It has become clear that in some circles it is possible to make a good deal of money by selling gaming content through a subscription. The biggest player in this space is World of Warcraft. And considering that you can make some back-of-the-napkin calculations that result in billions of dollars, it is unsurprising that others want a cut of that. There are crucial differences between computer gaming and more traditional pen’n’paper which makes getting at those subscription dollars incredibly hard.
The first, and arguably the largest, is the open nature of pen’n’paper gaming. It is easy to swap books, make copies, rely on other player’s income to fill in the gaps needed to play, or for everyone to chip in on some essential tome. The ability to share with your fellow gamers what they need to construct their imaginings has been fundamental since its inception. Without it, pen’n’paper gaming falls apart.
Given the slow, yet steady, direction of sharing like traditional books that e-publishers have been heading in it may yet still be possible to have a digital versions of pen’n’paper which respect the needs and traditions of the hobby. However, this is likely many years away and it will not be without significant legal wrangling in courts and settling of questions which have yet to be addressed.
Second hurdle is one of perceptions. Right now, most digital subscriptions leave me with a feeling of getting less for more money. With print magazines one usually get several bonuses. Home delivery, deep discounts for renewal, and subscriber-only promotions that kept people paying. One also get to decide what to keep, collect, or transform from the print into some other useful entity. With digital subscriptions, you have to rely upon the good faith that back issues and articles will be there when you need them. Likewise, pricing has been somewhat problematic often varying from site to site and year to year. It is easy to feel ripped-off when you pay the same price but are unable to use it in the same way.
And there you go. Until the issues of sharing and of use are answered digital subscriptions for traditional gaming is going to falter and fail.