Why Wizards Missed The Boat With The Insider

by Wimwick (Neil Ellis) on March 18, 2009

Over the past few weeks there’s been some debate over what it means to play Dungeons & Dragons, whether you’re an old school player or part of the new school. If you’re interested in these debates you can read more at A Butterfly Dreaming or at Whitehall ParaIndustries. I don’t want to enter into this debate, but the question of “What is D&D?” got me thinking about what I enjoy about the current edition. It also made me think of the aspects of 4e where I feel Wizards of the Coast fell short.

Before I go any further I should explain that I’m a fan of D&D in all its incarnations, but currently 4e has my heart. I enjoy the pacing, tactics and feel of the game. My gaming group debated upgrading as we always do when a new edition is released and as we usually do we tried out the new edition. Our group is happy with the decision to switch, 4e works for us.

Yesterday I blasted WotC for the release of Players Handbook 2 and the addition of eight new classes. The argument I made yesterday stands, I’m ticked about the new classes. Don’t get me wrong, I am eager to read all about the new classes and races. I want to see how WotC has put everything together. However, the release of the PHB2 and the debate between old and new school got me thinking that once upon a time four classes were enough.

Now at the heart of the game this is still true. Every class we have today is derived in some part from the original four: Cleric, Fighter, Rogue and Wizard. As the game evolved we were introduced to new friends like the Paladin, Druid, Ranger and others. However, each of these classes was a natural progression from one of the original four. To me the evolution to these classes appeared organic. Additionally, these classes were all part of the Players Handbook and there was only one Players Handbook. It had all the rules a player needed to play D&D.

I suppose what ticks me off about the PHB2 is that it is a core rule book and that I must have it in order to play.

Now, I’ve already stated that I won’t be purchasing the PHB2. I’ll wait for my Character Builder to be updated with the new content. This of course brings me to my main argument, that WotC missed the boat with the DDI.

Like Nicholas from Dungeon Mastering I’m a fan of the DDI. I’m not going to go into great detail as to why I like the DDI, as I feel Nicholas’ article sums it up pretty good.

When WotC announced the DDI I cringed. I thought to myself what are they thinking. Did they not learn from the E-tools debacle? Stick with creating a game that people will enjoy playing, a.k.a. do what you’re good at. Leave the character generation stuff to the fans and the excel sheets. When 4e was released and the DDI wasn’t there and the Compendium was horribly broken I felt justified in my thoughts. Then the Character Builder Beta was released and I was hooked. I had a vision and it was the future – or the future for D&D and me.

With each new edition of D&D a few fans stay back and continue playing the old edition. Never was this so evident than with 3.5 and the OGL. So as WotC advances the game looking to broaden the appeal of table-top gaming in a video game entrenched world it’s no surprise that they added a significant digital aspect to the game. They needed to find a way to gain new players, to make D&D friendly to a new generation. The methods employed might alienate the existing player base, but if they aren’t buying the product anyway because they are purchasing third party creations then from a business standpoint WotC can live without these players. In an effort to gain new players WotC went digital. In my opinion they didn’t go far enough.

Now I know there are those who say that 4e is little more than D&D styled like a MMO and perhaps those people are right. However, I’m not here to discuss the mechanics or play style of the game.

For the past four years as both a player and a DM I have had my laptop with me at every gaming session. It has my game notes, my maps, my character sheets, in short everything that I’ve needed to play. At each of those sessions I’ve needed to bring along my PHB, the supplement for the class I was playing and any other books I thought might be useful for reference purposes. If I was the DM I needed the PHB, DMG, MM1, 2, 3, 4, etc. Are you catching my drift? What I’d like to do is just bring my laptop and have access to all my books online.

While I’m a fan of the DDI, it doesn’t go far enough. Finally having the CB is great but we are still missing many of the other features that were promised. Having Dungeon magazine and Dragon magazines online is also great. I was paying for those anyway so there is no change there. But there is improvement because now my magazines are delivered digitally. And that’s how I want all my content.

I have no intention of purchasing the PHB2, not because I don’t want to read the content, not because I’m not interested in it, but because in my mind I’ve already paid for it. I’ve signed up to have my content delivered to me digitally and I’d be willing to pay a little bit more per year for a pdf copy of that content.

This is where WotC missed the boat, they didn’t go far enough with D&D Insider. I want more than just sneak peaks of content that I’m likely going to purchase anyway. I want the content that they promised me, the tabletop and character visualizer. If WotC was smart they’d push the envelope and offer a digital service to those that were interested. Why wait for technology to evolve and the next edition, the audience they are trying to attract already does everything online anyways.

I’m not saying do away with the printed books, they will always be necessary for marketing purposes and to reach a wider audience, but don’t go halfway with a digital offering, which is what I feel WotC has done. They have a real opportunity to expand a subscription service. Look at what Monte Cooke is doing with Dungeonaday.com and he is just one guy. WotC is a big company, why they don’t expand the content digitally in a meaningful way is beyond me.

Think about the Dungeon Delve that was just released, if they’d been on top of things this would have been paired with the tabletop and character visiualizer. DMs could purchase Dungeon Delve as a pdf and received a download file with all the dungeons created and populated, ready for instant play. This is the potential of the DDI, and while it won’t be for everyone I think it would be for enough people that it would be viable for WotC to offer this type of a service.

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1 Nicholas March 18, 2009 at 5:49 am

Thanks for the plug!

I have to agree that they could be doing a lot more. I want to a more encompassing compendium so I don’t have to carry so many books around to look up rules problems. I actually do like holding a physical book when I read it for the first time but I’m intrigued by the possibility of D&D books on a Kindle (I don’t have one yet so maybe that wouldn’t work).

Oh, I would also like all the unreleased tools I am already paying for.


2 Mad Brew March 18, 2009 at 6:49 am

I was at the 4dventure preview party at GenCon ’07, and when they presented the digital content, DDI, this was exactly the expectations they gave.

DDI has consistently fell short of what they promised (though it has shown improvement since its release).

3 Samuel Van Der Wall March 18, 2009 at 8:21 am

Until another game climbs the ranks and starts to challenge Wizards of the Coast and Dungeons & Dragons, they’ll be content to do what they want, when they want, and at their own pace. They have no competition right now and they make the rules. There are other games out there that are doing okay, but none that are thriving like D&D.

4 Wimwick March 18, 2009 at 9:27 am

@ Nicholas
No problem. I’m with you as I want what I’m already paying for. I think the problem that will persist with releasing books digitally is the piracy issue. Until there is some way to work around that or for Wizards to ensure their profits are safe my dream of full digital content will be just that, a dream.

@ Mad Brew
DDI has definitely shown improvement and for that I’m happy. I just wish they would get it right.

@ Samuel
I’m hoping that projects like Dungeon a Day are successfull. Their success would demonstrate to Wizards that a digital offering is highly viable and hopefully push them to get their content out in order to maintain their market dominance.

5 Anarkeith March 18, 2009 at 11:22 am

I had serious doubts about WotC’s digital product based on earlier efforts. It seems as if they’re slowly improving, but the piracy issue looms large. It seems like it is relatively easy to get e-versions of the core books (albeit illegal), so how can WotC maintain the integrity of their revenue stream?

Until the publishing industry as a whole figures this out, I think we’re going to be in e-gaming limbo. I wonder if the multi-core rulebooks are an anti-piracy strategy? The more illegal content you have to download, the greater the risk. Not very consumer-friendly. That’s business I suppose.

I’d love to see DDI evolve into a DM’s toolbox as you’ve suggested. Might even get me to bring a computer to the table…

6 Wimwick March 18, 2009 at 12:18 pm

@ Anarkeith
Thanks for visiting Dungeon’s Master, we hope you enjoy the content we have to offer.
You’re correct, the problem with offering digital products is the piracy issue. This is not one that I think Wizards will lead the charge on. They’ll allow the major players in the publishing industry to tackle this one and then Wizards will adopt that strategy. This makes sense, I’m just impatient.

In the meantime there is still a lot more they could do with the DDI to make it an attractive option to more players.

7 Scott March 19, 2009 at 2:21 am

“Every class we have today is derived in some part from the original four: Cleric, Fighter, Rogue and Wizard.”

I’m surprised nobody’s pointed this out yet, but: you mean the original three. Rogue (Thief, at the time) was added later, in a supplement.

Of course, as you note, 4e isn’t the first to bring class proliferation. By 1e AD&D, the game included… well, I’m not sure, exactly, but definitely more than 20 classes. Paladins, Rangers, Archers, Archer-Rangers, Thieves, Thief-Acrobats, Jesters, Assassins, Bounty Hunters, Bards, Druids, Witch Doctors, Shamans, Witches (at least two different classes with that same name), Illusionists, Necromancers, Anti-paladins/Avengers, Knights, Cavaliers, Barbarians, Monks/Mystics, Ninja, Samurai, Wu Jen, Kensei, and Sages were all added to 1e or BD&D, off the top of my head. Some of those never made it out of Dragon and into the “core” of course, but many of them did. Many of them were intended as NPC classes – including the Thief — but DMs tended to let players play them.

This just illustrates the problem here: some people have favorite classes that they feel need to be in the game, while others think there are too many classes.

Personally, I like having the classes. I just disallow any that wouldn’t be appropriate for my game.

I suppose it also bears mentioning that nobody forces you to use any rules, “core” or not. You can easily play with just the PHB1, or with just the PHB2 for that matter.

8 Wimwick March 19, 2009 at 8:27 am

@ Scott
I suppose I should clarify. It’s not so much that we have new classes as to the timing of that. I would like to see Wizards fulfill some of the original promises of 4e and that is the DDI. I also feel there is great room for expansion and improvement in that area. I would rather have seen this over the release of the PHB2.

Of course you’re correct I don’t have to play with the races or classes in the PHB2, but after reading the Diva, the Avenger and the Sorceror I can’t wait for the opportuiny to try them out. I just don’t know when that will happen.

9 Dungeon March 20, 2009 at 11:05 am

I feel that wizards really dropped the ball on 4th edition. there isn’t as much room to role-play. It has become a “World Of Warcraft on paper.” although, i like some of the things they did with the new edition. I made my own version of D&D called “advanced dungeons and dragons 3rd edition” because Wizards never actually made an ADVANCED version of 3.0.
I use the skills system simplified, and i made my own character sheets using stuff from version 3.5 and 4.0. I might post it some time. It may have the words ADVANCED in the front, but it is a simplier game than 3rd edition. my players really like it.

10 AtmaDev March 21, 2009 at 7:38 pm

Dungeon, if you feel like D&D needs to inject the role play into your sessions then I don’t think it’s an issue with the game. My playgroup role plays far more under 4th Ed than in 3.5, so I think that definitely speaks in favour of the “It’s not the game its your players” argument I often hear.

On the main topic, I’d have to agree to a certain extent about the D&D Insider, although I don’t think digital distribution should be wrapped up in the subscription model per se. They should definitely be separate, so that non-Insiders feel like it a digital copy is worth it to them (not that they have to sign up, pay a monthly fee for the privilege of paying for something they could easily pirate in the first place). My issue is that the argument for wanting to reduce piracy doesn’t make sense to me. The pirated copies are out there, and they will continue to be out there. Placing rule books in the same system that they hold the magazines in (and you know they have server infrastructure to support this) and selling PDFs doesn’t increase the number of pirates. All you need is one file, and it’s already there (the scanned book). It doesn’t matter if another one is gone. But what it does do is open up the market to a new and broader audience, since I know there are guys who won’t buy a book for 40 dollars but might buy a digital one for 20-25 bucks. They just have to follow the iTunes model; make it easy and cheap to do the right thing.

Gotta thank Derek from Toronto’s 401 Games Worldwide D&D Game Day for handing out those cards. This is a fine sight.
The Female Male Gnome Bard

11 Wimwick March 21, 2009 at 9:46 pm

@ Dungeon
Thanks for stopping by.
I would have to agree with AtmaDev, role playing is up to the group and the DM in particular. I’ve found that 4e opens up a great deal of role playing opportunities. Social Skill Challenges are just one example, but all the opportunities that existed in previous editions are still there.

@ AtmaDev
So Ameron made it out to the game day afterall, glad that you stopped by.
I think the method of distribution will vary, I could see Insiders getting a discount on pdf versions of books. I agree with you in that following the iTunes example is the way to go.

12 Dungeon April 1, 2009 at 10:19 am

Thanks for the response wimwick,AtmaDev. I appreciate your words. perhaps i am wrong, thank you for the counciling. i will see if it’s my group. I meant no offense to any of you. thanks again. 🙂

13 Wimwick April 1, 2009 at 5:24 pm

@ Dungeon
No offense taken. That’s the joy of this blog it’s a forum for Ameron and myself to express our views and thoughts on the game and we open that dialogue up to you as a reader to share your viewpoints.

14 Dungeon April 3, 2009 at 9:03 am

Well Wimwick, this website is awesome! thanks for making it. you and Ameron have the right idea with this blog site. Gygax would be proud.

15 Richard December 8, 2009 at 1:41 pm

I know this post is a bit old, but now that they have released the Adventure Tools (monster builder, so far), has your opinion changed? I personally love the Adventure Tools so far, and from what I hear, they are gonna add a dungeon map builder as well, where you can create maps with the tiles you own and more. I am looking forward to this feature myself.

As for the role-playing aspect of 4th edition, as a DM, I feel I have been able to add more role-playing aspects to my campaign in 4th edition as opposed to 3.5 mainly due to the fact that it’s been easier for me to create encounters with the monster builder tool, as well as find items and treasure to distribute as well in CB. Once I have the map generator tool, that will be even less time sorting through my tiles or drawing maps by hand all the time. With less time being attributed to this, I have been able to add a lot more story, NPC interaction, plot development, and detail to my encounters and campaign. In 3.5, the tools weren’t widely available, I had to sort through books of creatures to find ones I wanted to use, and then raise and lower HD/levels in order to make them how I wanted (which then included sometimes adding feats, higher stat points, larger sizes), which took a lot more time. I personally love what Wizards has done with 4th edition and the resources they’ve been generating so far, and I hope to see them come out with more.

16 Wimwick December 8, 2009 at 2:15 pm

@ Richard
Welcome to Dungeon’s Master. To answer your question, yes my opinion has changed. While I feel that WotC was late with their DDI offerings and still hasn’t delivered the initial promises (due to community feedback and requests for other tools) I am very pleased with what is available. I’m not currently my groups DM so I haven’t looked into the Monster Builder in great detail, but I am looking forward to the future updates of the Adventure Tools. Character Builder is great for gathering all the feats, powers, weapons etc together into one location. It save a great amout of time from flipping through books or missing out because you don’t own a particular supplement.

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