Should D&D Next be Free2Play?
Posted by Tobold's Blog [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 12 April 2013, 2:43 am
The Free2Play business model has gone from "you can't do that in the West" to one of the dominant business models for MMORPGs in a few years. While it certainly isn't a panacea, it certainly can get more people to try out your product than other business models can. That makes me wonder whether this could be a solution for pen & paper roleplaying games as well. Dungeons & Dragons has a rather unfortunate business model in which every few years a new edition comes out which is largely incompatible with all the books you bought before. The currently worked on edition, officially "D&D Next" is sometimes also called 5th edition, but if you consider that there was an edition 3.5, and some editions of D&D in parallel to AD&D, the total number of Dungeons & Dragons editions is in fact even larger. That understandably pisses a lot of people off. A part of hate spewed on various forums in the "edition wars" is in fact people trying to justify what fundamentally is a good economic decision, sticking with what you have instead of paying hundreds of dollars for a slightly different version which might or might not be "better".

Understanding this it becomes obvious that the attempt of Wizards of the Coast of winning old customers back by making D&D Next play "more like" previous editions, while still forcing everybody to buy new books, is not necessarily going to work. If they look at people's sound economic reasons for not buying a new edition of D&D, it becomes clear that game design is not a solution. WotC has to work on their business model. And Free2Play might just be the ticket.

How would that work? Easy, the basic rulebooks of D&D Next should be free: Player's Handbook, Dungeon Master's Guide, and Monster Manual, maybe with a little booklet on how to play with one solo adventure and one real adventure thrown in, like in the Red Box. Players would be able to download that package as PDF for free from the Dungeons & Dragons website. They could even inscribe themselves on that website to receive a softcover version of the material for just the cost of shipping. For people without internet, game stores would sell pre-paid postcards priced at the cost of shipping, which you fill in, send to WotC and receive your basic D&D Next books.

Wizards of the Coast would then make money by selling everything else at the usual prices: Deluxe hardcover versions of the PH, DM, and MM; all further rulebooks with new classes, monsters, and the like; adventures that come in nice boxes with maps, handouts, tokens and everything else needed to play the adventure; and so on. Just like in every other Free2Play model the idea is to get a lot of people playing your game for free, and then trust that a good number of them will get hooked and pay for your non-free parts of the game.

Of course this would be a rather daring and novel approach in the pen & paper roleplaying business. But it would be a logical extrapolation of previous attempts of making the basic product relatively cheap. Wizards of the Coast could really make a high impact here, beating both their big competitors like Paizo and the various indie RPGs which rely on cheaper online distribution. Ultimately a lot of these products are rather similar to each other, and it could well be the best business model which wins the day here.
Tobold's Blog

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