Tuesday, September 2, 2008

D&D Insider Ennui

I've read a number of blog postings about D&D Insider over the summer. Most recently, a preview from Pen and Paper Portal, PAX 08: Hands-On D&D Insider. Earlier in August there were some articles commenting on the pricing and the timing (RPGCentric with D&DI: The Price is Right and Critical-Hits with D&DI Updates: Charging Before Ready) but for the most part there seems to be a lot of waiting-and-see since the initial criticism over the missed launch dates and the hysterics over pricing.

I understand the wait-and-see feeling. While I hope that D&DI will be the greatest thing since home made bread (sliced bread is really not that great). I haven't been able to get excited about D&DI at all.

When it comes down to it, it's going to be a digital magazine subscription combined with some online tools. The Dragon and Dungeon magazine articles have been out all summer, so there's no doubt what they'll be. The Compendium and Character Creator and Game Table/Dungeon Creator look pretty neat, but I'm not sure how much I'd actually use them.

When faced with the monthly cost for access to these, I'm hesitant. The fact is that half of D&DI is available right now, for free, and other than some casual reading and poking around I don't use it. For the other half, there are currently non-WotC equivalents for pretty much all of the content that D&DI is promising, that I also don't use. Some examples:

Character Visualizer : Hero Machine
Character Builder : Ema's Char-Manager
Game Table : RPTools & IRC

Plus there are dozens of completely free blogs, forums, and dedicated websites with more content than anyone has the time to digest. Now, I'm not claiming that any of these tools are as slick or as polished as the D&DI tools that have been promised. Nor are most of the online forum, blogs and websites nearly comparable to what you'd expect from a professional publication. But it's there and it's free and some of it is really, really good.

Since, to date:
  1. I haven't read more than half a dozen of the (still free) D&DI Dragon or Dungeon articles.
  2. I have no problem making characters using printed character sheets and a pencil.
  3. I haven't used the Compendium for anything other than seeing how it works.
  4. I don't run games online using IRC or any other online tools.
I don't think that my behaviour is going to change overnight. I know that some people feel differently about D&DI. Some people think that the magazine content alone is enough to justify the cost. Some people are really into running on-line RPG games and may think that the Game Table alone justifies the price. I'm just not sure how many people fall into those categories.

I'm a pretty fanatical pen and paper RPG player, and D&D has always been a game that I enjoyed, but even for me I'm not convinced about the subscription price. And if it's not worth it for me, I don't see that there are many casual players that are going to look at the yearly D&DI cost and decide to subscribe.

I expect that WotC will not see the returns on this development that they're hoping for.

I hope that I'm completely wrong, that D&DI will be worth it to enough people to keep it a viable business for WotC. I hope that it's so awesome that I'll be convinced of its usefulness, and by this time next year I'll be a cyber-dm with my laptop glued to my hip, using D&DI for everything even at my regular game table.

But the cynic in me is suspecting that D&DI will go the way of Gleemax.


Bartoneus said...

I honestly haven't checked out the free equivalents you list here for the visualizer, etc. but from when we got a hands-on with D&D Insider at GenCon I have to say we were extremely impressed.

If you didn't already, check out our preview of what we saw with a bunch of images too:


Plotter said...


The D&DI tools certainly *look* slick. I still feel like they're a solution for a problem that I don't have.

Donny_the_Dm said...

I agree that it will be difficult to justify the subscription.

They should bring back print editions of the mags to supplement the cost. I generally don't do a lot of reading online or on my computer at all, it is simply too clumsy.

Add the copious amounts of fansites and the rapidly exploding RPGBloggers page, and you have too much information to easily sort through.