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.