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Old Screeds

Open and shut case [25 Jun 09] Pen and paper D&D is locked down, while DDO is set free.

A couple months ago, the folks at Wizards of the Coast decided to stop the sale of PDFs of D&D materials. This stopped online sales of current stuff and cut off a huge backlist of out-of-print products that could be obtained in no other way. This prompted no few cries of righteous indignation, including this blog post and a comment by Ryan Dancy, who, while he was employed at WotC at the launch of 3E Dungeons and Dragons, was largely responsible for the wonderful d20 "open source" system. For more outrage, check out this EnWorld thread.

And now comes the news that Wizards is going forward with suits to punish players who offered the Players Handbook 2 and other books for download.

[Side note: That last "news report" is a totally smarmy knock on gamers. Ugh.]

Meanwhile, the people who make the Dungeons and Dragons Online MMORPG are releasing the game for free. When the game relaunches later this summer, you can play without even giving a credit card number. There's a premium $15 per month option, but I get the feeling that you can really get far along without that.

Why make DDO free? According to this report, as well as a full interview with Turbine, the parent company, the management saw that there was a market for free games, which are popular in Asia. They say that one of the biggest barriers to entry in the market is monthly sub fees. DDO exec producer Fernando Paiz said ...

Giving players a choice of how to pay for the games and not feel locked into $15 a month or “I have to play 10 hours a week or I’m not getting value’s worth” .. or whatever somebody’s internal equation is there. That is a barrier. That is the number one reason people will not [play] an MMO: because of the subscription. So there is a need to be answered of how do you get a different kind of player who may be more casual in to these games and have them not be scared away by the subscription and we felt that time was right now.

So on the one hand we have the pen and paper D&D owners in turtle mode. Do not release 4E as an open source game. Stop sales of PDFs. Make like the record companies and sue customers who upload product. Pee on your customer base and build a reputation as a bunch of jerks who don't care about fans. Like Ryan Dancy says, it looks like a death spiral to me, too.

But the enlightened folks at DDO are just the opposite. They are using a new (to the U.S. gaming industry, anyway) business model to broaden the customer base, while adding value for the hard-core fans who are willing to pony up a monthly sub fee. Everybody is happy.

My brother is a big DDO fan, but I have not myself dipped a toe in the game yet ... in large part because of the monthly fees, but also because I fear the way online games can suck your time away. But my brother, who has not played pen and paper D&D in decades, actually bought the Eberron pen and paper campaign book to flesh out his DDO experience. The video game can drive print book sales!

It seems clear to me that in abandoning the d20 business model of the Third Edition, and in making it harder for customers to buy the game, and in trying to sue relatively penniless gamers -- and in royally screwing up the promised DDI virtual tabletop -- that WotC is really shooting itself in the foot. It is hard to make the case that the game is thriving when the powers that be over at WotC are behaving so reactionarily. Admittedly, I have a bias ... I do not like the Fourth Edition of the game at all. But it hardly seems like a winning strategy in this day and age to retreat to a dead-tree mode of sales.

Well, kudos, at any rate, to the folks at DDO, who at least seem to be living in the 21st Century. And even if WotC makes such a hash of D&D that the game is abandoned at the corporate level, thanks to Ryan Dancey and the SRD, we'll always have good old 3E to play.

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