Well, last week Wizards of the Coast announced via a DDI broadcast email that they would not be moving forward with their Virtual Table product past the Beta stage. The official line is that there is not enough interest in it to fully support. Its hard to say whether this is a) true that there was not enough interest, or b) a reflection that the qualities and features of the product were not enough to interest people, or c) because its integrated with 4E content that don’t want to be bothered pushing it with 5E round the (several) corner(s).
I never used the Virtual Table in a game – I logged on a few times and played a bit with the maps and tokens, but the simple answer is that I don’t have a remote group to play with, so it wasn’t that much use to me. And this I think is partly the crux of the problem – Wizards made a huge song and dance about the virtual table when they annonuced 4E, so I think they felt they had to put a product out, but really, is this a core product that everyone wants? I mean, I certainly don’t dispute that there are plenty of gamers out there that want to play remotely, but I’m also sure there is a much greater set of gamers whose main play experience is still a physical group gathered around the dining room table!
So in essence, whilst I fully support the concept of a virtual table, what I, and I suspect many other tech-interested gamers, want from my game tech is products that enhance the local ’round the table’ play experience. IMHO, it is this area which WOTC would have been better off trying to serve with DDI, simply because it is a much bigger customer group.
So what do I really want to see from Gametable Tech? Ok, you asked … 🙂
1) To use it anywhere
I’d love to be able to use game table tools anywhere I am, regardless of the quality (or even presence) of an Internet connection. This doesn’t mean there is no place for on-line tools or content, but when I go away to the holiday cottage, or the campsite (after all WOTC want us to be able to play 5E round the campfire!) I want to able to package up everything I need to use off-line. (Note – to me this is a major downside to Pazio’s new annoucement, even though the screenshots look neat…)
2) To be available on multiple platforms
When running a game using tech tools (e.g. computer based character sheets, mapping tools) I want the group to be able to participate regardless of the tech platform they own, and preferably I don’t want to see a group all hiding behind their laptop screens round my dining room table. So this means PC, Mac, Linux, iOS, Android, Smart TVs etc all need to be supported, and the apps running on them capable of being interconnected. Also, I want to be able to use the right tool for the job i.e. I don’t want a complete game information system on an iPad – have you actually tried working with large amounts of info, or swapping continuously between apps on a tablet (Dice roller -> Intiative Tracker -> PDF Viewer…)? It’s just not comparable to a window-based multi-tasking desktop OS! Now an iPad as a lightweight, tailored control console into a game management server, or a Android/iOS smartphone ‘connected’ character sheet, that’s something else entirely…
3) Enhance, don’t replace
Tools should add to the table-top roleplaying experience, not try to completely change it. What you want is to have tools that make the DM (especially!) and the players’ lives easier, thus leaving more time for the fun stuff – roleplaying. A classic example is dice rolling – now I’m certainly not against dice rollers in the right context, but most people I think like the physical rolling of dice at a table – so what’s really needed is quick ways to enter a dice roll so that the ‘math’ can be aided. Another real need is initiative/status tracking – I know there’s lots of options out there – but what I really want is one that integrates with player character apps etc so status etc automatically impacts potential actions. Too often I have the status in the initiative tracker, but fail to take it into account when the player or monster takes its turn, or forget to call for saves etc!
4) Content Integration
A key aspect for me is game preparation. Anything that can save the time spent preparing for the logistical aspects (maps, tokens/minis, stats…) of a game session i.e. over and above actually creating the story and the encounters. This was one aspect of the WOTC VTT that showed promise, as it was integrated into their DDI repository – but I don’t want to be constrained to a single vendor of content – I want to be able to select content of my own creation, or from multiple published sources, and have it available to the game session with minimal extra work. Am I asking too much? 🙂 🙂
5) ‘Best of Breed’ options
Most options out there today for tech enhanced gaming tend to be all-encompassing applications, combining all the tools they comprise into a single fixed package. What I’d like to see is a ‘platform’ concept, where different components could be slotted in to achieve the whole package – so you can have a selection of initiative/status trackers, and be free to choose the one that suits your play/DMing style the best … but that still integrates with whatever map/token movement app (for example…) you choose. Moreover, these tools should operate identically regardless of whether they are connected around a gaming table, or across the Internet.
Essentially, what I’m looking for is the application of some standards-based enterprise software capability to the RPG technology world – in fact we should give it a code name – lets call it the Open Roleplaying Platform, or ORP!!
I’m sure this will be the topic of future posts… 🙂