Wednesday, May 6, 2009

The Future of RPGs? One more piece fell into place

Today Amazon is announcing the release of the Kindle DX for this summer. Unlike the Kindle and Kindle 2 it is designed with full page 8.5 by 11 PDFs in mind. You can read about it here. When I got wind of it two days ago I was talking about it with my wife, Kelly Anne. The first words out of her mouth, "So when are you saving up for it." She know I am a huge fan of my Kindle. Yesterday a co-worker teased be as for the first time in a couple of month I was reading a real book.

Anyway I told her well I will be tempted if it is under $500. I was expecting it come in somewhere between $500 and $700 based. These devices are driven by the cost of the e-ink screens. They come from one manufacturer who is still low on the economy of scale curve.

And then came the formal announcement. $489.

I am doomed.

Despite my enthusiasm for the Kindle it is still no iPod ... yet. The Kindle DX is an important milepost to what will be the future of RPGs. This device will leap the barrier between paper and electronic PDFs.

Yes there will always be book only readers just like there are people who play acoustic instruments vs electronic instruments. However for the average person a device like the Kindle DX will be gold.

There are two remaining hurdles to overcome; color and price. The reason why the Kindle is no iPod is because the price is too high for the average user and just barely in reach for a middle class technology geek like me. When the small version drops below $200, and the large version under $300 I foresee wide scale adoption on the scale of the iPod. Adding color will seal the deal.

When I get my Kindle DX, this summer there will be no difference for me between using a PDF product or the paper version. Like using a virtual tabletop for gaming there are tradeoffs. I will be giving up the ability to have multiple books open. However I gain the ability to put custom bookmarks and notes as well as the ability carry dozens of PDF on a single device.

My current Kindle library is already approaching ludicrous levels between the various books I purchased my subscriptions, converted PDFs, and free e-books I downloaded.

After a year of using my Kindle I say I now read about twice as much as before. I can't begin to say how convenient it is especially compared to paperbacks. The ability to adjust text and lay flat while I am eating is just pure gold.

Eventually these device will be extended to allow application to be run. I fully expect that the tabletop of 2020 will be a bunch of people gathering around a Surface computer with a spiritual descendant of the Kindle displaying a character sheet with hotlinks to specific rules. The Surface will be using icon tokens or RFID encoded minatures linked back to the "Kindle".
For intenet the same device would interface through Bluetooth or wireless USB and worth through a Virtual Table Top sporting 3D maps as well as the 2D variety.

These "Kindles" won't be manfactured as we understand it now. Instead they will be "printed" and then encased in a protective covering and be as flexible a stiff piece of paper. Along the sides will be thin bars housing the electronics along with wireless and ports. You will be able to plug these into a docking port that has full size peripherals like keyboard and mouse attached to it and function as your regular computer.

Welcome to the future.

14 comments:

Chris said...

There are still funny-shaped dice in this bizarre scary 2020 gaming world of yours, right? I mean, without dice those future gamers would be naught but (*shudder*) morepiggers!*

On a serious note: it's nice to see the Kindle slowly growing into the potential it always had. Who knows, I might start saving for the colour version and join the 21st century at last.

Rob said: "Eventually these device will be extended to allow application to be run."

That makes me wonder if the dedicated bookreader isn't actually a technical dead-end in the way, say, Sony mini-disks were. I think it was William Gibson who once asked which technology would emerge triumphant when TV and desktop PCs finally converged (Bruce Sterling's answer: computers). I can see the same question being asked of the Kindle: what emerges when the bookreader and the laptop/netbook converge? (my guess: laptops)

Sorry if the above is a bit inchoate; I'm no tech blogger.

* MMORPGers

Restless said...

I fully expect that the tabletop of 2020 will be a bunch of people gathering around a Surface computer with a spiritual descendant of the Kindle displaying a character sheet with hotlinks to specific rules. The Surface will be using icon tokens or RFID encoded minatures linked back to the "Kindle".
If you're enterprising, it wouldn't even take that long. Check out this guy's posts here and here how they're doing the tabletop bit right now; using MapTools, a Wiimote and IR pens on the surface for mouse movement they're even getting the token bit.

I suspect the right software on tablet PCs could provide the spiritual sibling, if not successor. The software could probably be done with a reasonable amount of effort, but the hardware cost would be steep.

Jeff Rients said...

Yes there will always be book only readers just like there are vinyl record listeners.I don't like this analogy much. A record is a non-interactive entertainment. I think comparing users of acoustic versus electronic instruments makes more sense.

Rob Conley said...

@Chris, yes I believe there will be dice and miniatures. I bet it will be even possible for the surface computer to read the dice and do some bookkeeping with it.

As for being a technological dead end? I think it may be but not in the way it is traditionally thought of.

Either one of two things would happen. 1) Computers, particularly the current netbooks, become more like e-book readers. 2) E-book readers become a distinct niche like gaming consoles.

I am sure Amazon is betting on the latter and feel that they may be right because of the E-Ink display technology.

E-Ink is reflective not emissive which makes it ideal for displaying printed matter the way people like it.

However it not very responsive (can't refresh fast enough) which is why it is not likely it would be adopted for computers in general.

Rob Conley said...

@Restless - It could be sooner than later. I wouldn't take bets on my 2020 prediction. I say it would be a high probably that after 2015 everything to do this can be found "off the shelf".

The biggest item is the surface computer itself. The time between 2010 and 2015 will see how that plays out.

If they figure out how to do a roll out/roll up interactive display that can be unfolded on any table or surface then we will start to see some interesting developments.

Rob Conley said...

@Jeff - Yeah that is a better analogy thanks.

M.gunnerQuist said...

I noticed the Plastic Logic Reader back in December and made similar predictions about how these electronic book readers could change gaming.

http://xeveninti.blogspot.com/2008/12/electronic-rule-books-of-future.html

I hadn't heard about this new Kindle. And it looks like it's going to come out sooner than the Plastic Logic Reader.

I'm going to get one of these readers. It's just a question of which one.

Will said...

"I fully expect that the tabletop of 2020 will be a bunch of people gathering around a Surface computer with a spiritual descendant of the Kindle displaying a character sheet with hotlinks to specific rules. The Surface will be using icon tokens or RFID encoded minatures linked back to the 'Kindle'.
For intenet the same device would interface through Bluetooth or wireless USB and worth through a Virtual Table Top sporting 3D maps as well as the 2D variety."

Gah!

Not since 1984 have I been so terrified by a dystopian vision of the future.

Whatever this crap is, it's not my hobby.

Tim Shorts said...

Well if WotC is in charge of developing this new tech then we are safe.

Spike Page said...

I'm just trying to imagine this utopian electronic game-table buried beneath soda cans, Cheeze-Puff bags and empty pizza boxes.

While I generally embrace the digital era, there's still no real substitute for the sound of a double-fistful of real d6s clattering out onto the table as the DM says "Roll Initiative!"

satyre said...

@Spike Page - Our group has a simple policy on this. Any food on the battlemat area is removed or XPs are lost. Are you there to game or there to pig out?

My only caveat would be the power requirements for such jollity; battery life is such a tenuous thing (strokes his Asus Eee) and hosts may not always be cool about you plugging in.

K. Bailey said...

I think the beating heart of the hobby is pencils-down-and-heads-up, honest to God face to face human interaction.

Anything that tries to capture most of the experience but does not capture that will calve off and become something else. Like videogames, or boardgames, or miniatures games, or crappy movies and TV shows.

If I had this Surface type computer you describe, I would be totally excited to play boardgames on it. Instant setup, no storage space! Maybe I'd want to use it to supplement RPG gaming, if the programs that did so were satisfactory, which they won't be. RPGs are not a driving force for software innovation. "Bejeweled Surface" would be glitzy and well-written; "Dungeon Whiteboard" would be clunky, buggy, and suck. If the killer app for RPG gaming is off the beaten track of lucrative uses of the technology, it won't be written.

OTOH I think cheapo personal tablet PCs/readers will be a great thing for RPG's because they can reduce heads-down time and make the paperwork part more convenient, and (maybe most importantly) open an easy channel to get PDFs onto the table. Reading your post has made me really want a Kindle.

But that doesn't mean that looking up stuff on the Kindle is itself part of the fun. And it takes away from the RPG when it turns heads-up into heads-down, like: "Hey DM, what's the room look like?" "Look at your Kindle."

Bonemaster said...

Thanks for the link to the new Kindle. Sadly, I have to many other monetary requirements to afford such a device. I can only see the prices of these units dropping over time. Hell it sounds odd, but I can see someone having two or three of them just for the reason you state about having multiple books open.

I'm still not sure if I'm all down with the surface table. While, I think there will be games like that. I do also think that many games will still be run the "old" way as well. Of course, I haven't paid my crystal ball bill in while, so I can't see into the future.

MJ Harnish said...

Oh shit....a Kindle that does pdfs? That's pure win - I could finally read all the RPG pdfs I've bought without printing them out!