Monday, June 15, 2009

How I would redo D&D Insider

Some of the gamers I play with at Lords of Tyr are opposed to the very concept of D&D Insider. For them, paying a monthly fee for D&D content is anathema. This is not as big a deal for me, as long as the price point is kept at a reasonable level. As a former subscriber to Dragon Magazine & Dungeon Magazine, maybe I am a little more used to the idea. Or maybe services like Netflix have won me over. Who knows?

I will be the first to admit that the service has been implemented poorly. It needs more flexible pricing and the acknowledgement that in any given gaming group, not everyone will be willing or able to pay a monthly fee.

It also shouldn’t have launched on vaporware. The fact that one year after the launch of Dungeons & Dragons 4E the only advertized products they have been able to get out the door are the D&D Compendium and the D&D Character Builder is, frankly, shameful. They should have had these products in a usable form, if not a perfect one, prior to charging for it.

At a bare minimum, I would want the following components in place:

  1. D&D Character Builder
  2. D&D Character Visualizer
  3. D&D Game Table
  4. D&D Market Place (I will explain this later).

The D&D Compendium, Encounter Builder, and other tools would be nice, but could wait until after launch if necessary.

Membership would be tiered. I am starting with what I call the Xbox live strategy. Xbox live has a Silver and Gold memberships. Hey, it sounds like D&D already! The Silver Membership is free while the Gold Membership has a monthly fee.

Let’s imagine a model where Wizards of the Coast has a three-tiered pricing model. I am going to call them Player Basic, Player Advanced, and Dungeon Master. Player Basic is free, Player Advanced costs $4.99 a month, and Dungeon Master costs $9.99 a month. So what do you get for these levels?

Player Basic (Free)

  1. Gain access to the D&D GameTable: At this level you could not host a game but could participate in one.
  2. Gain access to the D&D Character Visualizer: At this level you would have access to basic customization of your virtual miniatures.
  3. Gain access to a D&D Marketplace: This virtual market place would sell items for Gold Pieces, which could be purchased in bundles similar to Microsoft Points. So what could you buy? First, you could purchase PDF versions of the Rule Books, Dragon Magazine, and Dungeon Magazine. Themed customization packs for your virtual miniatures, like a Wizard Pack I. Print on demand copies of the online magazines. Pretty much anything they could think to sell you.

Player Advanced ($4.99 a month)

  1. Everything Player Basic gets.
  2. Gain access to the D&D GameTable: Hosting capabilities with access to basic monster miniatures.
  3. Full access to the D&D Character Visualizer including theme updates.
  4. Dragon Magazine
  5. D&D Character Builder
  6. D&D Compendium

Dungeon Master ($9.99 a month)

  1. Everything Player Basic and Player Advanced Get
  2. Dungeon Magazine
  3. Gain access to the D&D Game Table. Hosting capabilities with a wider virtual miniature monster set.
  4. Encounter creation and other campaign management tools.

I think this model could work. At least it would work better than there current model.

Of course, it was truly up to me I would abandon the concept of keeping these electronic tools in-house entirely. Create some APIs that would allow developers to hook into the data they need to create some truly awesome tools. Then WOTC just has to sit back and watch the rabid fanbase to do their work for them. I believe high quality digital tools would increase interest and acceptance of their product.  In other words, they would reap the rewards with little cost to them.

Bah, I have already travelled far enough into fantasy-land with the post above. No need to go further.


Unknown said...

I really like your ideas. That said, I would personally be paying quite a bit more for the service than I currently am under your plan, since I am paying for an entire year in advance.

That said, I would also be getting more for it (game table, visualizer, etc.)

The argument that people make against DDI regarding the monthly fee, however, seems silly to me. DDI is actually the cheapest way around (besides stealing) to get EVERY SINGLE PRODUCT WotC puts out.

For $5 a month (up to $7 next month) I get access to every book, DM or player book, every magazine article, all more easily referenced and usable than anything you could possibly put together with physical copies. And since I'm the sort of guy who ends up buying at least one or two physical books a month anyway, going digital is/would actually be quite a bargain ($30-$60 for physical books vs. $5-$7 for DDI).

When I want to sit down and read a D&D book, I want a physical copy (I still HATE that the magazines are digital only). When I want to find crunch, build an encounter, or make a PC then I do it online. I find that between the Monster Builder, Encounter Builder, and Character Builder my prep time as a DM AND as a player have been dramatically decreased and my fun has risen significantly.

Ultimately, unless you need something to read or you're looking for fluff and advice there is no reason to ever buy a physical book, since DDI gets you access to all the crunch from all those books as does it cheaper than buying the $30 hardcover book every month.

Scafloc said...

Your business model makes sense. I might even sign up for the "Player Basic" plan. :D

StevenD said...

The virtual table market is crowded. They would have to be above the rest to charge anything and succeed.

I don't want the Wizards virtual table to succeed, because I want the open source tables like maptools to succeed. With the open source model, people can contribute and work together and get miniatures, macro's, etc for free.

I believe that Wizards will charge for the virtual property once the table top has been created (if it ever will) I can't imagine paying for D&DI, which would at some point include the virtual table, then on top of that paying for miniatures etc.

That is crazy IMHO, but I believe that is where Wizards wants to go. Imagine the scenario, you pay 19.95/mo to get the table, then you enter the empty dungeon hearing only cricket chirps. Finally, WoTC will say, do you want miniatures with that?

No Thanks...

Unknown said...

I think one of the biggest issues they faced was ineptness on the half of whatever development company they're working with. I know it sounds harsh but I think the Wizards team had a very ambitious vision, but chose the wrong development company to implement it.

My day job is in Web Development and frankly the shit that's being pumped out for the compendium is rubbish. They're using ASP.NET Webforms which is probably their biggest mistake. No unobtrusive javascript, no back button support in their ajax usage, I haven't checked but I would guess it's terribly inaccessible (they weren't even using links for links - just binding JS to clicking table cell content).

The character builder was implemented pretty well , although it's Windows only afaik.

It's too late in the piece now to change but they obviously didn't do their research well when choosing their dev partner :(