The pros and cons of the Internet for role-players

10 09 2009

If you’ve read my blogs for this month, you’ll already have an inkling for my dilemma on this subject.

On the positive side, the Internet allows me to do so much:

  • Post questions and queries on forums anywhere in the world.  No longer do I have only the combined knowledge of the group around the table.  I can get rules advice, recommendations for campaigns – the options are limitless.
  • I can interact via forums 24/7.  Any time of the day or the night, I can go online and expect a response quickly.
  • I have access to so many resources on-line.  From alternate character sheets, to dungeon crawls.  From new spells to intersting magic items.
  • PDFs.  The plus with PDFs is that I can see a book I want and download it immediately.  I don’t have to wait for the local gaming store to open for me to get a copy.  I just buy it online and it’s delivered immediately.
  • Cheaper prices for materials.  With large online shopping sites comes price comparison and therefore price competition.  Unless you really wanted to, you’d never have to pay the cover price ever again.  Plus you can have delivered the next day without having to make a journey. 
  • Better choices.  The online stores tend to carry more titles and hold more copies.  You don’t make a journey to your local store – only to find they’ve got no copies left of the book you wanted.  Yesterday I visited a big gaming store  with a list of c. thirty things I wanted.  I left with precisely two.  As it cost me £5 just to visit the store, that represents poor value for money.

Philosophers will tell you about balance.  For every positive there is a negative.  Some of the negatives of the Internet are specific, and some are linked to the positives above:

  • Piracy.  Free stuff on the Internet seems like a good idea – but it’s killing the industry and especially the small game shop.  Trends to only offer content online – or provide special dice to play games (at an extortionate cost) are ways that gaming companies are protecting themselves.  In the long run, piracy hurts you and me.
  • PDFs.  As much as I love the immediacy of the download, I need paper in my hand.  This means I print it off (often more than once as I lose a copy – bad for the environment I know) and cut out the local gaming store.  
  • The demise of the local gaming store.  For reasons outlined above including online competition, PDFs and piracy, the local gaming stores are reducing in numbers.  The frings shops that also carried role-playing are either exiting the product line or reducing their stock.  This means we are more likely to go online, the local stores suffer some more and the cycle continues.  
  • No browsing (no pun intended).  How many times have I gone in search of a new game design, only to flip the pages and be disappointed.  Back on the shelves it goes.  Without a local store to see the product, I have to buy on reputation alone. 

This is by no means an exhaustive argument for and against the Internet in terms of role-playing.  It has both positives and negatives.  The downside for me is that the positives are actually contributing to the negatives.

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