So a slew of announcements has come out from WotC and quite a few have caused a stir with folks. To quickly give a summary WotC is pulling full support for the painted miniatures and going with smaller, special figures as limited runs. The content for Dragon and Dungeon are no longer be compiled as a single PDF, rather they will be provided piecemeal as individual articles. And lastly a few books are being pulled from the release schedule completely, and quite possibly will be reintroduced in some other format.
For the miniatures, I’m no surprised. I always thought it was cost prohibitive for most new players to get into. The deal with minis is you really need a lot, and a variety, to add to someones game. Yeah, you can heavily use proxies and make those 8 goblins you have represent nearly any other creature the players fight, but that gets old. It always blew my mind that WotC never pushed into making token sets like what other companies had put out. With the essentials line it looks like the feedback has been overwhelmingly positive. I do think tokens are a great product for WotC to dip their toes in. Too bad the miniature line had to be completely dumped in the process.
As for the lack of a single PDF file for Dragon and Dungeon I can understand. I believe you sometimes had different versions, as the magazine issues were the ‘clarified’ and ‘errata’ versions of earlier articles. Slimming that process down to a single article I’m sure saved some money somewhere.
However I think with the announcement of the pulled books, it’s clear to me that focus for profits is with people keeping up DDI subscriptions and I think the hardback book format might be falling from favor. Until the DDI can provide a suite of tools for the D&D player, I think they are dependant on getting out content as articles and adventures. I think until the virtual tabletop comes out, WotC is under a lot of pressure to keep people justifying their DDI subscription. Folks are rabid for new content, to keep the DDI beast going you’ve got to feed the fans a constant stream of material.
Shuffling some materials planned for books into digital content is a decent strategy. Why release a book on magical items? Why not make it a new monthly feature for Dragon magazine instead? Same material, just presented in a different format. It helps keep folks maintaining a more profitable subscription, not to mention it is material that can easily be integrated into other online tools.
I think that is one reason also for the new format. I’m certain that WotC is really looking at the digital format not to just replace books, but as a way to integrate into other tools for the game. I can easily see them indexing digital content into an adventure builder. Want to make an appropriate encounter for Dark Sun including the fluff? Just click the appropriate filters for-an-unnamed-furture-release-DDI-exclusive-adventure-builder. BAM! You now have a list of magical items, monsters, map tiles, the works, and all can be used for that campaign setting.
Clearly having people gaining access to material based on a long term subscription is more profitable than having people make a one time purchase for books. Also, the more fragmented content you have, the less inclined you’ll be to maintain your own digital copy. Folks might be willing to keep 24 pdfs a year saved some place. Individually download and index 240 items though (figure 10 articles a month for Dragon and Dungeon)? Well now you’ve got something downright unwieldy to use.
I don’t blame WotC. They are a company. They are seeing a clear profit model in the DDI subscription. I do think as tablet devices and smart phones get more integrated into online use by the general public, there is a market there to be tapped for RPGs. I think WotC sees this as something to get into. Who knows what is on the horizon as technology progresses (surface scapes anyone?). I guess time will tell.
Me? In this interconnected online world of RPGs, I’ll miss my books, dice, and pushing little plastic men around.