A few days ago, Wizards of the Coast announced the upcoming release of a digital toolset called D&D Beyond.
On the surface, this seems like a great idea and the screenshots definitely make the product look polished and slick. Almost immediately, I signed up for the Beta programme and settled back to await the confirmation email which would give me access.
Then I read this post on Reddit from Adam Bradford, DDB Product Lead for Curse. Adam only goes into limited details about how content on the new product will be licensed but it’s clear from his post that core D&D content will need to be purchased again within the app. Furthermore there is likely to be a monthly subscription if you want to do anything beyond storing a handful of characters or if you want to add homebrew content into the mix.
Understandably, there has been some outrage and more than a few withering comments regarding the proposed business model. As a user researcher in my day job, I’m just amazed that user research didn’t reveal to Wizards of the Coast that there would be a huge objection to this kind of service amongst their core customer base. A single post on Reddit seems to overwhelmingly suggest that not only are people not prepared to pay for it, but that they are generally quite angry at the suggestion.
As a returning gamer, coming back after a 23 year hiatus, I am a keen Virtual Tabletop user. Fantasy Grounds and Roll20 have allowed me to get back into DMing at my own pace, in the surroundings of my own home and with minimal disruption to family life (no mean feat for a hobby where games last for hours at a time). In fact, I love both VTTs so much that I happily make the minimal subscription payments to both.
However, my biggest gripe with both these services is the cost of the licensed Wizards of the Coast add-ons. To charge the same price again for the luxury of accessing the content which you already own in hardback book format is a travesty. I’ve no doubt either that Wizards of the Coast is driving that price point. D&D Beyond now looks set to continue that cynical business model.
As slick as D&D Beyond looks, it doesn’t (as far as we are currently aware) offer the additional functionality of a Virtual Tabletop – a defining functional oversight which surely leaves it further down the fiscal priority list for cash-strapped DMs and players. Right now there are a multitude of free tools out there doing the same job as D&D Beyond. Granted, none are doing it in the kind of one-stop-shop application that D&D Beyond is rumoured to be but that’s not going to be enough to save D&D Beyond.
Until such time as Wizards of the Coast tie up ownership of physical products with their digital equivalent, or at least tailor the pricing accordingly, then I can’t see D&D Beyond being a success. Which is a shame, because it looks like a great product.