. They’ll also be getting information about the locations of their users and what content they use in their games. This will strongly inform which localisations are likely to be the most profitable. On top of all that, Beyond hosts a huge range of public homebrew content. Once they know the most popular things that 5e doesn’t have, they can add legally distinct versions to future releases.
In short, the next couple of years are likely to be pretty uneventful, save for the chance of cease and desist letters going out to some D&D Beyond importers. 2024 is when things will properly kick off. Whether it’s a net positive or negative for the community remains to be seen. Either way, it’ll be a huge positive for Hasbro and Wizards of the Coast.
Let us know your thoughts on the purchase below 🙂