February 11, 2009

D&D Insider: Where are we?

Yesterday I posted some excerpts from the Hasbro Q4 2008 financial summary -- reading between the lines you might have seen that the motivation for 4th Edition Dungeons & Dragons was to provide a new game that Wizards of the Coast could produce to fit in with their parent company's vision of "digital gaming". Now, this get's a bit tricky because Atari games (as far as wikipedia knows) still owns the rights to the Dungeons & Dragons brand for 'interactive games'. Atari acquired these rights, along with many other Hasbro brands, when Hasbro Interactive was sold off to Infogrames in 2001 - the parent company of Atari. Hasbro later bought back the digital gaming rights to many of its brands in 2005, some of which are published by WotC (such as Magic the Gathering). However, the digital gaming rights for D&D are still owned by Atari - as far as I can tell. But I digress...

Yesterday, Bill Slavicsek published the monthly editorial "state of the union" post, D&D Insider: Where We Are. In his post he writes:

"It was three years ago that we merged our plans for the 4th Edition of the Dungeons & Dragons game with a new digital initiative. It was two years ago that we announced these plans to the public, and then last year we launched the new game and laid the groundwork for D&D Insider."
OK, so that puts it in 2006 when WotC decided they were "going digital" with the pen-and-paper Dungeons & Dragons game - the same year they ran the D&D Fan Film Contest [chuckles]. It's becoming clear to me that the emphasis for Wizards of the Coast is on the digital side of things - digital products like PDFs and online character gizmos are likely cheaper than books to produce. The books require a huge upfront printing investment, and might just sit in a warehouse if they flop. Digital products probably have the same development costs, but don't have the tail end printing costs - its a lot cheaper to provide server space and bandwidth than print 200,000 copies of Monster Manual XXVI.

Thus, is it possible that in the coming years we will see the printing of new D&D books go by the wayside?

Core rule books such as the PHB 1, 2, 3 etc probably will always come to print. Putting these books on the shelves of bookstores and game stores is nothing short of advertising for the game. Get them hooked, then they'll become subscribers! But, I would not be surprised if we saw supplements, accessories, and even most published adventures go all digital in the coming years. I mean... do we really need a print version of the Adventurers Vault 2 when a searchable online version is really more useful?

Another thing to notice about Bill Slavicsek's post is the following (chopped) excerpt:
"...We’ve learned a lot over the past twelve months. Now we need to take a moment, evaluate where we are and where we want to go next..."
(emphasis mine) Wait... didn't they have a plan already? I called vaporware once before, I'm hoping they don't prove me right on this.
"...D&D Insider, like the D&D brand itself, is a living, growing, ever-expanding experience. It expands every month as we update the Compendium and Character Builder, and as we release new content via the online magazines. And it will expand beyond that, eventually adding new features and functionality. We won’t release any component, however, until it hits or exceeds the level of quality we’ve established with the Character Builder."
(Wow... D&D sounds alot like a cult) So, is this basically saying the map maker, the online tabletop gaming system, the character 'visualizer', etc etc won't be released until... when?
"...I don’t have a ton of new information to pass along on a weekly basis. So, this will be the last regularly scheduled installment of Digital Insider..."
But didn't Mr. Slavicsek just say D&D was a "living, growing, ever-expanding experience". This seems like marketing parlor tricks. Basically, D&DI is "going dark" unless something leaks out on the forums. I just hope they don't cut any more jobs from the WotC development staff.

Sorry if this has been a bit of a ramble. So, I'll leave it on a positive note - earlier I mentioned the PHB 3... this had me a bit stoked to be honest. Mr. Slavicsek also wrote:
"In May, come aboard to help playtest a class from Player’s Handbook 3… the monk!"
Wohoo! That will be cool! I just wonder how similar it will be to Scott Schimmel's version at A Butterfly Dreaming. We shall see...

5 comments:

  1. Jeez, PHB2 isn't even out and where getting ready for 3? How many F*^&ing "core" books is there going to be?

    On DDi, somehow they managed to screw it up beyond any pessimists expectations. I expect them to just hang it up at some point. We can only hope that, someday, one of the exemployees breaks his/her NDA for all of our amusement! :P

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  2. Tom, ever since WotC announced 4e they've been saying that there would be a new PH, MM, and DMG once per year. Thus PH1, MM1, DMG1 in 2008, PH2, MM2, DMG2 in 2009, etc. That's been a part of the product catalog plans for a long time.

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  3. Welcome Tom & Chris!

    yeah.. i'm not surprised by the PHB3... i just realised they were probably going to make a AV1, 2, 3, .... or a Manual of the Planes 1, 2, 3... as well. A whole new line up every year of the same stuff... that would be awful.

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  4. I think you’re absolutely right when you predict that Wizards of the Coast will shift their focus to eManuals over print manuals. This is exactly what happened with Dragon Magazine and Dungeon Magazine. But I don’t think we’ll see the complete elimination of hard copies any time soon. At GenCon the Wizards panel told us that they plan to release Dungeon Magazine Annuals in hard copy format. This sounds like an excellent business decision to me. If they feel that there is a market for a hardbound Annual (or any other manual) then why not publish them? In the case of Dragon specifically Wizards has all the materials created already so why not recycle them and make a few more bucks. You mentioned it yourself; it’s a good way for Wizards to advertise both the D&D game as well as D&D Insider where new players can pay to read the latest and greatest articles.

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  5. Oh wow! I did not know that WotC had plans to publish print versions of Dragon/Dungeon annually... that would rock. I would definately buy them (which is saying a lot since I haven't bought many of their books thus far)

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