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Is D&D headed for a Netflix-style subscription model?

With One D&D, Wizards of the Coast has declared the death of DnD editions - but what impact would that really have on Dungeons and Dragons fans?

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“We are no longer in the position where we think of D&D as an edition. It’s just D&D,” Chris Perkins told Dungeons and Dragons fans in the video announcing One D&D, the next evolution of the world’s biggest roleplaying game. D&D editions are out. One D&D is in.

But what does that mean, exactly? Is it just a marketing gimmick, like how the Xbox 3 was named Xbox One? I’m rather suspicious. Could it be that, rather than completely overhauling D&D’s rules every 5-10 years with a brand new edition, rules updates will now come more regularly, and have to be accessed online? Will you have to pay a subscription fee to play the latest version of D&D?

To me, this approach seems somewhat likely, given that Wizard of the Coast’s parent company Hasbro acquired D&D Beyond earlier this year. Along with new rules, One D&D is also bringing new tools to that platform, and creating a new virtual playspace, D&D Digital. A digital focus is clearly a key pillar of this new version of D&D.

Some fans are worried that with One D&D expanding the game’s official digital toolset, Wizards of the Coast will at the same time try to impose limits on the third-party tools and software that people currently use. Will homebrew and third-party maps and artwork be usable in its virtual D&D Digital system, for instance? It doesn’t seem likely.

If Wizards just wants to attract new users to D&D Beyond by offering extra tools, then that’s no biggie. One D&D’s announcement video assures us that this is about giving players new things, not taking them away – but the whole thing still makes me feel a bit ill at ease.

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My concern is that if D&D moves to an online, often changing ruleset, it’ll be a brand new way to monetize Dungeons and Dragons and keep a constant flow of cash coming in from fans. We’ll have to either buy new books each time we want to use Wizards’ new rules, or subscribe to a revamped version of D&D Beyond. Right now the subscription fee is cheap as chips, but as we saw when Netflix hiked up its prices – these things are subject to change.

I’ve often thought that, compared to fans of the other big nerdy property under Wizards of the Coast’s belt, Magic: The Gathering, D&D players have it made. Once we’ve got the key DnD books, we’re essentially set for life, only limited by our imaginations. Sure, people like to splash out for a campaign or setting book, but a good one of those can keep you busy for months, or even years.

One of the best things about D&D is that you can play it on a shoe-string budget. If D&D moves to a Netflix-style subscription model, that could be about to change.