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Now that it’s finally a slow week, I can look back fondly on our GamesBeat Summit 2023 event and reflect on conversations like the fireside conversation between Chris Cocks, CEO of Hasbro, and Michael Metzger, partner at Drake Star Partners.
In this talk, which you can watch in the embedded video, Cocks shared how he became CEO, even though he’s only been with the company for seven years. He started in 2016 as president of the Wizards of the Coast division, which publishes Magic: The Gathering. Before that he managed brands at companies like Microsoft, Leapfrog and Procter & Gamble. He was named CEO in February 2022 as Hasbro – a $6 billion a year company – saw more of its future in digital technology and games.
My conclusion from the session is that Cocks and Hasbro want to be relevant in the modern era of video games and technology, and they will do whatever it takes to become more relevant – including acquiring other companies.
He is responsible for well-known brands such as Monopoly, which saw a successful game launch from mobile game publisher Scopely after six years of development. Hasbro also owns Magic, Dungeons & Dragons, Transformers, and many others that Cocks wants to bring to the digital realm as part of a transformation.
Late last year, Hasbro rolled out a “strategy blueprint” for the company to return Hasbro to what made it great in its first century of existence: play. He wants to bring “joy and community” to people around the world through the power of play. That community begins at age two or three and continues into adulthood, Cocks said, but he acknowledged that the company “needs to restore leadership” in both toy and games industries.
He recalled how Hasbro invented the concept of an action figure with GI Joe in the 1960s and the company is still No. 1. It owns the Playdough and Preskool brands and collaborates with Disney on Star Wars action figures.
But Hasbro also has a $2 billion+ game business, with operating profit growing at more than a 30% CAGR over the past five years. It has casual game brands from Candyland to Monopoly, plus brands like D&D and Magic. With the new strategy, the company is targeting those brands in gaming.
The company sees “our brands as more than just toys and games, but overall play-based entertainment IP that we can complement with other experiences, whether that be consumer products that we can license – something like clothing or other toy categories, location-based experiences” and theme parks. He noted that the Scopely game Monopoly Go reached No. 1 on iOS and Android.
He said Scopely was a fantastic partner because it set itself apart with its patience to get the game right, with over five years of work and a few reboots.
Wizards of the Coast had six consecutive years of growth prior to Cocks’ time running it, but it was beginning to plateau. Under his leadership, he put product experts in charge and invested in data analytics and consumer insights. They used the insights to get closer to the customer, test new things and then shake up the company.
Wizards of the Coast’s business grew from $450 million in 2015 to $1.2 billion in 2022. Cocks praised the company’s efforts to segment consumers and target them with new products. Magic: The Gathering – Arena has become a profitable $250 million a year business.
Magic today has 10 million to 15 million active Magic players. Not bad for a 35 year old franchise. But there are maybe 60 million to 70 million who have played Magic at some point in their lives and getting it back is one of the priorities.
“Magic is one of those games that I think transcends the definition of a hardcore game. It’s a lifestyle game. It’s something that people play for years and invest a lot of their time and their money and social circles and friendships,” said Cocks. “Having a platform like Arena not only allowed us to bring new people into the franchise, but also reactivate people who had disappeared from the game because they had some life events or moved out of their circle of play. We gave them a way to play.”
Cocks foresees geographic and platform expansion for Arena in the future. It’s coming out soon on Steam and Hasbro is looking to bring it to consoles as well. He also said Hasbro is considering innovations in digital collectibles.
He talked about the addition of “universes beyond” sets for Magic: The Gathering, which adds trading cards for new intellectual properties. It did a test run with D&D a few years ago and last year it did a full product line with Warhammer 40,000.
Now it has launched a set for The Lord of the Rings, in collaboration with the Tolkien estate.
“So far the response we’ve seen from fans has been fantastic,” he said (before launch).
It has other hardcore fanbase trading card games like Ubisoft’s Assassin’s Creed and Square Enix’s Final Fantasy.
“You can imagine we’re having really interesting conversations with other IP holders who have that hardcore fan base or have fantasy and sci-fi alongside them,” he said. “It’s a real blue ocean kind of opportunity and there really hasn’t been a lot of IP licensing for trading card games.”
The movie Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves received good reviews in the ’90s and will likely have a long shelf life as it enters post-theatrical life and streaming, Cocks said. The company is exploring other partnerships, such as animated shows and future movies.
A year ago, the company acquired D&D Beyond, which allows people to play online together with their table experience.
“Video games are a big area of focus for us” through smart licensing and adding development capability to build games ourselves, Cocks said.
There have also been missteps, such as the D&D Open Game licensing controversy, with Hasbro’s Wizards of the Coast making some licensing changes and then being forced to undo them. Some third-party publishers walked away from D&D for good after the controversy began in December 2022 following an “update”. That stopped D&D NFTs and required a higher royalty for high-revenue products.
Developers revolted. Cocks did not address this during his fireplace chat.
When it comes to in-house game development and publishing, Cocks said he went for a balanced approach. He noted that the company is still relatively new to the digital space and has important partnerships in the digital space.
“Partnerships come in all flavors,” he said. “They come development partnerships, where we might be the publisher; publishing partnerships or platform partnerships, where we invest in producing a game and then partner with someone to put it on their platform; or more traditional licensing partnerships. In terms of how we think about building out our own capacity, we think it’s important to have a stake in digital and understand how we can commercialize that and build a direct relationship with our consumers.”
That’s a pretty big signal to me that Cocks is interested in building the game development teams within Hasbro and possibly acquiring some, as Metzger asked during the session.
As for new spaces like virtual reality and augmented reality, Cocks said the company wanted to do things in those spaces. He saw AR as a “natural bridge” between a physical and a screen-based product.
“From a board game perspective, you can imagine that we continue to invest in simple AR experiences that are very open-ended,” said Cocks. “If you have a phone or a simple kind of tablet, you can bring the board to life. You can use simple gestures on the camera, especially now that we get more advanced cameras and future generations of phones to add a fun new twist.”
But as he pursues those goals, Cocks said he wants to keep the technology as simple as possible to reach tens of millions or hundreds of millions of fans.
“It is important for us to keep the barrier to entry as low as possible, both in terms of price and technology. So I think we will lean into that for the foreseeable future,” he said.
And he said, “I would say takeover is definitely on the table for us. It’s probably something that’s more of a mid-term focus for us right now. We’re kind of on the opposite approach where we’re driving some divestment within entertainment,” he said. “So we want to get through that, or we want to get through this era.”
He noted that Hasbro is a “super cash rich company” and it is very profitable.
“M&A will be a focus and games will be a particular focus for us,” he said. “We are an IP company at heart.”
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