Wizards of the Coast have recently announced 4th Edition Dungeons & Dragons. While the details are still sketchy, we do know that as part of the release, WOTC is seeking to attract more online players to the old pen and paper games with a new division called Gleemax. Being a huge D&D fan, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to sit down and talk to Iija Rotelli, the director of online media at Wizards of the Coast. I am happy to report that if you are a gamer, any type of gamer, regardless if you play WOTC games, you want to check this out!
Answers by Iija Rotelli, Director of Online Media (Wizards of the Coast)
Questions by Matt Lowery
WarCry: You have just announced a new online digital initiative named Gleemax. Could you tell us a bit about Gleemax and how it came about?
Iija Rotelli About 1 year ago, a bunch of directors from Wizards of the Coast got together one day over lunch to figure out what does the future hold for Wizards of the Coast, and what does the future hold for our online division. We have this great online product with “Magic the Gathering Online”, and it’s doing very well. We wanted to explore what else we could do. Wizards of the Coast is a company made up of gamers, so we went out and got people from every department, customer service, online media, research and development, and so on. We took them and locked them in a hotel room for 3 days to discuss what they would like to see, and what they think would be cool to do online. After the 3rd day, we took all these ideas, that we were posting on a wall in the room, gathered them all together, and that’s what Gleemax is, it’s a collection of all these ideas.
So we had all these ideas and we have all these great games, our problem isn’t so much keeping someone playing, as much as getting new players. Games like Dungeons & Dragons, and Magic the Gathering are what we call lifestyle games. People usually play them for long periods of time, so we hold our customer base very well, but we need new and better ways of attracting new gamers. In the old days, we got new customers by people going into a hobby shop, pick up a group in his community, and he would start playing. Now a day’s more and more people are staying home, playing video games, going on the internet, and so to attract those players, Gleemax was born.
WarCry: What is your release schedule, when can we start playing with it?
Iija Rotelli We plan on having an alpha version of Gleemax with limited functionality up by mid September or October, with a beta version up in October, and to have an all out full version by February 2008. I would say final version, but the reality is that as the online medium grows, so will Gleemax. So there isn’t really a final version, but we plan on having the release in February.
So what you get right off the back with Gleemax is a social networking site for gamers. Think of it like a My Space for gamers. So with that you will get the ability to create a profile, write blogs, and search for other players with similar game interests. Now the cool thing about this is, it’s not just for our games, it can be for any game, any publisher. Videos games, table top games, whatever games you like, you can plug in and search for. So let’s say I like a very obscure German war game. I can search for other players of the game, by name of the game, and zip code and find others that like that same game. If they find someone that likes the same game, they can message them, start talking to set up games.
WarCry: So this is not Wizard of the Coasts specific?
Iija Rotelli Absolutely not! This is for all games. We believe right off the bat we will capture mostly WOTC players, because those are the gamers we already talk to, we already have a relationship with. But once we have Gleemax up, we will start marketing to gamers of all games out there. Everyone is welcome, every company is welcome actually. We were at Gencon last week, and we have been engaging all major publishers, all of our traditional competition, and so far all of them have signed up for Gleemax. So Gleemax is open to all gamers.
WarCry: That’s really outstanding. That you are opening up Gleemax to everyone out there like this.
Iija Rotelli We really feel like WOTC is the 800 pound gorilla in hobby gaming, and we feel that anything that helps the hobby gaming industry grow, helps up grow. So with that, we have been seeking out fun games for Gleemax; we want to greatly expand the games we will offer with Gleemax more than just our own titles, games that might not have million dollar budgets, but are fun to play. You know, games that don’t have the money to get on the shelves of a GameStop, or EB Games. So one of the things we are trying to do, is to give them a way of distributing their games. Basically they sign up with Gleemax, we then offer a demo of their game for players to try out. If the players like it, they can buy the game and we share the revenue.
WarCry: So you are looking to help out the indie game developer? These are video games we are talking about?
Iija Rotelli Absolutely, all sorts of games. There are a lot of great games out there, both pen and paper games, and video games that you could get a lot cheaper than those big titles at games stores. We want to help the indie developer get their games to the gamers who want it.
One of the portals we are opening on Gleemax is for Avalon Hill. So we are starting to take Avalon Hill games and digitizing them for multiplayer online gaming.
WarCry: So wait a second. Are you saying you are taking Avalon Hill war games, and basically putting the board online, so and I could play from anywhere around the world with my friends?
Iija Rotelli That’s what we are doing. In fact you can look forward to all of your Avalon Hill favorites like Axis and Allies. You will be able to play your friends in that and many other games right on Gleemax. It also works as a great testing ground for our games. Like say we have a new game, but we aren’t sure about it, we can put it up on Gleemax, and if it does very well, then look at printing it and releasing it.
Of course our corner stone of all of this is support of Dungeons & Dragons 4th Edition, with Dungeons & Dragons Insider. So with 4th Edition we wanted to keep those players that just want to sit around a kitchen table playing happy, while being able to give something to those players that are maybe not close enough to other gamers to sit at a table, or are looking to enhance their games a bit.
WarCry: To be honest, I’m one of those types of gamers. I now live in New Jersey, moving from Florida, and in order to still play with my friends, we have to use the internet, and about 3 different programs to have a pen and paper game.
Iija Rotelli You are exactly who D&D 4th Edition is aimed at. So with D&D Insider, the Dungeon Master can build his dungeons or maps, you will get your minis, and play right there online. The Dungeon Master gets to set up his map, traps, monsters and such, while the players get to completely customize their characters, the looks, the backgrounds and such, and then drop them right on the map. Think of a character creator from a MMO like WoW. There is a dice roller, so you can see the dice, pick them up and roll them, and everyone will see this. It has built in voice over IP, so you will be able to actually talk to everyone in your group, just like you were sitting at a table.
WarCry: So, what about the monsters, does the DM have all of them? And does the map have any rules with it? IE will it count movement spaces, and attacks of opportunities?
Iija Rotelli The DM has access to all the monsters from the monster manual, so he just drops them in as he wants. There aren’t any rules built in, this isn’t a video game. It’s simply a virtual table top that allows a DM and players to place their maps and play things out. There are so many house rules we didn’t want to force anyone to have to play a certain way. However you can set lighting, so players light up about a 30 foot area around them like a torch would, and they see nothing else.
WarCry: What books will D&D Insider support?
Iija Rotelli Basically any book you buy, there will be a code inside that book, you type that code into your account and you then have access to it on D&D insider.
WarCry: That is really great! It will make my game run so much smoother than it is now.
Iija Rotelli The whole idea with this, is to help DMs run a smoother game, keep things moving along, and to help gamers that are out of touch with their friends get back to gaming. It doesn’t matter where in the world you move to, you can now keep in touch and continue to game with your friends.
WarCry: Are you going to support any other games with the map program? Such as Star Wars D20?
Iija Rotelli Well that is one of the nice things about the map, it’s not game specific. It doesn’t have rules built in, so you can use it for any game that you want. If you are playing a game that isn’t fantasy, or the minis don’t work for your setting, there are generic tokens that you can use for placement. We might make more tokens for games like Star Wars D20 as we go, but if not you always have the default tokens you can use. So you can play any game with it.
WarCry: When will D&D Insider launch with this cool new tabletop?
Iija Rotelli The tabletop, with all of the other things you get with D&D Insider such as Dungeons, and Dragons magazine, and all the premium content that goes with that, should be available by May of next year.
WarCry: This is something that I believe will help bring a lot of players back to role-playing games.
Iija Rotelli That’s what we think as well. No one ever stops playing D&D because they don’t like it, they stop because they move away, and they can’t find a game. Their schedule doesn’t let them get to the game at certain hours. We hear so many stories like yours, and we really hope we can give people like you a way to game again!
For those that are interested in seeing what the virtual table top looks like, here is a video preview!