So after finishing Cory Doctorow’s book I have been thinking about all the enshittified platforms I have been entangled with and how to reduce my dependence on them. Then I start thinking about how they tricked me into these situations. And then I thought about the OGL debacle, and how badly WotC mishandled things with respect to “monetizing” the brand. It seems like the enshittification playbook has been demonstrated repeatedly, so it was a colossal failure on the part of management there.
Here’s the way it should have gone:
- Focus on improvements to D&D Beyond, add new features like a simple 2d virtual desktop (like Owlbear Rodeo), a “looking for group” meeting place (like StartPlaying), etc. But only paid members can access these new features, but add an even lower cost membership (like $1 a month) You want this cheap enough that it seems inconsequential compared to the features you get access to.
- Shower paid members with frequent “gifts”, something which costs almost nothing to hand out: different colored dice, special tokens, and things of the like.
- With every book release, release supplements exclusively on D&D Beyond. For free to those in the highest membership tier.
- Offer to include 3rd party content on D&D Beyond, and take just a small percentage of the sales. Small enough to encourage publishers to publish there.
- Make sure that everything you need to play a game is available within the “walled garden”. Make sure it is really convenient to use, but also that the switching costs are high.
- Wait Patiently for everyone to become sufficiently “hooked”. The key to boiling a frog is to turn the heat up very slowly.
- Slowly increase the membership fees and the 3rd party publisher percentages.
[Since I started writing this, I heard an owner of a game shop pointing out that the digital bundles are a total rugpull against them. If most people will want to get access to the books on D&D Beyond, why buy them separately? The only reason you would go to the game shop is to get the special covers. This is some late-stage enshittification: “…abuse those business customers to claw back all the value for themselves.” Good job!]
I am not sure if “OneD&D” complicates this picture or not. I think the key for rolling that out is to ensure the platform works equally well for 5th and 6th edition, and then just put the new books up for sale. Make it easy to switch over, and, for now, make it easy to stay with 5th edition. Make sure to keep the revenue flowing for 5th edition. It would be tempting to force people to the new edition, but you do want to make sure the effort to switch to the new edition is really trivial (once the requisite amount of money has been spent). But which edition is in use is kind of irrelevant as long as the monthly membership fees keep flowing.
Before the OGL Debacle, I was on the verge of buying a source book bundle and a paid membership on D&D Beyond. I was even reading the playtests packets for the next edition. If they had followed the above strategy, instead of burning a whole lot of goodwill, I would have been fully committed to the platform as they rolled out the above strategy. At some point I may have caught on, but by the time I did, the switching costs would have been quite high and I may have begrudgingly stuck with it, as I am doing right now with Amazon and Google. And even if I did work up the gumption to cancel my subscription, I would have been virtually alone. And where could I have gone? Without the OGL debacle, there would have been far fewer alternatives, there wouldn’t have been Project Black Flag or C7D20, and maybe Level Up A5E would have dried up.
So it is really mind-boggling that they blundered to the degree they did, especially since several of the executives at Hasbro came from Microsoft which is the pioneer of building tech monopolies. Had they been patient and careful, they could have dominated the entire industry.
Trying to think like an evil genius has made me feel kind of dirty. I think I’ll go take a shower and get back to planning my Level Up A5E campaign.