It’s been quite some time since I’ve written about Dungeons & Dragons, but today’s news that the upcoming edition will release the core rules for the system through a free downloadable PDF has caught my attention. Mike Mearls’ announced that Basic Dungeons & Dragons will be available at no cost, “Anyone can download it from our website. We want to put D&D in as many hands as possible, and a free, digital file is the best way to do that.” Basic D&D will include rules to create characters (up to 20th level), essential monsters, magic items, and information needed to run adventures in wilderness, dungeon and urban environments. So after two-plus years of product development by a team of talented designers and playtesting by legions of fans, the core components of “the greatest gaming hobby ever invented” will be given away – for free.
The news strikes a chord for me because the future of roleplaying game distribution is something I have written about previously. In November 2012 – back when the game was being referred to as D&D Next – I explored how the concept of non-ownership would likely affect roleplaying games:
It seems safe to say that exploring viable digital distribution systems is essential to the future growth – and survival – of tabletop roleplaying games. The old way of buying books, movies and music are fading away and being replaced with new means of product delivery. Without innovation to meet the demands of those who prefer non-ownership, RPGs will suffer a nasty fate...
To summarize, non-ownership is the general trend for consumers to be perfectly content to not own a product. For example, many people no longer purchase physical copies of movies or music; instead, they purchase a subscription to a service like Netflix or Spotify. Even when people do purchase media such as books or music, many of the purchases are digital (e.g., Kindle, iTunes) and no physical product is passed along to the consumer.
Wizards of the Coast is speaking loudly to the non-owners out there, “Welcome to the party.”