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Exclusive D&D Insider Pre-Launch Interview

Posted Mon, Oct 20, 2008 by Cody Bye

Questions by Cody "Micajah" Bye, Managing Editor
Answers by Randy Buehler, VP of Digital Gaming

The developers at Wizards of the Coast have been the kings of their industries - tabletop RPGa and card games - for years. Yet it's no surprise that the time of many tabletop gamers has come under attack by digital gaming, specifically massively multiplayer online games. So it came as no surprise when WotC announced that they were developing a series of digital programs, collectively dubbed D&D Insider.  Ten Ton Hammer's Cody "Micajah" Bye has been closely following the development of D&D Insider, and he recently interview Wizard's VP of Digital Gaming, Randy Buehler, to learn about the status of D&D Insider. Keep on reading to learn more!


D&D Insider's Character Builder is getting ready to enter closed beta.

Ten Ton Hammer: It has been a number of months since the Ten Ton Hammer fans have heard about D&D Insider. What has the development crew at Wizards been focusing on?

Randy Buehler: Two things: 1) Our Character Builder is getting ready to enter Closed Beta and 2) Our Insider free trial is almost over so we’ve been preparing for the big launch by adding features to our website that have been suggested by the community.

Ten Ton Hammer: There were a number of individuals that were disappointed to learn that the D&D Gaming Table and other online offerings weren’t available during the original release of D&D 4th Edition. When are we going to see the live version of D&D Insider? Do you have an estimated time for deployment?

Randy: Insider subscriptions go on sale October 14th. Subscriptions include access to Dragon and Dungeon magazine, the D&D Compendium, and several Bonus Tools. We’re using a special “Web Content Only” price point right now, which is as low as $4.95 per month if you commit to a one-year subscription.

Meanwhile, our client applications are in various stages of completion and we’ve made the decision to focus on finishing them one at a time. On the one hand the Character Builder is almost done while on the other hand the Game Table is the biggest and most complicated piece and will therefore come out much later.

The Character Builder will be the first application to be released, beginning with a beta period, then full subscription availability.

Ten Ton Hammer: Over the last few months, we’ve seen a few of the upcoming digital offerings from Wizards of the Coast get delayed or get cut altogether, namely the social networking aspect of Gleemax. Should gamers be concerned about the future of D&D Insider? Or do the gamers simply need to be patient?

Randy: We hope gamers will be excited about these changes. Wizards is streamlining its focus onto the stuff that really matters, including D&DI. Since canceling Gleemax I think we have demonstrated a steady stream of progress and the folks who have been actively using the D&D Insider free trial seem universal in their happiness with the increased attention that they are now getting.

After canceling Gleemax, Wizards has been really focused on the "stuff that matters."

Ten Ton Hammer: In the past, we’ve discussed some of the various business models for the Gaming Table and the Dungeon Builder. Are you still planning on selling virtual miniatures / tiles to the gamers? Or will the majority of gamers be satisfied with the standard options offered to them?

Randy: Until an application launches, the myriad components will not be finalized. This of course means that we’ve discusses many options that we are considering for the various applications.
 
At this point, we no longer have plans to sell miniatures one at a time. When the Game Table launches, subscribers will get access to unlimited copies of all the miniatures we have developed.

Ten Ton Hammer: Will there be a free trial associated with D&D Insider? Perhaps allowing tentative players a few days worth of access? Is that a feasible approach?

Randy: Yes - there will always be portions of each piece of Insider that will be available for free. For example, our Character Builder demo will contain everything you need to build a level 1, 2 or 3 character.

Ten Ton Hammer: Do you ever plan on introducing intricate animations to the virtual gaming table? It seems like it’d really make for an incredibly immersive experience if gamers could see their warriors and wizards move even the smallest amount.

Randy: Our goal is to replicate the tabletop gaming experience, not to create a video game. There’s a ton of video games out there (both good ones and bad ones) but none of them have ever captured the essence of what makes D&D great: the improvisation and the imagination. For example, once you start animating the miniatures then will folks start to limit their actions to those that have been animated? It’s a slippery slope that we have deliberately chosen to avoid.

Ten Ton Hammer: How are the developers behind D&D Insider going to handle the supplemental rulebooks that hit store shelves every few months? Will there always be artists / designers working on new models for the virtual gaming table?

Randy: We plan monthly updates to D&DI that add more content to the tools. Using a subscription model, instead of a one-time purchase, Insiders are plugged right into the latest stuff every month.

Monthly updates are planned for D&D Insider.

Ten Ton Hammer: Personally, what’s been the most exciting part of the development of D&D Insider and all its offerings? How do you live up to the expectation of the fans?

Randy: I have to say, I’m really excited about the Character Builder; it’s such an awesome application that I no longer want to play D&D without it. For example, I tried to build a character for a tabletop campaign, using a new character class that R&D is developing for publication next year. It was a very cool opportunity, but I wound up declining the chance to help play-test because those classes aren’t built into our Character Builder tool yet. I think this piece of technology will dramatically lower the barrier to entry for new D&D players and help new players get excited about the game in unprecedented ways.

Ten Ton Hammer: Finally, is there anything else you’d like to tell the Ten Ton Hammer readers and D&D Insider fans?

Randy: Just that we’re really excited about all the applications coming forth for D&D Insider subscribers and can’t wait for people to be able to use all the tools we’re developing.
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