Thoughts on the Digital Initiative

These are my personal views as to why Wizards has ended the production of Paizo’s “Dragon” and “Dungeon” magazines. They are not informed by anyone at Wizards, save what has been posted publically. I don’t have an inside source at Wizards, I don’t work (and never have worked) for Wizards, and I don’t have Scott Rouse’s office bugged. Pity, that.

I’m going to be making assumptions here, so you can debate whether I’m right or not in this thread. However, assumptions there are, so don’t quote this later as cold hard fact… unless I prove to be right, in which case you can acclaim me as a visionary, lunatic, or something else.

What will the Digital Initiative be?
Good question. I don’t know for sure, but, based on what I’ve heard, it will be Dragon magazine plus Dungeon magazine plus more.

You want insights from the designers? Got it.
You want adventures? Got it.
You want articles about elements of the games (e.g. Demons and monsters)? Got it.
You want articles to help you be a better DM? Got it.

Who will be writing for the Digital Initiative?
People. More specifically, part of the DI will be written by Wizards staff. Other parts of it – and probably the greater part – will come from outside contributions.

The outside contributions will be edited and brought up to speed by the editors of the DI – that is, Wizards staff.

It’s not all that different from how Dragon works, except there may be more Wizards contributions. I hope that last is true. The best bit in the old Dragon was Gary Gygax’s columns on what was happening in the game.

How often will it be updated?
On an ongoing basis. I would mostly expect it to be updated on a weekly or daily basis, although possibly irregularly. Daily would make the most sense, at it breaks it into chunks the web staff and editors can deal with. Finish one project, move on to the next.

How much content will there be?
Analogous to the combined content of Dungeon and Dragon magazine, in theory. In practice, not a clue. Could be more, could be less.

Actually, what I would really expect is…
…one adventure per week (thus, more than Dungeon)
…four articles per week.

What are the advantages of the web format?
Length considerations disappear. (This is important for adventures).

Subscribers will be able to save their favourite articles to their hard disks, or print them out and just keep a folder of the best of the best – or the relevant material for their current game.

Magazine returns disappear. That’s a big consideration.

What are the disadvantages of the web format?
Not everyone who got Dragon will be able to get the web. From what Wizards have stated, they expect more people will be able to subscribe to the DI than to Dragon magazine. That’s an important point.

Some elements of the DI may not be available offline; in particular the character generator, if such appears.

Why then kill Dragon? Why not have both?
Ah, the real question!

There are a few reasons I can think of.

At the top of the list comes the competition problem: The DI and Dragon/Dungeon magazines compete against each other. By its very nature, DI is less expensive to produce (no shipping costs or dead trees to worry about). Well, I think the ‘net is less expensive than dead trees… could be wrong there. But I assume it is. So, DI already has an advantage over the magazines in that respect.

Dragon & Dungeon magazines have had a problem being profitable. I’m sure they’re doing pretty well, but given Paizo is also working as an online retailer these days, it’s hard to know how well they’re doing. So, the DI starts up, and the magazines remain. After a while, the folks at Paizo notice something: some people subscribe to the DI instead of the magazines, and it really hurts them. A 25% drop in circulation would probably be catastrophic. 50%? Ouch. Is that figure likely? I have no idea – but I’m sure Wizards have done the sums. They do a lot more market research than they’re usually given credit for.

There comes a point when the magazines will no longer be viable, due to the competition posed by the DI. At that point, Paizo is losing money, still having to pay license fees, and getting unhappier and unhappier. This isn’t good. Rather than put Paizo in that position, better to eliminate the magazines and just run with the DI.

That sucks! And doesn’t it assume that the DI will be successful?
Yes, it does. But, if you’re a company, you have to assume that something will be successful. Especially if you’ve been researching the matter. I assure you… well, I assume… that Wizards’ research on this matter has shown that it is most likely that (a) the DI will be successful, and (b) more people will subscribe to the DI than to the magazines.

You can see that belief in their statements. They think electronic is the way to go.

But that’s not the only reason that the magazines have to go. Here’s another one: competition.

Competition? Haven’t you already covered that?
Not entirely. You see, it isn’t just the subscribers who you’re competing for. It’s also the writers.

There aren’t really that many people who are capable of producing coherent and creative articles for the magazines or the DI. If you have two products that are doing the same sort of articles… well, you can see the problem. You can take in more articles by lowering the bar significantly, but I don’t think Wizards really want to do that.

So, you have these two competing publications… and you own both of them. Hmm. Not good. So, once again it comes down to a choice between the DI and the magazines, and their research shows the DI will be more successful.

But won’t this make it harder for new players to find D&D? What about Dragon’s place as a news source?
Honestly, I’d expect at some time there have been surveys of Dragon readers to see if they are internet users. If it’s a high percentage – quite likely – then the online newsource is just* as good as Dragon magazine. (*probably just. possibly. I haven’t seen the research, ok?)

New players? I don’t think all that many come into the game through Dragon magazine. They’re far more likely to discover the game through targetted advertising – in other game publications and comics, for instance.

It’s hard to comment properly without access to hard figures… but I don’t think Wizards have gone into this blind.

But Dragon was great! Erik did a great job! How can Wizards do better?
I don’t know. Personally, I think Wizards’ hardcover books in the last three years have been consistently good – a few dogs (Races of Destiny), but mostly of a high quality. If they can extend that to their editing of the DI articles, I’ll be mostly happy.

Then too, I expect that most of the Paizo contributors and staff will also end up working on the DI at one time or another. Let’s face it – there’s more than one book that has come out recently with some familiar Paizo names on it.

I don’t have the internet! I can’t subscribe! What will I do?
Yes. It really, really sucks to be excluded from something. I know the feeling – I get it a lot, living where I am. Yes, you will be worse off. However, Wizards will continue to produce the print books, and some of the best articles of the DI will probably be incorporated there, just as the Dragon has been a source for recent D&D books. I doubt we’ll see many DI adventures in print form, but the authors who gain experience through the DI will probably get freelance contracts to do adventures for print D&D. That use of the magazines for training later regular D&D writers will likely be subsumed by the DI.

So will the DI be successful? Has Wizards blown it, or will axing Dragon magazine be marked down as one of the worst decisions in the history of role-playing?
No idea. Sorry. I know I’ll be interested to see how it goes, but I don’t know how good it will be, or how many will subscribe. I can only hope that D&D continues to flourish.

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