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Tabletop Game Companies Are Rushing to Snatch Up Hollywood Names

WIRED sat down with Nepitello and Härenstam to discuss the challenges, surprises, and behind-the-scenes hustles to acquire intellectual property during this whirlwind of development.

From Magpie Games’s Avatar game to the new Dune game to your projects, it looks to be the peak time for TTRPGs working with preestablished worlds. Would you agree?

Tomas Härenstam: It’s an interesting time. We’ve often been discussing, “How big is this market, what’s the kind of ceiling we will bump into?” And I think The One Ring, but even more so the Avatar Kickstarter, showed that the ceiling is well above what most of us thought.

Francesco Nepitello: There’s a difference between now and just a few years ago. Mainly, many companies and IP holders, as far as I know, were not so keen on going to Kickstarter for licensed games. Normally, people made the assumption that with a big IP, you don’t need to go to Kickstarter because you can sell a game anyway. The One Ring and, of course, The Last Airbender showed that the combination of the two things can be explosive.

What’s the first step when you’re looking into acquiring a license? What aspects of IPs make your team think, “Hey, we can turn this into a tabletop-friendly product?”

Härenstam: It has to start with a passion for the IP itself. Alien and Blade Runner are two of my favorite film series and franchises out there. Francesco, I know you have a deep passion and understanding for Tolkien’s works. I think you could never do these things if you didn’t. Then you start a discussion of “How can this be a game?” You need to have that basic passion for the franchise, or it’s never going to be a good game, no matter how well you polish it up. That’s really, for us, core to doing licenses.

Is there a moment when you really felt like you were able to translate something well into a tabletop game and you saw the fans connect with that, such as Lord of the Rings fans?

Nepitello: When we first designed the game, we found that removing limitations often leads to an unfaithful gaming experience. The easiest example of all of them is the use of magic in The Lord of the Rings. Some people think that there should be magic users in the game. If you create a game system that allows them, you are not being really unfaithful to the sources because there are wizards in Middle-earth, but the gaming experience is going to be completely different. It’s not going to feel like The Lord of the Rings, where there is basically one wizard in the story. So we said, “OK, no magic users are allowed.” Everyone was happily surprised to find that they could not play wizards and sorcerers. Luckily, it seems that our audience has embraced our very focused view of Middle-earth.

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