At GenCon 2008, we sat down at a round table with several WotC staff members: Mike Mearls (Lead Developer for D&D), Scott Rouse (Lead Brand Manager for D&D), and Randy Buehler (VP of Digital Games.)
The first part mainly deals with D&D Insider and the GSL. Part two will deal more with Mike Mearls and R&D questions.
Critical-Hits: How’s the show been going for you so far?
Mike Mearls: Pretty well so far, pretty busy schedule with all the events and stuff, but so far so good.
Scott Rouse: Yeah, it’s been going great. Like Mike said, it’s been busy, but the response to fourth edition has been tremendous. People are here checking out D&D Insider, so all in all I think it’s going really well.
Randy Buehler: I spent all day at the D&DI kiosk watching people come up and start using the tools. It actually made me feel better. I certainly wish we had those things up and running already, and turning our company into a technology company is hard, so it’s nice when people come up and say “can I have this? When can I pay? Can I give you money? I want this now!” People are just frothing at the mouth, so it’s really nice to see people enjoying the tools we’re working on.
CH: Which tools are up and running for people to demo here?
RB: We’ve got the character visualizer and the character builder on the kiosks ready to be played with. They’re pretty much beta-ready at this point. They’re really close to the point where we can start sharing them with the public.
Big picture with Insider is some of it is up and running on the website already, like Dragon and Dungeon, and the Compendium, and a couple of bonus tools. That free trial is there right now, you should check it out while it’s still free. We will start charging for that stuff relatively soon, and the builder is what’s going to be next.
We have this vision of a complete suite of client applications. The strategy is to focus on them one at a time. So we’ll get the builder done first, get it polished, get it out there, and it is exactly what everyone is hoping it will be. It is every rule from every book and the magazines that R&D has thought of. Right now, how do you build your character? It’s the twelve edition, there’s a stack of books, having this application walks you through “make this decision, make this decision”, here’s your character sheet, the math is right, here’s your power cards. It’s pretty much what people are hoping it will be. We really want to get that out there first.
The visualizer will not be far behind it. The game table is the other one that has been really fun for me to watch. We’re doing “hand demos” essentially. It’s not quite a stable application, but the functionality is there. It’s not intuitive yet, you gotta know which keyboard shortcuts to make it run right now. Didier Monin is the producer for the project and plays it like a piano. He’s giving the demos. It does everything. People are saying “I want this, I wish I had it already.”
Anyway, you asked how the show was going, and I’ve had a great show so far.
CH: How far has the game table progressed since the D&D Experience?
RB: It’s a better build. It’s got a lot more functionality. At the trajectory we’re going now, it’s not going to ship this year. It’s not going to ship in 2008, particularly because we’re focusing on the builder and visualizer. Every time I watch D&DI, it’s got more functionality than even I realize. You can set it up dual-screen for your home game so you have DM view on one screen and player view on the other. There’s all this stuff you can do on the fly.
SR: Since the Experience, it’s gone through a couple modifications in the UI [user interface] and gone through a few rounds of usability testing, with actual players. We get them in and put them on the game table, and try to run the Voice Over IP through its paces. We expect it’ll go through another round of testing before it’s where we want it to be.
CH: So you’re getting regular players to sit down and use it?
SR: Yeah, we tried to bring in a wide range of people. We tried to get people who are real heavy computer game players, and heavy D&D players, as well as people who don’t have much experience with MMOs or tools like this that are on the market now. We’re getting a wide range of opinions and eyeballs on it and get it right.
CH: Has R&D gotten to play with it yet?
MM: I personally haven’t, but there’s been open tests in the office, and there’s been a lot of the tools coming through. A lot of people are eager to see these things in action.
RB: There’s a regular Tuesday night game in the office right now that uses the game table.
CH: We know that there’s a lot of people who are looking forward to getting their old game groups back together, even if they’ve moved to all different parts of the world.
RB: It’s going to be awesome. We probably could have waited a while longer to tease, and we probably teased louder than we should have a year ago, but it’s coming together. We’re going to get there.
CH: Can you talk about the two subscriptions model?
RB: We’ve announced two price points at this stage. We’ve announced our price point when the whole thing is up and running. That price point is $9.95 a month if you commit for a year, and it goes up if you commit for less time. I think it’s $15 a month if you go month to month.
In addition, we’ve announced a web content package, which is the first thing we’ll be selling. The stuff that’s currently in free trial: the magazines, the Compendium, and the bonus tools. That’ll be $4.95 a month if you commit for a year, and it goes up to $8 if you go month to month. So those two price packages are what has been publicly announced at this point.
Obviously, we’re going to see how it goes and react to feedback from the marketplace. We’ll put up the web-content only package, and make decisions down the road and get feedback and data.
CH: Do you have a plan going from the web-only content to the full package?
RB: There’s a couple of different directions it could go, but I can tell you for sure that we’re not going to charge anybody more unless they want more content, and we’re going to honor whatever anybody signs up for. If you sign up for the magazines at a certain price for a year, you’re going to get the magazines for that price for a year.
CH: The big thing is if you sign up for the magazines…
RB: …and you want to upgrade later. We’ll figure that out. We obviously know that’s what people are going to want to do, and we want to make sure we have an intelligent way to do it.
CH: The other big thing lately is the GSL, can you talk about that?
SR: Sure. It kind of goes the same as D&D Insider, coming out with another pricing option and package. With the GSL, we’ve been talking a lot with publishers, reading messageboards, and getting feedback from fans who are just interested parties on the outside. I don’t really want to get into details about what we’re going to do, but I’ve been talking to publishers here at the show, and saying “here’s what we’re proposing, how do you think that’s going to go”, and response has been very good. We’re going to make it more user-friendly, and it’s something ultimately that I feel that publishers are going to want to sign up for.
CH: Have you specifically been reaching out to the publishers who said they weren’t going to sign on specifically because of the license and no other reason?
SR: Absolutely. We have some publishers that have signed on already: Mongoose and Goodman Games for example have already announced their intentions to put out fourth edition products under the GSL. Then there are other publishers who said they weren’t going to sign the GSL, like Clark Peterson at Necromancer Games. We’re using him as a bellweather. He was a real strong proponent of the GSL from the beginning, and there was some stuff in there that didn’t work for him, so we’re kind of bouncing ideas of him and using him as the litmus test. What he has told me is “Scott, if those changes go through, I’m totally onboard.” Ultimately, seeing will be believing, once we put it out and let people digest it, but I feel really good about it.
CH: So your main advisor on this whole thing is Orcus?
SR: Pretty much, Prince of the Undead, can’t go wrong there.