Hello from Ken Troop - Executive Producer of D&D Insider

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Hi. My name is Ken Troop. I work at Wizards of the Coast. Specifically, I am the executive producer for D&D Insider.

What does that mean?

It means I ultimately have the responsibility of leading and coordinating the various efforts of a lot of people here at Wizards who are getting D&D Insider off the ground and eventually into the hands of you, the D&D players who are eager to try D&D Insider. (If you're not interested in D&D Insider, then this message probably isn't for you).

In this first post on the boards in my official capacity, I want to address a few things, in the hopes of both giving all of you more information as well as being the start of what I hope and expect to be a fruitful dialogue between the D&D Insider team and the community.

First, a few ground rules --

1) Flaming -- I don't mind being flamed. I don't mind people venting their anger. I've been on the other side of the fence many times. I know what it feels like to be a player, a fan, a devotee of a game and occasionally think, "those numbskulls...they have no idea what they're doing...arrgh!" I know what it feels like to care passionately and to wonder how, if Person-In-Charge had any clue, could they make such a wrong decision on Issue Y. (Note I don't speak for our moderators or our moderation policy. I'm only saying for me, personally, I understand that flaming happens)

2) Constructive Feedback -- That said, while I can understand expressions of anger and frustration, it doesn't mean it's going to lead to better results for D&D Insider. What will most help D&D Insider evolve the fastest into its ultimate awesome state is constructive feedback. Of the content that is up there, what's working well and what's not? Of the content/features that you know we have planned, what do you like and what don't you? Remember that positive feedback is just as important as negative...most of the people who like something don't bother to tell us...until we decide that "oh, random feature Z must not be that important, because we don't hear about it, so we can cut/change/'improve' it."

3) The Contract -- I look at D&D Insider and whether people should like it or not, believe in it or not, pay for it or not, very simply...at a certain point we will decide D&D Insider is ready. Or enough elements of it are ready that we think have enough value to players to charge them for it. At that point, players will decide if, indeed, those elements do have value. They will then pay for it. Or they won't. It's a fairly simple calculation.

As above in ground rule #1, I don't mind being flamed. Or D&D Insider being flamed. And if D&D Insider isn't for you, for whatever reason, I respect that. I wish you luck in whatever you find that is for you. Truly. But, if what you truly want to say is, "Ken, D&D Insider should be for me. I want it to be for me. But it isn't because of X, Y, and/or Z..." then say that. Because that's a conversation I want to have.

4) The Truth -- I like being straight and honest in my communications to an audience. Not only do I like it, it's good business practice -- having nothing you say be respected or trusted is not good business practice. I also love explaining details...writing long, copious messages that go into great detail about why we did what we did. That said, there will be times, perhaps plenty of times, when I can't go into that detail. Where I can't explain all the reasons why we're doing what we're doing. And not because we're engaged in anything nefarious or diabolical, but simply because those are the realities of working inside a large corporate structure.

So I'm not asking you to give me a free pass...but I want to be upfront that there will be times that we will do things that, on the surface, make less sense than they would if I were able to explain everything...and I will not be able to explain everything. C'est la vie. (There will also be times in which we just made a bad decision...in this, alas, we are not immune to being, like the rest of you, human)

5) Responses. Pretty much everything that gets posted gets read around here...whether by me, another producer, community, R&D, Brand, etc...we have a lot of people who are very interested in what you have to say. That said, we usually don't have time to respond to most of the posts we see. At times we'll be very present on the boards, at other times, less so. Again, this is not to get you to accept it, but just to be clear that is reality, and that reality is not likely to change.

Hmm, those ground rules seemed very simple inside my head...already a lot of text here. I'll post another message right below.

Ken
Sorry for the long context above, but context is important to me. The more shared premises that exist between two people, the more likely productive conversation will follow. And that productive conversation is why we're here.

I want to start by trying to summarize what I see as the largest questions/concerns on the forums over the last two days and my perspective on them. I'm not going to cover every issue, and these are also paraphrases, not actual quotations (I think) --

1) "How could Wizards not have D&D Insider ready for the launch of 4th edition?"

From the very beginning of this project our goal had been to launch the full suite of D&D Insider tools and applications with the launch of 4th edition. How could we want to do anything else?

But to mangle a quote from the Princess Bride -- "Software Development is pain. Anyone who says differently is selling something." And for those of you who want to tell me how your company does software at perfect quality and on perfect schedule and budget -- thank you for sharing. I'm truly glad it is so easy for you. It makes me happy to know those stories exist.

This is one of those times where I won't go into all the details. See G.R. #4 (the Ground Rules in the above post). And G.R. #3 is even more relevant...at a date sometime in the future we're going to decide D&D Insider is ready and that we can charge for it. That's our decision. After our decision is made, then it becomes your decision. Are you going to pay for it? Of course I want and hope for that answer to be yes, and we're all working very hard here to make sure that answer is yes. But it is still a simple set comprised of two decisions...and if we can make that transaction of decisions as painless and drama-free as possible, I think we'll both be happier for it.

2) "Why weren't we told about this?"

My first answer to that is, "We did."

See Bill Slavicsek's Ampersand column from a month ago -- http://www.wizards.com/default.asp?x=dnd/dramp/20080507a

My second answer to that is, "Yes, even though we did, we could have done a better job overall."

Part of that is all of us have had our heads down in the trenches over the last few months trying to get as much of D&D Insider as possible ready to use and deploy for launch, or failing that, as soon as possible thereafter. With such tunnel vision, it can be difficult to remember to put down the code and the content and talk with your audience.

But regardless, we didn't do a very good job here of keeping up good lines of communication with the community. We're trying to get better at it. We'll appreciate hearing when we do better, and when we still miss the mark.

3) "I'm very sad that Game Table/[insert your favorite app here] isn't ready today."

We are, too. Very much so. In the meantime, 4th edition D&D is a wonderful game, and able to enjoyed on its own merits...just like D&D has always been.

And we'll be offering more info over the next several weeks on the applications and where they're at...for example, check out this thread where Wotc_DM gives a sneak peek at a screenshot for the Character Visualizer
http://forums.gleemax.com/showthread.php?t=1041844
(Wotc_DM is the producer in charge of developing the various applications, reporting to me, and his posts are usually full of great detail about the current state of the applications).

4) "When will everything be ready?"

A very important question. Also one of the hardest to answer.

The baseline here, and please understand it's not a flippant response -- Everything will be ready when we decide it's ready. Software development planning is still an inexact process...far more so when you deal with such a subjective experience as entertainment software...all the budgets and schedules and process in the world can't guarantee a given experience is "fun." So we're not going to release this until we decide it's ready to release.

I could give you a tentative set of dates, but those dates are likely to change. In fact, it's generally accepted practice in this industry not to mention dates at all.

The very next focused goal for us is to get the Compendium, in its first iteration, up and running as soon as possible. Expect a more formal note from me about the Compendium posted onto the website soon. The first iteration may go live in a couple of weeks, it may be longer than that.

As for the rest of the applications (Game Table, Character Builder, Character Creator), I'd say a safe bet is at least a few months from now, probably longer. Either way, we're very likely going to be rolling out one application at a time, to ensure as smooth and quality a launch as possible. Also take it as a given that each application will get roughly a "month-window" to launch in, meaning there would be at least a month in-between launches.

I'm giving you this context because I understand how frustrating it is to have no information. But ultimately, if you go back to the line of, "We'll launch them when they're ready", then you have your best and most succinct understanding of the situation.

5) "Dragon and Dungeon articles look great."

Thank you, we agree. Chris Youngs and his team have done a fantastic job getting the magazines ready...we're glad you liked what you saw on Friday, and expect a lot more of it over the weeks and months to come. And also continue with your specific feedback...I saw the response asking about improving the readability -- keep those comments, both good and bad, coming.

If you haven't already seen one of the articles, go here for the link to a great Dragon article by Chris Sims about the Warforged --

http://www.wizards.com/default.asp?x=dnd/drfe/20080606b

At this point, I'll wrap up for now. I'm excited about 4th edition. I'm excited about the re-launch of Dragon and Dungeon magazines and the soon-to-be launch of the Compendium. I'm excited about the eventual launch of D&D Insider. As I said at the very beginning of this, I wrote all this to both give everyone some more information, as well as kick off the first of what I hope will be many, many productive conversations about the shape and nature of what D&D Insider can and should be.

I may not be able to post responses to this thread next week, but please know I, and others here, will read every response.

Thank you for giving me some of your time.

Ken
You may join the discussion about this announcement here:

http://forums.gleemax.com/showthread.php?t=1042707

I posted an interview I did with Ken on Saturday at World Wide D&D Game Day in Seattle:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WKAHIfKxxT0
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