by Cody “Micajah” Bye, Managing Editor

style="font-style: italic; font-weight: bold;">
by Ilja Rotelli, Director of Online Media

The talk on the campaign trails during the final weeks of the primary
season is all about the U.S. economy. The Republican and Democratic
candidates are doing their best to convince the American people that
they will find a solution to the current economic woes and help put
money back in the citizen’s pocketbook. With
consumer’s money being tied up in Adjustable Mortgage Rates
or other nasty financial issues, the fight for their entertainment
budget is turning into an all-out war for some companies. After seeing
millions of people flooding into virtual realms of magic and mayhem,
Wizards of the Coast decided it was time to pull out all the stops and
implement their own digital initiative. At GDC ’08, Cody
“Micajah” Bye sat down with WotC’s
director of online media, Ilja Rotelli, to discuss the results of that
initiative and why MMOG players might be interested in this new venue.

Ten Ton Hammer: How did
the Gleemax idea come about?

style="font-weight: bold;">Ilja Rotelli: Last
year, we were looking at our entire analog business and really examined
that alongside our implementation with the Magic Online campaign, which
was extremely successful. Our goal was to really discover how the
newest generation gets into gaming. A few years ago, I used to pick up
a magazine, have a friend tell me about a game, or go to a hobby game
store to see what I should be playing

Today, the younger generation is way more into the internet, and so we
really want to find a way to reach out to them and introduce them to
the hobby gaming industry. We had the whole company brainstorm about
it, and we came up with the Gleemax product.

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style="font-style: italic;">Wizards of the
Coast wanted Gleemax to be a social hub for gamers.

Ten Ton Hammer: Can you
give our readers a summary of the basic features of Gleemax?

style="font-weight: bold;">Ilja: Gleemax, at
its core, is a social networking website. You can think of it in terms
of MySpace or Facebook. It’s a place for people to meet other
gamers and a hub for user generated content to be shared within the
community. But there are really three components to this whole digital
equation. One is the social aspect where you can create your own
personal page with your profile, upload pictures, send messages to
other members, and more.

The second component is the editorial aspect. We’ll have a
magazine-style page inside the website where our editors produce
R&D pieces, review other games, and generally talk about the
industry. But we also want to mix that with user generated content by
having scouts that go through the user-created pages and scoop up
articles and editorials from the users to feature in the magazine-style
portion of the interactive content.

The final component is playing games. Gleemax will feature a game
portal that is a mix between first party and third party software. For
first party software, we will of course feature Magic Online, which is
due for a software update in the near future. It will basically have a
streamlined interface and user experience. For example, the store will
be integrated into the whole client rather than having part of it on a
separate website. Just an overall better experience for the user.

Ten Ton Hammer: So how
does Dungeons and Dragons Insider fit into the Gleemax picture?

style="font-weight: bold;">Ilja: The other big
thing that comes out this year is the Fourth Edition of Dungeons and
Dragons. That’s what Dungeons & Dragons Insider is
all about. Fourth Edition is the first edition of Dungeons and Dragons
that allows players to play completely on the tabletop, online, or at
any point they can mesh the two.

So say you hate computers and don’t like the internet, you
can choose to just sit around the kitchen table and play the game.
It’s the best edition of the game for that sort of gameplay.
We removed complexity where it was hindering the experience of the
game, and added or preserved complexity whenever it meant interesting
choices. For example, character generation was kept fairly intensive
because you want a wide variety of options to create the character
vision you had in mind. But grappling in the old 3.5 game took a long,
long time, and we wanted to do away with that.

That said, you can also play the game on the computer. Now there are
two ways to play with a computer. You could either use as a computer as
a tool for running a live tabletop game, with players on their
computers or the dungeon master using one computer to track all the
important information. Or you could go completely on the computer if
you want to by going online and playing with a virtual tabletop.

Ten Ton Hammer: And all
of this is brought to you through Gleemax and the digital initiative
driven by Wizards of the Coast!

style="font-weight: bold;">Ilja: Dungeons and
Dragons Insider will require a subscription, and then we will provide
the player with a set of tools that are designed to enhance your
experience with D&D. The tools include a character generator,
the virtual gaming table.

The character generator allows you to build a 3D avatar of your
character, and people who have played MMOs should be familiar with this
sort of technology. We feel that our engine is going to be superior to
everything you’ve seen so far, because we have a strategic
advantage in that our characters will not need to animate. In
D&D Insider, we want you to create a tabletop miniature, and so
we give lots of options to the player in terms of how they want their
character to look visually. Skin tone, armor, weapons, background, and
poses are all used to create the perfect picture of your avatar. Once
that’s complete, you can print it out for your kitchen table
or take your mini to the online realm and use it for the virtual tables.

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style="font-style: italic;">D&D Fourth
Edition will be the first version to fully support digital gameplay.

Ten Ton Hammer: So the
characters don’t animate? It’s more of an actual

style="font-weight: bold;">Ilja: You can pose
it, but at the end of the day you have a miniature that
you’ll be moving around your virtual kitchen table.

Ten Ton Hammer: What
about the virtual gaming table?

style="font-weight: bold;">Ilja: The virtual
gaming table includes a dungeon creator in which a dungeon master
– in a few minutes – can put together tiles to
create a dungeon and then project it in an atmospheric space for the
players to see. However, only the dungeon master will be able to see
the whole dungeon; the players will see only where their light sources
allow them to see.

This allows for a completely new way to play D&D, because
there’s this big problem in D&D where you either draw
the whole map as a dungeon master, spoiling the exploration experience,
or you have to wait and draw the map every once in awhile as the
players explore further into the recesses of the dungeon. That problem
is automatically solved on the computer because the technology allows
you to show only the part of the content you want to show the player.

Ten Ton Hammer: Will the
dungeon master be able to create his own dungeons and select from
preset dungeons that are already built for them?

style="font-weight: bold;">Ilja: Absolutely.
You can also think about the potential for user-generated content.
It’s just phenomenal what people will be able to do.

Ten Ton Hammer: Can you
compare and contrast Dungeons and Dragons Insider with a massively
multiplayer game? Why would MMO gamers be interested in DDI?

style="font-weight: bold;">Ilja: One thing
I’d like to clarify about DDI; we don’t necessarily
consider the client a game. It’s really a set of tools we
provide to the players to play a game of D&D. That’s
where I feel the difference between Dungeons and Dragons and MMOs

The act of creation and imagination are way less powerful in an MMO
than they are in the world of Dungeons and Dragons. MMOs let you
customize your character, find new armor and loot, but the freedom of
imagination where all you have is your mind does not exist in the MMO

I think of Dungeons and Dragons versus MMOs the same way I think of
books versus movies. A video game is a movie where D&D is a
book. The book lets you imagine a world by presenting you with just
words, but with the movie I’m watching the imaginative
creation of someone else.

The intersection between players of MMOs and players of Dungeons and
Dragons is huge. It’s undeniable. D&D is the
roleplaying game that started it all, and an MMO is a way to experience
a type of roleplaying game.

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style="font-style: italic;">WotC knew that they
needed to go digital to stay relevant to the current generation of

Ten Ton Hammer: Was there
a feeling from the Wizards of the Coast team that this intersection
between the digital and analog space needed to happen for the company
to stay competitive with MMOs and other console video games?

style="font-weight: bold;">Ilja: Definitely.
When we think about competition, we think about anything that takes
away from our potential customers’ time and money. The
exercise for us is to stay relevant to a new generation while
reintroducing our products to customers that may have had a change in

The majority of ex-D&D players – who we call the
“Illumini” at WotC – are the people that
were playing D&D years ago when they were 13 years old. Now
these Illumini have children and are teaching their own kids to play
the game. However, we need to stay relevant to them because of their
changes in lifestyle that may be taking them away from the game: moving
away from friends, finishing college, etc. We want to be convenient for
them to keep enjoying the game that they’ve never stopped

When DDI is released, they’ll no longer need their friends
right beside them to play, all they need is a computer and an internet
connection. And that’s how we’re remaining relevant.

That’s it for
Part One of our interview with Ilja about Gleemax and DDI. Make sure
you check back in with us tomorrow for the final part of the interview!

Do you think Gleemax and
Dungeons and Dragons Insider will compete for the time and money of MMO
players? How will this affect MMOs? href="">Let
us know on the forums!

Last Updated: Mar 13, 2016