Wednesday, October 27, 2010

4e and AD&D - The Best Comparison

I was browsing through RPG Blogs today, and I came across this little gem.

The best part of this article is a single line: It’s like modern (i.e. 4th edition)  D&D is software, while the first edition of AD&D was tax code, becoming more byzantine the longer it existed.

So that makes Basic D&D what, programming instructions for a VCR, translated poorly from Japanese?

I jest, but only a little.  4e really is software, though.  As a software tester/seller, I can tell you that for certain.  And many of the issues that people have with it are issues that apply to complex software, as well.  The biggest being "The Errata Issue".

Because of DDI and digital distribution, WotC has the technological capability to quickly and comprehensively update their "software" in a way that has never, ever been possible for an RPG publisher.  Indeed, in my old online 4e campaign, there were no paper character sheets.  In fact, no paper was used in the making of the entire game, except a few pages from my notebook when doing adventure planning.

I was aware of the fact that errata was coming out, but it rarely had any kind of impact on me.  As a DM, I rely on my players to inform me of the capabilities of their characters. I do random "drug testing" just to make sure that things aren't being abused or misunderstood, but really, why bother to learn everything about every class?  I didn't do it when I DM'ed 2e, or Vampire, or Warhammer.  So the inclusion of the errata doesn't really make a difference to me, one way or the other.


But many people don't use the DDi tools, and don't do the digital thang.  So we also have all these paper copies of the "software" floating around.  Actually, the more I think about it, the more I think that the analogy is slightly off.  4e is like software + manual.  AD&D is straight manual.


Before I continue, let me tell you a bit about the company I work for.  We make specialized database/management software for Fire Departments.  We update our software frequently (once a week or so) and our software manual is about 5,000 pages long.  I shit you not - it's 2 massive 3-ring binders, completely stuffed full.  It's modular software, so nobody uses everything, but somebody uses every part of it.


In terms of market share, we are probably Palladium - kinda niche market, but popular enough.  But we have a system set up that is almost EXACTLY like what WotC has going with 4e.  Many people use the program, some keep it updated, some do not.  Some use the hard-copy manual, some do not, and rely on the digital manual.  So I have much experience regarding the issue of Errata.  


Therefore, complainers about errata, listen closely and learn exactly why WotC releases so much errata:


1) It costs them very little to do so.  With digital distribution, once you have the infrastructure, the cost of updating is negligible.  A little writer/programmer time, and you're done.


2) Some people want bugs fixed.  This should be obvious, but somehow, on the issue of errata, it isn't.  Just because you don't use the "Jaws of the Wolf" power or whatever, doesn't mean that somebody doesn't want it fixed up.  And lets be clear - if something is broken and isn't fixed, it can be a real problem to the people that use it.


3) Users are not required to install all updates.  If you are happy with how the system is running, you don't have to install the updates.  Sure, you might get some new little features with them, but it's not necessary.


4) You can also keep the printed manual up-to-date, if you want to spend the time.  Personally, I think it's a waste of time/money when you can refer to the digital document, but that's just me - you can if you want to, but it's in no way a requirement.


5) It's dirt cheap for users to get the updates.  Hell, I tend to subscribe to DDi for 1 month every year or so.  I update Character Builder (and I can update it 6 times - so my group updates their character builders), I update the monster builder, I dump Compendium into Masterplan.  I just got 1 year of content for what, $12?


So, if you don't like the errata, or all the changes that WotC make to 4e, give your head a shake and think the following:


I don't have get the update if I don't feel I need it.


If I do feel I need it, it's cheap and easy to get.


If I must have the hard-copy update, it's a bit of a pain, but doable.  It wasn't really even an option in earlier versions.


None of this stuff was ever an option before - the fact that it is now is of great benefit to users.  It's a living, active, supported piece of gaming software.  If it's not your cup of tea, fine - but don't bitch about it being a cash-grab - the 3e model was much, much worse - just print more books - all hard-copy manual, all the time.