How Hasbro’s Chris Cocks is steering the toy company into games | The DeanBeat


I think of Chris Cocks as the gamer who took over a big toy company. He was named the CEO of Hasbro in February 2022, even though he wasn’t a Hasbro lifer.

Cocks started at the company in 2016 as president of the Wizards of the Coast division, which publishes Magic: The Gathering (which saw 10% revenue growth in 2023). Before joining Hasbro, he managed brands at Microsoft, Leapfrog and Procter & Gamble.

His mission was to take the company — which had $5.8 billion in revenues last year and is valued at $6.9 billion — into digital tech and games. Hasbro is strategically establishing a network of studios and licensing arrangements to turn the company in a triple-A video game developer and publisher. 

Hasbro focuses on the storytelling and exhilaration of play. But that isn’t just limited to toys. It also means consumer products as well as gaming and entertainment. Its products are spread across a portfolio of iconic brands like Magic: The Gathering, Dungeons & Dragons, Hasbro Gaming, Monopoly, Nerf, Transformers, GI Joe, Play-Doh and Peppa Pig.

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The company has done 170 licensing deals for these brands, and it has been investing in digital publishing since 2016. This year, it announced a deal with Resolution Games to make a VR-based D&D game and it teased Exodus, a sci-fi RPG coming in 2025.

Hasbro’s strategy blueprint is to focus on play, something the company did for a century already. He wants to bring “joy and community” to people around the world through the power of play. That community starts at two or three years old and continues on into adulthood. And these days, as Magid Gaming found in a study, the path leads through gaming first. This same observation is what prompted Bob Iger, CEO of Disney, shared as his reason for investing $1.5 billion in Epic Games recently.

Hasbro also has a $2 billion-plus game business, with an operating profit that has been growing. It’s got a big hit in Monopoly Go, thanks to its external development partner Scopely, which spent six years coming up with the right mobile game. Monopoly Go crossed $1 billion in revenue last November.

Hasbro also scored big with Baldur’s Gate 3, which won many game of the year awards, thanks to external developer Larian Studios. The company has invested nearly $1 billion in first-party video game development through Hasbro’s network of video game studio partners, which includes Invoke Studios, Atomic Arcade, Archetype Entertainment, Skeleton Key and Find Your Fun.  

I caught up with Cocks at the recent Dice Summit to talk about Hasbro’s gaming focus. Here’s an edited transcript of our interview.

Chris Cocks is CEO of Hasbro.

GamesBeat: What’s the update on Hasbro in gaming?

Chris Cocks: We just did earnings. We had a pretty good year in Hasbro Games. We were up either 2% or 4%. I’m a bit of a numbers jigsaw puzzle. D&D was up very big last year with entertainment, Baldur’s Gate 3. Magic had another record year. Our board games team did very well. We had a Game of the Year award with Twister Air, which felt pretty good.

Generally speaking, it’s the beating heart of Hasbro. Hasbro is known as a toy and game company. I’d probably invert that and say we’re a game and toy company.

GamesBeat: Bringing your background into that new world, how do you think you’re doing things differently, or changing the way Hasbro runs?

Cocks: How we run games? A lot of ways. Some subtle and some bigger. I go back to what I did when I started at Wizards of the Coast back in 2016. I was always used to games being a product-led organization. The studio led, and then you had centralized functions to help support the studio. Wizards was a marketing-led organization. It was more like Procter and Gamble than Electronic Arts. Marketing-led organizations have their benefits, but they tend to be a bit more defensive-oriented and share-oriented.

We totally flipped that and went back to a classic studio model. Put the product leaders in charge. Then we resourced them up. Hey, here’s the insights you need to understand your gamers. Here’s permission to break some rules, do some new things, shake things up. That did wonderfully at Wizards. We’re in that process now with Hasbro Games. The new head of Hasbro Games is a guy named Brian Baker. He used to be a design leader at Nike. He’s a passionate gamer. We’re following the same blueprint. Put a product leader in charge, give them a bunch of insight, give them permission to win.

What you’ll see from Hasbro Games, traditionally we’re known for family fun fare. You’re going to see a lot more genre expansion from us. We’re working with a lot more inventors. We’re going to bring popular games from different corners of the world and try to use our distribution platform to give them the pedestal they deserve.

GamesBeat: Is there some experimentation that’s paid off, and maybe now going into high gear?

Scopely made Monopoly Go under license from Hasbro.

Cocks: There are a couple of things. Maybe not high gear yet. Brian started about six or nine months ago. But we’re definitely shifting up to gear two. We’re doing some stuff around AI that’s really interesting. As I said earlier, we’re trying to do a new AI product experiment once every two to three months. That’s tending to be more game-focused for us, a little more gamified. We’re trying to keep it toward older audiences, to make sure all the content is appropriate.

We did a virtual Ouija board around Halloween that was up for a couple of days. That was a lot of fun. We just did Trivial Pursuit Infinite for national trivia day. That raised Trivial Pursuit sales by 30%, just this simple thing that we didn’t really invest a lot in. It’s a lot of fun. My friends back in Providence constantly ping me for my daily challenge. You’ll see more of how we’re thinking about how we can integrate AI, how we can integrate digital with physical gaming over time.

Another nice win for us is this concept that we call shots on goal. Hasbro has traditionally had a good relationship with the inventor community, but I think the inventor community has had a question mark towards us. “Hey, it seems like you only want to do the mega-games. You only want to do the Monopolies and Clues of the world. Do you really want to do my smaller-scale game?” We have a new strategy where we’re taking more shots on goal. We’re working with more inventors. We’re giving them more opportunities to leverage our distribution strength and partnering with their design creativity to build new games. You’re going to see a bunch of those this year.

GamesBeat: Monopoly Go, was there something about the way that came together that made it more successful?

Cocks: Again, it starts with great talent. Scopely has a knack for that style of casual game. They had good experience with our brands. We worked with them on Scrabble and Yahtzee with Buddies. They took their time on Monopoly Go. I think they restarted that project at least two times, if not three times. They spent a fair amount of resources on it. We leaned in with them to modify the deal to make sure they could support the game with marketing, because the KPIs in beta were pretty good. It’s been fabulous. They did $800 million in gross revenue in Q4 of last year. It’s the most successful mobile game release in U.S. history, and probably one of the top five globally.

GamesBeat: At an industry level there’s this fear that maybe the big companies aren’t doing new IP anymore. That’s one of the consequences of this layoff funk that’s happening. Nobody wants to take risks. Going with established IP is the safe route for the time being. Players worry that there’s not much new IP coming.

Astarion from Baldur’s Gate 3.

Cocks: It’s similar to what we see in the movie industry as well. Let me play it both ways. For us, we’re interesting in that we have a bunch of established IP that hundreds of millions of people are familiar with. We have 99% familiarity from the board game side of the house in particular. That IP really hasn’t had much of a life inside of digital. There have been little digital instances here and there.

There’s an opportunity for the industry to eat its cake and have it too with IP like Monopoly or Clue or Scrabble, classic board games, where you can do something new, something that feels like a new game, but it’s introduced to a stable audience that makes user acquisition scalable and game rules accessible. That’s great.

GamesBeat: Unleashing existing IP.

Cocks: Latent IP or dormant IP in a fresh new format. There’s an opportunity there. That will be a heavy partner model for us. On the video game side, we’re investing hundreds of millions of dollars into becoming a new video game publisher. That’s something we’ll do over–our time horizon is a decade plus. We’re doing a mix of taking IP that has had a successful history inside of video games, D&D being one of them–Baldur’s Gate shows that has a lot of legs. But we’re also investing in net new IP, investing in creators who have a history.

What we did with Exodus and the announce we just did at the Game Awards, that’s a bunch of ex-Bioware folks who have been responsible for Knights of the Old Republic, Mass Effect, the original Baldur’s Gate franchise. We’re hiring great people and letting them do what they’re great at, which is building a fantastic world and a rich adventure. It’s a new IP set in an original sci-fi universe. So far we’ve been thrilled with the response.

GamesBeat: Another question on the industry level, do we see any structural changes that have happened that maybe help explain where we are today? Some of that has to do with layoffs again. But there’s the existence of a lot of the external development companies that are much bigger than they used to be. Keywords has 10,000 people, things like that. I wonder if there’s a structural change in some way that’s had different effects.

Cocks: I was just doing my annual DICE walk with Bertrand from Keywords. I definitely think that the differences in costs, but the similarity in capabilities around the world–that has a pretty big effect on how you think about building video games. To use the Exodus example, Archetype Entertainment will probably peak at 100 to 150 people working on that game who are Hasbro employees. But there will be 800-900 people working on the game at any one time. We’re working with a lot of outside development houses. We’re working with Certain Affinity out of Austin. We’re working with High Voltage, I think, in Chicago and all over the place. We’re working with a Finnish map and art house.

A party in Baldur’s Gate 3.

That’s just the way of things. It’s hard to hire 800 or 900 people at quality and scale. Between that and the fact that you can go to a market like Poland or a market like Montreal and find engineers, artists, designers who are every bit as good as folks who are from more traditional gaming hubs–you have these tax incentives. You have significantly lower costs of living. You can pay them more than a fair wage and get fantastic work. There’s a significant arbitrage opportunity between the different markets.

GamesBeat: We have a structural change there that ought to alleviate a lot of pressures, and I think it does, but then we still wind up with an industry that’s having a hard time. Do you have a sense for what might explain things like these record layoffs in the last year?

Cocks: I wish I had a crystal ball and could tell you the answers. It tends to be an industry that goes that way, based on my experience. I started in 1999. You’re coming to the end of a console cycle. Xbox and PlayStation are each five or six years old. Switch is seven or eight years old. That tends to happen near the end of cycles. The mobile industry went through a massive boom, but then is having some challenges, particularly with some of the switches Google and Apple did around user acquisition. That changes the economics of things. That causes you to have to make some changes. The capital allocation companies go through is hard.

Generally speaking, the game industry usually thrives even after those tough portions. It’s a very entrepreneurial industry. There’s a lot of capital out there looking for talent, even in a down cycle. Usually this is the time where you have new studio creation to create future value for the next five to 10 years. That’s what I hope is going on.

GamesBeat: How do you figure out the resulting strategy for Hasbro when you have these waves coming through?

Cocks: Call me old school on the technology. I don’t really focus so much on technology. Can you make a fun game? Is there a fun play pattern there? Does that pattern match a story idea or an IP? That’s the through line of the game industry over time. Different graphics capabilities, different business models, different new technologies or emergent features, those just augment that.

From our perspective, when we started our video game strategy–it was 2016 or 2017 when I started. You had massive capital sloshing around the industry. You had a couple of big acquirers who were putting a lot of money into studios. That escalated studio valuations. As someone who wanted to get into video games in more than just a licensing capacity, but also an owned and operated capacity, we determined we had to start from the ground up, hiring great creators and building studios around them. That was the best approach for us because to buy a studio that had that capacity, you’d be paying three or four times what you’d otherwise spend on building from the ground up. The tradeoff was time.

Now, with some of the capital becoming a little dearer in terms of investing in startups, or some of the valuations on game companies coming down, and some game companies going through tougher times, that may change the equation for us. There are some opportunities to work with great teams that share similar vision, similar culture, and be able to bring them on board. Give them a great opportunity for some wealth creation and to be able to create great games. You’re not paying through the nose up front and taking all the risk yourself. We’ll continue to build studios, but it’s on the table that we could acquire some studios as well.

GamesBeat: On AI in particular, there was an interesting example today with the Wheel of Time franchise having its own large language model. It’s an interesting response on the topic of both responsible AI and respecting IP, making sure that only licensed things can go into an LLM. This particular solution is to put only that IP into the LLM. Does that sound at all appealing for the franchises you have at Hasbro?

Baldur’s Gate 3

Cocks: First off, we’re doing R&D efforts around AI. I think most major entertainment and IP holders are at least thinking about it. The key there is the responsible use of it. We have an even higher bar we need to hit because we serve audiences of all ages. We go from preschoolers on up to adulthood. I don’t think we can be very cavalier in how we think about AI. That said, it’s exciting. There’s a lot of potential for delighting audiences. We need to make sure that we do it in a way that respects the creators we work with, respects their works of art, respects their ownership of those works, and also creates a fun and safe environment for kids who might use it.

The advantage we have–it’s funny. This is cutting-edge technology, and Hasbro is a 100-year-old company, which you don’t usually think is–usually you think there’s a threat there. But when you talk about the richness of the lore and the depth of the brands–D&D has 50 years of content that we can mine. Literally thousands of adventures that we’ve created, probably tens of millions of words we own and can leverage. Magic: The Gathering has been around for 35 years, more than 15,000 cards we can use in something like that. Peppa Pig has been around for 20 years and has hundreds of thousands of hours of published content we can leverage. Transformers, I’ve been watching Transformers TV shows since I was a kid in Cincinnati in the early ‘80s.

We can leverage all of that to be able to build very interesting and compelling use cases for AI that can bring our characters to life. We can build tools that aid in content creation for users or create really interesting gamified scenarios around them.

GamesBeat: Is there anything scary in the possibilities around users creating their own stuff? We’ve seen user-generated content going into things like Minecraft and Roblox. Is it a good idea to participate in that and give more leeway to users? How do you balance that against other concerns an IP holder might have?

Cocks: I always think that’s the concern people have with a new disruptive technology, and I always think there’s a fair way to be able to allocate value creation. Generally speaking, brands that figure out how to leverage their users not just as users, but as creators, tend to thrive. That’s the mindset we need to adopt as well. Have we figured it out? No. Do I think anyone in the industry has truly figured it out? Probably not yet. But will we figure it out? Yeah, I think we will.

GamesBeat: I don’t know if there was a lesson to draw from all the D&D licensing controversy. But we’re going into brave new worlds compared to what’s been allowed in the past.

Cocks: We certainly weren’t at our best during some points on the Open Game License. But I think we learned pretty fast. We got back to first principles pretty quickly. The 20-plus years that the Open Game License has been in existence for something like D&D, I think that gives us a lot of experience to navigate what will emerge with AI, and just generally the development of user-based content platforms, whether it’s Roblox or Minecraft or what Epic has up their sleeves. I imagine a dozen companies here at DICE are pitching something to publishers.

GamesBeat: There are some interesting opportunities on the acquisition front that you mentioned. We saw Rockstar buying a couple of modding companies. They started working on the outside, and now they’re on the inside.

Cocks: It’s a good way to test and learn and see how good people are, for sure.

GamesBeat: With all the change that’s happening, how do you maintain a sort of command and control over the whole empire?

Karlach from Baldur’s Gate 3.

Cocks: Well, we’re a toy company. We’re a pretty soft empire. Once again, I think it’s just a paradigm that you have to figure out. I’m sure if you went to a classic P&G-style brand manager from the 1950s and you told him what the world looks like today, with user-generated content on the internet pre-AI, they’d say, “How do you control this thing?” And the answer is, it’s not really control. It’s co-creation. It’s engagement. It’s truly embracing a community mindset to a brand being owned by more than just a company, but by hundreds of thousands of fans who care as passionately about it as you do.

That’s going to be the mindset that you have to remember as you evolve for the brave new world of tools that we have coming out. I use AI in building out my D&D campaigns. I play D&D three or four times a month with my friends. I’m horrible at art. I don’t commercialize anything I do. It doesn’t have anything to do with work. But what I’m able to accomplish with the Bing image creator, or talking to ChatGPT, it really delights my middle-aged friends when I do a Roll20 campaign or a D&D Beyond campaign and I put some PowerPoints together on a TV and call it an interactive map.

While there are definitely areas of concern that we have to be watchful for, and there are definitely elements to the chess game that we have to think about before we move, it’s a really cool technology that has a lot of playfulness associated with it. If we can figure out how to harness it the right way, it’ll end up being a boon for users.

GamesBeat: Is there a revisiting that maybe can happen at companies? People seem to have been done with the metaverse trend, and then all of a sudden Disney does this deal with Epic and everybody’s thinking, “That’s a big move on the chess board.” What else has to happen before we all start revisiting this thing that was maybe starting to go away?

Cocks: I suppose I’m label-resistant. In toys they have this label called “kidults,” which is people who don’t like toys and games explaining how people who do like toys and games like to play with them when they’re older. Maybe it’s because I’m a kidult that I don’t like being labeled as one. Likewise, the metaverse–it never felt like a special, unique thing. It always felt like the evolution of heavily user-generated platforms and the evolution of play.

Monopoly Go

It makes a ton of sense to me that we would want to have more of our brands have a playful element to them, that you would be able to explore worlds in an interactive, lean-forward way, as opposed to just a lean-back way.

GamesBeat: And mix and match the IP.

Cocks: It could be a ton of fun. I thought what Disney Infinity did back in the day was a really cool toy. My son enjoyed playing it. I enjoyed playing it back when he was seven or eight. Lego has been doing it forever in the physical world. You can build a Star Wars Lego set and mix it with your Hogwarts Lego set and use your imagination in some interesting ways.

There are IP concerns that you need to make sure you’re cognizant of. You need to make sure that you respect the boundaries that rights-holders have. But as a fan that’s a lot of fun.

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