With more and more publications ceasing their traditional methods of printing in favor a digital approach it isn’t surprising to see many of those related to tabletop games following the same path. For example both Dungeon and Dragon Magazine as well as Kobold Quarterly have all gone entirely digital or ceased their publications along with countless others. There are a few new publications that are trying to fill the gap though, Gygax Magazine for one, which is now publishing it’s second issue along with several other longstanding publications. Clearly there is still a demand for traditional media in this genre so what happened to make so many others turn away from it? In my mind there’s room for both approaches to media in tabletop gaming but some seem to be arguing that it has to be one or the other.
While trying to acquire a physical copy of Gygax Magazine at my friendly local gaming store I briefly discussed the topic with a member of the staff. As he explained it to me the cost of keeping issues of the magazine on the shelves, and the demand from the people who came there, simply didn’t justify doing so. Despite a thriving number of miniature gamers who meet there regularly keeping White Dwarf on the shelf usually ends up costing the store money.
I’ve never enjoyed reading anything long than a few paragraphs on a computer screen. I enjoy the tactile experience of reading and I think that it loses something when it is reduced to a digital format, but that is only my preference and there are certainly good arguments for employing digital media.
There are some wonderful advantages to this new trend that I am glad to see some companies are starting to take advantage of though. Evil Hat Productions with their Bits and Mortar initiative is my favorite example of this by far though. In an effort support friendly local gaming stores this program gives the customers the best of both worlds. When you purchase one of their products at a local retailer they will provide you with a PDF copy free of charge, and it is sometimes even possible for the retailer to provide you with the digital copy in house. It’s like getting two copies of the book for the price of one and that is pretty hard to beat.
Wizards of the Coast has started publishing some of the adventure modules from older editions of Dungeons and Dragons which is a thrilling development too. It would be unfair to expect Wizards of the Coast to periodically republish hard copies of resources scattered throughout decades of production and various editions, but the PDF format does just that very well. Now people can play through an adventure that had been lost in a move, or just given out to the ravages of time. Others who have yet to experience these classics can purchase them as though they were brand new and carry them forward into a new generation, sharing in the fun that others had with them when they were first released.
With a digital publication there is also a demand for constant updates and content which gives emerging talents an opportunity to get their foot in the door. If a magazine published only 12 issues a year their going to be far more selective about their content than they will when they produce weekly or daily content for their readers.
There major issues that crop up with digital media in this format are also noteworthy however. Computers crash, or get lost or damaged and without constantly backing up your files they could take all of your gaming books with them. If you’re at all computer savvy, meaning you aren’t me, that is probably a minor concern since you’ll probably be able to recover the data with some clever trick.
When discussing the topic of digital media one cannot ignore the topics of ownership rights and piracy. When you buy a boo you own it forever, it is yours to do with as you wish. Would you like to loan it to your friend so that she can make a dwarf wizard to join in your campaign? Well if you only have a PDF publishers are pushing things in a direction which wouldn’t allow for that. Instead they seem to be taking a stance on ownership similar to those of the goblins in Harry Potter, you’re basically paying to lease the property from them and when you can’t use it anymore it reverts to their ownership. Piracy is also a big problem with digital media. If someone wants to share their book with a friend that should be acceptable, wanting to scan the thing and post it online where int can be downloaded an infinite number of times isn’t. This practice has done a great deal of harm to the industry, and it deprives those who make the games we love of their livelihood.
So what is the answer? I still think the best approach is to have digital and print media work together rather than choosing one over the other. I’d love to see more publisher’s take the approach that Evil Hat has and make PDFs of their work available to those who purchase hard copies for example. Also, a lot of magazines seem to be cutting the number of their issues to help reduce publishing costs in the face of decreased revenue. I don’t think that’s going about it the right way, but I’m not a publisher or any sort of expert on the matter. Still I don’t think producing far less content on quarterly basis than the competition is going to draw new readers to a publication. Reaching out to the people who are turning to digital media and showing them the value of printed works is the only way to survive.
Whatever happens I’ll still enjoy digging through the bins of used copies of Dungeon at my friendly local gaming store.