Monday, March 27, 2017

D&D: A Digital License To Kill

The announcement of D&D Beyond stirred up a bit of resentment in regards to D&D 5th Edition content. What it boils down to is this. If one has purchased a D&D hardback book, why does that consumer have to keep spending another $50 every time there is a new D&D-related app they wish to use?

Update: Please note this is not an article about D&D Beyond. It's about a licensing option for any 3rd party digital tool. Keep that in mind before you comment.

Adult Blue Dragon SRD stats on DnDBeyond.com
As an example, I may buy the Storm King’s Thunder hardback ($40 - $50 at retail). if I want Storm King’s Thunder content in Roll20, that’s another $50. If I decide to change to Fantasy Grounds, another $50… D&D Beyond?  Unknown at this time, but probably another $50. Same with the Player’s Handbook. Hardback $50. Fantasy Grounds $50, D&D Beyond... probably another $50.

Since Wizards of the Coast does not offer PDFs of their content (the most asinine decision in this day and age), I might have to pay an additional $100 - $150 in digital content for the same damn book I already own in hardback. (I don’t want to get into the PDF debate, as that is not key point of this article).

So is there a better way? 

Damn right there is. Wizards could implement a one-time digital license purchase.

How would they accomplish such a monumental task?

It’s actually not terribly difficult at all. It’s called a “license key server”. You see, when you purchase digital book content through Fantasy Grounds, Roll20, D&D Beyond or any other WotC application partner, Wizards of the Coast could issue you an unique serial number key for that content. Then, if you want to use that content on a different app, you just have to enter the license key for your purchased content for the new piece of software. They could even charge a small “activation fee” for each new platform… So perhaps you pay $50 for the digital license for Fantasy Grounds, but only have to pay $10 more to activate it on Roll20 or D&D Beyond, etc.

Character creation in Fantasy Grounds
Now, this would require a small API for the key server that basically allows the app to ask: “Is this key valid for this application install?” But this concept has been around forever in software circles, and it doesn’t even require the user to be online when the application runs. One could allow the serial number to be checked/activated when the user is first online with the app, but also allow the use of that content offline for a number of days before the consumer has to log back in to re-validate the key for any licensed content. The implementation isn’t really the point. This is a very common software practice and could even be outsourced to a company that provides license key management.

The best part of this is, regardless from which company you originally purchased the $50 D&D book license, you can make that license available to any digital partner of Wizards of the Coast. Even better, if one of these partners goes out of business, or is acquired, the digital license is still controlled by Wizards of the Coast, not the partner, so one could move that license to another platform (for a fee, no doubt, but ideally not the full price).

Source: 3DVTT.com
But Wizards of the Coast isn’t a software company.

Yes. They are… They just haven’t admitted it to themselves yet. The fact is, in this century, all publishers are digital publishers, and therefore in the software business.

The bigger issue is Wizards of the Coast will never do this. They are backward facing when it comes to digital strategy. They do little to nothing to help the experience of the D&D consumer, especially online, without charging one an arm and leg.

You want content on Fantasy Grounds, Roll20 and D&D Beyond (or some other app)? Well, f@#% you… You’re paying for it another 3 times on top of the cost of the print version… and we’ll probably charge you a subscription on top of that.

That’s their digital strategy, in a nutshell… And that’s why people may love D&D, but still hate Wizards of the Co$t.

UPDATE: A comment on Facebook pointed out that Paizo does exactly what I describe with Pathfinder and Realm Works. Your PDF purchase with Paizo gets you license to access the same digital content within Realm Works. Paizo definitely gets it. WotC does not.

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