Technological advancements are always threatening the way things used to be. Ebooks streamline the purchase process while putting indie bookstores at risk. Digital game downloads beg the question if you ever really own the game itself. With the announcement of D&D Beyond, Wizards of the Coast is adding a significant tech upgrade to the most low tech of games. Will an app store and digital content replace the pencil and oft erased character sheet? Join our gaming writers as they discuss the positives and negatives of this new option for fighting Demogorgons and obtaining Holy Avenger +5’s
So, this all started when announcements came about Wizards of the Coast’s new app D&D Beyond. Specifically, the price point and what you get for that cost. The flex pricing options are mainly about buying the sourcebooks for the app as well as subscription pricing. Part of the grumbling coming from the darker corners of someone’s mom’s basement revolves around how putting out this product is price gouging. The top comment on the Reddit post announcing the launch is simply “I have to buy the books, then pay $6/month to use them? WTF?”
The short answer there is, “No.” The long answer is, “Why are you so against paying creators for their content creations you entitled bottom-feeding moocher?”
WoTC has a long road behind this launch, paved with mistakes and mis-steps, including a blanket withdrawal of all PDFs for sale in 2009 and a lawsuit filed in federal court against 8 people who allegedly shared the Players’ Handbook 2 online. Although other products would come out as PDFs in the following years, the core books for each set remained firmly in hardcover print format.
So, WoTC releases this new app. If you want to purchase individual content on an a la carte basis, go for it. If you want the core rulebooks in the app, they are $29.99 each. If you want to share your books and your homebrew content with your players, it’s a $6/mo subscription as a GM. If you want to get rid of ads, create unlimited characters and have access to publicly shared homebrew content, it is $3/mo.
The price for the hardcover D&D 5th Edition Players Handbook is $49.99. Same for the Dungeon Master’s Guide and the Monster Manual. For $29.99 per book, you get all of the content, plus cross-referenced, searchable and indexed content. This is a player’s dream. Unless, of course, you’re on the internet and all you do with your life is complain about shit. Or, you could continue to not support the writers, artists, layout designers, editors, and more who work to create the games we love and “just download it like everyone else does” as another Redditor put it.
Thanks for the summary Brian. For the record, I 100% agree that everyone involved in the creation of the games, or really any kind of creative product, should get paid. And personally, I think the app is an interesting offering, but one I’ll probably skip since I’m more of a pen-and-paper person. I think there is a bigger discussion here is about digital distribution and perceived worth.
For whatever reason, I think it is human nature to value a physical object more than a digital one. Take for instance a birthday card. Getting one of those e-cards is kinda lame, but something arriving in the mailbox, ripping the envelope open and reading it, it is inherently a different experience. Perhaps a similar amount of work went into both, but the end consumer doesn’t know that, all they get is an experience.
Obviously this is a dumb example, it illustrates the widespread devaluation that has happened with the internet. It has been well documented across all kinds of products. I do think, however, that one way producers can combat this is that concept of “experience.” Not to sound all market-y, but what is the unique differentiator Wizards of the Coast’s offers with its official distribution channels? It is pretty clear that simply producing something isn’t enough anymore. It is unfair that producers have to fight to this fight, especially with supposed “fans” of the content, but the barrier to entry for their products is just too low.
The one consistently successful way to combat pirating has been to offer something pirates can’t. Steam, Netflix and Spotify offer reliable ease-of-access for their respective content. Vinyl albums are seeing record sales because some feel they offer a richer listening experience. D&D Beyond sounds, at least to me, like a unique experience. Not only do users get the searchable, index books, but it offers a platform for sharing other content in an aggregated, organized way. It is something that a community could be built around, which sounds very promising. At this point, I’m not surprised there are complaints about price. I’ll be curious if some of that dies down once the app gets into people’s hands.
The other thing here that both comics and games face is the dedication to the brick and mortar store. Honestly, every B&M store has this issue with the ease of buying things online now, but there is a nostalgic and communal relationship surrounding the Friendly Local Game Store that many game companies feel obliged to. To drastically undercut those stores would be doing a disservice to the people who helped put gaming, especially role-playing, on the map.
For those already complaining about cost, the digital price on the app for the core books is $20 cheaper than the hardcover print edition. That’s only a few dollars away from being wholesale price. And, if you act now (or at least, when D&D Beyond launches) you can get them for $19.99. So, bitching about pricing at this point is just an excuse for theft.
To throw my own opinion in here as well – that brick and mortar relationship is huge for me. For a great deal of the target audience, this is how they started, and how they met a large group of like-minded individuals that share their passion for this hobby. The internet streamlines and makes quite a few things easier, but looking at Ken’s example of vinyl records, sometimes difficult is better, and truly builds the fandom person by person. Also, I greatly prefer physical items, as there’s no terms of service change that can lock me out of my content in the future. B&M provide that with that fandom as a bonus
As for the pricing conversation, I also think it’s a non-starter. If you’re looking to get something for free, any amount of money is too much, and will start the internet a grumping. As Brian laid out though, the discount is significant if you’re buying digital – and there’s a great deal of benefit in there as well. The thought of searching for a saving throw rule makes the page turning D&D process seem antiquated.
Finally, local business support is huge. If there’s someone in my home city that is well versed in the things I like, be it video games, novels, what have you – that person is a font of information for that interest. The number of books I never would have read without my local bookstore owner suggesting is staggering. Gaming publishers helping those brick and mortar stores to stay open keeps competition alive vs. the big online juggernauts, and keeps a more personal connection to your favorite hobby, all of which can lead to far more sales with far less strings attached.
I think the key thing to brick and mortar Friendly Local Game Store relationships, though, is the “Friendly” part. Now that there is distribution competition, why go to a game store that is stuck in the past? For example, there are two board game shops near my house. One is nice and clean, with friendly, helpful staff and small community events, like summer outdoor game nights. In contrast, the other shop is small and cramped, with employees whom seem offended when you interrupt their game-in-progress to ask for help. They might have events, but don’t advertise or encourage newcomers. If my only option for in-person purchasing was the later, what incentive do I have to go there over buying online? What I said before about “experience” can extend here as well.
What I think is most troubling about this distribution stuff is if publishers insist on propping up brick and mortar shops. There has been some talk about board game publishers offering deals to b&m shops that they won’t offer to online retailers. If those deals help truly Friendly Local Game Stores stay in business and keep developing their community, i’m all for it. It help keep the online distributors honest too. But if stores are unwilling to change and compete, should they still exist?
What do you think? Is digital the way of the future with easy access and cross referencing? Does the scene in Stranger Things seem more pure, with just dice and miniatures covering a table? Sound off in the comments with your opinion, and if you’re curious you can always check out the D&D Beyond Beta.