Ryan Dancey, formerly the Dungeons & Dragons brand manager for Wizards of the Coast, recently explained how the brand failed to meet its $50 million sales goals by transitioning to an online format. Dancey shared a pivotal moment in that failure: a sad story of domestic abuse.
The DDI pitch was that the 4th Edition would be designed so that it would work best when played with DDI. DDI had a big VTT component of its design that would be the driver of this move to get folks to hybridize their tabletop game with digital tools. Unfortunately, a tragedy struck the DDI team and it never really recovered. The VTT wasn’t ready when 4e launched, and the explicit link between 4e and DDI that had been proposed to Hasbro’s execs never materialized. The team did a yoeman’s effort to make 4e work anyway while the VTT evolved, but they simply couldn’t hit the numbers they’d promised selling books alone. The marketplace backlash to 4e didn’t help either.
That tragedy was the death of Melissa Batten, shot by her estranged husband Joseph Batten. Batten then committed suicide by turning the gun on himself. The effect on the gaming industry was far-reaching.
Melissa Batten was a Harvard-educated lawyer and Software Development Engineer in Test for Microsoft, supporting Rare on their Xbox 360 titles. Working for Microsoft since 2002, she earned credits in games such as Halo 3 and Gears of War 2. When she was previously a public defender for the Mecklenburg County Public Defender’s Office.
Joseph Batten’s LinkedIn profile (now defunct) listed him as Senior Manager, Digital Technology Projects for Wizards of the Coast since February 2008. Prior to that he was Senior Technical Producer for just three months, with responsibilities for supporting Gleemax.com, integrating Dungeons & Dragons Insider (DDI) with Gleemax, and overseeing the backend infrastructure that all of Wizards of the Coast multiplayer games run on.
Melissa had obtained a restraining order against Joseph the week before her death:
In her request for a protection order, Melissa Batten described how her husband had called her more than 30 times on July 19 and 20 and warned her never to hang up on him. She also described a chain of circumstances that led to the phone calls, including how her husband broke into her workplace at Microsoft on July 16 and was caught by security guards.
“The biggest incident which clouds all his subsequent behavior occurred on June 5,” she wrote in the request. “He had, unbeknownst to me, obtained a gun.”
At that time, she continued, the couple were living together but he discovered she had had an affair and he confronted her about the affair at dinner, then “brandished the gun from the back waistband of his jeans and pointed it at me,” she wrote.
Joseph Batten then showed the gun was loaded and the safety was off and he put the gun to his head and said he was going to kill himself, Melissa Batten continued.
Melissa moved to an apartment on 156th Avenue Northeast in Redmond, where she was staying with a friend. Joseph confronted her in the parking lot, shooting her several times with a 9-mm handgun and then shot himself in the head.
We may never know the full impact of this tragedy, but in light of Dancey’s recent comments, it definitely delayed 4th Edition’s plans in the online space. With 5th Edition on the horizon, it remains to be seen if Wizards will make another effort to revive its digital strategy.
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