Every quarter, Hasbro does its usual earnings conference call. Most of it is incredibly boring, full of dimensionalising the verticals of proper revenue throughstreams or whatever it is investors talk about when they’re not busy Scrooge McDucking it. But every once in a while, you’ll get a neat little tidbit – and usually, for Hasbro, that tidbit is the sheer size of the Magic: The Gathering brand.
We’ve known how huge Magic is for a while. It’s regularly been listed as one of Hasbro’s biggest-sellers alongside Monopoly, beating out even Transformers and My Little Pony in revenue. We didn’t know until the latest earnings call that Magic accounts for approximately 70-80 percent of Wizards of the Coast’s revenue, completely eclipsing the cultural monolith Dungeons & Dragons in terms of profits and sales.
This begs one question: if Magic is so much bigger than Transformers, My Little Pony, and even Dungeons & Dragons, why hasn’t Hasbro franchised the shit out of it? Why does it still feel like the nerdier, more obscure Dandy to D&D’s Beano?
D&D has a long history of massively popular games like Planescape Torment, Neverwinter Nights, and Baldur’s Gate. It’s had numerous TV shows (including this year’s Amazon exclusive Critical Role: The Legend of Vox Machina), and is even getting a movie, Honor Among Thieves, starring Chris Pine next year. It’s managed to thoroughly worm its way into the zeitgeist through the likes of Stranger Things, to the point where everybody has at least heard of Dungeons & Dragons. Not even a dead fish like last year’s Dark Alliance was enough to derail our collective enthusiasm for D&D.
In comparison, Magic gets almost nothing. Aside from the excellent Boom! comics, Hasbro seems content to let Magic sit and be a self-contained card game for nerds, and not the multimedia property it has the chance to become. You know there's a problem when the only noteworthy step away from the cards has been Magic Legends, a failed MMO that never left beta before shutting down. The Netflix show? Who knows about that, we haven’t seen anything in almost a year. The movie that was allegedly trying to sign Angelina Jolie to star as Liliana Vess? Probably dead.
Magic is currently running a Fortnite-themed Secret Lair promotion where you can buy cards based on things like the Party Bus and the Loot Llama. It’s the latest in a long line of one-sided crossovers with things like Stranger Things (weird how that mentioned D&D and not Magic), Arcane (no mention of Magic there or in League, either), and Street Fighter (Blanka was never going to shuffle up his Commander deck, but it’s another one sided affair). Ironically, the cards look gorgeous. Free from the IP crossover rot that’s afflicted the game proper, these cards are the first time in years that Fortnite has had something approaching a cohesive and appealing visual identity.
With such a partnership on the cards, it would’ve been the perfect chance for Magic characters like Jace or Ajani to step into Fortnite for a much-deserved moment in the limelight. What does Hasbro do instead? If leaks are to be believed, throw Optimus Prime at it instead in a Transformers crossover. I’ve mentioned before how frustrating it is to see Magic constantly play host to crossovers and never be invited elsewhere, but it’s just a small part of the wider problem: Hasbro doesn’t care about Magic as a brand.
Magic wants to have its Avengers: Endgame moment that captures the public’s imagination, but Hasbro refuses to give it the space to do that. Wizards sure as hell tries – Kamigawa: Neon Dynasty’s launch received a full suite of trailers, manga, a visual novel, and even a complete soundtrack. Strixhaven: School of Mages the year before had something similar, with a web-based reality show and D&D spinoff that made the launch feel like a moment rather than just yet another product. We’re likely heading for big things in the 30th anniversary next year with a climactic confrontation with the Phyrexians, but will you hear anyone outside of Magic mention Tamiyo’s fate or whether Dominaria will survive a Phyrexian invasion? No, because Hasbro won’t let Magic expand beyond its corner of the tabletop market it’s managed to scrounge for itself. The best we have is some concept art of Gideon in a show that’s been passed from studio to studio that I’ll be shocked if we see before the end of the year, if at all.
Maybe Hasbro doesn’t need to care about Magic right now. In a lot of ways, it and Monopoly are stuck in the same situation of being the company’s quiet top-earners, sentenced to a life of endless licensed crossovers. But Magic isn’t Monopoly: it has characters and lore ripe for development, and a massive player base eager to see how the universe can expand away from the table. By now, Gideon Jura should be a household name on the same level as Bumblebee or Twilight Sparkle, not consigned to concept art for a show that we might never see.
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