Welcome to another (the last…) debut column: RPG Tech Talk. This is my opportunity to share my views on and discuss the marriage of two of my main interests: Roleplaying and Technology! We are lucky enough to live in an era where many of the tools we wished for way back when (you know, as you spent hours, or days, hand drawing maps or typing out adventures on your Dad’s ancient typewriter…) are now real and available in the role-playing world. But things can always get better, right? 🙂
So why do I want to talk about this? Well, in real life I’m an IT professional with 20 years experience in hardware and software development, mainly in the area real-time distributed financial trading systems. So I like to think I have some understanding of the process (and pain!) of developing commercial technology products, but on the other hand I’m just your normal tech junkie, and I like to rave on about this stuff 🙂
Anyway, with the announcement of DnD Next, I thought I’d kick off this column with some views (some a bit ‘blue sky’) on what I want to see on the technology side from Wizards of the Coast for the next edition:
1) Scope it right!! I think almost everyone agrees that WOTC royally screwed up the launch of DDI. They promised the World, and delivered … well, a small hamlet in the borderlands at best! This isn’t to say the DDI tools aren’t good – IMO they are – but the expectation/delivery divide has been a chasm! So this time round, concentrate on the stuff that people will use day-in/day-out: IMO, the Compendium, Character Builder and Monster Builder are these key tools, with perhaps a good Encounter Builder, as they are the applications that will save significant prep time for Tabletop Gamers, which I believe is still the core audience. Yes, Virtual Tabletops etc. are all very nice, but they’re not a core part of gaming. WOTC’s track record so far shows it would be better focus its efforts on a small number of achievable projects…
2) Open it up! DDI is a great thing for subscribers, giving them access to all the rules and material developed by WOTC. Its a terrible thing for 3rd party publishers however, as it prevents them from getting their content into the content repository used by a significant proportion of the people playing the game! I strongly think WOTC should take a leaf out of the Apple book – build a ‘content store’ that encourages other publishers to provide content through that ecosystem (and take a cut!) Users could purchase individual ‘products’ from either WOTC or a third party, and the other tools (Character Builder etc.) would provide access to the purchased content.
3) Stimulate Tools Development! Provide the technology services that allow other developers to build tools: i.e. open up access to the Compendium data via a proper set of Web Services, and let the tools proliferate. WOTC can still mandate that use of its own IP material within the Compendium requires an individual DDI subscription, so maintains it’s revenue stream, but makes it a greater value proposition, as this data would be useful and applicable to a wider range of tools. In 4E, WOTC tried to control everything, ostensibly to provide a consistent and quality product. However, the last decade or so in the software development industry has shown that this approach can be less successful than creating a solid platform and opening it up to the huge range of independent talent that is out there.
4) Embrace PDFs… or another effective and globally accessible electronic publication mechanism!? WOTC, a majority of your customers want to carry their D&D books around electronically!! It’s great that Wizards have started releasing novels in ePub formats, and what’s more have committed to all formats (i.e. iBooks, Kindle, Nook etc), but it’s quite a difference between that and the complex graphical layout requirements of most RPG books. Here, PDFs are still king, and if every other small third party publisher can survive the ‘piracy’ issues, why can’t Wizards? Yes, I realise they’re a bigger target than other companies, but there has got to be a technical solution out there that solves this!
5) Last but not least, continue support for 4E tools! There are a lot of people out there that love 4E – I’m one of them – and probably feel that the life cycle of this edition has been too short. This may due to the money invested, or the time invested in building campaigns/worlds that they don’t [yet] want to convert, or simply it’s just the ‘right’ D&D for them. However, gamers of this edition, more than any other, have come to rely on the DDI Tools – and why not! With the change to a fully online toolset, they are (I am…) fully at Wizards’ mercy! I personally will probably move to the new edition at some point – but I want to have an option on both the decision and the timing – so please don’t dump my tools!? 🙂 [I’m aware there has been an announcement on the Community Site that they intend to continue support, but things can change…]
That’s some of my list of hopes. So far, there hasn’t been a lot that I’ve seen so far about DnD Next ‘Tech’ – and to be honest I think that’s the right approach. Get the game right, and the tech will follow. But Wizards, please don’t forget the tech, and learn some of the lessons from last time – that’s all I ask!