More thoughts on DEVICES.

February 6, 2010 at 6:01 pm
filed under Roleplaying, Technology
Tagged , ,

This has RPG and tech components, so I’m putting it in both. Most of it has to do with e-readers and the iPad at large. I also talk about how gaming might be able to take advantage of the iPad.

PDFs

I can’t help but think about the iPad in terms of gaming. For one thing, it seems like it’s a viable portable device for viewing PDFs. Not that I would advocate this, but if one were to acquire, say, PDFs of the old TSR books, one might find it somewhat more pleasant to read them on that sort of screen as opposed to a full-fledged laptop.

I know people have suggested a rich media experience for RPG books, and if the iPad takes off, this is the opportunity. Being able to buy eBooks or PDFs or what have you through iBooks could certainly tempt a lot of people into buying and reading RPG books, given the right price and enough of an installed base. (Of course, this assumes that it’s not just baby boomers, for example, that are buying them. We’ll see.)

Programs

For another, it’s programmable. There are a number of iPhone apps out there that are designed to assist either DMs or players. Oh, sure, there’s potential for networking them to do various bits of magic, but I see that as being a somewhat unlikely use case. Gamers are rare enough that the subset of technologically- or gadget- inclined gamers will be relatively small.

So, yes, gaming-related apps exist. But even outside of that, it’s far easier or natural to consult prep notes on a larger screen. It just comes down to sheer size: you can take in more information.

I do think that Wizards is leaving money on the table here, if you’ll forgive my office chair quarterbacking. I’m biased towards web apps, but that’s only because that’s the best way to ensure somebody can engage with something when they’re not at their “main” computer. Look at World of Warcraft’s Armory application for an example. It’s a standalone app that lets you shop for equipment for your character, and apparently they added Facebook integration recently. How’s that for maintaining engagement with the game even when you can’t actually play it?

Tiny Adventures is fun, but I’d up the level of interactivity a notch, especially to capitalize on the cooperative nature of D&D. I’d offer something similar to the Armory for your character, suggesting feats, powers, and equipment for a given character. Allow you to share the list of “recommended” items with the DM for your game so they can more easily choose magic items for your character.

Mobile is getting pretty big, too. While a full-bore character creation tool would be better suited to the iPad, you could still make a tool like that for the iPhone. Or a game that relied on a cooperative turn-taking, accessible either through an app or the web. People could play a cooperative D&D mini-game whether they’re on their phone, at work, at a coffee shop, or at home.

Obviously I don’t know what they’re doing, so I don’t know what’s in the works. But I remember hearing Mike Noonan mention in a podcast that they really should get into the iPhone app business. That was in 2008 or even earlier, if memory serves.

My guess is that it’s problematic to hire staff as specialized as this; the margins in the RPG industry can’t be that good, esp. if the annual December layoffs are any indication of WotC (or Hasbro’s?) position on retaining highly qualified or experienced employees.

eBooks

To get away from gaming for a bit, I’m not sure how I feel about eBooks, but I don’t think their future is very bright from a mainstream perspective. We know that, at least for now, eBooks are going to be in the ballpark of $15 rather than $10.

At first I couldn’t really figure out why they’d do this. It turns out that that was because I assumed publishers were in some other kind of trouble, either because of rising cost of paper, gas, or a decline in book sales (at least in aggregate if not for bestsellers, f’rex). If you remove that assumption, the goal here is to delay eBooks as much as possible. People who own Kindles may now think twice about buying eBooks. Anyone who buys a Kindle will probably factor that in, too.

What remains to be seen is how the iPad does. Amazon had leverage before Apple showed up. For my part, I think $9.99, the cost of a paperback, is a reasonable price for an eBook. With Apple on the scene, Amazon lost leverage and Apple gained some. They have a strong reputation as a device manufacturer, but I don’t think that’d be enough to bargain publishers down. And why should they do that, anyway? Apple’s willing to play ball if that means they can add another bullet point or two related to iBooks. If people buy eBooks at $13 a pop, then so much the better. If people keep buying glue-and-paper books, publishers continue to get a return on their printing and distribution infrastructure.

Another part to watch is, if the iPad takes off, what authors do. Small authors will have every incentive to get on board. Would published-but-not-bestsellers have an incentive to jump on board? I don’t know whether they typically sign exclusivity contracts nor how substantial the benefits to being published are if you’re not, say, Stephen King. I could see people throwing some of their works on iBooks or Kindle to see how well they sell. Jaded A-listers who command a large audience might opt out of the publishing model. They’d have to weigh that against what I presume are commensurately large advances, however.

In terms of mid-range publishers, I don’t know enough about the industry to even know if that exists. Entrenched publishers obviously have a disincentive to get in on this; if more people own e-readers, the barrier to entry vis a vis publishing is much lowered, which could put them out of business. But what about those folks who would put them out of business? If the big publishers aren’t on board but if a relatively large number of people own e-readers, does anyone have an incentive to step up and assist authors in promoting their eBooks? Would that even work?

Exciting times

We live in unpredictable and exciting times. Though they and their holding companies bear a large amount of responsibility for where they are, newspapers are in decline. Book publishers are in a much better place than they or the music industry ever were.

And of course there’s the ever-present digital divide. What happens to libraries, a highly accessible venue for people to read books they otherwise couldn’t afford? What happens when rich people can buy e-readers and poor people are stuck with whatever paper books remain?

Like I said: interesting times.

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