Tobold's Blog
Thursday, December 18, 2014
What do you think of 2014 in gaming?

It's not even Christmas yet, and I've already seen several articles on the internet claiming that 2014 was the worst year in gaming ever. The evidence cited in those articles is a varying list of triple A games that failed to impress, or even failed to be playable on launch day. Seen from that point of view, the MMORPG genre isn't an exception: Both The Elder Scrolls Online and Wildstar, the two big triple A releases of 2014 failed to hold onto their subscribers. Somewhat surprisingly the one MMORPG triple A product of 2014 that earned both critical and commercial success was Warlords of Draenor, an expansion for a 10-year old game.

But what if we look at 2014 in a different way? Do triple A games really matter all that much?

Personally, for me as a gamer, what is important isn't the success or failure of any single game. What is important for me is whether I have a game to play, and whether I have fun playing that game. And looking back at 2014 with that in mind, I don't think the year was all that bad. I played lots of different games, and I had lots of fun with many of them. And the games I played weren't even very expensive!

I am wondering of those game journalists talking about a bad year are too much considering gaming from the point of view of the industry. Honestly, I wouldn't want to work in the gaming industry today, nor would I invest my money in it. As I see it we are in the middle of a huge glut of games, and that is driving down prices and profits. $60 games being a disappointment has a lot to do with there being $6 games which are just as much fun. I spent a good amount of gaming time this year with iPad games that cost only a tiny fraction of the cost of a $60 console game. And because the PC gaming industry is producing games much faster than I can play them, I can afford to wait and buy them in Steam sales for 50% to 90% off.

I would say that the "bad year" is still to come. We are in the glut phase of the videogames pork cycle. It might well be that after years of overproduction we will have some years of underproduction, until the industry is profitable again. Well, Steam will probably survive and I have a large library of games in reserve in case we see those 7 lean years.

How was 2014 in gaming for you? Did you buy a lot of disappointing games, or did you enjoy the consumer benefits of the surplus in supply?

Wednesday, December 17, 2014
Breaking away from the Ubisoft formula

I am having great fun playing Assassin's Creed IV : Black Flag, cruising my pirate ship through the Caribbean, exploring, and getting into naval battles. I'm pretty much ignoring the story mission at the moment, because pirating is so much more fun. And somewhere that is the problem with AC4: It is great fun *because* it doesn't play like the other Assassin's Creed games. I mean, yes, I climbed all the towers of Havana and visited all the points I found that way. But after one city like that I was free to do something a lot more interesting, and lead a pirate life instead of the life of a tower climber / parkour runner. The Ubisoft formula doesn't work all that well for me, and I'm happiest in the parts of AC4 which break away from that formula.

One problem I have with Assassin's Creed in general is that they aren't all that great as stealth games. I haven't played Unity yet, but up to there the AC games didn't even have a crouch button. In AC4 I can only "sneak" if there is a sugar field or similar brushwood around. So frequently when I am approaching a target from behind to assassinate it, my avatar is showing the same animation that he has when strolling through a city. Compared to other stealth games I played, like Deus Ex : Human Revolution, the stealth movement in Assassin's Creed is really weak.

Related to that is the fact that combat is somewhat easy. It takes a *lot* of enemies at the same time before they even start to cause you any trouble. In general you can just wait motionless until you see the little red icon of somebody attacking you, press the counter button followed by the attack button, and the enemy is dead. So in many cases I didn't bother with sneaking, because simply killing everybody was a lot easier.

Naval combat in AC4 on the other hand is really good. You have various weapons you can use, cannons, mortars, fire barrels. And as the enemy ships have different strengths and come in different numbers, and there are also interesting weather effects to consider, there is a lot of variety to naval combat. The only thing missing is wind direction and speed, the "sailing ship" in fact moves like a motor ship, with equal speed all the time and in every direction. Over a quarter of a century ago, Sid Meier's Pirates! had wind direction, but apparently Ubisoft judged that to be too complicated.

So the game I am mostly playing is labeled "Assassin's Creed", but the part of it that I am playing isn't actually part of the Assassin's Creed brand and series. If I play any other game of the series (not counting the mobile AC Pirates game), I won't be able to play the part of AC4 that I am having fun with. I don't know if any of the newer AC games even has much in the way of other gameplay elements than the classic tower climbing / parkour running / assassination Ubisoft formula.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014
The Favorites of Selune - Skin Deep - Session 8

In the previous session the Favorites of Selune had returned to the Duchy of Faywyr as ambassadors for the svirfneblin, giving them the opportunity to investigate who had turned them into svirfneblin during their previous stay there.

This session was a mix of two main things: Their diplomatic negotiations, and their investigation. The group had to attend several official functions, like a cocktail party, a negotiations session, and a banquet in their honor. But they also had some time to roam the town of Plumton freely and investigate their two clues: The bellows they had found, and the dark grey powder which had been blown by the bellows into their room and caused their transformation.

The bellows had a maker's mark from leatherworker Master Dynrod, which they had previously encountered. So after some discussion they went to him with the bellows and with some story persuaded him to reveal who had bought it. That turned out to be not much of a problem, as Dynrod had sold the bellows to a stranger he didn't trust much, and had found out later that the stranger's name was Honrak, and that he lived in the pension of the widow Jocea. So the group got all the information on the buyer. Via the security guard of the seamstresses' guild they hired a few men to keep watch on the pension, but it turned out that Honrak was never seen leaving the premises and led a very secluded life.

At the various official functions they talked with members of the court, including Princess Taidra, which they had begun to suspect of involvement in the story. While the princess was only ever seen to be charming, the players suspected her of having a motive to bring down the prince with the assassination of his lover. While the Duchy didn't have a clear law of female primogeniture, the princess was the first-born, but the duke apparently favored the prince as his heir.

In the negotiations with Prince Ular and the other negotiators of the duchy, the players made progress in dispelling the safety concerns of the duchy, where there were still a lot of people afraid of a not clearly specified "Underdark menace". Only after the negotiations the sorceress in the group started to wonder whether those negotiations had been watched secretly by somebody. So under guise of a rendezvous with the minister she seduced, she searched the room during the banquet, found places where somebody *could* have hidden and listened, but no special secret door or listening devices.

As promised the high priest of the temple of Selune introduced the adventurers to the guildmaster of the alchemists' guild. That was an elderly man, with burn marks on his beard and clothing, but eager to praise the various capabilities of his guild to the "ambassadors". He told the group that his guild has several different faculties, from the alchemy of fire (his domain), to the preparation of love potions. He even mentioned that in the basement one alchemist named Yengo was working on necrotic alchemy, like trying to raise the dead. He invited the group to visit the guild the next morning.

After the banquet there was some discussion whether the group should watch the alchemists' guild inn order to prevent anybody who had seen them discussing with the guildmaster to intervene before their visit there. But in the end they decided to just go there early and go to bed. In fact their investigation had not gone unnoticed, but the response wasn't the one they had expected: Instead of intervening at the alchemists' guild, Honrak came to their room in the middle of the night in order to assassinate them. That put the group in a tactically worse situation than if they had gone after Honrak in his lodgings. Fortunately they had put up a guard, and it was the dwarfen fighter who stood guard when Honrak came through the window. But everybody else was in their beds, and not wearing armor.

I ruled that it takes a full round to don armor, so the rogue and the druid, who both have melee attacks spent one round doing that, while the ranged and caster members didn't bother with armor. Unfortunately it was already rather late when we started that fight, so after the surprise round and two full rounds of combat we decided to stop the session and finish the fight next year.

Sunday, December 14, 2014
Companion apps

A lot of modern games are not very complicated, and don't require you to know or remember much stuff. The ultimate example of that are games with Quicktime events, where you don't even need to remember what button to push, the game will tell you. On the other end of the scale are simulations and open world games, where remembering where stuff was, or knowing the average price of a tradeable good is quite necessary for success. In the past I used a second screen on my PC where I could display such information. But today the more modern version of that concept are companion apps.

For example I recently picked up Assassin's Creed IV : Black Flag at a Steam sale. Nice game, except that is crashes to a black screen from time to time. Anyway, the game comes with a companion app which you can install on basically any tablet or smart phone. Once you synchronize the game with the app, you have a second screen for all sorts of information. Most useful is the tablet holding the map of the game, updating your position in real time; you can even select your next target on the tablet and get the marker beamed back into the game. You can also check the loads of information in your database about people, locations, documents, and so on which you found in the game, again updated in real time.

I know that other games have companion apps as well, for example Destiny or Titanfall. In the new World of Warcraft expansion, you can manage your garrison with a companion app. In that case the idea is that the WoD garrisons work a bit like mobile games, where you are supposed to do some small activity from time to time, and having access to that on a mobile platform is helpful. Watch Dogs has a companion app which lets you control the police and play against your friends who are on their PC/console. So there are a range of different concepts for companion apps, some more useful than others. But as there are less and less people out there without some mobile device, I can only presume that we will see a lot more companion apps for games in the future.

Friday, December 12, 2014
Free speech and censorship

One Book Shelf is a company that allows indie tabletop game developers to self-publish their games as digital downloads. Somebody tried to self-publish the "Gamergate Card Game" there. Somebody else objected. One Book Shelf decided to pull the plug on that game. Some people are enraged about censorship. A different outrage about censorship recently occurred when two retailers in Australia refused to sell Grand Theft Auto V in their stores. So this might be a good moment to discuss freedom of speech and censorship.

First of all, freedom of speech is never absolute. In the United States of America, which have a strong constitutional protection of free speech in the first amendment, there is a long list of exceptions to freedom of speech recognized by the Supreme Court. Sorry Gamergaters, your death threats to women in gaming are not protected as free speech. The law recognizes that some forms of speech are likely to do so much harm, that it is better to not protect them.

But in the above cases the situation is a very different one. You could say that there is a clash of two different sides right of freedom of speech. If I owned a book shop for example, specialized in political books, I would be perfectly in my rights of freedom of speech to only carry books whose political opinions I agreed with. I would be perfectly in my rights to not sell books whose political opinions I disagree with. If I ran "The Capitalist Book Store", nobody could force me to sell Thomas Piketty's "Capital", or the version from Karl Marx.

Note that this isn't the same as a whole country banning a specific book. You can buy Grand Theft Auto V in Australia. GTA5 has not been "censored" or banned in Australia. There are just some shops which have decided that it would be better for their business not to sell this particular video game. That is a business decision, and a private business has every right to make decisions like that. If you would somehow put laws into place by which you could force a store to sell specific games, that law would effectively be censorship in itself, and hurt the right to freedom of speech of the business in question.

And it does not matter if the business making that sort of decision has a huge market share, and selling a product by different channels would be far more difficult. Steam can ban a game if the game's developers makes death threats to Gabe Newell. Yes, that makes it much more difficult to get hold of that game, but it still isn't censorship. It probably works as a business decision for Steam pour encourager les autres. Nobody is preventing the "Gamergate Card Game" to be published elsewhere, it is just one business that decided not to sell that product.

In short, your liberty to swing your fist ends where the next person's nose begins.

Thursday, December 11, 2014
Hell is other gamers

Liore from Herding Cats has an interesting blog post on alienation, which she ends with: "Hell, as it turns out, is other gamers.". I don't really want to discuss the Gamergate part of her post, because that movement kind of died after promoting their arch-enemy to national TV fame. But I was interested in Liore's tale of being insulted for playing badly in the alpha version of Heroes of the Storm. Because to me that shows that there isn't a localized problem of the players of any particular game being especially toxic, but that there is a fundamental problem with online cooperative multiplayer games.

I was born in the 60's. Which means my youth was spend without video games, but with more old-fashioned activities, like playing soccer with the neighborhood kids. And one of the fundamental rules of those kinds of games is that everybody is welcome to join. Yes, there is always the fat kid that gets picked last when establishing teams, even at that age and that long ago we kids already knew who was "performing" better than others. But anybody was still welcome to play, and there were elaborate picking schemes to make sure the two teams had about the same number of under-performers on the team and were evenly matched.

The difference that I see today is A) people don't want to be evenly matched any more, and B) given the larger population online the better players don't want to play with the under-performers any more. And I find that both stupid and sad. We have created a world in which people routinely hate the people on their own team much more than they hate the opposing team.

I quite like World of Tanks in that respect, even though I haven't played much this year. As long as you play just random battles in World of Tanks, you are likely to have a win:loss ratio of 50:50. Only if you play with pre-organized teams can you deviate much from that. A random matchmaking WoT battle is 15 vs. 15 players, and even if you performed one sigma or two above (or below) average, the overall win chance would still be very close to 50% due to you being only 3% of the players on the field.

In a 5 vs. 5 battle of a MOBA game a single over- or under-performer makes more of a difference. And there is an additional performance boost in all cooperative multiplayer online games if you play repeatedly with the same team. So if your team isn't big enough to fill all slots and you get a mix of people who are trained to play in that team and others who are new to the team, there can be a huge performance difference. That is true for MMORPG raiding as well.

What I very much dislike is the anger and expressed hate that frequently happens in those situations. I believe that in a team vs. team game a 50% win chance is the best possible outcome. If your chance to win is over 50% that means that the other team has a less than 50% chance to win, which isn't much fun for them (and might well lead to them quitting prematurely). And, perhaps even more importantly, two evenly matched teams leads to the maximum amount of challenge for both teams. One side walking over the other is not just no fun for the losers, but also kind of boring for the winners. So why do people hate being evenly matched so much?

Natural talent tends to be distributed in a normal (or Gaussian) distribution. Most people are around average, or to be more precise 68% of people are between plus 1 and minus 1 standard deviation from average. Only 5% of people are more than 2 standard deviations away from average. If you are exactly average, a random player paired with you has a 50% chance of being better or being worse than you. But if you are above average, most players are less good than you are. That is rather basic mathematics. So it is somewhat surprising that many people believe that A) they are better than average, and B) a matchmaking system should be able to always only group them with people who are at least as good as they are. Presumably all the less good players should magically be forced to enter the opposing team. You don't need to be a math genius to realize that this isn't possible. Being grouped with less good players is the normal state of affairs, and the better you play, the more likely that becomes. You should be *happy* if you are only grouped with people playing worse than you, because it means you are really good yourself.

The fundamental problem of this kind of games is that the number of people on one team is fixed. Any under-performer on a team blocks a spot onto which a better player would have contributed more to winning the game. Compare that to MMORPGs with PvP modes without restrictions, where everybody is welcome to join the zerg that is attacking that keep, because even the under-performers are better than no player at all.

I am wondering if 5 vs. 5 MOBA games are the worst possible design for an online multiplayer game. It appears to me that this setup maximizes hate between players on the same team. Maybe somebody needs to come up with a different format.

Tuesday, December 09, 2014
Gutting a troll

I am not a huge fan of long dungeon crawls in tabletop roleplaying games. A sequence of "open door, kill monsters, loot" does not an interesting story make. You can have some fun moments with things like traps or interesting turns in combat, but the story-line tends to be somewhat simple. I always considered dungeon crawls to be tabletop roleplaying for beginners. In my adventures I keep them short, and intersperse them between more story-rich roleplaying encounters.

That sort of design served me well since we started our 4th edition Dungeons & Dragons campaign. 4th edition works much better with fewer, more epic fights than with lots of small fights. And a sequence of many long fights isn't a good option either. The adventure writers of Wizards of the Coast learned that over the years, and the later 4E adventures they make have exactly that mix of short dungeons and story encounters that works well. Unfortunately that is not true of the early 4E adventures, some of which are considered to be the worst adventure modules in 40 years of D&D history, and contributed much to the bad reputation of 4E.

In two or three sessions the current adventure of my campaign will end, and the idea was to also end the campaign there and start a new one. Then real life intervened: One of my players will not be able to play in the first quarter of next year. And as the start of the next campaign is crucial for the success of that campaign, I don't want to start without him. I offered to fill the gap with the 5th edition Starter Set, but my players weren't much interested in 5E (which isn't available in French). So we decided to play one more adventure of the old campaign. Which means playing at level 11, where the game changes from "heroic" to "paragon" paths, adding some extra rules.

I have the first official paragon adventure from WotC: P1 King of the Trollhaunt Warrens, both in English and French. So I decided to do that as the next adventure, so that I didn't have to start from scratch. But then of course this is one of the early 4E adventures with a long dungeon crawl: The Trollhaunt Warrens of the title have 24 rooms. Which not only risks to be a boring sequence of troll fights, but also would take too long for a "filler" adventure.

Having said that, King of the Trollhaunt Warrens has some interesting bits. The underlying story is usable, and there are a number of handouts and maps I might want to use. So what I am going to do over the Christmas holidays is to create a much shorter adventure using only the good bits of the published module. In a way the 4E encounter-centric design helps there: It is easy enough to reduce the number of rooms in a dungeon, as the game already treats them very much as being separate. I can even have some spare encounters to do or leave out in function of our progress. The Favorites of Selune will live on until April next year or so.

Monday, December 08, 2014
Trust is easy for iPad game reviews

I saw a 5 out of 5 star review for BattleLore: Command on Pocket Tactics and immediately bought the game. In fact I buy most of the games which Pocket Tactics gives 5 stars to. But there is no PC game publication into which I put a similar degree of trust. Now on the one side that is because of the good quality of reviews on Pocket Tactics. But there are a lot of PC game publications that do good reviews too. The difference is rather that an iPad game usually costs under €10, and sometimes way under. So it is a simple matter of risk evaluation: I don't risk much by trusting the review, but I have a chance of gaining much fun. Easy!

Sunday, December 07, 2014
Back on Pandora

Steam tells me that I played Borderlands 2 for over 100 hours, while I played the original Borderlands for only 10 hours. I always had the feeling that I had messed up when playing the first Borderlands: I had experimented with various game modes early on, gotten into cooperative multiplayer at a relatively low level, and ended up being completely overpowered for the story mission. And of course if you already have epic weapons from multiplayer, the loot from lower level single-player missions isn't exactly exciting. But somehow I didn't want to start over at the time, and then simply drifted away, starting to play something else.

When I recently saw Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel on Steam, I remembered having fun with Borderlands 2. But hey, why spend 50 Euro on the pre-sequel if I haven't properly played the original Borderlands yet? So I put the pre-sequel on my wishlist for the next sale, and installed Borderlands 1 instead. I might end up playing the three games in reverse chronological order. Which is interesting in a way, for example in BL1 my choice of characters is among the main NPCs of BL2.

In single-player shooters I quite like sniper rifles. But I already played Mordecai the first time around. And sniper rifles are fun even if you don't have a character specialized in them. So this time I went for Roland. And I'll just play the single-player campaign and stay away from multiplayer.

Saturday, December 06, 2014
Use shovel with X

I pretty much stopped playing adventures somewhere in the 90's, after there had been some great games like The Secret of Monkey Island or Grim Fandango and the genre fell out of fashion. I know that with The Walking Dead from Telltale adventures are somewhat back in favor again. But I am not a fan of horror stories, and especially dislike the zombiecalypse scenario. I can never suspend my disbelief over something so silly. So I never tried The Walking Dead, and not even The Wolf Among Us. But this week Telltale released another episodic adventure on The Game of Thrones, which is much more up my alley. So I bought the game, which means paying for all episodes and only getting the first one yet. Short version of this blog post: I regretted that purchase.

Adventure games used to be about clever puzzles, and I guess some of the new ones still are. But apparently not the Telltale adventures. The gameplay consists nearly exclusively of dialogue choices and Quicktime events. Not expecting those I had problems at first in the prologue / tutorial: The tutorial taught me only mouse commands, so when suddenly an up arrow appeared on my screen I assumed I had to do some up movement with the mouse. Turns out I had to press the "W" key. But as the game hadn't used WASD movement before that point, that wasn't obvious, and would have been exactly the sort of stuff that I would expect a tutorial to be more explicit about. Once you know which button is which, the rest of the game becomes trivially easy. Press the right button when shown on the screen and win.

The dialogue choices weren't much more interesting. I experimented a bit with playing through scenes several times, but the scene always ends the same way, regardless of my dialogue choices. Stupidly the dialogue choices have a timer, and even more stupidly you can stop that timer by pressing space as pause key. So why put a timer in in the first place? So that you can leave the keyboard and the let the game play through the dialogues by itself? The game pretends that you dialogue choices have consequences, giving you messages like "Lord Forester will remember that". In fact Lord Forester will remember until the end of his life, which happens about one minute later. It is hard to believe that a dead man's memories will have a huge impact on the story later.

So overall Telltale's Game of Thrones is almost exclusively there to tell a story. The story isn't half bad. But the gameplay certainly is. It is some sort of pseudo-interactive story, where the player doesn't really have any agency, but the game tries to keep up the pretense that he has. I would have had more fun if the same story had been told in an additional episode of the HBO series. I think for a real adventure game I need to play something from Daedalic.

Thursday, December 04, 2014
The DM as game designer

Game design is a big subject on this blog. But my interest in it is not just that of a player of games. I am also a dungeon master (DM) of a Dungeons & Dragons pen & paper role-playing campaign. And part of that job is game design. Now some people will say that D&D has been designed by TSR / WotC and the DM is just some kind of referee running the game. But in reality Wizards of the Coast only sell some sort of tool kit, not a complete game. Even if you play all rules as written and only use published adventures, the DM needs to fill huge gaps either by preparation or improvisation. And thinking about game design helps to make the overall experience a better one for both the players and the DM.

One important question in that respect is one we discussed earlier this week with regards to Bioshock Infinite: In how far is the story of the adventure you are playing pre-determined? That is an open question, and the response depends very much on the group of people you are playing with. On the one hand, especially when using published adventures, there is a "main story" to each adventure, and sometimes even the whole campaign. On the other hand, theoretically at least, the players have unlimited freedom to follow the story or not. Some DMs go as far as not preparing any story at all, but just creating an open "sandbox" world for the players to interact with.

My philosophy is that the optimum is somewhere in the middle. I don't want to railroad my players into following a pre-determined story with a pre-determined outcome. But I don't want to just leave them in the middle of some generic fantasy kingdom in which nothing happens without them either. So the general idea for my adventures is that there is a story of which I know how it *would* develop if the players would not interact with it at all. For example (and now that I think of it it could actually be a rather cool adventure), I could have the players arriving in a castle in the middle of the plot of Hamlet. But the players would be able to interact with the various NPCs and change the course of the story in one way or another. Only if they behaved as passive observers would the story play out exactly as written by Shakespeare.

Related to that is another game design question about the balance between combat encounters and other activities. By nature, combat encounters are relatively straightforward from a story point of view. Once combat begins, the usual outcome is the players killing the monsters, and looting them. If you string many of such encounters together in a large dungeon, you can get a hack'n'slash adventure in which the story quickly becomes secondary. So I am always trying to not have more than two or three combat encounters in series, creating other events which necessitate more talking and less fighting, with more opportunities for the story to develop in different directions.

The big advantage and opportunity of tabletop role-playing compared to computer games is that the DM can add elements to the story on the fly. For example in this week's session of my D&D campaign I had prepared a clue leading to an alchemist in the alchemist's guild. But my players were reluctant to just enter that guild and confront the alchemist head on. So they devised a plan to find somebody in the town who they could trust and ask him about the guild. They proposed going to the temple of their god and ask the local high priest. The high priest told them that they could easily meet the guildmaster of the alchemist guild the next day at a banquet. Both the high priest and the guildmaster were invented by me on the spot, in response to the ideas of the players. The principle is to always say yes to the ideas of your players, and thus let them introduce new elements into your story. That way you can design a game that responds directly to the expressed wishes of your players.

Wednesday, December 03, 2014
Online tools for Dungeons & Dragons

Before I started this blog I was writing a lot on the Magic the Gathering Online forums. Wizards of the Coast had contracted another company, Leaping Lizards, to create the MTGO software. The first version ran, but had issues. WotC then took over with in-house programmers, and things went rapidly downhill from there. Whether it was the Lizard's base program or the Wizards' update I can't say, but in any case Magic the Gathering Online never worked very well afterwards and never became such a big success as Blizzard's Hearthstone a decade later. (Apparently one has to have "izard" in the name to program an online trading card game).

Wizards of the Coast had acquired Dungeons & Dragons from TSR in 1997. TSR was well-known for having terrible online policies, going after people on Usenet that posted house rules and fan fiction in the early days of the internet. While WotC was a lot better with their Open Game License in 2000 allowing more participation of others in creating Dungeons & Dragons and exchanging stuff online, the D&D tools that WotC put online were always problematic. Frequently WotC promised great functionality and then barely delivered.

History is repeating itself with 5th edition of Dungeons & Dragons. Great online tools were promised, and then WotC kicked out he company developing those tools. Apparently the software developers and WotC had very different ideas on how to handle copyright and intellectual property.

I think games like Dungeons & Dragons have fundamental problems in their business model which makes taking them online difficult. There are unresolved issues between how WotC *thinks* their business works and how it really works. The business model on paper is that WotC sells rulebooks, adventures, and various source materials that players buy to play Dungeons & Dragons. The reality is more akin to that of a Free2Play game: Many people play Dungeons & Dragons for absolutely free. You don't even need a Player's Handbook to play D&D, you can borrow one from the player next to you, or use a photocopy. On the other side of the equation are "whales" like me, who bought every single 4th edition Dungeons & Dragons book (in my case even in two languages). Take that online and the clash between model and reality becomes evident: Online you *can* force every player to pay for a "Player's Handbook" or equivalent. Should you? I think that an online version of D&D in which every player is forced to pay non-trivial sums of money wouldn't work.

In addition to that WotC has a nice business of publishing official adventures, optional rules, and other game materials. And not all of that material is of really high quality. There are some gems, but there is a lot of rather average stuff. If you create a great online platform on which players can exchange their self-made adventures and game materials for free, a lot of that material will turn out to be better than the official fare.

In my opinion WotC is making an error to resist this online sharing culture. I believe a good online platform could draw a lot more players into the hobby. And even if they could play online for free and get free materials from other players, a good number of people would want to buy stuff from WotC just because they love the game. I can think of many intelligent ways where a D&D online platform could attract a lot of free players and then convert a good number of them into paying customers for various options. If they don't put good tools to play tabletop Dungeons & Dragons online, sooner or later somebody else will create a better competitor product. Do they really want another Hearthstone?


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