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Shard’s Howard on WOTC’s Amazing Purchase of D&D Beyond In 2022

Hal Howard, Shard Tabletop co-founder, said WOTC’s purchase of D&D Beyond brings D&D to a significant crossroads. The acquisition of this massive online toolset puts Wizards of the Coast firmly in the pilot’s seat regarding online play.

Howard believes, as many others, WOTC should take steps now to signal its support of a “third-party ecosystem” – where non-official D&D content remains a driving force for the healthy evolution of the game. Howard is calling for “universal digital content.” This would allow players to make one digital purchase of any product from D&D Beyond to be used across any online platform/VTT.

 

Hal Howard

Hal Howard

Co-founder of Shard Tabletop – an integrated online toolset (VTT) for playing Fifth Edition Dungeons & Dragons.

“Wizards’ purchase of D&D Beyond creates an opportunity for them to give players more choice, not less.”


Universal Digital Content

As Howard looks to the future, he hopes to see Wizards of the Coast implement a system that would allow one to go to D&D Beyond and purchase one electronic copy of a module or book and receive some type of code. Then you could go to the VTT (virtual tabletop) that works best for you, enter that code, and be on your way. This would mean only one purchase of electronic content, not the multiple purchases so often required to use the content you want, where you want it.

“It depends on what kind of player, or DM, you are as to which VTT is going to fit you best. For some, it’s Roll20, or Fantasy Grounds or Shard. Different people want different things. Universal digital content would allow you to buy whatever digital content you want and use it with your online tool of choice.”

– Hal Howard, Shard VTT co-founder

Howard’s History

Howard speaks passionately about the future of the game of Dungeons & Dragons because he has lived its past. He started playing in 1982, in high school. He continued to play, as time would allow, throughout his adult years. After 20 of working as an R&D vice president at Microsoft, he retired and had the time to think seriously about making the game he loved much easier to play online. He and Darren Shakib – whom he had remained close friends and dungeon delvers with throughout the years – eventually came up with Shard Tabletop.

Shard Tabletop

Shard Tabletop is a virtual tabletop (VTT), character sheet, and campaign manager dedicated solely to 5th Edition Dungeons & Dragons. Shard celebrated its official first anniversary in early 2022. It has grown quickly in popularity due to its intuitive interface and pleasing design.

However, as with most VTTs, a user can’t purchase official WOTC D&D content on Shard. Along with Owlbear Radio, Astral, Foundry, and others, Shard is at the disadvantage of not being able to provide the official source books, expansions and modules. While it is perfectly possible to run WOTC content on any of those platforms, it takes a lot more work on the part of the DM.

Homebrewers love third-party VTTs like Shard. They are much less expensive, if not free, and are designed to be customized to fit one’s own unique style. The wealth of content on Shard’s marketplace attests to the current health of the “third party ecosystem” in today’s world of online D&D. Howard and many others want to keep it that way.

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Third-party content producers for Fifth Edition D&D thrive on Shard Tabletop’s marketplace.
Image courtesy Shard

Third-Party Ecosystem – Purchase of D&D Beyond

As of May 26, 2022, only two VTTs with a license to directly sell official Wizards of the Coast D&D products – Roll20 and Fantasy Grounds. Of course, there is also D&D Beyond. But DDB is now Wizards, so there is no need for a license. True, D&D Beyond still does not offer a VTT. Regardless, the wizards are now firmly in control of online D&D.

Howard hopes WOTC will make decisions going forward that will work with, not against, the wants and needs of homebrewers and third-party content creators. He said the adaptability of the game of D&D is what makes it the great game it is.

Diversity is at the heart of D&D. The beauty of the game is that you can make it your own. No one tool is going to satisfy everyone.

– Hal Howard, long-time dungeon delver

Wizards’ Options

With its purchase of DDB, Wizards of the Coast’s decisions will have a huge impact on the game’s future. Howard hopes they will make “universal digital content” the new way people buy all the digital versions of their products. Such a system would ensure a healthy third-party ecosystem in D&D’s future

As Howard sees it, Wizards has two options. They can opt for a closed approach where one needs to pay for their official published materials on each platform and not license to any other content sites or VTTs. Or they can adopt an open system of universal digital content.

“If they opt for the first approach, the closed approach, then the D&D world gets smaller, with less choice. Ultimately, that would not be good for the game. Diversity, and the ability to modify it to your taste is fundamental to the game itself. Preserving that diversity is incumbent on Wizards as shepherds of the game.”

– Howard on the important of WOTC choosing an open approach to digital content
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Third-party content producers for Fifth Edition D&D thrives on Shard Tabletop’s marketplace.
Image courtesy Shard

Looking Ahead

Shard will clearly be affected one way or the other by whatever decisions WOTC makes. But Howard said he sees his situation as “neutral.”

He explained that Shard is already in a situation where [WOTC] won’t license its official content. But with the recently added capability of importing a character sheet from D&D Beyond, he says the purchase won’t hurt the company. Wizards controlled what D&D Beyond was doing anyway.

But Wizards is now positioned to have a huge, positive impact on the game if they open it up. People want universal digital content, now is the time to offer it.

Tell them

Howards says the best way for D&D fans to influence WOTC’s future decisions is straightforward:

“Write them a letter, post your thoughts and opinions on social media. They do want to know what their customers want. Tell them.”

– Howard on how to let WOTC know what you want

WOTC does distribute surveys to its customers regularly. Wizards of the Coast’s customer service website for D&D can be found here. They are on Twitter @Wizards_DnD and the customer service phone number is 1 (800) 324-6496.

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