Dragon 401 - Dragon Editorial: Digital Publishing

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Dragon 401
Dragon Editorial: Digital Publishing

by Steve Winter

What does it mean to “publish a magazine” in digital form?

Talk about this editorial here.

 
When I first started reading the article I thought it was an announcement about WOTC going back to selling digital products (PDFs of books and what not) but instead I found it more mulling over the state of the former Dragon and Dungeon magazines.

I think someone at WOTC is overcomplicating a simple issue. You're not compiling your articles anymore so you really don't fit the definition of magazine anymore. Yet you insist of maintaining legacy features in your articles that suggest it is still that, a magazine.

So either go back to compiling, call them magazines and then start to explore how you can make those magazines better in the digital environment...

or...

Admit to yourselves that you're not producing a magazine anymore and wholly commit yourself to develop a new format, one that delivers what you want it to deliver.

For a while now you have been trapped in this limbo between the two formats and it is stifling you. You employ some of the greatest writers in the industry. Develop a new format that caters to everything they have to offer.

To use your metaphor... You've been out there on the rope for a while now hanging on by one hand. Either pull yourself back to solid ground and do it better (the magazines) or let go and take the plunge (develop something new and innovative).

Either way you are going to end up with a better product.
I'd like to know why after all the complaints that compilations were removed that they have not been put back. I also would like to know why Dungeon adventures were reduced in scope so much. We used to get full fledged modules in Dungeon every month. Now there are few that encompass a whole levels worth of xp. Having a subscription should mean I get the same amount of content I got when I was convinced to sign up. And frankly if WotC cannot keep up the pace then maybe they should hire more people before their subscriptions dwindle to the point of not being able to do so.
In a way they are already selling the crunch of the rules in pdfs... granted, you need a monthly subscription fee for it, so it is not exactly the same, but it works for our group. Finding stuff in pdfs is easier than in a book. Finding stuff in the Rules Compendium is even easier, and with I-pads, wireless networks and the like, we always have instant access to the Rules Compendium when playing the game.

Now if only the CB had a bit more flexibility in modifying stuff, because snowflake items and powers can be a great boon to the game ;) 
I agree.

I think the current package is very useful but needs some work. As long as WOTC "clings to that rope" they aren't going to get anywhere very fast. As much as I love the magazines I think DDi has moved beyond that now.

It's time to get innovative. It's time to take a big leap of faith. I know it's going to be scary and there will be resistance but WOTC is on the edge of doing something great and the spectre of the magazines is holding them back, imho.

But if they don't want to take that leap, that's fine too. There are still a lot of great things they can do with the digital magazine format. But compiling them needs to be part of that format if they decide to continue in that direction.
Listen. You're doing OK right now. Publishing great, usable rules elements that go directly to the other DDI features and feature dev review, in articles coming down the pipeline a few times a week....solid stuff. Putting out "monthly compilations" would be nice, and you might even consider selling them (to anyone) via PDF format for 99 cents a pop, if you're having trouble affording the work-hours needed to make them (which, given copypasta, shouldn't be THAT much?). 

One thing is sure though: You cannot, cannot, get paranoid about IP. Yes, those 99 cent PDFs will be pirated. But with a low price point, those who WANT to support the system (via subscription or buying the compliations or both) will, and those freeloaders will just be like freeloaders have always been -- not a significant drain on  the system. 

This is true in general about digital publishing. You cannot get scared about copyright infringement. Remember, the IP isn't the thing you're selling. Look at other very successful models of digital publication to see where you might go in order to make a living while doing it. I'm not suggesting D&D needs to go free-to-play, per se, but getting closer to that frame of mind is a good idea. Cheap, widely available entertainment, with a premium on luxury, unnecessary goods for dedicated fans, is a great idea. Releasing all of Dungeon and Dragon for free, and offering cheap compliations and DDI subs for CB/MB/DT/etc? I think this is viable. Perhaps only viable once those other tools actually become broadly functional (almost there CB!), but something certainly to look at. 

I think what the mags have been doing right now is pretty OK. It's at a good place. A few more hyperlinks? Maybe more features from unknown but awesome writers? Mechanics from devs and fans, columns not about mechanics too? An easy DM/Player division between the two? 

Yeah, I think it's pretty solid at the moment. I think it would be MORE solid if you started offering books for PDF download again, at cheaper prices, especially older editions, but that's not really about the mags, so y'know, the mags are good.

I'll also add that if you go the iWhatever route, you will see a steep drop-off in the potential audience. Early adopters and tech heads are the ones with these toys right now, not everyday D&D players. It's something to keep an eye on, maybe dip a toe in, but it's not something that needs to go whole hog at the moment. Don't give up your core to chase Apple's tail. 
I really hope Wizards resolves this issue in their minds. With the lack of a compiled issues, Dungeon and Dragon are simply a PDF blog—just like a regular blog only more obnoxious to read.

I don't look at their numbers, but I can't see how the online Character Builder and Compendium aren't cannibalizing their dead tree books' sales.

If I steered this ship, I would:


  • Make the CB and Compendium free with PHB material and a max of 1 character

  • Make the "books" content available as a purchase—$10, or pay $30 and get a dead-tree book shipped to you as well.

  • Make extra character slots available for a monthly fee. $1 / character, or $15 for the current limit.


Then I'd tell them to make the whole thing work on iPad, with in-app purchases powered by the iTunes store. Because anyone who reads the technology press knows its the only successful platform for publishers for the foreseeable future, and the hard part (payments, distribution, etc.) is taken care of for you. Not to mention the device is ideal for at-the-table gaming.

Oh, and I'd re-evaluate whether the VT is worth the development and maintenance costs, because I have my doubts.
I also would like to know why Dungeon adventures were reduced in scope so much.



Everything has been reduced in scope. We're lucky if we get as many for-pay articles as we have fingers on one hand each month.
Then I'd tell them to make the whole thing work on iPad, with in-app purchases powered by the iTunes store. Because anyone who reads the technology press knows its the only successful platform for publishers for the foreseeable future, and the hard part (payments, distribution, etc.) is taken care of for you. Not to mention the device is ideal for at-the-table gaming.



I was with you the whole way until you got to the iPad part.  I just don't agree.  iPad is a fad market for people with tool much money to blow.  You aren't going to see a lot of teenage gamers running around with these at a minimum of $499 a pop its just not a practical idea.


I also would like to know why Dungeon adventures were reduced in scope so much.



Everything has been reduced in scope. We're lucky if we get as many for-pay articles as we have fingers on one hand each month.



I think their real problem is that they mis-judged the price for these things.  They wanted something cheap enough to get people to jump in...now they are finding that they really should have charged more and they can't cover the cost.

I pay Paizo a lot more per month than WotC for a subscription to materials that are both print and digital....and the quality is much higher.

Food for thought, WotC.
Not sure whether it is WotC that is afraid of pirating pdfs or that the law is causing the fright. For example, I heard that if you do not defend your  IP appropiately, you loose it, but what constitutes as appropriately? One thing is for sure, the whole IP stuff is confusing as hell ;) As for people paying what they like, I wish that was true, but if I look at the majority of gamers in the game shop I frequent I am not sure that is true. The game shop owner actually had to forbid people flipping through the books during game days, because the players did not buy the books, making characters on the spot with the books on the shelves, treating the shop as a library.
Not sure whether it is WotC that is afraid of pirating pdfs or that the law is causing the fright. For example, I heard that if you do not defend your  IP appropiately, you loose it, but what constitutes as appropriately?


Doesn't really apply to copyrights as I recall(also doesn't apply to patents, but I doubt that WotC has any). I know that it sort of applies to trademarks, but it would have to be a strange strange situation where WotC loses D&D trademarks because of pirated goods. 
Steve Winter talks about "letting go of the rope" and being comitted to digital publishing, but frankly, WotC is way behind on this front.

For instance, why can I not purchase a Kindle version of any D&D rulebooks?  Amazon has recently announced that it's now selling more e-books than physical books.  Yet WotC is barely even touching the market.

Why is there is no Character Builder application for the Apple or Android store?  I know I would buy it as a paid app.

There's a lot of discussion about providing compiled PDFs, but that misses the point.  Compiled Dragon PDFs are a convenience, but they won't do much to expand the user base.

Digital publishing not just about converting your book content into an electronic format -- it's about looking at the digital tools that people use, and providing content for those tools in order to push your product.
Logopolis, you've hit the nail on the head. Ultimately, even when everyone within an organization is committed to letting go of the rope, different people have different perceptions of what "letting go" means. Do you let go all at once? Or sort of slide off? Let go at the height of the swing, or on the upswing, or the downswing? Tuck into a dive or do a cannonball? Swim toward the shore or out toward that big log? 

If we can stretch this analogy even further, I'd say that Wizards is at the point where we've made up our minds to let go of the rope ... we've let go with our left hand ... our right hand is loosening its grip ... but that left brain hemisphere is still analyzing, still judging parabolas and vectors and the distance to the water. (That's its job, after all.) It knows that there's no turning back, there's no re-grabbing the rope at this point, and this plunge needs to happen, but it needs to happen just right because you only get to do this once, and couldn't we plan the drop for just a moment longer? Meanwhile, the heart is racing and the right foot is pointed down like a knife and the left knee is bent up for a cannonball and the mouth is screaming "here we go!" and the right hand is saying "we'll get a better angle if I can hang on for just a half-second longer ..." 

Dropping off a rope is a complicated undertaking.

Steve


 

If your only tool is a warhammer, every problem looks like a gnoll.

To stretch the analogy even further...  At this point, WotC is looking like a scared kid holding onto the rope for dear life, when all the other kids are already splashing around in the river.

I realize that WotC has limited resources and wants to make sure its projects will be successful, but at some point, the people in charge have to stop second-guessing themselves and actually provide services that customers will buy.

DDI has some useful stuff, but I don't think all of WotC's digital publishing should be offered exclusively through it.  I'm not convinced that bundling additional features of varying quality is the best way to get more DDI subscribers.

-----

In my personal experience, I remain a DDI subscriber mainly because of the D&D Compendium.  I frequently play D&D online using MapTool, and I find the database to be extremely useful.  Last time I played a face-to-face game, I was pleased to discover that the D&D Compendium has a mobile interface, making it usable on my Android smartphone.  From my perspective, the D&D Compendium has been the most successful of WotC's online D&D services.

I'm generally pleased with the content of Dragon and Dungeon Magazine.  I, too, have to join eveybody else and say I find the lack of compiled issues to be annoying, and I don't understand why they were stopped.

Unfortunately, I'm not as happy with some of the other services...

For the Character Builder, I think the choice of developing it in Silverlight was a major error.  The interface is clean and attractive, but it's slow to load and has poor compatibility -- Silverlight applications are not usable on any tablet or smartphone that I know of, greatly limiting the Character Builder's usefulness.  It also needs functionality to share characters -- I would find it very useful to send a URL to my DM and allow him to view my character's stats, for example.  (This is the sort of functionality provided by iPlay4e, though it would be far more streamlined through an official WotC tool.)

The problem with the Virtual Table is that it needs to be significantly better than other similar products in order to convince people to spend money on it.  Currently, it lacks many of the features that other free VTs have -- namely custom art, the ability to export and share content, and automation of some D&D mechanics.  Its key differentiating feature -- integration with the Character Builder and other DDI tools -- does not work to my satisfaction.
Logopolis, you've hit the nail on the head. Ultimately, even when everyone within an organization is committed to letting go of the rope, different people have different perceptions of what "letting go" means. Do you let go all at once? Or sort of slide off? Let go at the height of the swing, or on the upswing, or the downswing? Tuck into a dive or do a cannonball? Swim toward the shore or out toward that big log? 

If we can stretch this analogy even further, I'd say that Wizards is at the point where we've made up our minds to let go of the rope ... we've let go with our left hand ... our right hand is loosening its grip ... but that left brain hemisphere is still analyzing, still judging parabolas and vectors and the distance to the water. (That's its job, after all.) It knows that there's no turning back, there's no re-grabbing the rope at this point, and this plunge needs to happen, but it needs to happen just right because you only get to do this once, and couldn't we plan the drop for just a moment longer? Meanwhile, the heart is racing and the right foot is pointed down like a knife and the left knee is bent up for a cannonball and the mouth is screaming "here we go!" and the right hand is saying "we'll get a better angle if I can hang on for just a half-second longer ..." 

Dropping off a rope is a complicated undertaking.

Steve


 



I hope this convoluted analogy means you are fixing the usability of the magazines.   I've expressed my distaste of the decision to cancel the pdf compilations numerous times on the forums and through email.  Activity by WotC in this area will mean I won't cancel my subscription when it is due for renewal.

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