Wednesday, May 29, 2013

D&D Next First Product

Last Friday, a friend of mine shared a link he'd found, and expressed a few concerns about it.

See, Wizards of the Coast has announced their first D&D Next product.  It'll be a GenCon Exclusive book that is still (effectively) a beta book (Similar to Fantasy Flight Games' Star Wars: Edge of the Empire book from last year).

Here's why it's a problem:

  1. Wizards of the Coast won't have a sales booth at GenCon this year. Instead, product can be picked up at Gale Force Nine's booth (#423).
  2. You can pre-order it online, but it must be picked up at GenCon.  Presumably, unsold copies are being pulped or something. (Who am I kidding? There will be no unsold copies!)
  3. Wizards of the Coast has been working very hard to involve the community in Next.  VERY hard. And, by making the first product with the name Next attached to it an exclusive, they're effectively spitting in the face of everyone who has been playtesting and providing free marketing via word of mouth.

Can you guess which one is the biggest problem for me (and for nearly everyone I've dealt with)?

"But wait,"  you may say, "Isn't GenCon the biggest gaming convention on the planet?  Surely a sizeable percentage of gamers who want the book will be there!"

GenCon is the largest analog game-oriented convention in North America. But PAX is bigger - and has more open gaming than GenCon. That's right: PAX's secondary focus on tabletop gaming is still better-handled and organized that GenCon's primary focus.  But that's a discussion for another time. That's also before we look at some of the big European conventions like (for example) Essen.

So GenCon isn't the big kid on the block.

Yes, GenCon is big.  Yes, GenCon pulls folks from all over the world - but 90% of their attendees are still from North America.  As an exhibitor, I talk to customers all day. Rarely do I talk to someone whose accent isn't local to North America.  And yes, I'm including Canada in that list.

So even if a significant percentage of North American gamers go to GenCon (and they don't), you're still excluding the rest of the world from this product.

Now, I don't have an issue with convention exclusive promos.  Because normally, they are found at multiple conventions scattered across the globe.  And many publishers will do a non-promotional version for later release (or will release their con promos elsewhere later).

Most convention promos also aren't the very first product for the newest version of the best-known RPG on the market.

Wizards of the Coast has worked very hard to get the crowd involved with the project.  No earlier version of D&D has had any playtesting that was as public as this version's.  The community is interested in this new version.  VERY interested.  And Wizards has been very VERY open about it, with a long stream of blog posts about this design decision or that design decision.  There are people who haven't spent money on D&D product since second edition who are considering picking up Next - because WotC is trying to make it appeal to us.

So why would they then take this huge crowd they've created and only make the book available to a very small handful of them? Good job alienating your core audience, there, WotC.  I don't think it'll make any sort of long-term major difference for your sales, but right now I know you're struggling to justify continued publication of D&D to your corporate masters (Hasbro), and every sale counts.  Especially the ones you lost with this maneuver.

Within hours of the product being announced, I'd already received half a dozen requests from friends, "Can you pick this up for me at GenCon?"  And, rather than pick-and-choose or anger five of my friends, I'll not be picking it up at all.

That's right, WotC: You lost your sale to me, too. And I am your target audience.

Great job.


  1. "Open gaming" != "gaming."

    I can get open gaming at a local game store. I want organized play at Gen Con. So while I haven't been to PAX (and probably never will due to date conflicts) I disagree with your logic about PAX handling tabletop gaming better based on them having more open gaming.

    1. James,

      PAX has a ton of organized gaming, too. I - personally - tend to prefer open gaming, because I'm still a boardgamer before I am a roleplayer, and very few RPGs have managed to have the same pick-up-and-play that most board games have.

  2. What I don't understand is why being a beta tester gave us exclusive rights to the first collectible of D&D Next. Seems like having close to a year of free access and the right to comment and shape the final was a pretty good perk.

    I guess my umbrage dial is turned way too low, but boycotting a game because of a Gencon collectible sold exclusively at Gencon, seems over the top.

  3. Blake,

    To me, it's a matter of "Be part of the team! Check out this game! Help us build it! Oh, you can't have that, though. That's reserved for the one-percenters."

  4. I'm not sure 4 exclusive modules rises to quite that level for me. Though the idea of an OccupyGencon forming does make me laugh.

  5. What do you recommend as an alternative?

    Don't release anything at Gen Con?

    Do the print edition as an exclusive, but sell the PDF through DriveThru?

    Publish a preview edition of Next that's available to everyone through direct sales, but not retailers?

    Publish a preview edition of Next that ships through distributors to retailers?

    1. Wade,

      The issue is that they're indicating that these things will never appear elsewhere.

      If they did a "limited GenCon version" and then later did an "unlimited" version of the same content, that would be okay with me.

      Or if they were taking it to other conventions, I wouldn't mind. Or if it were going to be available online (like Privateer did with War Machine's promo figs).

      But GenCon Only - when you don't even have a booth of your own at GenCon - is totally obnoxious.