What the tokens vs. minis issue bodes for D&D

This recent post over at Critical Hits, an eloquent eulogy for the soon-to-be-defunct Dungeons and Dragons Miniatures line, echoed the sentiments of many gamers who have found the minis to be useful gaming aids, and speculates (with some merit, in my opinion) that the product’s end was related to low profitability. The secondary market for these minis has always been brisk, with rare pieces – like dragons – being sold for three times the retail price of the box they were packaged in, and Wizards of the Coast (WotC) sees none of that money.

The post drew an impressive number of comments, but I stopped reading them when I found one containing an observation that led me to consider how the switch to tokens may impact future editions of D&D. The comment was made by Rick Anderson, who wrote about WotC’s apparent lack of understanding of the miniatures market.

While I don’t know enough about the miniature market to know for certain if Anderson’s assessments about WotC are correct, his opening line inspired a related idea about where the game may be headed. Anderson’s comment began as follows:

There are so many ways to make “flat” miniatures, it’s hard to imagine Wizards thinks there’s actually a market to sell cardboard chips.

I concur; it would be hard to imagine WotC thinking that. That leads me to believe that WotC is thinking something else, and, at risk of sounding like a conspiracy theorist, here’s my guess at WotC’s motives for switching to tokens from miniatures:

(1) Providing tokens for all monsters represented with each of their adventures will offer greater convenience to the Dungeon Master (DM), as well as raise the retail price of the adventures. The production costs for the tokens can and probably should be marked up, as would be expected for any retail product, and those mark-ups go straight to the profit line – even if the DM doesn’t use miniatures in his or her game.

(2) Offering tokens for all of the monsters in an adventure will logically diminish demand for miniature representations of those monsters in the secondary market, a market that profits from WotC minis but provides no profit to WotC.

(3) For some players, it doesn’t matter if they use three-dimensional minis or tokens, as long as what’s on the table “matches” what the heroes are fighting. Through WotC providing tokens, DMs who were once tempted to look for official D&D Minis on the secondary market or “look-alike minis” from third-party manufacturers like Reaper or Secret Skeleton to find a “match” won’t need to look there any more.

(4) This last guess is related to future editions of the game. Readers more web-savvy than I can probably find the specific citation, but I remember reading a forum posting by a prominent industry figure – Ryan Dancey, I believe – predicting that 4.o/4.5 would probably be the last edition(s) of the D&D game to be played on on a tabletop. If that is the case, it would be beneficial for WotC to condition their customers to use gaming aids that could be easily depicted in an overhead view of a battle map on a computer screen – like a token – and the time to begin that transition should be well before any anticipated switch.

What do you think the motivation is behind the switch from miniatures to tokens? Please consider sharing your thoughts in the comments section below.

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4 comments on “What the tokens vs. minis issue bodes for D&D

  1. kensanoni says:

    Didn’t Myers directly talk about this in a podcast?

    The reason for the switch was pure economics. The cost of oil was skyrocketing, and that’s what they make the miniature out of. The cost of oil has jumped up to 5 times the cost of oil when the line started (Depending on what point you wish to compare). That leaves you with the choice of raising the cost to the consumer, or switching strategies.

    To think WOTC doesn’t understand the secondary miniature market is completely laughable. They run the game with the biggest secondary market, after all. They know how their releases affect that market. They don’t care how much money the secondary market makes, as long as they sell their boxes.

    While I doubt this will be the last ‘paper version’ of D&D ever released, you are dead right at least on your 4th point. It is just super easy to create a version of game tokens that cut down your development costs when the graphics are used in two different products. It keeps your costs down, provides a unified product, and gives the consumer what they need. I don’t see this as a big problem, but I know there are people who complain about these things.

    However, with Reaper still in business, providing superior sculpts, why would you complain, really?

  2. Alric says:

    Welcome, Kensanoni, and thank you for your visit.

    Thanks also for informing me about the podcast – I hadn’t heard about it. I guess my post is moot if the actual reason has been published.

    With respect to WotC not knowing the market – that observation came from Anderson. I don’t know enough about the industry to know who is right on that score, although I suppose it doesn’t really matter, since the decision has already been made.

    With regard to Reaper and similar companies, I’m very happy to see them still around, and I have several dozen figures from Reaper, GW and OOP Ral Partha stuff waiting to be painted. I think I’ll still miss the WotC product, though, since they directly depicted creatures from the manuals and had those convenient data cards, which I rather liked.

  3. Evyn MacDude says:

    Couple of things…

    There was an Edition of DnD after 3.5? With the lack of sales i perfectly understand Hasbro’s moves with the DnD license. Turn it and burn it, move on to the next big thing.

    Second most of the miniatures companies out there are very small operations, even the big ones. (GW doesn’t count for this discussion, in that they are the 800lb gorilla in the cage and pretty much have hit maximum density for a niche hobby. Which to be honest we are. ) But back to my thought, WoC/Hasbro can’t invest the time and creative effort into miniatures that smaller companies do. there isn’t enough profit margin there to satisfy their corporate oversight. Or for that matter DnD as a RPG brand in general.

    My real question is why they never has been a Magic the Gathering/DnD crossover? I remember when the original Artifacts boosters came out there was lots of discussion about trying to use them with DnD. And Nothing….

    • Alric says:

      Hi Evyn, and sorry about the late reply.

      The lower margin and high level of creative energy are probably driving forces behind the switch, too. And I’m also surprised at the fact that WotC has never done a Magic/DnD crossover, also; just collecting the flavor text on the magic cards creates a higher-quality fantasy world than most of what’s out there.

      And thank you for reading my blog.

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