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Nerd Watching: The Two Dollar a Month PHB3

Written by Nicholas - Published on May 26, 2009

Nicholas is the columnist in charge of Nerd Watching and part-time Expy wrangler. He also works as the community manager, so keep an eye out for him on RPG blogs and forums.

Some big changes to Dungeons and Dragons Insider announced this week. Lets dive right into them.

The Road to PHB3

D&DI has a long history of showing off preview content. Several of the Player’s Handbook 2 classes got their first three levels put up on the service. There are excerpts posted from every 4e book shortly before release. There are even playtests of classes to be released in the distant future, like the monk we talked about last week. Well, WotC is taking that to an entirely new level with the upcoming Player’s Handbook 3.

Starting nine months before the release of the PHB3, WotC is going to be posting sections out of the book for insider subscribers. This content, which will be 102 pages in total, is not playtest materials but rather completed chunks of the book. It is an interesting move. WotC do not address this but it seems like this could be the first steps away from physical releases to a purely digital month content drops. I’m conflicted on that front. I would love to see more evenly spaced out content for players from month to month but I love the feel of leafing through a physical game book for the first time. All that is preliminary though, all we know now is that they are going to be releasing big monthly previews of the PHB3. Sounds very interesting and probably a lot of fun.

Now Let Me Tell You How They Messed It Up

Paying for previews has always been a weird thing. Normally I can justify it for Insider because I’m really paying for the character builder, Dragon and Dungeon magazines and all the other content you get with the service. The preview content is just a treat on top of that stuff. The problem is in the same announcement the PHB3 preview content was introduced, WotC revealed that they are raising subscription fees for insider memberships.  Are we being asked to pay for the exact same content twice? We pay increased fees to see the PHB3 in pieces and then will pay for it again for the full book at release.

Please Allow Me To Introduce Myself

Now, to be fair, WotC isn’t saying that the content from the PHB3 is the reason price increase. Although, announcing the two things at the exact same time doesn’t really help to eliminate that perception. Nor does having the price hike take effect the same month that the preview content begins. I am in general happy with my insider subscription and would even be willing to pay this higher price, but announcing the two things together just looks bad. I would have been happier if they told me they were raising rates before they told me about the PHB3 content! Announcing the two things together has turned what should have been an interesting bonus for the service into a source of deep suspicion.

WotC claims that this price increase is just the end of introductory pricing. Now that’s interesting. I don’t recall being introduced to the virtual tabletop. I also don’t think that I shook hands and exchanged names with the character visualizer. These features that were advertised in the back of the core rulebooks as key to the Insider service. They are still completely absent. Loyal customers have been paying for Insider in good faith for a year now, waiting patiently for these features to be delivered. Can we really say that introductory pricing is over when such fundamental features are missing?

At least we subscribers just got a funny cartoon to watch.

The Search for Answers

I’m sure you can tell that this announcement has raised a fair number of questions for me and I hope it has with you too. Luckily, my life as a blogging superstar has afforded me the ability to have those questions answered. I wanted to satisfy my own curiosity and be fair to the hardworking game makers over at WotC and allow them to explain these changes. To that end, I got in contact with a very nice lady at WotC who agreed to take my questions and let me share the answers with you. So here they are:

Dungeon Mastering: What percentage of the PHB3 is going to be released by the end of this program? Does this signal a move away from physical book releases to smaller, frequent digital content releases?

Wizards of the Coast: There will be 102 pages of PH3 debut content delivered through D&D Insider before the physical book is available, which will be approximately 50% of the book. This is a great way for us to reward D&DI subscribers with fresh content, while leaving plenty for the book’s release in 2010. Just like with all of our releases, once the physical book goes on sale, the remaining material will load into the D&DI tools as part of the next scheduled data load.

DMing: Are there any other books slated for this monthly release program or is this exclusive to the PHB3?

WotC: The PH3 debut content is in addition to everything else that we’re already releasing through D&D Insider on a monthly basis. We have not announced any other books to debut in this fashion.

DMing: Coupled with these content releases is an increase in the D&DI subscription cost. Isn’t that asking consumers to pay for the PHB3 twice, once in pieces and then the compiled book?

WotC: The price increase for D&D Insider reflects the current value; Character Builder, Compendium, Dragon, Dungeon and Bonus Tools. The PH3 debut material is more of a “bonus” for our Insiders.

DMing: The announcement refers to the price increase as an end to the introductory pricing system. In the core books there were advertisements for D&DI which displayed the virtual tabletop and the character visualizer. Both of those features are still absent a year later. Is it fair to say that introductory pricing is over when those key features are still missing?

WotC: As we recently announced, we have re-imagined where we are headed with the D&D Insider release schedule, and are putting our efforts into Campaign Tools at this time. We believe that D&D Insider is a great product at a great value, and our growing subscription base confirms that we’re on the right track.

DMing: Are there additional features coming to D&DI as this introductory period ends?

WotC: We are looking forward to releasing our Campaign Tools as they become available.

Well, there’s the official word. As I suspected, the PHB3 content is meant to be a bonus instead of the reason for the price increase. I’m sure that’s true, but I still believe that announcing those two things together was a big mistake. I’m also still grumbling about the lack of the virtual tabletop. Even with all that, I must admit (grudgingly) that I still like my insider account, even for $2 a month.

Are you an Insider subscriber? A potential subscriber? What do you think of the price increase and the PHB3 content?

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Written by Nicholas

Nick DiPetrillo is the original author behind the games Arete and Zombie Murder Mystery available at http://games.dungeonmastering.com

Nick is no longer active with DungeonMastering.com, however he is an accomplished writer and published his first game in 2009.

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Nicholas is the columnist in charge of Nerd Watching and part-time Expy wrangler. He also works as the community manager, so keep an eye out for him on RPG blogs and forums.



24 Responses to “Nerd Watching: The Two Dollar a Month PHB3”
  1. Wax Banks says:

    Upshot: WOTC are completely out of their depth in the digital market(s); making money selling expensive hardcover books is harder every day; loyal players will keep paying no matter what.

    I can’t believe I give these yutzes my money.

  2. Wax Banks says:

    …all of which is a shame, because 4e is the cleanest, most user-friendly edition of D&D by a huge margin. Depressing all around!

  3. John Lewis says:

    I don’t have a lot of interest in the character visualizer or the virtual tabletop but I think that even with the price hike DDI is still a great deal. For the past couple of decades I’ve been a subscriber to Dragon and that subscription has ran about the same money as DDI. Now I get both Dungeon and Dragon for the money (both of which I feel are greatly improved over their hard copy counter-parts). In addition I’ve got the compenduim and the best character builder I’ve ever used.

    Even with a price increase I’ll still be a loyal subscriber.

  4. Asmor says:

    I don’t recall being introduced to the virtual tabletop. I also don’t think that I shook hands and exchanged names with the character visualizer. These features that were advertised in the back of the core rulebooks as key to the Insider service. They are still completely absent. Loyal customers have been paying for Insider in good faith for a year now, waiting patiently for these features to be delivered.

    I don’t recall ever being fooled into thinking those things were available when I was paying for my insider account. Perhaps an argument could be made if you’d bought a year’s subscription with the hopes that they’d release those tools within that year, but frankly I think that’s a bit silly.

    There was a time when it was unclear when the VTT and visualizer would be released, but that time was long before WotC ended the free preview period of Insider. Anyone paying money into it should have known full well that there would be no guarantees of any of that stuff showing up any time in the near future (and frankly, if you’ve followed WotC’s digital track record at all you should be astounded that the Compendium and Character Builder were released).

    I have gotten everything I’ve paid for, everything I’ve expected. The character builder wasn’t available at the time I started my (monthly) subscription, and I was perfectly happy paying $8 a month for the magazines. I would be perfectly happy paying another $2 a month for the character builder’s updates, but of course I decided to upgrade to a year membership under the intro pricing structure.

    Frankly, I expect that by the time the VTT and visualizer are released (if ever), the monthly cost will be around $15, and I still think that would be a great deal.

  5. Well, as I am only a very casual GM of 4e, the cost of the insider has never seemed to be worth it to me and the additional expense will not change that calculation. If the virtual table top had been part of the package from the beginning, that might have been differnt, but such is life.

  6. Steve V says:

    Since I pay for the subscription a year in advance, the $5/month ended up being really worth the price. Originally I got the subscription for Dragon and Dungeon only. I never really thought I would use the bonus tools or the compendium. Guess what, I was wrong. The character builder is awesome and I am always playing around with it. The encounter builder is a great tool for quick combat encounter builds, and the compendium is very useful for looking up information quick- I DM at a place that has wifi.

    Given the fact that I have until July 1 to renew my subscription at my current price, $5/month paying for the year in advance, and you got a deal. I’ll get 1.5 years for that amount of money and have total access to everything that comes out during that time. I don’t think I’ll use the visualizer or the virtual table, but if they come out during this time frame I’ll definitely play around with that. I am definitely very interested in seeing what they are going to come up with for campaign tools.

    With the monthly updates to the compendium and the character builder, I don’t need to buy the physical book unless I really want a copy, so it is also worth the money in that respect too. I got exactly what I was looking for when I bought my subscription and have been extremely happy with it ever since. Sure there are some things i would like to see them change in Dragon and Dungeon- less dungeon crawls, less previews as part of Dragon- that really should just be a bonus as a subscriber, things like that. But overall, worth the money spent.

  7. ru_seriously says:

    Despite what the nice lady @ WotC says, I’ll believe that the PHB3 content is ‘bonus material’ when I see it. I highly suspect that this content will just be inserted into the monthly issue of Dragon, with no increase in the total number of pages for the magazine, and not really be a bonus at all.

    I’ll eat my words if the page count is 90+ again in July as it was in April and last October.

    I also don’t think that you can correlate an increase in subscriptions to tacit approval of what’s been done so far. There could be many people, like me, who have decided to jump in for the yearly subscription before the price hike. I regret that decision if WotC is using that as approval to charge twice for content, but of course they already did that with the Illusion spells for the wizard.

  8. Mmaranda says:

    I’ve been subscribing for Insider since day 1. So far the content hasn’t been overly compelling. I do like the rules compendium and the Character creator. I don’t even think I’ve read an entire issue of Dungeon or Dragon. In fact most of their recurring articles haven’t kept me interested either.

    Dungeon mastering started strong but I feel has gone far into the realm of inside stories of James Wyatt’s home campaign, and then the article does contain some god general DMing advice it usually rehashes exactly what is in the DMG.

    Confessions is a light read unfortunately Ms. Menazanoble’s writing style and articles contain no game content or analysis, and I’m not interested in her encounters with a game system she seems to often not understand.

    Ampersand has been variable but this month’s left me flat and uninterested. The same goes for the Editorial.

    Design and Development have been concsitently interesting. They have held some very good rules discussions or rational behind seemingly arbitrary rules. This has probably been the most consistent article series so far.

    Ruling Skill Challenges started strong but after getting my own feel for running skill challenges I’ve not found anything interesting or new there.

    I generally do not use pre-published adventures in my campaign and have no interest in running the Scales of War adventure path as I find that style of game is too scripted and eiter quickly derails from the adventure path nullifying it’s need or it is spoon fed to the players and they stop feeling compelled to try new and original things.

    The articles that I haven’t seen in a while but were also good included the advanced racial write-ups/description for new races or existing races. And the Treasure Horde articles.

  9. TMan says:

    Count me with Asmor and Steve V –
    * I’m getting what I expected when I signed up originally.
    * I like the quality of what I’m getting – good articles in both magazines, best character management software for D&D ever (only 10-15 years after they should have had it).
    * I was hopeful that we might have the Virtual Tabletop by now, but that was never a guarantee. And if the character Visualizer was available tomorrow, I wouldn’t actually care, but that’s just me.
    * Mmaranda – I’ve never felt like every article on Dungeon or Dragon was useful, but now, I have those mags in a searchable format which makes each issue much more useful a year or two after it is released. I can search the individual PDFs or just search on WotC’s web page to find the content I need at the moment. But I do miss the ads for neat products which I might not know about otherwise.

  10. Wimwick says:

    Like most others I’m happey with the DDI, there have been dissappointments, but overall I’m getting what I want. For those complaining about paying for content twice, my response is don’t. The character builder will update with all the PHB3 content when it releases, so you don’t need to buy the book. I am hoping that the content WotC will be releasing will be full usable character classes, which I talk more about at Dungeon’s Master. I’d even accept just one build or half the powers. If WotC can release a new class each month that is fully functional I think they will see DDI subscriptions really take off. Having said all that I don’t think it will happen, but I eagerly await the changes in July.

  11. cuznbevo says:

    I will probably keep my subscription. But I am disappointed that the VTT looks like it never will come to be. Being a closet D&D player, I was looking forward to meeting some new gamers. I believe the stigma attatched with D&D keeps a lot of people away. A few of my friends play WOW, and it is basically D&D in video game form. So I really think if they had the VTT going it would attract some new players. I realize D&D is a social game. I do enjoy getting together every other week and gaming. But my hope was that the VTT would let you search for gamers by location, start an online campaign which might lead to a social game.

  12. Nicholas says:

    You guys are more positive on the service than I thought. I enjoy my Insider subscription. I use the Compendium and the Character Builder very frequently. Typically only a few articles a month from the magazines interest me, but I don’t really mind that. Also, I do like playtests and preview materials. More than anything the language and timing of the announcement is what put me off.

    I am looking forward to the PHB3 material though!

  13. franciolli araujo says:

    Well, if I consider that we can take up five actualizations each month in D&D Insider, we have the perception that up to five DMs could divide the subscription, then the annual subscription is worth $1,19 a month.

    Even living in Brazil, it is a ridicule price to have the rights to use the contents of Dungeon, Dragon and Character Builder, even without the new contents.

  14. Francis B says:

    I am a subscriber and I can completely understand the increase in price, even though that “We are looking forward to releasing our Campaign Tools as they become available” leaves me a little worried about how much coding they’ll have finished by the price increase. But that feeds into why I understand a need for the increase.

    Quite frankly, that much work takes a lot of revenue, I understand that the “Bonus Tools” are simple flash programs, but I am (hopefully correctly) assuming that the Campaign Tools they are referring to will be more impressive, which will means hiring more people to work on them. By increasing the price, they can allocate those funds to improving the D&DI service for everyone.

    That having been said, there was a certain lack of tact with that press release, and I completely agree with Nicholas that it was somewhat of a faux pas. But that is to be expected, WotC is new to this arena, and it will take some time for them to acclimate themselves to the new social contract.

    Praise aside, I have one abiding wish. I sincerely hope that WotC considers a no-tools subscription, one purely for the magazines. A virtual table, the character builder, Campaign Tools, all of those are wonderful little applets but I know a lot of gamers who will almost never use them. At the current price I don’t see much of an issue, and even when the price goes up it shouldn’t be too bad, but if it ever gets up to the original $14.95 a month that WotC was talking before 4th Eds release I see all of those gamers giving up on D&DI. They just want Dragon and Dungeon, and there should be a way for them to get it without being forced to buy into a suite of shiny applications, applications I might add that gamers with a Mac still cannot use without purchasing Windows and partitioning their hard drives.

  15. Zvel-Haj says:

    I didn’t perceive it that way; to me, it seemed like the e-mail was saying “the good news is, we’ll be previewing the PHB3! The bad news is, we’ll be hiking prices.” I personally feel that giving us an opportunity to tack on another subscription at the current pricing is a very thoughtful gesture, so those of us who are already subscribed should be the least offended. As to the price hike itself, that’s just today’s economy. I’ve noticed plenty of price increases without benefits all around me, so the fact that WotC is even trying to be nice to us is sweet of them.

    As for whether the membership is worth it, I’d pay this much for the Compendium and Character Builder alone. I’m one of those idiots who make the fluff (background story) up himself anyway, so having the crunch (rules and stats) from all the books is pretty much like having the books themselves. So that’s all the books for the price of two. Sold.

  16. Don't be a sucker says:

    I do not find anything compelling enough on DDI to justify paying every month. The encounter builder and the compendium aren’t that useful to me. I like maybe 1 or 2 articles in Dungeon and Dragon combined a month. The character builder is the only thing that even enticed me to pay for DDI.

    I signed up for a 1 month account 2 times since it went pay. Once when character builder came out of beta, once for PHB2. I updated character builder on all my players’ machines before the month was out. And downloaded the last few months of complete issues of Dungeon and Dragon. Without the new pricing, you are going to save yourself $31 by the end of the year if you sign up once every 3 months. Or just sign up every other month and save yourself $11 a year.

    Until wizards releases something that is compelling enough to stay subscribed every month, like the VTT, I’m just going to vote with my wallet. They have tried to discourage this by making it difficult to cancel your account. First you had to open a ticket then they added a way to cancel on a webpage but have changed the webpage 2 times and you had to search around on the site for instructions to use the new page. Listen wizards, offer compelling service to keep subscribers. Don’t try to lock them in putting barriers in the way of paying subscriber’s wishes.

  17. TMan says:


    It’s not compelling or useful enough for you to pay for it on a regular basis, but you though it was good enough to sign up for one month, download all the previous months lackluster content and then crossload that lousy content on all your friends’ machines. What must your friends think of you to pollute their computers with such drivel.

    You, sir or madam, are a jerk. You aren’t voting with your wallet, you’re freeloading. I bet if WotC only allowed you to download and keep the content released when your were a subscriber, you’d be even more outraged because they didn’t allow you to get back issues for free.

    Please go look up the word integrity in the dictionary and try to understand that you have none.

  18. The Jeepster says:

    I think there is somethign fishy about the PHB3 and price increase announcement myself….

    Great one, TMan. Spoken like a true fanboi. We have one subscription for our group. What are we supposed to do? Buy a subscription for everyone in the group? So not only have we all bought the multiple playerbooks and our GM bought multiple books, but we need to each buy a ddi account so we can play player’s handbook 3.

    Im not even interested in the virtual game table. It end up like MTG Online except WotC will charge an arm and a leg for “Virtual” minis instead of decks. I guess if they have ddi subscribers like you they wont have anything to worry about.

  19. Francis B says:

    Jeepster, I don’t think that Tman was trying to say you all had to purchase a ddi account. I personally thought the comment was more along the lines of “If the content really isn’t worth your time why did you even bother your friends with the download/update process?”

    But of course, that’s just my take on it.

  20. TMan says:

    Jeepster, I am not trying to say that a group must purchase multiple accounts to be legit, though I may be a ‘fanboi’. I don’t give my gaming group copies of the character builder or the magazines. I do let them use my install to select the powers, feats, etc at my house, where we play. As it happens, I also buy all my music legally on iTunes, I only use PDF copies I’ve purchased, etc. etc.

    As Francis picked up, my main gripe is the complete hypocrisy (as I interpreted it) expressed by Don’t – the content isn’t worth a subscription but he grabbed everything he could get when he signed up for one month. And he set up all his buddies with that content. That strikes me as a completely self serving and selfish.

    While times certainly aren’t good for spending money like it grows on trees, I feel that Don’t is acting in a way to cheat WotC and other subscribers who basically paid for the content he collected, i.e. freeloading.

    Just my 2 cents.

  21. Asmor says:

    As it happens, I also buy all my music legally on iTunes

    Yuck, I hate iTunes. There are plenty of sources out there for DRM-free MP3s– Amazon.com has most of the big names and indie music is frequently posted on a variety of different smaller sites which share a greater portion of the revenue with the artists.

    I’ll never understand why anyone would support iTunes.

  22. TMan says:

    LOL! I’m also an Apple fanboi. But my point was that all my music is legal, none pirated.

    I do buy music from other places, like Amazon, as well. But remember that there weren’t many places to buy music when iTunes first made that possible. Most came _after_ Apple opened the door and demonstrated that there was money to be made. And now, after some behind the scenes arm wrestling, all iTunes content is DRM free & 256 bit as well.

  23. Dave the Brave says:

    To be honest, I’d be fine if the month-to-month pricing was 12 bucks a month. I think that’s fair for what they’re offering, if you’re going month-to-month. Of course, going month-to-month seems pretty weird to me. I paid for a year, but I understand people not wanting to lock in for quite that long. But only locking in for a month? It seems like you’d get a better idea of the release pattern and quality, and usefulness to you personally, over a three month (at least) stretch. Any given month might have more FR or Eberron content than another month, and maybe you homebrew. So if you go for one month and go, “Oh man, that sucks, I don’t use those settings.” but then you miss out on a few months before you’re willing to subscribe again where the content was more suited to your needs, you wouldn’t know until you signed up again and browsed the archives. For me, it’s more than worth it for the CB updates every month (and it’d still be worth it if they only updated every two or three months) and the quality and usefulness of the digital mags.

    And again, I still think they’re undercharging.


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