Okay, here’s the deal. Virtual play (via Skype and Google Hangout) have, in the last year, become essential to how I play RPGs. From Kobolds Ate My Baby to Do: Pilgrims of the Flying Temple, I’ve had a universally stellar experience rolling dice with my friends, unchained by geographic location.
Man, I get to game with people all over the world thanks to virtual play. I have the opportunity to play games I’ve never (and would never) play thanks to an effective virtual tabletop. Heck, we even use Google Hangouts to play with our local Pathfinder group on weeknights when life and work make it impractical to travel to each other’s houses for a few hours rolling dice.
And I know I’m not alone. I’ve got a whole group of people who play with me and this is the only way many of them game.
Which gets me to my point: It’s straight up foolish for WotC to NOT allow virtual play for the D&D Next open playtest.
For starters, it’s alienating a chunk of the gaming public. If you’re out to get opinions, you shouldn’t stifle the ability of some to actually play. Quashing their opportunity by making virtual play against the rules means they can’t actually PLAYtest. All they can do is read the playtest documents and bitch about save or die mechanics. You want to use the playtest to gather data on how the game is played? Let us game via Google Hangout.
Second, with more and more people doing some virtual gaming, the next version of D&D needs to be virtual-friendly. Playing with friends and family around the world is awesome and I was so stoked to get to play D&D Next with my friends across the US and Canada. These are my favorite players – people I trust to help me bend the system and explore the nooks and crannies of the playtest with the hope that D&D Next would be the ideal fantasy RPG for our virtual table.
Buuuut, I can’t. Because we aren’t allowed to play on a Google Hangout.
This effectively limits the data that WotC can collect about the game. I understand that there are very specific “rails” for this playtest. WotC has set up the controls for this experiment to collect specific information about the characters, bad guys, rules, etc. But I can’t help but feel stifled by the restrictions.
Finally, having a D&D that plays well on a virtual table will bolster sales.
First, they can hammer out kinks in the system that may quash virtual play. Even if those kinks aren’t in the rules as written, they can be presented as sidebars and tips for ease of play behind a computer screen. It’s worth investigating and making part of the game.
Second, by openly playtesting the game for a virtual setup, WotC encourages people to play using tools like Skype and Google Hangouts, giving gamers without a local group the opportunity to roll dice and buy books. Creating a game for the virtual table widens the market.
Before the new NDA prevented us from playing D&D Next via Google Hangout, we were going to give the system a go this week with our virtual group. But, now, looks like we’ll just be playing Pathfinder instead. So, WotC, if you’d like my opinions (and my dollars), you should probably take some time to consider how important virtual play is to your customers. And your bottom line.