It’s a long-standing staple of fantasy games that a dragon sits upon a mountain of gold, obsessed with more and more of the glittering metal. Protecting it at all costs.
Little did those working at fantasy gaming giant Wizards of the Coast (WotC) know that their very own version of Smaug was sitting on a pile of treasure they all helped grow. Hasbro CEO Chris Cocks had amassed a mighty haul in 2023.
Hasbro CEO bonus in a year of job cuts
Cocks took home a reported $9.4m in compensation, three times his Executive Compensation from the $3.7m in 2021. Despite this windfall for the CEO, he still announced 1,100 job cuts at WotC in the weeks leading up to Christmas.
This announcement came as a shock to the employees who helped contribute to record sales and were the pillars propping up the toy giant in 2023. Sales of Dungeons and Dragons (D&D) and Magic the Gathering (MTG) were a boon for the company. Both are under the banner of Wizards of the Coast, owned by Hasbro.
The fantasy gaming community was left outraged and some of those laid off just before the festive period took to social media to vent on the news.
WotC Staff forced to say farewell
WotC’s former Art Manager, Rob Sather said his position was “eliminated”:
Yesterday was surprisingly my last day of work at Wizards as D&D TRPG Studio’s Art Manager. My position was eliminated, nothing to do with performance.
Can’t even utter a snarky quip or light-hearted anecdote, just feeling gutted.
— Rob 🌙 (@robsather) December 13, 2023
Trystan Falcone, a Graphic Designer at WotC said on X of the sad news:
To everyone at WotC getting cut today & especially my fellow D&D team members: May your talent & passion be recognized and rewarded by the lucky teams that snatch you up. You are irreplaceable. To other studios, we are losing incredible folks. Scoop them ASAP. Its Hasbro’s loss.
— Trys (@TrystanFalcone) December 12, 2023
Bree Heiss, Art Director and WotC staple was let go. Her contribution to D&D and Magic The Gathering was massive across seven years. She was integral to the box art for Modern Horizon’s 2 and was also a key figure in the upcoming Book of Many Things.
Pulling the lever
The redundancy figures have now reached close to 2,000 staff after Cocks contacted all staff in a Hasbro statement and 800 jobs were cut in January 2023.
Cocks said, “Given the state of our business, [the layoffs] are a lever we must pull to keep Hasbro healthy.”
Despite these record figures of compensation for Cocks and the CEO of WotC, Cynthia Williams ($6,55m in compensation) did not attempt to rebuff these figures or take a reduced amount to save jobs.
Cocks would swing the metaphorical axe against his old workmates. He said “I know this news is especially difficult during the holiday season. We value each of our team members – they aren’t just employees, they’re friends and colleagues.”
Before being Hasbro CEO, he served as President and Chief Operating Officer of WotC and Digital Gaming and before that, he was President of WotC since 2016, when he joined Hasbro from Microsoft.
Chris Cocks became the CEO of Hasbro succeeding Rich Stoddart. Soddart said in a statement announcing Cocks’s appointment “A storyteller and gamer at heart, Chris innately understands how to create and nurture brands to drive fan and consumer connection across channels. ”
Cuts despite record growth
In a year that saw record growth for the digital gaming department, WOTC also saw sales growth of 20% in the third quarter of 2023 when compared to the same quarter in 2022.
WotC and digital gaming revenue was up 40% compared to the previous year. This was due to the critical success of the highly popular Lord of The Rings series reaching $200 million in sales and the success of Baldur’s Gate 3. WotC took in $120m more in 2023 compared to 2022.
The traditional avenues for Hasbro have not been reaching the expected heights. This is evident due to the economic challenges facing households and a recorded 8% fall in toy sales globally according to data company Circana.
Hasbro sold film and TV department eOne to Lionsgate for $500m in August. The D&D: Honour Amongst Thieves movie failed to break even at the Box Office in March and brought in $208m million globally.
In Hasbro’s October earnings report titled “Games and Digital Drive Strong Adjusted Profit and Margin Growth.”
Cocks said: “Wizards of the Coast and Digital Gaming delivered a standout performance across strength in MAGIC: THE GATHERING and DUNGEONS & DRAGONS, particularly the blockbuster August release of Baldur’s Gate III.”
‘Almost no one left’
Baldur’s Gate 3 is a generation-defining video game that has seen universal success since its release in August 2023 on PC, September for PlayStation 5 and November on Xbox.
The game is set in the Forgotten Realms of Dungeons & Dragons (D&D) and was developed for Hasbro by Larian Studios which won Game Of The Year through Baldur’s Gate as well as Best Community Support, Best RPG, and Best Multiplayer at the 2023 Game Awards.
Sven Vicke, CEO of Larian Studios posted on X about the Hasbro cuts:
I also want to thank @Wizards_DnD and specifically the DnD team for giving us carte blanche. I’m really sorry to hear so many of you were let go. It’s a sad thing to realize that of the people who were in the original meeting room, there’s almost nobody left. I hope you all end…
— Swen Vincke @where? (@LarAtLarian) December 14, 2023
Individually the voice actor behind the much-beloved character Astarion, Neil Newborn, took home the Best Performance award.
— The Game Awards (@thegameawards) December 8, 2023
No D&D video game has achieved this level of global acclaim, let alone an independent studio like Larian working with Wizards of the Coast.
Future of D&D and WOTC
This year will be a landmark year for D&D as it celebrates its 50th anniversary.
It can only be hoped that the award-winning staff find new opportunities to demonstrate their creativity during a busy release schedule at WotC.
They can look back on their time at Hasbro as a success, but the future of the company may be defined by these cuts across 2024. Next year’s annual report will have a high watermark to meet and Chris Cocks will have to trust those that have stayed can produce the same landmark numbers with a reduced headcount.
Hasbro did respond to a request for comment.
Image Credit: Larian Press.