Friday, May 04, 2007

Thoughts on WotC's Digital Initiative

Taken from my D&D blog:

My initial thoughts on the end of Dragon and Dungeon's print run can be found here. It's only now however that I've extensively thought about Wizards of the Coast's (WotC) Digital Initiative and what could possibly be done with it (pretty much like any disclaimer you've seen in most blogs, this is a musing rather than a "things-that-will-be" or "insider information"). And if WotC has been silent about the matter and appear to be uncertain at what their final product will be, I think that's a good thing as they can still make some changes (and hopefully read this blog) -- that's one of the benefits of going digital: I work for a magazine and I know how much lead time it takes to work on printed material. (And in a way, that's the same problem D&D Miniatures faces -- it adjusts to the metagame two expansions in advance rather than in the succeeding set.)


A big chunk of the complaints and rants stems down to interface. A lot of fans want a printed product. The Digital Initiative simply isn't that, at least not at first glance. Personally, I think it boils down to people's ability to adapt. eBooks for example haven't caught on but that's not to say the medium is completely hopeless. And a lot of RPG products out there are being distributed as PDFs including one of my favorites, Malhavoc Press. As I previously stated, it boils down to whether you're wiling to adapt or not. iPod screens aren't optimum for watching videos but hey, people do so. I'm not comfortable reading eBooks on the computer but I find reading it on a PDA not much of a problem (unfortunately I don't own a PDA).

Yes, the Digital Initiative ain't Paizo's Dragon or Dungeon any more than Pathfinder is an exact equivalent: they're new products in different mediums, each with its own strengths and weaknesses.

Of course it's starting to be a pet peeve when people complain on an online message board that they have difficulty reading something online. I mean you're posting on a message board! Doesn't that necessitate the use of a computer and a monitor? If you've adapted to posting on message boards, you'll adapt to online delivery (in whatever form it may be). And if you're somehow handicapped (nearly blind, color blind, etc.), there's a better chance that you'll find a solution thanks to the fact that the document is online. I mean I don't see Paizo releasing a Dragon Magazine: Braille Edition anytime soon, but programs that reads out text out loud or magnify text size isn't unreasonable.

Lastly, unless there's some nifty electronic protection involved, you can print it (even if it involves using the Print Screen button for PC users or Command + Shift + 3 for Mac users). Better yet, you don't need to print everything. I mean if people hate ads or what they consider "unnecessary material" in magazines, this is the perfect solution: you get to print only what you need.


There's several ways to go with online delivery, each with its pros and cons. Right now what springs to mind is either they go web-based (using html, dhtml, xml--whatever as long as it can be viewed with a regular web browser) or PDF-based. Irregardless of what method they'll use, however, it'll have the benefit of coming out on time. Irregardless if I'm residing in the US, in Australia, in Germany, or in the Philippines, the publication will come out on time, simultaneously. I'll never need to worry about shipping, whether that means waiting for the package to be delivered to my door step or going through the hassle of picking it up at the post office.

1) Some people complain that they can't "collect" something that's not in print. Not true--if the Digital Initiative is released as a PDF, they're just as collectible. It's simply a different medium: they're called files. I mean I collect the web enhancements that's currently availble now. I save it in my hard drive and in my flash drive. I can port it over to another computer. It still counts as collecting. If it goes web-based, however, the complaint is understandable. I'll need online access and it'll appear as "one huge package" instead of the "monthlies" we're used to. That's not to say collecting "issues" will be impossible, it's just more difficult. I can only click "save us" so many times. If you want "collectability" PDF is the way to go and it's easily transportable to other machines/devices. If you want to print the product, PDF also seems like the likely answer. Lastly, if you want something that you can use once your subscription expires, again, PDF is a good answer. But PDF is not by any means the perfect solution as you'll see in my next points.

2) By going web-based, I don't have the restrictions of a paper medium. What I mean by constraints is that an article only needs to be long as it needs to be (or as short as it needs to be). There's less need for unnecessary material just to make it appear that the page is "filled up". Normally in a magazine, this takes the form of ads, additional illustrations, or simply statements in the article that is repeated and has a bigger size for emphasis. The problem with going PDF is you're essentially still reproducing a printed product without the printing costs. Eventually you'll need to layout the product as if it were a printed magazine which again means empty spaces and/or fillers. And because it's web-based, there's little need to cut out "necessary" material because of page limitations. Of course going web-based isn't without its disadvantages. Anyone who's done web design and layout knows how mutable the format is. What might look good on my computer might look horrible on someone else's computer. A lot of variables are involved, everything from web browser to resolution size to the OS you're using. If you're using a computer that's old enough, the web page might not even load at all. But this mutability could be a good thing as well -- one could easily design a product so that depending on which country I'm from, I could get a product that's in Japanese if I'm a Japanese-speaker, in English if I'm an English-speaker (or braille if I'm blind).

3) I think the biggest valaue for the format is instant errata. Will there be mistakes in the product? We're only human. But the good thing about going web-based is that corrections can be made once it's spotted or mentioned. As a web-based product, this is an optimal advantage. As a PDF, it's trickier. If this is to be implemented, we'll be having issues like Digital Initiative #100 version 1.0, followed with a release the next day with Digital Initiative #100 version 1.1 and so forth.

Of course while this is all possible, it only matters if the guys and gals at WotC makes use of it. Just because a DVD can have this and that feature doesn't mean all DVDs have additional features in them. Having said that, what I mentioned is merely the top of the iceberg. Here's some suggestions for maximizing the medium:

Things I'd Like to See in Digital Initiative:

1) An online product and not simply a printed product placed on the web -- there's a lot of things that can be done with online products and we've barely scratched the surface. It's not just about interactive programs such as a tile mapper or a character generator, there's simply more that can be done with an online magazine than with a printed one. For example, interviews don't need to be simply read (although a transcript is always helpful): it could be presented via mp3 (a Podcast) or video. I mean there'll be nuances and body language that can never be captured in a transcript. There could even be some animation going on in the "ecology" articles. Or simply an image gallery where it was limited to one or two pictures of each NPC/monster/magic item.

2) Maps -- I loved Dungeon magazine and if it's going online, I think a point for improvement are the maps. WotC can give me maps in various resolutions (hi-res and lo-res, the former if I'm printing them, the second if I'm viewing/projecting them from the computer) and in various sizes (either to fit the screen/printed paper or on a 1:1 scale). I can also get maps with various information on them: in player friendly format (without revealing where the secret doors, traps, and monsters are) and in DM-only format (where all the details are included). They can even do something creative and give it to me from a different angle, such as a first-person perspective. And since they don't have to print it, they can give it to me in a lot of formats that would have otherwise taken up valuable page space. I mean that's my complaint about Expedition to Castle Ravenloft: the maps are great for the GM, but it's not as good when running an actual game for the players. I can't use the maps as visuals because a) they're too small and b) they give too much away. With this online format, I get the best of both worlds, especially if the Digital Initiative is going to give me adventures and adventure paths.

3) Updates on Monsters -- I'm currently playing 3.5 and a lot of 3.0 monsters (or even AD&D ones) haven't been converted. This is the perfect place to update them. And even if they were already updated to 3.5, it's a good place to use the new stat block (which I find to be easier to utilize) and include the results for their respective Knowledge checks. I mean some people were complaining about rehashing old monsters in Monster Manual IV and slapping class levels on them -- this is the perfect place to feature them. Better yet, it's the perfect partner to the "Ecology of..." articles Dragon was publishing. Throw in NPCs as well for that matter.

So far, those are the "general" things I want. I mean fans will most likely want to include their favorite campaign setting into the mix, etc. The great thing about online content is that it's actually viable now without having to worry about page count (although WotC still needs to worry about paying freelancers).

But like all things, it's a wait-and-see. Just because "it can be done" doesn't mean "it will be done".

1 comment:

Charles said...

Can anyone place the url where is linking this blog to?