Dungeons and Dragons: Niche game, big business

A set of original Dungeons & Dragons booklets from 1981.

Image of Of Dice and Men: The Story of Dungeons & Dragons and The People Who Play It
Author: David M. Ewalt
Publisher: Scribner (2013)
Binding: Hardcover, 288 pages

Before the days of Angry Birds and Farmville -- even before the days of Mario Brothers and Pac Man -- there was another game, mostly for those of the, well, nerdy persuasion: Dungeons and Dragons. Nerdy, perhaps, but also with some potential for big business.

David Ewalt is the author of a new book called "Of Dice and Men: The Story of Dungeons and Dragons and the People who Play It."  He is -- for those of you who know what this means -- a level fifteen cleric.

The format of the game has, for many years, been a less-than-solid business model. For starters, once you buy the book with basic rules, you don't really need much else. On top of that, the founders were in a bit over their heads.

"It's a really interesting case study of things that can go wrong with a start-up," Ewalt points out. "These were guys who were gamers first and foremost. They didn't know how to run a company. When the game exploded in popularity, they suddenly had so much revenue they didn't know what to do with it, and they spent it in really stupid ways."

Eventually the company was bought out, and today is owned by Hasbro.

"In one sense, it's the empire coming in and buying out your little pirate ship," jokes Ewalt. "But on the other hand, you've got some resources now to put out some really cool product."

Those products, it seems, are focusing on bringing the Dungeons and Dragons brand into new arenas -- like smartphones.

About the author

Kai Ryssdal is the host and senior editor of Marketplace, public radio’s program on business and the economy.
Image of Of Dice and Men: The Story of Dungeons & Dragons and The People Who Play It
Author: David M. Ewalt
Publisher: Scribner (2013)
Binding: Hardcover, 288 pages

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