Saturday, June 6, 2009

Why exclusive content in D&D Insider is a bad idea

June’s Ampersand article talks about upcoming exclusive content and debut content in D&D Insider.  Exclusive content is only available to subscribers to D&D Insider.  It will not appear in any core rulebooks or supplements.  Debut content is slated to appear in an upcoming product, like next years Player’s Handbook 3.  It will appear up to a year in advance of being published.

I am not sure how I feel about the exclusive content.  This may sound weird coming from me, since anyone who listens to the Lords of Tyr podcast knows that I often have said that D&D Insider needs more content to be successful.  After all, more content means more perceived value and more perceived value leads to more subscribers.

There are several flaws with the concept of exclusive content though.  To illustrate my point I will talk about the upcoming exclusive race and class mentioned in Ampersand: the revenant (an exclusive race) and the assassin (an exclusive class).

At first blush, making this content exclusive to D&D Insider seems like a great idea.  After all, the only way you will be able to play a revenant assassin in your game would be to have access to D&D insider.  As a result it should increase the perceived value of the D&D insider.

The problem is that they are building a wall around that content.   PHB 3 will contain no revenant feats.  Martial Power 3 will contain no additional builds or powers for the assassin.  As a result, these races and classes will not grow the way that non-exclusive content will.  This will eventually become noticeable, especially with the 4E “everything is core” philosophy.

I suppose it would be possible for D&D Insider to add feats, powers, and builds for the exclusive races and classes as the new books are released. The problem is that as the exclusive content grows, so do the man hours required to do this.  This will quickly become untenable to maintain.

With this in mind, Bill Slavicsek may still be right and the revenant may be “all the rage” when it debuts.  I just doubt that it can have any staying power while walled off from the rest of game.

On the other hand, I think the debut content is a great idea.  Since it will eventually see publication, it avoids the problem of being walled off.  It is content that they are developing anyway, so it has very little added cost in man hours.  It also makes good marketing sense since it helps develop buzz for the upcoming product through word of mouth.  Not to mention that the long lead time in print publications mean that debut content would normally be sitting around for months with no additional development anyway!

So more debut content and less exclusive content please.  Trust me D&D Insider, with a healthy diet of debut content and avoidance of exclusive content quackery, every thing will be fine.


Oz said...

The problem with exclusive content is that it won't see light of day in my campaign. If one of my players wants to play a revenant or an assassin, they're out of luck as I don't subscribe to DDI.

While I'm sure WotC sees this as a tactic to get more subscribers, it annoys me to the point I refuse to subscribe despite the debut material. I feel like I'm already paying a "subscription" by buying book after book and won't be charged again. I feel like each book should come with a 60 day subscription.

Glenn said...

That's not a problem with exclusive content. That's a problem *you have* with exclusive content.

There is a bog difference between the two.

John Spencer said...

I think that is an actual problem with exclusive content. Not a huge problem, but a minor one. I'm not worried. It'll be a PDF file and if my players want to use it, i'll have to get a copy. It'll be like people finding D&D books in PDF online and giving me a copy so they can play it.

It seems like the whole D&D insider is walking a fine line between useful content (exclusive rules/content) which people have to theoretically subscribe to see and preview content which they will eventually see later.

I can't delete this said...

um... It will be about 42 seconds after being posted (if not before) that the "exclusive content" is dumped into a freely downloadable PDF for those who know where to look for it..

.... Still pissed that I can't get physical copies of Dragon and Dungeon at Waldenbooks.... Kobold doesn't come out enough..

Medraut said...

Re: It will be about 42 seconds after being posted

I agree, which is why I think it is such a mistake. Anyone who wants it can get it anyway, but by putting this "wall" around the content they are keeping themselves from developing supporting material in upcoming supplements.

Scafloc said...

I am so glad that Rob decided to rant this for me. I think I would have been less charitable than he, and honestly DDI needs something. I am entirely opposed to exclusive content (in any form), in fact, my ravings on the exclusive powers in the mini packs were hardly a wonder of eloquence, amounting to little more than sputterings and then a hearty "GrrrrrRRRRAAAAAHHH!" So thanks for keeping me from writing more "HULK SMASH!!" prose. Lets all hope that this decision is just another in the long string of reversals and falsehoods surrounding DDI.

rook103 said...


Have you made your plate mage yet?


Scafloc said...

I have three versions that I am working the kinks out of at this point, all of them paladin hybrids. The strongest one is probably the least "magey" but most functional, and incorporates bard. I also rather like the mostly str based paladin-cleric version I made, though both are functionally tough leaders. My other two plate mage ideas include a paladin-warlock (who is quite effective, but I am still tryign to wrap my head about a cthulu worshiping paladin) and a sorceror-paladin (the only one who isn't a half elf so far, and he looks fun but he is more 5th man, and couldn't really handle a role alone as anything).

Actually the only reason I found out about the exclusive content in the minis packs was that "eldrich strike" was mentioned in the OotS forums when I was looking for options I might have missed.

StevenD said...

I completely agree w/you on exclusive content. The limits on feats, magic items and new builds will be significant. Yes, the content will be pirated and will be available to all. But the real losers will be the subscribers that use that content and find out later that their options are frozen in time will other characters and classes grow with the new sourcebooks. I am a D&DI subscriber and I am against exclusive content. Make it core and let it enjoy the same attention as other content.

Dreggard said...

I have no problem with them realeasing content mucho early on DDI. But making it exclusive is gonna suck, especially with the assassin. There will be so many DM's pissed off about people wanting to be a Assassin. Revenents look fun, and I like zombies, but they would have to carry around tons of heal potions.

Anonymous said...

People are upset since they have to pay for something. I know people who don't have jobs that still scrape together the ten bucks for the subscription. Lame.

The assassin class is awesome.
If they need another vehicle to bring me non-off branded content, I am all for it.

I already had to check the site repeatedly for errata anyhow.
I think that sooner or later, it will still be in a book form. Look that that dragon annual book. Still technically the magazine right?

Also... they are getting to a point that we are seeing about three class acts per month. There is no reason they couldn't use one of those.

Most of you are whiners.