Why Brazilians are boycotting Dungeons & Dragons

On the 21st of March, the publishers of Dungeons & Dragons (D&D) announced that the game’s 5th edition — by some measures its most successful version ever — was to be translated into seven new languages: French, German, Italian, Japanese, Spanish, Polish, and Portuguese, “with more to follow.”

By the end of the day, Brazilian gamers were vowing to boycott the Portuguese-language version. “TRASH” read one comment typical of the hundreds under the Brazilian distributor’s announcement on Facebook. Many of the rest consisted solely of vomiting green emoticons. Why?

Reactions on the Gale Force 9 Facebook page.

The furor began with a post that same day by Antônio de Sá, chief editor at Redbox, one of Brazil’s biggest tabletop RPG publishers.

It was a special day… the 28th of November 2015. Fábio Ribeiro, our freight forwarding agent, had made a breakthrough with [Dungeons & Dragons owners] Hasbro and it would be possible to begin to discuss the publication of D&D in Brazil. In such an arduous, big, heavy task, Fábio committed the first of the mistakes he would make in this whole story.

Fábio, he explained, had brought together four Brazilian companies: his own logistics company Rigo, plus three game publishers — RedBox, Meeple BR, and Fire On Board. The mistake, in de Sá’s view, was the decision to include Fire On Board.

The companies formed a joint venture called FMR “for the sole purpose of publishing D&D.” After months of meetings, plans, emails back and forth, the group felt they were on the verge of success thanks to their ‘in’ with Hasbro, when an unexpected hiccup occurred. Hasbro announced that UK game publisher Gale Force 9 was to be the sole foreign-language licensee, handling localization around the globe.

Undeterred, the FMR team approached Gale Force 9. Even without the pre-existing relationship they’d enjoyed with Hasbro, they had a solid business case for getting the Portuguese licence: Rigo’s distribution expertise, RedBox’s history of success with RPG translations, and the game publishing and production know-how that Meeple BR and Fire On Board brought to the table.

João Barcelos, owner of Fire on Board, represented FMR in these new negotiations, which took place in 2016. On the 20th of October, the board of FMR met Gale Force 9 representatives in person at the Spiel Essen convention in Germany. FMR was assured that all would be agreed soon — there was just the final contract to come, which was being drafted by Wizards of the Coast, the Hasbro subsidiary that publishes D&D in English.

The FMR member companies formally set up their joint venture corporation and began dividing responsibilities among them at a meeting in Niterói on the 5th of November, 2016.

As the only part of the group with experience producing tabletop RPGs, the Redbox team took on the editorial duties — translating the text, layout and graphic design. They hired professional contractors accordingly, with FMR members sharing the costs, says de Sá.

Fire On Board disputes this account. “We had a face-to-face meeting but there was nothing concrete. We talked and shared ideas,” reads the statement on Facebook from CEO João Barcelos. “Redbox decided to go ahead with the translation. Afterwards, we were invoiced for this translation and paid it through a money transfer … Incidentally, we feel sorry for the translators who worked hard to deliver a good job that, although we never saw it, we are sure must have turned out pretty well, considering the people involved.”

Why pay an invoice for work on a project you didn’t agree to be part of? This remains unexplained.

“The contract from Wizards never came,” says de Sá. “The meetings João Barcelos attended were never reported clearly. Just short sentences without much direction, like ‘They’re tired after a convention. We’ll talk more next week.’ Things like that. The yellow warning light was beginning to turn orange.”

The contract deadline was pushed back to January 2017, then to February. By then, other members of the FMR board had learnt that Fire On Board was advertising itself to retailer sales clients as “the Brazilian D&D publisher.”

On the day the contract was supposed to be signed, 15th of February 2017, Fire On Board sent the following email to the FMR board:

Hello, good evening:
For strategic and logistical reasons, as well as some occurrences that go against the ethical philosophy of the company, Fire on Board Games will not be able to go along with the project sketched out during the meeting we had. Therefore, all the negotiations for the putative formalization of this project are impeded.
We decided to formalize this by email to make sure that everyone, that is all the recipients of this email, is aware of this at the same time.
We are open to conversation. However, our decision has been made and we do not intend to change it.
Respectfully,
Fire on Board Games

Perplexed, FMR board members contacted Gale Force 9 and received what de Sá calls ‘a bombshell’: “Fire on Board already signed the Brazilian Portuguese D&D contract. Sorry, but we don’t know about your story. Have a nice day.”

“That was how we discovered we’d been screwed over,” says de Sá. “Really screwed.”

On the 21st of March, Wizards of the Coast announced their global deal with Gale Force Nine. Their Brazilian distributor? Fire on Board, represented by João Barcelos.

“We warned such companies at the time that we did not want to enter into any kind of agreement with them,” reads the Fire On Board CEO’s statement.

Meeple BR stepped forward to dismiss Barcelos’s denial, saying “Yes, the claims in Redbox’s post are true, every line of them.”

A statement by Fábio Ribeiro backed up de Sá’s story, adding that “after Fire on Board withdrew, Gale Force Nine told us they were dealing with a ‘new’ partner. You know what happened next, my friends. … It just makes me sad that the arrival of a product that so many people love has been tainted.”

If Barcelos’ claims are true, it is difficult to explain the string of text messages, now posted online by Fabiano Neme — the lawyer responsible for the FMR project’s legal aspects — in which Barcelos discusses the project’s progress with the FMR members. “We have to start our internal organization,” says Barcelos in one message. “I’ll create a shared spreadsheet with print dates and deadlines.”

Above: Barcelos (light-coloured icon) arranges the setup of a work plan for the FMR D&D project.

Screenshots of emails and files released by Redbox on the 23rd of March appear even more incontrovertible. In an email dated 10th of March 2016, Barcelos writes to the three other FMR principals, “Here’s the spreadsheet with our decisions.” The attached Excel file describes the four prospective licensees as a joint venture.

Email on 10th of March 2016 in which Barcelos shares the Excel file
Screenshot of the Excel file in question, with highlighted description of the 4 FMR members as a “joint venture”

On the same day, Barcelos sends an email expressing approval of the new FMR logo designed by Dan Ramos, incorporating design elements of the Fire On Board, Meeple BR and Redbox logos.

The proposed FMR logo.

More damning yet is an English-language document in which the four FMR members make a joint presentation of their credentials for the D&D licence. “We present to Hasbro–Wizards of the Coast the Companies that will be involved in the licensing partnership,” it reads.

A page of the English-language joint pitch document.

Gale Force 9 and Wizards of the Coast did not respond when contacted for comment. Questions remain over how much either knew, and when, about Fire On Board’s actions. At the meeting in Essen, the companies on the Brazilian side were all introduced as FMR members. Those present exchanged business cards showing their positions and the logos of their individual companies. “But we do not know how João Barcelos ‘justified’ this to Gale Force 9,” says de Sá.

According to de Sá, the ousted FMR members decided against “blocking” the arrival of D&D and thus preventing Brazilian roleplayers from getting their hands on the world’s most popular RPG in their own language. Nevertheless the threat of legal action remains, and in the meantime many gamers are calling online for a boycott of the Fire On Board product, or for Hasbro or Gale Force 9 to take action.

Many Brazilian gamers know enough English to use the original books from Wizards of the coast. The English-language materials for D&D 5th edition have also been available for some time, providing plenty of time for fan-translations to emerge. These factors make a boycott a much less painful proposition for a Portuguese-speaking dungeon-delver than it might otherwise be.

Detractors, some of whom — quite apart from any ethical issues — find fault with Fire On Board’s previous work translating foreign board games, are also highlighting alternatives to D&D, such as the Portuguese editions of Pathfinder and The One Ring, or Redbox’s own Old Dragon.

What do Wizards of the Coast and Hasbro make of all this? At the time of writing, no statement has been forthcoming.


ADDENDA

Fabiano Neme provides an account in English: https://nemenomicon.wordpress.com/dndgatebr/

Translations into English of the initial statements, by Pedro Coelho (Facebook comment links): 
1) Initial statement by Redbox (Antônio de Sá) 
2) Statement by Fire On Board (João Barcelos)
3) Statement from Meeple BR
4) Statement by Fábio Ribeiro