The Dangers of Going Digital for Wizards of the Coast

Wizards of the Coast are the makers of my favorite tabletop RPG game, and the grand-daddy of them all, Dungeons and Dragons. They’re owned by Hasbro, in case you didn’t know. They’re also up shit creek without a paddle when it comes to digital offerings. This post is the result of a conversation I had with a friend of mine about digital RPG content, and it represents my opinions and outside assumptions on the business of D&D. A lot of this is speculation, so feel free to argue with me and tell me I’m not just wrong, but also dumb. Anyway, here we go.

The Dungeons and Dragons Insider monthly subscription program (in which I participate) leaves much to be desired by anyone even remotely aware of available web, content management, and cloud based technologies. The bit torrents are rife with pirated copies of every D&D book ever made in multiple languages. And whenever they try to make a change for the better with their digital initiatives, they enrage neckbeards and grognards from here to Helsinki. And everyday, more and more folks are discovering completely serviceable alternatives like Pathfinder or DriveThru RPG. But why is that? Why would the company with the most to lose be so slow in going digital? The answers may surprise you.

Firstly, who do you think the primary customer for D&D is? When Wizards of the Coast counts up its D&D recipts at the end of the day, what demographic is their biggest spender? Believe it or not, it’s not gamers. It’s retail stores. Be it local mom-and-pop stores, or retail giants like Barnes and Nobles or Books-a-million. And it’s been that way for a long, long time. Wizards of the Coast has only recently gotten into the racket of direct customer sales, much to the chagrin of their best customers, the retail chains. In the eyes of the people who cook the books at Wizards, going fully digital would lose them their best customers.

Secondly, when it comes to D&D, Wizards of the Coast is in the business of making and selling physical books. It’s how they measure success and brand health, and a meaningful percentage of their workforce is dedicated to the process of acquiring physical materials, printing the books, performing book QA, and physical shipping of product. If they went all digital, that portion of their workforce would either become unnecessary or need to learn new skills in a hurry.

Finally, there’s the expectations of the majority of their secondary audience, us. As much as I would love digital content, books are easier to pass around a table. Plus, I like seeing them sitting there behind the glass in the gaming room. I guess I could put a USB stick in there, but it just wouldn’t look the same, call me an old softy. So what can Wizards of the Coast do? Honestly, I think they just need to keep on trucking. They may be slow with the digital initiatives, but they have a precarious and unenviable balancing act they need to keep up. And we should wish them the best of luck.

Until next time, Good Gaming!

-Dan

Game Spotlight: Dungeons and Dragons

Have you ever walked through a boardgame store when a cheer suddenly goes up from a table full of excited looking people sitting around charts, graphs, and books? Odds are they’re not accountants celebrating ISO-900 certification. No, they’re playing a tabletop Roleplaying Game (RPG). And they’re playing the granddaddy of all RPGs, Dungeons and Dragons (D&D).

 D&D is a game that offers a lot of bang for its buck. It’s a hobby in-and-of itself that requires minimum personal investment while opening a whole multiverse of possible avenues for enjoyment. The new D&D R&D group has come out with some great new content in the last year and change it’s been around. Award winning board games, a new D&D minis skirmish game, Gamma World, and additional improvements to the core 4th edition system. Getting into D&D is as easy as downloading the 4th Edition Quick Start Rules and the two free adventures: Keep on the Shadowfell (one of my favorites) and Khyber’s Harvest. Then all you need is some dice, paper, friends, and your imagination.

Once you’ve got a character or two built and an adventure under your belt, you’ll be ready to check out some of the core D&D books from the Essentials line. Wizards of the Coast, makers of D&D, have a whole line of products to help would-be adventurers and Dungeon Masters (DMs). But which products are right for you? That’s where the community comes in.

Before you decide what books to buy, check out the following sites:

  • Critical Hits – “The Journal of Gamer Culture, covering everything of importance to role playing (and other) gamers everywhere.” But mostly D&D. An excellent source of information and opinion.
  • EN World – A huge RPG forum. If you have a question, it’s been asked and answered here.
  • Obsidian Portal – When you’re ready to create your own world, or if your DM needs a helping hand organizing the vast fantasy world in his her head, sign up for an Obsidian Portal account. It’s free and extremely useful.
  • D&D Insider – Though there’s a monthly fee, the D&D Insider is a great tool from Wizards of the Coast that makes character creation very easy and provides a number of other useful tools. If you’re playing more than once a month, this is a good investment to share with your gaming group.

If you’re having trouble finding a group, well then you have a few options. You can ask that table of excited players at the previously mentioned boardgame store. You can check here to see what stores or game clubs around you are participating in the weekly D&D dungeon delve called D&D Encounters. Just show up and play D&D for fun and prizes. Best of all, they’ll have everything you need to play! All you need bring is yourself and a thirst for adventure. If that’s not your bag, then check out Obsidian Portal’s map to find RPG gaming groups in your area.

With new products on the horizon, a healthy back catalog of content, and a huge world-wide community of players, there’s never been a better time to start playing D&D.

Tomorrow I’ll review a new video game. Until then, Good Gaming!

-Dan