Before I came to work at TSR lo those many years ago, I was a newspaper reporter. A "city desk" reporter, to be precise. Instead of covering glamorous sports events or exciting fires and car crashes*, I covered transit commission meetings and school board elections.
Try as I might, it was hard to make that type of material engaging to the average subscriber. Given a choice between reading budget proposals for the bus system or box scores for the NBA finals, most people turn to the sports page. The fact is, though, they'd be better off reading the transit commission minutes, because the transit commission is spending their money. If you think your taxes are too high and want to know where all that money is going, you won't find the answer in an interview with Moses Malone (look him up, you kids).
What does that have to do with the Dungeons & Dragons game?
Just this—every month when we lay out our table of contents and editorial calendar, we face a tug-of-war between the classes and races that are the most popular and draw the most readers, and those that actually need some reinforcement but which aren't as widely played. This begs the question of why certain classes and races are more popular than others—is it because they have the most feats and powers, or because they're the most appealing fantasy archetypes? We're pretty sure it's a mixture of both, but the ratio is open to a lot of passionate debate.
The new D&D Character Builder is in a unique position to answer some of those questions. I don't mean to dredge up arguments about how it does this or that—those have been hashed out endlessly in the forums, also in some passionate debate.
From our position as game designers and magazine editors, we're beside ourselves with excitement that the new D&D Character Builder provides feedback on the types of characters that players are building. It's way too early to draw conclusions—as John Feil cautions, "the data is interesting but not yet useful." It will become useful with time, and we intend to make the most of it in our effort to keep improving the magazines and delivering articles that players will actually use.
I've been involved in publishing D&D for a lot of years, and this is the first time we've ever had information like this. We've always had theories based on book sales, surveys, anecdotes, and customer feedback in every form imaginable. Suddenly, we have actual data.
Let me tell you—it's thrilling.
All we're looking at is numbers: how many fighters are there compared to wizards, how many half-elves compared to humans and minotaurs, how many 15th-level characters compared to 5th-level.
The core question is how to put the data into action. If fighters outpull druids five to one, does that mean we should devote more articles to fighters because they're the most popular and the most likely to draw readers? Or should we lean more heavily toward druids in an effort to boost their popularity? On an even more tactical level, if bow rangers outnumber dual-weapon rangers two to one, then what does that say about articles directed at rangers? Is the imbalance because bow rangers are a strong, popular archetype that players want to emulate, or does it mean bow rangers are just that good?
Basic military strategy demands, "reinforce success." But we're not running a military campaign; we're publishing hobby magazines. We have a lot of work ahead figuring out what it all means and how to put it to use. We're still giddy that for the first time ever, we can base those decisions on something real. That's big.
Let us know where you stand: do you want to see more articles on what's most popular or what's most in need of a boost? Email your opinion to email@example.com.
* Actually, I got the police beat on Saturday nights, which was a hot time for the men in blue. Senior reporters wanted their Saturday nights off, but there are few ways to spend a Saturday evening that are more exciting than chasing police cars around the big city.