“Chicago By Night” is one of
Vampire: The Masquerade
Prior to “L.A. By Night”, World of Darkness’ two major RPG properties, Vampire: The Masquerade and Werewolf: The Apocalypse, worked with theatrical licensors like Mind’s Eye in Florida. But as Carl discussed with us, licensing shows is still a unique, separate venture from creating an actual play show from internal resources, much as World of Darkness has done with “L.A. By Night.”
It isn’t to say that World of Darkness is the only TTRPG publisher to take notice of the need to develop internal actual play shows, instead of leaning on external creators like Critical Role and Penny Arcade. When Wizards of the Coast first approached Tanya DePass, a cast member of official Dungeons & Dragons actual play show, “Rivals of Waterdeep”, it was with this in mind. We spoke to DePass about how “Rivals of Waterdeep” (and her role as Selise Astorio) first came together.
“[Greg Tito] approached me and he’s like, ‘Hey, do you know anyone who’d be interested in being on an actual play show based in Chicago?’” DePass told us. “I guess he’d already had some conversations with part of the cast that he met [elsewhere]. ‘The idea is we’re going to show everyone can play D&D, everyone can learn. They don’t have to be someone who’s been playing since red book, first edition. They maybe have never touched a d20 in their life.’”
Tito told us that streaming and actual play has been part of his goal since he joined the company in 2015. His work with DePass and “Rivals of Waterdeep” was born from an event featuring the Waterdeep: Dragon Heist story and a desire to showcase a more diverse Dungeons & Dragons community.
Above: The “Rivals of Waterdeep” cast, from left to right: Brandon Stennis, Surena Marie, Cicero Holmes (sitting), Shareef Jackson (in hat), Tanya DePass, and Carlos Luna.
“As we were planning that, we had a bunch of creators that were people of color and other communities that you don’t necessarily associate with Dungeons & Dragons,” Tito said. “I reached out to Tanya DePass—who I knew as a strong voice in the community and was in the Chicago area—and another group of roleplayers who just put their toe into doing D&D related content, but were mostly known as improv actors and comedians. For some of them it was brand new. They had never played Dungeons & Dragons at all.”
Anecdotally, we’ve both known our share of folks who have refused to play TTRPGs for the same reasons that actual play shows are catching fire. For people who only pick up dice to play mainstream board games, having actual play shows like “Rivals of Waterdeep” removes barriers to enjoy the medium.
“That visibility that we’ve given people who felt like they didn’t belong, or getting people who tell us, ‘I’ve gone back to playing D&D because I saw your show. I found a bunch of friends. I remember that I own these guys that I haven’t touched in 10, 15 years’” DePass said, expanding on the importance of visibility. “ … If someone never messages you, if someone never contacts you, you never know the impact you’re having. That’s the really important part for me and for all of us.
“For every one person that may come up to us at a convention, or come to D&D Live and be really grateful, there [are] 100 people that may be impacted and never say a word, because they can’t come to our convention or they don’t do Twitter. They don’t have a way to reach out, but they tune in every week. They may never say a word in chat. They may listen to the podcast. That opportunity, I think, is the biggest thing, just realizing the wonderful and delightful, yet sometimes strenuous, burden [being a public persona] gives us.”
World of Darkness also saw an opportunity in actual play partnerships. “L.A. By Night” was created to give Vampire: The Masquerade and its community more visibility among a wider roleplaying audience, thanks in part to a partnership with Geek & Sundry.
The publisher isn’t interested in utilizing “L.A. By Night” to drive sales, even though the show has hit over a million impressions per season between streaming and video-on-demand. Instead, World of Darkness leans into actual play shows to spread brand awareness, continue to build a global audience with players from across a spectrum of experience (including fledgling vampires), and create positive communities that can share their experiences in safe, respectful ways.
Finding new audiences, at home and around the world
Above: The Stranger Things Boxed Set gets classic D&D branding.
The tabletop industry is moving in ways that fold in a geographically diverse audience, also. Wizards of the Coast is making sure it looks outside its established strongholds to build the community.
“We did Lucca Comics and Games [in 2019], which is like a ComicCon that takes place in the walled medieval city of Lucca, Italy,” Tito said. “It draws 200,000 plus folks from that area. It’s not just gaming. It’s very much like ComicCon and brings people from all different fandoms. The response from us officially being at Lucca last year was phenomenal. Joe Manganiello (True Blood, Magic Mike) did a live game there. We’re doing those types of events again in 2020 and making sure that the largest events we’re doing, like D&D Live, are incorporating influencers and groups from those outside areas as well. We’re hoping that growth in worldwide markets continues to rise in 2020 by bringing more of them into the fold that way.”
The effort on community building through actual play has been a success across the tabletop RPG segment. Pathfinder publisher Paizo said that actual play shows are crucial for awareness.
“Getting players to see the 100-plus products Paizo releases every year requires a lot of gamers talking about a lot of different products,” said Jim Butler, Paizo vice president of marketing and licensing. “Every podcast, show, and interview helps with that. It is much more impactful to have players talk about our products with each other. It is also more impactful to see or hear people having fun with your product than to tell people it’s fun; show, don’t tell.”
Wizards of the Coast has been able to put a finer point on the impact of actual play shows on its brand awareness and sales. While the company wasn’t willing to share its impression numbers, in 2019, live show viewership increased 49%. Of its total views, 15% are during live broadcasts (mostly represented by Twitch), with the remainder coming from video on demand on YouTube.
“That’s really a new phenomenon,” said Liz Schuh, head of Dungeons & Dragons publishing and licensing. “I’ve been working on D&D since 2000. Back then, the No. 1 way people found out about D&D was always through friends and family. That’s still way up there on the list, but it was only a couple of years ago that online popped up as one of the top ways people find out about D&D and get interested.”
That, in turn, has led to a major spike in sales for what Wizards of the Coast calls “acquisition products.” These include the starter sets, an Essentials Kit introduced in 2019, and partnership products like the Stranger Things and Rick and Morty boxed sets. Tito and Schuh both draw a straight line back to actual play shows as an on-ramp to learning the game.
“When we look at those boxed SKUs year-over-year, we saw a 300% growth over 2018,” Schuh said. “A lot of that strength comes from mass market penetration we’ve been able to achieve—Target and Amazon being some key mass market players.”
Barnes & Noble also plays a major role in Wizards of the Coast’s retail strategy. The book seller fills a gap, especially in areas where specialty shops haven’t been able to sustain themselves.
Source: Read Full Article