Showing posts with label games industry. Show all posts
Showing posts with label games industry. Show all posts

January 27, 2010

Interview with Obsidian Portal (Part 2)

Note: This is the second part of my interview with Obsidian Portal's Co-Founder Micah Wedemeyer and Creative Director Dan Albright. We started off in the first half talking about OP's past and current state of affairs. In the second half, we jump right in talking about OP's biggest competitor around the corner: Wizards of the Coast's DDI.
... Continued from Part 1.

TCM: Looking over the 10,000+ campaigns that are currently being hosted on Obsidian Portal, roughly 47% of them are for 4th Edition Dungeons & Dragons, with 3rd Edition D&D making up another 21%. OP also hosts campaigns for more than 100 additional game systems, albeit at far fewer numbers. Granted, 4E is the most popular table-top RPG around, but I'm wondering if this preference among your users may also represent a difference in how 4E players think in terms of the use of technology or an online service such as Obsidian Portal. I mean, Wizards of the Coast's D&D Insider service is basically betting on people's interest in mingling technology with their traditionally pen and paper games. Can you comment on that? How much of OP’s success, if any, do you think is a result of being at the right place, at the right time, with the Web 2.0 and the release of WotC’s DDI?
ALBRIGHT: Well if this were any other place, or any other time, it would be a different story, obviously. I think that 4e is the most popular because WoTC is the biggest brand in the industry and they’re products are in every FLGS in the country, if not the world. And their products make it into book stores like Barnes & Nobles, whereas products for other companies don’t. I think if Namco/Bandai (the biggest competitor to WoTC owner, Hasbro) were to buy an rpg franchise like Savage Worlds, then we’d see some big competition in that realm.
     We love gaming. We love sitting around the table and building worlds. We’re not all about one setting or one set of rules. That’s too limiting. I feel that it’s my job as Content Director to remind people that there are other systems out there besides DnD 4e, but that’s not because I don’t like DnD 4e.
     I DM two 4e games that meet on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. My 9 year old step-son is cutting his table-top RPG teeth on 4e DnD. The reason why I feel we need to add new systems every Thursday and link to free systems every Friday is to help keep the industry in balance. I feel that competition is healthy, and when there’s no competition, the best get lax in their efforts. By promoting the underdogs, the best companies have to keep their teeth sharp, so-to-speak.
     As for the DDI, I have a subscription myself. It’s a great tool and we’d love to have some kind of API integration with it.
WEDEMEYER: What you say about Web 2.0 is very true. My introduction to other Web 2.0 tools is what convinced me that something like OP could work. Plus, the programming platform we use (Ruby on Rails) was just appearing on the scene when I decided to start work on OP.
     I think very little of our success is related to the WotC DDI toolset. The tools that OP provides are very RPG-agnostic, and would have been just as useful back in the 70s playing first edition D&D.
     From what I’ve seen, many of the people that utilize OP to the fullest are not playing D&D. I don’t want to start a fight here, but suffice it to say that many story-oriented gamers move away from D&D. Sure, you can roleplay just fine in D&D, but if combat’s not your thing, or you don’t like the fantasy setting, or you want a system that heavily emphasizes role playing then it’s time to start looking around.
     For these people, they use OP to better tell the story and organize everything. So, I would disagree that 4E or D&D players are more open. Instead, my explanation for the majority of D&D campaigns is just that I think more people are playing D&D than other systems. I think that may change in the future, though.

TCM: Looking down the road ahead, WotC’s DDI tool-set is expected to overlap with what OP currently offers. How do you expect OP will be able to effectively compete with WotC once (if) DDI reaches the full tool-set they say is coming?
ALBRIGHT:We’ll stay competitive by offering support for non WoTC systems. 4th edition isn’t going to be their top dog forever. Eventually they will have a 5th edition. When that happens, all the people who put their effort into creating, managing, and maintaining their 4th edition campaigns will be up a creek without a vorpel paddle when DDI moves on to the new edition and rule set. Just like with D&D 3.5. However, when that day comes, everyone with an Obsidian Portal campaign won’t even blink as they keep on keepin’ on.
     We’ll stay competitive by being agile and on our toes. We’re a small group so we can respond to changes in the community’s interest much faster. We are building a community around us using the existing social media structure, and we’re not making a new Facebook or Twitter or what-have-you. We run Obsidian Portal as a labor of love, and our paychecks, our livelihood, our bills aren’t dependent on selling a new product that breaks or out dates our old product while alienating that product’s fan base. Now if WoTC was interested in a team up that’s another story all together…
WEDEMEYER: I’m confident that WotC will be able to create a pretty impressive product. For one, their current DDI team seems to be executing very well, compared to the Gleemax days. Secondly, they have OP as an example of how to get started. I know they’re aware of us, and I imagine that they will “borrow” a lot of their ideas from us. I hesitate to say “steal” since I can’t claim that OP is doing anything really innovative. We are just trying to meet the needs of gamers, and I imagine WotC will do the same. But, they will have OP as a blueprint to start from, while we essentially had nothing.
     I also think that OP will be able to compete effectively for many reasons.
     First, one advantage is simplicity. We don’t have to deal with all kinds of rules errata and such. Instead, we focus on the core role playing experience and leave the 'rules-lawyering' to others. WotC has to make sure that all their tools handle all the rules they make. That sounds like a major headache to me.
     Second, looking to the future, I can only see more and more different game systems. We will continue to be as system-agnostic as possible and thereby support the growing constellation of systems. Have you tried Dark Heresy? Mouse Guard? Savage Worlds? These games are amazingly fun, and you can manage them natively on OP without fighting the system. I don’t see that happening with the WotC tools.
     Third, I’m not convinced that WotC can crush us. Assuming they stole all our D&D 4E users, we’d lose over half our user-base. But, we’d still have a big chunk. Plus, it’s unrealistic to think that 100% of D&D 4E users will prefer the WotC tools to ours, or that 100% of our users will switch en-masse. Instead, there will be a period where some people move over to WotC. So, even in the worst case we’ll lose a lot of people, but it won’t be a sky-is-falling moment.
     Finally, OP is free and the WotC tools are not. Sure, OP has a premium plan, and we really want people to subscribe to it, but it’s perfectly usable with a free account. We’ll have to wait and see how WotC approaches that.

TCM: OK, I'm going to go out on a limb here: You said “OP is doing anything really innovative”; the fans of OP and myself might disagree. I could see a huge advantage of creating a FB App for Obsidian Portal that uses the Facebook Connect API to connect with OP’s existing database. From a game master’s point of view – updating campaign information and having it show up where my players already “live” (on FB) would be hugely beneficial. So, beyond marketing OP on Facebook and building a fan base there – do you have any plans to develop a version of OP that makes use of Facebook’s API?
WEDEMEYER: See previous answer ;) The answer, as always, is “someday”. I really hope to do some of the Facebook stuff sooner, rather than later, though. I’m actually quite familiar with the Facebook API and Facebook Connect, thanks to my previous job. I’m confident that we could do some really cool stuff, like pushing your OP updates into your Facebook stream, for all your friends to see. Again, it’s just a matter of somehow finding a 25th and 26th hour in the day.

TCM: Speaking of Facebook, I’ve noticed that OP has a very active presence there, much more so than many other RPG companies. How much of an impact has FB and other social media channels had on OP subscriber base?
WEDEMEYER: That’s all Dan. I did a piss-poor job of managing that stuff before Dan arrived. He has turned up community engagement to 11. This level of interaction and customer support is one of the things that we think will help us grow and endure.
    I can’t quote any statistics about growth or conversion from social media (since we don’t really know), but what we do know is that thanks to Dan’s efforts, people are much more engaged with OP and we love it.
ALBRIGHT: Honestly I just really like interacting with the people on the fan page. They’re a hoot, and the ideas they share make us all better gamers. I haven’t looked at the metrics lately, but I’m sure it’s not hurting us to be friendly and active.

TCM: Any plans for Obsidian Portal Mobile? Having access to OP and all my campaign notes and resources through my iPhone (or other mobile device) – even if it’s a lite version – would be incredible. Any plans or comments about that? Is there a mobile.obsidianportal.com URL in the works for the future?
ALBRIGHT: Personally I’d love to see a mobile.obsidianportal.com. I think we’d be crazy not to have it. Not everyone plays at the table with a laptop. But every group has at least one player with a smart phone.
WEDEMEYER: Again, see my previous comment ;) Seriously though, here I'd have to say no. There’s a common conception amongst tech enthusiasts and "gadgeteers" that they’re part of the mainstream. This is very much not the case. Most people still do not have iPhones. The same is true with Twitter accounts. So, although these things seem commonplace to some of us, we’re still a minority.
     That’s not to say that we ignore technological minorities, just that we try and focus our time to get the most bang for the buck. I think a Facebook Connect tie-in would be useful to a lot of people, and would also be fairly quick to do. On the flip side, optimizing the entire site for the entire constellation of mobile devices would be very difficult, and the audience served would be quite small.
     Moreover, I don’t have an iPhone, and I try not to program features that I wouldn’t use. That may sound selfish, and it probably is, but it also means that the main programmer is constantly testing the features of the site and figuring out ways to improve them. Believe me, the features that have the most polish and work the best are the ones that I use every time I run my game. It’s called eating your own dog food, and it’s a very effective way of managing development.

TCM: Alright, last question. Blue sky here. Where do you think the table top gaming industry will be in the next 5 years? What changes do you think would have to be made for table top roleplaying games to reenter the mainstream for social gaming?
WEDEMEYER: I really don’t know the answer to this one. My gut feeling is that it will continue to shrink, but then again I’m a very cynical person. While I believe that tabletop gaming is the pinnacle of gaming, it’s getting harder and harder to compete with the ease of introduction to MMORPGs. Plus, the MMOs are getting quite good. So, even though I think they’ll never, never be as good as the tabletop experience, it will get progressively harder to convince younger gamers to turn off the computer and pick up the dice. It would be like telling someone, “Yeah, I know the ice cream cone you’re eating is delicious, but I swear that this other, more difficult to find ice cream is even better!”
     I really hope I’m wrong about this, as like I said, I think tabletop gaming is truly amazing. It’s like I told my wife the other day: “One day, when I’m dead, I won’t be able to play D&D anymore. That thought saddens me.”
ALBRIGHT: The table top gaming industry needs more showboating big leaguers. It needs more advertising outside of FLGS and websites like Obsidian Portal. They need to take a page from Nintendo and Microsoft and try to expand the player base into new demographics. They need to sell their core products in the board game isle of stores like Walmart and Target, otherwise we’re going to see continued shrinkage. WoTC is owned by Hasbro. Why not make combat-centric RPGs that use Hasbro products like G.I.Joe or Transformers and sell those in the toy isles?

THE END

I would personally like to thank Micah Wedemeyer and Dan Albright for the opportunity to interview them and get the skinny on Obsidian Portal and how it's going to fit in the future landscape of our hobby. It was a real pleasure interviewing them!

If you have any questions for them; please feel free to leave them below in the comments. I'm sure they'll be taking a look and will no doubt be interested what TCM readers have to say!

January 25, 2010

Interview with Obsidian Portal (Part 1)


I've recently been doing a fair amount of writing about the future of role playing games and the industry behind it. Last month, I kicked off this series off with an article [1] that covered some ground by looking at what other bloggers (and and a few industry pundits) had to say about the genre of "role playing games" and where it was headed. A few weeks later, the technology aspects of involved in the future of table top RPGs was explored more by both myself and MadBrewLabs [2, 3, 4, 5]. Altogether, you could say I've been thinking quite a bit lately about the future of RPGs and how technology will continue to influence the way we game.

Then it hit me: I needed to talk to someone who was actually DOING IT.

Which leads us here: an interview with Obsidian Portal (OP) founder Micah Wedemeyer and their Content Director Dan Albright.
Just to cover my bases: Obsidian Portal is an online RPG campaign management web portal. They aims to provide tools for organizing the myriad of information that gets created during a campaign. For more information, please visit the Obsidian Portal homesite. They also, by the way, have a new blog which is quite excellent.
In this multi-part interview, I talked with Wedemeyer and Albright about how Obsidian Portal got started, what major hurdles OP faced at its start, what obstacles it still faces now, and where OP is headed into the future.

TCM: First things first, how did Obsidian Portal get started?
ALBRIGHT: In the beginning there was light, and the light spread over the world. It was good, for a time. However, all good things must come to an end, and in some distant corner of space (no one living knows when the exact moment was) an event occurred that we refer to as the Cromlepsion. During the Cromlepsion, a war broke out in the heavens. With each blow the universe trembled. One of those terrible blows sent a strange device and two angels hurtling towards the earth. The angels, Micah and Ryan, set to work trying to repair their sky machine, but they lacked some of the necessary component, and human technology would not catch up for several millennia.
     As Micah and Ryan wait for humanity to catch up, they bide their time by playing games of fate and chance. Games that we humans clumsily categorize as ‘table-top RPGs’. Seeing that humanity was a brutish and warlike lot, these angels set about using their tremendous power and intellect to guide humanity toward a better path. They harvested a fraction of the tremendous power of their magic space box, they opened a black portal to the human ‘internet’ so that others may learn of these ‘table-top RPGs’ and play them among their own kind.
WEDEMEYER: To be brutally honest, I started OP in September 2006 in order to get rich. I thought I’d make the “MySpace of D&D” and I’d be rich in a heartbeat. Well, that didn’t really work out, but it turned into something that I really love, and while I’ll never get rich, I enjoy the work so much that it doesn’t matter.

TCM: OK... that sounds like a really cool campaign setting! But... what role do each of you currently play in keeping it an active and growing service?
ALBRIGHT: I started working for them around August of 2009 in a sort of gopher/mouth-of-god role.
WEDEMEYER: As for roles, Ryan and I are the developers. We keep the thing running. For 2 years, I was also the public face and marketer, charged with engaging the community and getting people to sign up. Luckily, we were recently able to recruit Dan for that task. But, he’s come on and done much more than that. He has become part of the core team, responsible for directing our progress just as much as Ryan and I [6].

TCM: Before the "Cromlepsion" and the founding of OP, did you work on any other projects in the table top gaming industry? What sort of background or experience did you bring to OP?
ALBRIGHT: Before working at OP, I was Technical Writer and a Software Engineer before that. My only prior experience in the game industry comes from a six month stint working for Sci-Fi City, a FLGS in Orlando FL. I’ve always been a people person, and complete strangers will walk up and talk to me for no reason what so ever. I’ve been able to hone this into a super power of sorts that lets me influence the actions of others through pheromone secretions.
TCM: Sounds disgusting. I'll make sure to wear plastic wrap the next time we see each other.
WEDEMEYER: OP was my first foray into both the tabletop industry as well as the website industry. I know it’s a cliche to say, “I just stumbled into it…” but in this case it’s true. I was a programmer for a couple years, and had a computer science MS, but OP was my first leap onto the web and anything even resembling a business.

TCM: There’s been a surge in recent years of DIY small press game companies. I myself am a casualty of that trend – so naturally, I’m curious what you do full time and how much time you spend working on OP each week. Can you comment on that?
ALBRIGHT: I spend too much time working on Obsidian Portal each week! Haha, I kid. I probably spend 10 to 20 hours a week reaching out to the community and making sure that Obsidian Portal is a part of their daily routine. The rest of the time I spend working at my day job, writing up fun and interesting things for our users, thinking up new ways to give away T-shirts and other swag, or meeting with Micah and Ryan about what to tackle next on our famous ‘to do’ list.
MICAH: I just recently quit my full-time job in order to focus more on OP and another side business I run. I also do part time consulting in order to pay the bills. Just so it’s clear, we’re not rich by any means. OP is growing, and one day may support us full-time, but we’re not buying our yachts just yet.

I gained a new sympathy for spammers, actually. It’s all a matter of perspective.
TCM: At its start, what was the biggest hurdle that OP faced and how did you overcome that challenge?
WEDEMEYER: The biggest challenge was, and still is, getting the word out. When I started, I had a “If you build it, they will come” mentality. Boy was that wrong. I would go to forums and post “Hey come see my new site!” only to get responses like, “Get out, spammer!” I gained a new sympathy for spammers, actually. It’s all a matter of perspective. I knew that OP was the solution to the problems of most GMs and I had to tell them about it. I’ll bet Cialis salesmen feel pretty much the same way.
     Anyways, once Dan came on board, this has become much easier, at least for me. I can concentrate on the programming, while Dan gets the word out. I’m sure he can tell you that it’s not an easy task. Community outreach is at least a full time job. It nearly overwhelmed me before Dan joined.

TCM: OP is basically an information technology company that is supporting a decidedly low-tech game. Can you comment on how your services have been received by the community?
WEDEMEYER: The response has been overwhelmingly positive. When I started, I built the tool that I wanted, and I took a guess that other GMs would see it the same way. Turns out that I was right.
     I’ll admit that the site isn’t perfectly laid out or easy to navigate. But, once someone figures it out a bit, there’s usually an “Aha!” moment where it all clicks. Then, they go nuts and start adding characters, wiki pages, and all kinds of stuff. We hear echoes from these people on their blogs and twitter feeds. Stuff like, “Hey, now I finally understand this Obsidian Portal thing! It’s exactly what I’ve been looking for!”
ALBRIGHT: A lot of our users say things like ‘Wow, this makes it so much easier!’ or ‘hey thanks!’ followed by ‘by the way, can you add this, this, and this feature?’ People love the site and what we offer. They want to be part of a community of players and see what those players are up too. They want to tell the world their story, and they want to have a place for keeping their notes organized and online. I know that people love it, because they tell me they love it, and because people want to see it get better. They want to see progress and change and new features. If they didn’t care, they wouldn’t tell us. But they do tell us, and they do care.

TCM: Given the enthusiasm for OP in the community, it suggests that there could kind of a halo effect. Gamers who use OP have an influence on gamers who don't. So, what impact do you think OP has had on how gamers in general think about running and managing the information in our games?
WEDEMEYER: My hope is that OP will fundamentally change how people organize their game content. We want to make the GM’s notebook essentially obsolete. A notebook is great for when you want to get a thought down, but it’s terrible for when you need to reference anything. We’ve all wasted valuable game time trying to look something up in our notebooks. This waste of time can totally sidetrack a game and kill any sense of excitement. I want OP to make it super easy to organize and find anything so you never have to make your players wait.
ALBRIGHT: I hope that Obsidian Portal makes people think about how they manage their campaigns. I want people to realize that they don’t need anything but their imaginations and people to bounce ideas off of to come up with some fantastic worlds, items, villains, heros, quests, and more. Table-top RPGs are all about sharing a story with friends and it’s a uniquely social event. One of my goals is for Obsidian Portal to take the ‘uhs’ and ‘ums’ out of this event, and add more ‘yes, and then this happens!’ to it. We hope to do that through organization and open communication with the community.
WEDEMEYER: Now, I want to contrast that thought with my opinions on how OP has changed the playing of our games. I most definitely don’t want to fundamentally change how RPGs are played. I think the core concept of friends meeting around a table to tell a story is perfect. I just want to make it easier and offload some of the onerous bookkeeping, organization, and logistics.

TCM: Looking ahead, what new features is OP actively working on for release in the near future? My understanding is that you have an active feature request forum, so can you say anything about the next big feature for OP?
ALBRIGHT: We’re working on implementing a unique storefront that will let people buy gear, items, minis, and more related specifically to their campaign. No more generic stuff, no more minis that don’t look like your character, it’s all specifically for you, your world, and your campaign. No more DM screens that have information you never use and none of the stuff you need. It’s the feature I’m the most excited about.

TCM: Custom DM screens and other products sounds really cool and useful. When can the OP user community expect to see such items made available?\
ALBRIGHT: When will they be available? Hopefully sooner than later. I’m hoping by the end of the year that will become a reality, but there are a lot of external factors involved that I just don’t have any control over.
WEDEMEYER: We’ve got a lot of features right now, but many of them are very basic and we want to change that. So, instead of introducing big new flashy features, we’re currently focusing on making the ones we have much better. Most importantly, we’re focusing on the experience for a brand new user. Right now it’s pretty confusing for someone who just signed up. I imagine a lot of people quit very quickly because they can’t figure out what they’re supposed to do. So, we’re trying to make the learning curve a little less brutal.

How can we make our players care as much about the game as we do?
TCM: Honestly, I was one of those customers who signed up and dropped out because I couldn’t figure out what to do or how to get the rest of my group to stick with using OP. People can become very set in their ways. Will there be any specific changes you are making to the interface of OP to make the experience better?
WEDEMEYER: The new features we’re working will be familiar to many people from other sites. For example, instead of being dropped in without a lifeline, we’d like to add tutorial videos and text to each section that appear when you first log in. Once you’re happy with things, you click a box to remove the video and it goes away. That kind of thing. Nothing real complicated, since complication is part of the problem.
     As for increasing engagement across the entire group, we’re at a loss there. It’s a big problem and we really don’t know what to do about it. We’d love to hear ideas from the community. How can we make our players care as much about the game as we (the GMs) do?

TCM: What about campaign maps: event markers, place name markers, etc using the Google map API are definitely possible. Are their any plans to introduce an interface to make individual campaign maps more interactive?
WEDEMEYER: We’d love to do it, and it’s been kicking around the back of my head for a while. But it’s another feature on a seemingly endless list. Our main enemy is time, not lack of ideas. Even if I worked 24/7 on OP, I think the list of TODOs would still grow faster than we could manage. It’s actually a very depressing part of the development process, knowing that we’re never done. With all the feature requests we receive, we constantly have the impression that people are unhappy with the site. I have to remind myself that it’s a matter of perception. It’s not that people are unhappy, more that they’re very happy and just want more of a good thing.

CONTINUE TO PART 2 ...

[1] "The Future of RPG Industry" from The Core Mechanic
[2] "Role Playing Games, Social Media Games, and the Shared Fence" from The Core Mechanic
[3] "Social Media RPG Platform" from MadBrewLabs
[4] "Bridging the Gap: RPGs and Social Media" from MadBrewLabs
[5] "Social Media Role Playing Minigames" from The Core Mechanic, which was also in part inspired by a previous comment on minigames in general in "Mini-Games in RPGs".
[6] Ryan Felton, who was not part of this interview, co-founded OP with Wedemeyer in 2006.

May 13, 2009

Interview with Robert Daneri of HeroForge Software

I was fortunate to be included in the closed-beta test of the latest version of HeroForge, a character building application designed for maximum flexibility and customization for 4th Edition Dungeons & Dragons. Recently, I was also fortunate to get an exclusive interview with Robert Daneri, the Lead Programming Developer and President of HeroForge Software, LLC.

[TCM] OK, many people in the gaming community already know about Heroforge 3E; but what is Heroforge 4E and how will it compete with character builder and other tools from D&D Insider?

[Robert] For those that might not know HeroForge or what it does, HeroForge more than a character builder, but a complete Character Management System for use with 4E D&D. For those familiar with the Excel version of HeroForge for 3.5, the 4E is a actual stand alone application and not an Excel spreadsheet. I think that we have created something that any D&D player of 4E will find very useful and feature rich, especially if they are the type of user that likes to create custom content.

Our goal with the new application is not to replace or compete with anything players are currently using like D&DI really, but to be an additional tool in the RPG tool box. Sometimes you just need a different or bigger hammer. HeroForge Software has always stood by the fact that our software will never replace the need to own the books you use to play the game. There are a lot of good apps out there for 4E, and we feel the new HeroForge will stand in that category as well.

[TCM] Are there any plans to extend Heroforge beyond the PC? For instance, there's been several poorly executed attempts at making character builder software for iPhones and other mobile apps; any plans for such an extension for HF?

[Robert] Yes there is plans to have a form of HeroForge that can work on iPhones, Blackberry, Android, etc. As for how soon I can’t really be sure yet. I am one of those type of players that want to have the use of HeroForge at the table on my laptop or PDA. That was the reason I designed the Buffs tab in the Excel version of HeroForge for 3.5. This is also the reason we have designed a nice feature in the current version known as the Combat Control Console. So players and DM’s can use laptops at the table and can track their characters needed stats during combat. You can account for damage and healing, temp HP, etc. I believe that users that have laptops at the table will really appreciate this feature. Plus as I said before we hope to soon have a similar feature for PDA/Smartphones.

[TCM]Wizards of the Coast is known for being the 800-lb gorilla of the RPG gaming industry, especially when it comes to protecting their intellectual property. Given that several websites have been shut down recently as a result of WotC actions, from a legal standpoint how do you plan to position Heroforge?

[Robert] Well, legal positioning is best left to the lawyers, and it seems that nobody doing anything 4E these days really knows where they stand when it comes to what WotC will or won’t do. I guess that seems to be the big question these days doesn’t it? I think all any of us can do is place our work out there and see what happens. Hope for the best and if they come knocking with the big bad C&D go from there. But a C&D isn’t the end all of things. That is just one step in a process.

When we first decided to take HeroForge to the 4E system, we traveled to D&D XP 2008 and met with Scott Rouse and Chris Perkins about the idea of a WotC/HeroForge collaboration. We told them what we had in mind with making D&DI and HeroForge work together. After a few emails back and forth between Scott and myself we were told that a collaboration wasn’t in the cards at that time and after they get the Gold Edition of D&DI out then maybe. But we were also told in those email to “forge forward”, Scott’s words not mine. So we have done just that. We have been watching what has been happening and what other companies are doing with 4E that so far seem to be ok.

I mean really in the end all this C&D business that has been happening is really hurting the fans of the game most by taking away options for them to play it their way. RPG’s themselves are full of options, that is what the game is about. Playing it with the options you want to use. I feel the same about the tools you use to play RPG’s. I mean what if you could only buy one color or size of dice? What if there was only one brand or look of mini to use? I don’t think it would be the same.

[TCM] Sounds good, please let us know if there are any developments! Hopefully we'll see HF have a long and happy life in the company of the 800-lb gorilla. Looking back though, how did you get started with Heroforge anyway?

[Robert] I founded the HeroForge Excel character generator back in 2004 when I started playing Living Greyhawk. At the time it didn’t have a lot of content but I saw huge potential for expansion to its power. So I started learning how to be a better Excel programmer to add to it with the help of good friend of mine David Castelli. Over the next year David and I became the Lead Developers of the Excel sheet. When WotC announced 4E, we decided that Excel was to limited for what we wanted to do. So we decided to create an actual application that could run on most any operating system and not require any third party software to use. Hence the HeroForge Character Management System was born. Also by creating an actual application, we can expand HeroForge into other game systems and not only be known for D&D content.

[TCM] Sounds very promising. You are no doubt headed in the right direction, but OGL/d20 games benefit from all using the same basic mechanics, class systems, feats, skills, etc. 4E D&D however presents an interesting change of style - character generation is somewhat like a talent tree, which is very different at its core from 3E and related games. For instance, there's been a lot of buzz lately about Savage Worlds and it's extensible, genre-free system. Is Heroforge really adaptable enough to easily accommodate other game systems? Or are you just referring to d20 games here?

[Robert] The great thing about using a stand-alone programming language to do the new HeroForge and not say Excel, is that we can add anything from any system we want. It doesn’t matter if it is d20, d6, d100, etc. It all comes down to the app loading up the proper interface and knowing how to handle the rules. We really at this point have no limit to what game systems we can have the app utilize. We would love the opportunity to work with any willing game publisher out there big or small that has a need for a character management system. We feel that anyone who plays a table top RPG and deals with a characters career, would love to make that job easier. I have played many games and the less time I have to spend leveling and adding to my character means more game time. Plus if I can speed up game play at the table that means more adventure per game session too. HeroForge has the capacities under the hood to do both for any system we throw at it.

[TCM] Heroforge 3E was a great success, but in transitioning to the latest version of D&D - what was the biggest challenge in developing Heroforge 4E? What parts of the current version of Heroforge do you think are the most mature or stable? Of the features that still exhibit a need for additional development; what areas of the code base will you be focusing on most in the coming months?

[Robert] The biggest challenge was designing HeroForge so that the non-programmers of the RPG community could easily create and add custom content and have the app handle all the mechanical effects number-wise, with little or no need for the use of overrides. As for stability, I feel that the main 4E mechanic is solid. There are still parts of the “Customization” area of the app that could use a little work. The problem is that there is no way to truly account for everything that someone might want to create. So our goal is to allow for as much customization as possible without actually changing the basic core mechanic of the game system.

[TCM] So, I take it that Heroforge will be THE software app for people who are interested in homebrew or heavily house-ruled games. Can you give us any specific examples of something highly customized that HF might be able to easily handle?

[Robert]
If your group is a home brew or house-ruled type then yes HeroForge will definitely meet you needs. Our #1 goal from day one was to make it possible for users to add just about anything custom one can think of. Races, Classes, Powers, Feats, Gear, Magic Items, etc. The list of customizable parts of the app is extensive. But the great thing is that we made it so that users won’t need to write scripts or code in any way to make the numbers work all the way through the app with your custom content.

[TCM] On a side note - how much "fluff" can Heroforge accommodate? Can people attach portraits, character descriptions, and campaign notes to their characters? Is there any import/export capacity to work with DDI or Obsidian Portal?

[Robert] You can upload art for your character (none will be included with the app by default). The final product will have a full featured game log but right now that feature is still in the final stages of development. As far as import/export from or to other apps, we have some things in the works along those lines.

[TCM] When can fans of Heroforge expect to see an Open BETA?

[Robert] We hope to have an Open Beta released of the Windows version of the app to the users of our Forums by the middle of this month. Early June at the very latest. So to access the Open Beta, one will need to sign up for a Forum account at www.heroforgesoftware.com to get the most up to date news.

[TCM] That sounds awesome! I'm sure people will be looking forward to tinkering around with it. How long do you expect the BETA test to run for? And, more importantly, have you decided on a pricing model for Heroforge once the software is "done"?

[Robert] As of now we plan to run the Open Beta for a 30 day period and then if more time is needed we will go from there. As for pricing… we haven’t locked that aspect down 100% yet but we hope to determine that by what the Open Beta users have to say. It really depends on what the users feel it is worth to them. People already pay enough for the games they play and we don’t want to be priced out of reach, but at this point we have heard from beta testers that it is at least worth $20-$30.

On a side note to this and speaking for me only, it’s really not about the money, I do this more for the love of the hobby and the love I have for the community that gave me this opportunity. I am a firm believer in the saying, “The needs of the many, outweigh the needs of the few or the one.” I live by it daily. I have taken that approach to my role with HeroForge. I want HeroForge to be a program that can be used by the advanced RPG player and the newcomer alike. I also believe that all Table top RPG gamers not just D&D gamers deserve to have a great tool to use for their games. Hence why I want to see HeroForge someday be the “One Forge to Rule Them All” and offer many other game systems as we move forward. But for now I encourage all the 4E players to come sign up for a forums account at www. heroforgesoftware.com and try the Open Beta and tell us what you think.

Well, that's about it folks! This is the first interview to land on the pages of The Core Mechanic; hope you enjoyed it. If you are looking for screenshots and more info on getting involved with Heroforge 4E, then follow the link!!!

April 9, 2009

Kobold Quartlery #9 - INTERVIEW with DAVE ARNESON + Free Dice

Open Design has just released Kobold Quarterly #9. It's my first subscription copy of the magazine, so it was a nice surprise to see it land in my inbox. Hopefully the print copy will show up in a few days. Inside this issue you will find and INTERVIEW WITH DAVE ARNESON plus a new column by Monte Cook, some additions for 3E Bards, a new race for 4E (Fox Folk!), a Bat God, and an ecology of article on the Maenar -- just for starters. There's five 4E articles and ~10 for the 3E/OGL crowd. And... a BANDIT LAIR!! Something for everyone I suspect.

Personally, I think the interview with Dave Arneson is amazing. May the gods be with him. With all the news about his mortal illness, his apparent death, then the news about not having passed, and then finding out that he has passed on. -- it is so damn timely. May he rest in peace; I believe this interview in KQ was probably his last. Frankly, it's historic.

This issue of KQ9 is packed full of goodness, not only does it have the aforementioned interview with the co-creator of D&D (a legend!), but we also are treated to a piece by Monte Cook on game theory titled "Brief Glimpses".

I'd be happy to answer any questions about the new issue of KQ. Oh.. free dice. I've noticed that on the KQ site if you subscribe for a full year of KQ now, you'll get a free bag of awesome dice (until they run out I guess).

Surprise!
The last bit of kick-arse news is that the next issue of Kobold Quarterly (KQ#10) will feature an article by yours truly! I collaborated with authors of the blogs Mad Brew Labs and At-Will on an article for 4E D&D - and somehow it managed to sneak past the QC department at Open Design. MWhahhhahahaha.. wohoo!

March 10, 2009

10 Ways to Save Your Friendly Local Game Shop

In the last couple of days, I've seen read some disturbing news and blog posts about the independent hobby game store business. You know... your FLGS.

Today, Nicholas over at DungeonMastering.com posted "Requiem for a Game Store" where he laments the slow decline of his own FLGS. This stood out to me because just yesterday I read Aoen's foreboding satirical forcast of 5E D&D ("Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition Review") at GameGrene.com. Their point was the same -- FLGS are becoming a thing of the past and there is little we can do about it.

I disagree, there is a ton the gaming community can do to help the FLGS industry survive these tough economic times. All it takes is a bit of creativity and initiative. (I should preface this post with a warning: I have nearly zero understanding of how the actual RPG industry works from the ground up -- so, to many of you this may make you chuckle.)

  1. Get to know your store. Set aside at least one-day per month to attend a gaming event at your FLGS. By visiting the store regularly you will get a vibe on how they are doing and get to know the "locals" as well.
  2. Meet the Owner. Make a point of introducing yourself to the owner of the store. Putting a face on the store will help you remember that, when you shop at Amazon or Barnes & Noble, you are making a choice that doesn't include this person.
  3. Make A Suggestion. Your a gamer, therefor you have strong opinions. Make them known to the guy behind the counter, let the store owner know, talk about it in the aisles of the store. Once your idea is out there, you never know what kind of impact you can have. Unrelated to gaming -- I made a suggestion to my FLB&WS (that's beer & wine in the middle there) about a certain Chilean wine I recently had enjoyed at a local restaurant. A few weeks later I noticed it was on the shelf, and it turned out to be one of their best sellers.
  4. Special Order Something. Instead of click click ordering with Amazon, stop by your FLGS (or better yet call them) and ask them to special order what you are looking for. By ordering through the store, you are likely to pay a similar price as you might find in a big-box store like B&N, but will also be supporting them as well.
  5. Order Online. Addicted to purchasing stuff online? Then make sure your store doesn't have an online ordering system. Many FLGS have online stores - some even with Instant Pick Up service (it's in the store waiting for you the minute you order it). If they don't have an online store set up -- see #3 above.
  6. Bring a Friend. Two customers are better than one, so the next time you are going to drop in to your FLGS ask a friend to come along. The two of you can geek'out together, and the store owner might even be able to offer up a small discount if you buy two copies of that gamebook instead of one.
  7. Try a New Game. The best way to spend money wisely on gaming (is that possible?) is to branch out and try something entirely new. Whether it is a new RPG, a new card game, strategy game, or something else -- your FLGS can guide you in making the decision as to what you might like to play best. I mean... do you REALLY think the stooge at Barnes & Noble is going to be able to tell you that Dominion is awesome and you definitely will like it? No.
  8. Volunteer to Lead an Event. See #1 above, if that doesn't float your boat -- then see #6 above and repeat as necessary until you have enough people to run your own event in the store. Not all FLGS have the space for tons of concurrent games, but check their schedule. Ask them if you can host an event in their store. Got a regular gaming group? Depending on the location, you may even opt to host your regular gaming group at the FLGS.
  9. Write About Your FLGS. Are you a blogger? Frequent forum poster? Then write a review about your FLGS. Provide links to their online store or their calendar of events. You will help them get some free advertising and through an honest review you will also give them straight-talk advice on what you like and don't like about their business (which is a good thing). Then send the link to the review to your FLGS by email and let them know about it.
  10. Join Their Mailing List. All hobby shops have mailing lists - or at least email lists. Give them your contact info so that you can be informed whenever their is a sale, event, or other tidbit worth knowing about. By volunteering to be part of their marketing pool, you will stay in the know and sometimes even get coupons / discounts on items only available to people on the list. Its a win win.
The economics of hobby gaming is definitely changing. I too have seen my local store become somewhat more sparse than I remembered it to be. And while the digital initiative push by WotC certainly can not bode well for most FLGS owners, I'm sure this is not the only thing in their threat zone. We are a digitally centric group of people (gamers), but we need to remember that there is value to your FLGS that Amazon, DDI, and big box stores cannot give you: a connection with your local gaming community. Start thinking of your FLGS as a community center for gamers, and maybe it will follow that you'll remember them before you click "Checkout" at Amazon.

My local store? It's Dream Wizards in Rockville, MD. -- a 30 year icon of the region. I'm interviewing the owner in the next week or two, so hopefully I'll be able to complement this post with an insider's view of the business.

OK.. lunch break over... back to work...