Wizards of the Coast has long struggled with a digital platform for Dungeons & Dragons and it seems the latest attempt by Trapdoor Technologies for 5th Edition is no different. The beta for the DungeonScape platform was abruptly cancelled yesterday, as announced on the web site:
Wizards of the Coast and Trapdoor Technologies will no longer be working together to develop DungeonScape for Fifth Edition D&D, and we will not be releasing the product in its current form. The beta program on all platforms will be shutting down at noon (MST) on Friday, October 31.
Way back in 2007 when Wizards of the Coast announced 4th Edition, several changes were planned for Dungeons & Dragons’ online presence. Gleemax was to become the new social networking site for gamers, Dungeon Magazine and Dragon Magazine became PDF-only publications as part of D&D Insider, and there was one additional feature that had everyone excited: the virtual game table. Three years later, things didn’t quite turn out that way. Dungeon and Dragon Magazine became become part of Dungeons & Dragons Insider (DDI), with free- and subscription-only content. Gleemax was cancelled, replaced by The Wizards Community. The virtual game table was open to the public in November 2010 and then closed in July 2012.
Ryan Dancey, formerly the Dungeons & Dragons brand manager for Wizards of the Coast, explained how the brand failed to meet its $50 million sales goals by transitioning to an online format. Dancey shared a pivotal moment in that failure: a sad story of domestic abuse.
The DDI pitch was that the 4th Edition would be designed so that it would work best when played with DDI. DDI had a big VTT component of its design that would be the driver of this move to get folks to hybridize their tabletop game with digital tools. Unfortunately, a tragedy struck the DDI team and it never really recovered. The VTT wasn’t ready when 4e launched, and the explicit link between 4e and DDI that had been proposed to Hasbro’s execs never materialized. The team did a yoeman’s effort to make 4e work anyway while the VTT evolved, but they simply couldn’t hit the numbers they’d promised selling books alone. The marketplace backlash to 4e didn’t help either.
That tragedy was the death of Melissa Batten, shot by her estranged husband Joseph. Joseph Batten, Senior Manager, Digital Technology Projects for Wizards of the Coast, then committed suicide by turning the gun on himself. He was a Senior Technical Producer for just three months, with responsibilities for supporting Gleemax.com, integrating Dungeons & Dragons Insider (DDI) with Gleemax, and overseeing the backend infrastructure that all of Wizards of the Coast multiplayer games run on.
What’s to become of DungeonScape? The development team believes they can leverage the work that went into the platform:
This project, 100% internally funded, conceptualized, and built by our talented team at Trapdoor, has been a labor of love from the very beginning. We set out to change the way RPGs are played at the table—making our game night more about enjoying the adventure than searching for rules. We still hold true to that quest. We believe that our Story Machine™ is a powerful tool for converting information into something more useful and rich.
This likely means there will be yet another third-party digital platform that is not officially licensed by Wizards of the Coast in an already crowded space that’s been funded by multiple Kickstarters. UPDATE: Wizards responded with a terse release of their own:
Wizards of the Coast has ended its relationship with Trapdoor Technologies and their DungeonScape application. If you participated in the beta and have questions regarding the application itself, please contact Trapdoor directly. It’s never easy to end a relationship with one of our business partners, but we remain committed to creating great tabletop and digital gaming experiences for Dungeons & Dragons players and DMs around the world.
The statement makes it clear that it was Wizards who ended the relationship with Trapdoor Technologies and that there is hope yet for an official online platform.