Yesterday I posted an article for this month’s RPG blog carnival, The Future of Roleplaying, and I mentioned that I had more to say on the integration of technology and roleplaying games. I think there has been some great ideas emerge in the last five or six years about taking advantage of technology to improve gameplay at the table (real or virtual).
Some of these ideas have produced fantastic software while other ideas have failed miserably. I am going to talk about how some technologies could (or should) be implemented to extend the resources for roleplaying games as well as some tactics game publishers could use to help combat piracy (or at least turn the tables).
Maximizing PDF Potential
The PDF is a venerable piece of technology whose execution hasn’t changed much over the years. However, Adobe has been sneaking in support for some really cool media types since about Adobe Acrobat 7 (currently at version 9).
Acrobat now handles Flash content natively, which is awesome. Besides Flash, you can also embed audio and 3D into PDFs. Acrobat markets this fusion of technologies as PDF Portfolios. Imagine reading the core book for a new system and being able to watch a video of actual gameplay, or having an animation play that visualizes miniature tactics. Better yet, make it interactive and allow readers to test the tactics by moving virtual game pieces on a battlemat.
The potential of the PDF has yet to be fully harnessed. I think this is because the PDF is merely considered as the digital mirror of its analog counterpart, the printed book. Thinking within the confines of print limits the possibilities that can be achieved with a PDF. Of course, adding an animated panel of each race would significantly increase product costs, but it would be revolutionary.
Deploying Digital Tools
I think Wizards critically fumbled DDI, right from the very concept. Imagine a platform that would allow a gamer to use your suite of tools offline, without a browser, and dynamically update when connected to the internet. That technology is already available with Adobe AIR.
Formerly call Adobe Apollo, AIR allows developers to create rich internet applications that run outside of a browser and on multiple platforms. Similar things can be accomplished using other enterprise level development platforms like Microsoft .NET or Java.
Of course, this method doesn’t really jive with the whole subscription model, which I am not overly fond of anyways. However, it could work with an ala carte sales model, where you purchase the components (or upgrades) separately.
Integrating Technology at the Table
Shane Deseranno, a Microsoft software developer currently working with the Zune, has built an amazing interactive gaming table. The table utilizes a Wiimote, IR pens, a projector, and a mirror to create a game table that allows players to physically interact with RP Tools’ MapTool.
This is probably the epitome of my vision of the integration of technology and roleplaying games. The Wiimote can be configured to run on a PC using Bluetooth and has the ability to track four separate IR points. This allows the players to move the virtual game pieces on the virtual table top which is projected onto the surface of the table (from below). This table is awesome and Shane has been kind enough to show you how he built it (there is also video of the table in action):
Pirates or Privateers?
Recently, Wizards of the Coast yanked all their PDFs from the market and pointed their fingers at piracy as the cause for their impetuous actions. I think most people with cognitive skills can agree that while piracy is wrong, it doesn’t have the impact on sales that company executives seem to believe it has. Ninety percent of those downloading the contraband would have never bought the product in the first place.
Using a technology like AIR, publishers have the capability to stream secured content from servers, which require the user to be logged in. Content would be determined by the user’s subscriptions and purchases and would be volatile and encrypted. This could be a huge determent for piracy.
I have also been thinking about methods to turn pirates into an asset, thus taking a privateer designation. If a company can truly track the amount of illegal downloads of their product, as Wizards of the Coast has claimed, then perhaps you could use that as a marketing bullet point.
I think it would be interesting to provide advertisement space within the confines of the PDF. You could use the piracy circulation numbers when pitching ad space to potential advertisers. “Our e-books are downloaded by two hundred thousand users” could be a powerful sales fact. Sure, the ads could be stripped by energetic pirates, but if you turn the ads into a feature by utilizing Flash (interactive video/games) then it might even increase PDF sales (and illegal downloads).
Then who cares if it was illegally downloaded, you just made more off of advertising than you would ever have done if every single pirated copy had been purchased (assuming you price reasonably). Hell, you could just give the damned things away for free, which would make everybody happy!
However, there is no fool proof protection against piracy. The best actions a publisher can take are encouraging and satisfying legitimate customers by providing the material they want in the formats they desire. Turn potential pirate into loyal patrons by creating the best damned product you can.
What technologies are you waiting for? Can you think of any effective methods of turning pirates into assets? If you have answers to these questions or general comments about what I have mentioned, be sure to post your comment.
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