Friday, January 02, 2015

Whither DUNGEON and DRAGON?

I haven’t heard. I have heard scuttlebutt that they’re still trying to figure it out, and I suspect that’s the case. Magazines aren’t the revenue-generation machines they used to be. With the existence of the internet, DRAGON can’t be the social hub and font-of-all-news they were back in the 21st century. Print is expensive to produce and ship; unless you plan to go the Raggi artisanal route (which is kinda the polar opposite of what we expect from a magazine, but in this age of retro-cool maybe it could work) there are better methods for delivering that sort of stuff.

For 3e, WotC farmed out production of the magazines to a third party. This created Paizo. I suspect there’s some resistance inside WotC towards going down that path again. Still, it is in keeping with farming out the production of the Tiamat adventure series to Kobold. So while I see this as terribly unlikely, I don’t see it as beyond the realm of options they’re probably looking at.

The magazines went digital in the era of 4e, serving as loss-leaders and content generators for a digital portal that was supposed to be the hub of 4e play and a strong source of revenue. Alas, about the only part that really worked was the (admittedly indispensable) character generator. With the faceplant that was the Morningstar project, I suspect D&D’s digital future is still being hashed out. If they go digital with the magazines, there’s a very good chance they’ll be attached to whatever online offerings WotC offers behind a paywall. I see this as the most likely option, but that’s assuming WotC doesn’t just throw up their hands and walk away from any sort of digital for-pay products. Their history with that sort of thing isn’t exactly festooned with success.

Which brings me to what I consider to be the most interesting option. Assuming a fairly permissive third-party publication license, DUNGEON and DRAGON could be the methods by which WotC leads and guides that sort of thing. They could serve as a sort of Manual of Style for publishers. They could be used to showcase the sort of work they’d (officially) like to see more of. The magazines could be a vehicle for publishers and designers to get their names out there. In short, they could serve as a sort of guide and ideal and possibly even imprimatur by which WotC could lead third party publishers and their customers towards the best work.

What appeals to me about this is that, as a guide-by-carrot, it won’t shut down the likes of Raggi if they decide to publish something really out there for 5e, but could possibly mitigate some of the tide of utter dross a really open publishing license is likely to unleash. However, I’m not seeing a really good way to directly monetize that sort of thing short of selling ad space (which isn’t a bad thing, mind you, just not a recipe for financial success to date). Maybe they could go the route of digital comics and sell dead-tree collections, or maybe best-of compilations as they did in the 1e days?

9 comments:

Scott Anderson said...

If the content providers and editors don't go off the deep end into SJW territory, people will buy the magazine. If it's about the hobby, filled wih average to above average stuff, doesn't cost a lot, and doesn't attack it's can base, a magazine can thrive.

That's a lot of "ifs" however.

NewbieDM said...

What do you mean about SJWs in the magazines? Like if they decide to include more non whites in the art and in general be more inclusive?

What'l constitutes a deep end?

Antony Brotherton said...

Personally, I miss Dungeon as an invaluable resource for short scenarios. It satisfied a particular function for me filling in the gaps between bigger adventures and expanding existing worlds with "bonus content"

However, it was always hard to get hold of it in the UK, either via dedicated retailers, or by placing an order at your newsagent.

On the whole Dragon never appealed as it was much more "industry" or "rules" focussed, though to be fair odd articles were excellent and thought provoking.

Even though the market still exists for that type of "official" content, I doubt it would be cost effective to produce a high quality print magazine and distribute outside the US. That's what the web is for and WotC should definitely bring it back in some electronic format (or POD via Lulu/DTRPG).

If it doesn't happen, ah well... I'll just rely on all the freely available OSR content.

trollsmyth said...

Scott Anderson: I understand what you mean about biting the hand that feeds, but there's more to it than that.

The magazines have to offer stuff I can't get off the web for free. I'll sing the praises of DRAGON's run through the '80s to the rafters, but the truth is, I get more awesome ideas in a month just from D&D With Pornstars than I got from my entire multi-decade collection of DRAGONs. There's a reason people are talking about today as a golden age in RPGs.

Simply doing what DRAGON did in the 20th century, as awesome as it was, won't fly today. G+ just does it all better.

trollsmyth said...

Antony Brotherton: are you familiar with the One Page Dungeon Contest? Granted, none of them go into the detail that many of the short adventures in DUNGEON did, but that just makes them easier to drop into my campaign.

If DUNGEON does return in any form, expect it to take a page from Paizo's book and focus heavily on entire campaign's worth of connected "adventure paths." Either that, or be full of side-quests for the official adventures campaign du jour.

Kimble said...

It's really, really sad that a paragraph saying something obvious (you can play with gay/transgender/etc.) and a few pictures with non-white-male-european characters is seem as "going off the deep end into SJW territory".

Antony Brotherton said...

Trollsmyth: Totally familiar with OPD and I often pillage them for ideas but agree with you they fall into that category somewhere between a sidetrek and a dungeon scenario. I never run any published material as is anyway so conversion to my campaign world is not a problem.

I'd be happy if it returned in an adventure path, but I did like that it was a submission vehicle for fans to become officially recognised writers.

The "official" tag and the recognition that goes along with it is essentially what other web only authors can't provide.

The question for WotC is not can they produce it, but can they sell it as a print product and make a profit?

It's the age old problem of RPGs, once you've sold me the core rule books why do I need to buy anything else.

trollsmyth said...

Antony Brotherton:

It's the age old problem of RPGs, once you've sold me the core rule books why do I need to buy anything else.

Yep. The solution to that appears to be really dramatic stuff, like entire campaigns of linked adventures (Pathfinder), heavily thematic stuff like Raggi's work, really exceptional stuff like Zak's work, or exceptionally cool ideas like Jeff's work.

And while it would be cool to see the magazines serve as a sort of proving grounds for up-and-comers, the 'net means WotC doesn't need it anymore. The way to get noticed isn't to submit to publications, but to go out and publish yourself.

That said, I think WotC could find value in guiding and grooming the third-party publishers via the magazines. However, it likely won't be direct value; the magazines would almost certainly publish at a loss in and of themselves, so that might make them a hard sell.

Anonymous said...

"With the existence of the internet, DRAGON can’t be the social hub and font-of-all-news they were back in the 21st century."

I think you meant 20th century. We're in the 21st century right now.