Thursday, June 18, 2015

Dragon+ Issue 2 Review: Spoiler Alert - Still Sucks!

So Issue #2 of the new "Dragon+" dropped this past week. How is it?
Spoiler alert: It still sucks... possibly even worse than issue #1.


Before we get into content specifics, I wanted to talk briefly about the app itself.

Testing on both the iPhone and iPad, the app freezes after it cycles through the "Updating design and content" message at startup. I am able to replicate this bug consistently. Force quitting and restarting the app usually resolves the issue temporarily, but it's annoying to have to go through this process each time the app needs to update itself.

The Letter to the Editor section has a link in the app to a Reader Survey... which crashes the app whenever I try to open it. I also tried to share an article via email with myself (which worked as of the last issue)... Crash!  I also had several crashes when just navigating through the magazine. All told, they did something in this update that made the app way less stable. 

Social Media

Aside from the digital magazine aspect of the app, it is intended to be used to keep track of Wizards' social media postings. From my experience, its utility is limited. The app appears to pull the RSS feeds for the website, Facebook and Tumblr and aggregates them into a single feed.

However, Wizards current social media strategy promotes same articles in all of those places. This means that in the feed the other day, in the first 10 entries of the feed, there were actually only 4 items... with the other 6 items being duplicates of the same posts across the different social media platforms. Also, 3 of those duplicate posts were telling me that I should check out the new content in Dragon+, which I was already using to read those posts

The app also displays internet articles extremely poorly. For example, if you click to an article on the website, many of those articles are not properly formatted for mobile. This would not be a major problem if you were using mobile Safari, for instance, since you could rotate the screen and pinch to zoom in/out.

In Dragon+, if you rotate the screen horizontally, the app's user interface takes up over 50% of the screen real estate. For many (all?) articles, you cannot use the pinch/zoom feature - Painting the Myrmidons, for example. Some articles could not be read at all off the site - Elemental Evil: Set 3 (Fire) and the d20 Modern article could not be viewed.

From another link within the app, I went out to another external site and began to play a video embedded in an article. Once the video began, the user interface became unresponsive. I could not even use the video controls (play, pause, fast forward, etc).

Based on these issues, the app utterly fails in its utility to browse D&D related articles on the internet linked from the app's feed.


I'll try to keep this brief since all the technical issues have already made writing this review painful.

Letter from the Editor - Talks a bit about the cover art then tries to sell you the t-shirt. (sigh)

Ad for Spellstorm

Where It All Started: D&D Video Games - Unfortunately, this overview is light on detail and doesn't include any interesting tidbits about the D&D games that you wouldn't get from Wikipedia. It was not a bad piece, but not particularly compelling.

Exploring Sword Coast Legends - A puff piece about upcoming game. Advertorial content. Nothing particularly interesting.

Ad for Sword Coast Legends - Another ad for the game that you just read an advertorial on.

Neverwinter: Strongholds - Upcoming content changes related to guilds in Neverwinter MMO. I had a passing interest in this piece, but again it's mostly advertorial to get you interested in playing again.

Ad for Neverwinter MMO - Another ad for the game you just read an advertorial about.

Video & Audio Highlights - Links to other D&D social media efforts on YouTube, etc.

The Winter King - A short story set in Icewind Dale. I will have to give them some credit as it isn't exactly an advertisement, but, wait for it...

Ad for Icewind Dale Enhanced Edition - There's the money shot. 

Fantasy Grounds - Some history on the development of Fantasy Grounds and its new partnership with Wizards of the Coast on downloadable content. This was somewhat interesting if you are into virtual table top play, but obviously this article is about marketing due to FG reselling D&D content. 

Interview with Ed Greenwood - This is actually one of the few articles in this issue that isn't blatant advertising... sort of. Yes, the interview eventually climaxes into Ed talking about Spellstorm, his latest novel, but at the very least, there is an interesting lead up. Ed speaks at length about his early days writing content for TSR and The Dragon, including his novels and Forgotten Realms sourcebooks. It's a reasonably good piece.

Community: Dice Rolling Rituals - I know they're trying to get the community excited about being able to contribute content to Dragon+, but this one was a bit of a miss.

Tavern Tales: D&D Adventurers League News - While this was just items marketing Adventurers League, it did have the only table top D&D content in the entire magazine. The Adventurers League website published more PDF pre-generated characters. However, this is all already on the AL site itself, so you don't need Dragon+ if you are already tuned into what's happening in Adventurers League.

Ad for shirts and beholder dice bag

Gauntlet Gophers - Meh. I like Kurtz, but this one just isn't doing it for me so far.

Ad for Temple of Elemental Evil game

Whither D&D?

If you look closely at the list of articles above, there is not one single feature article for the table top D&D gamer. The only table top content comes from a site external to the magazine issue (Adventurer's League). The magazine continues to be devoid of any useful content for the home D&D game.

I was eventually able to access the Reader Survey, but not through the app. I had to email the Letter to the Editor article to myself in order to surf to the link via web browser.

If you, like myself, also think what we've been given a big steaming pile so far in Dragon+, please voice your displeasure through the Reader Survey:

Unfortunately, you are only able to answer the pre-defined multiple choice questions and not able to give feedback in the form of a free form text entry... But if there is enough negative feedback, perhaps Wizards of the Coast may actually start to listen to their audience and provide some actual D&D feature article content that isn't just thinly veiled advertisment.

Or not. 

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