Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Apple and D&D Next

Apple is well known for its tendency to tightly control the aspects of both software and hardware to produce the experience they want you to have.

It's got to a point in which their products were considered as targeted at a smaller elite due to pricing and design. Being asked about it, Steve Jobs shot back his famous "we just can't ship junk" punch-line.

In order to make Apple's product shine, Steve Jobs focused on controlling every aspect of the product, making sure that no-one (not even the users) will be able to take his beautifully crafted iPhones, iPads and iPods and make them something they are not. Hence, the iTunes limitation, no USB connector etc.

If you're a fan of Apple and its products, you realize that in order to get that experience, you have to cope with the fact that some key decisions about how the product is going to be used were taken for you. If you're not a fan, well, you have plenty other alternatives to choose from.

With D&D Next, Wizards is opening the design process (or at least make it semi-transparent) and allowing "users" (players and dungeon masters) to participate and make their voice heard before the product hits the shelves. I don't know how many design decisions are changed according to actual "user" input in the case of D&D, but judging from the D&D Next community site, it seems that somebody listens.

But will this open design approach will make Wizard "ship junk"? If Wizards change even ONE design decision based on users' input, then D&D is not longer a product of careful consideration, design and play-test (and yes, I do believe that AD&D, 3e and 4e went through that cycle). The experience of D&D might be modified according to the whims of its most vocal users out there, and according to some of the posts I see in the forum, some are vocal indeed.

If Wizards try to build the "one size fits all" D&D version using raw input from the community, they might end up with something that looks like it was conceived in Frankenstein's lab, a monster created of incompatible parts bolted together in a bloody, scary heap.

There is a lot of skill in Wizard's offices - no doubt about that - but I would rather use a system that was designed and built to provide a great role-playing experience, than to use a system that was built to satisfy the needs of the most vocal player or DM in the community.

Questions about the roll of skills,  hit points and high level play are too important to be put in the hands of the community. D&D is not about mechanics. It's about an experience around the table with some friends. But the mechanics contribute a lot of the "feel" of D&D, so I'd rather have a designer thinking about that feel instead of making a decision based on some anonymous gamer's light finger on that "Vote" button.

What do you think?

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