On the 12th July Slitherine announced the upcoming release of Version 2 of their popular ancients rules Field of Glory. No real surprise here, we've been expecting the V2 rules for sometime now. The surprise was the announcement that they will be a digital only release in the form of an iPad, PC and MAC app.
As you might expect this has been the source of much debate around the 'net. As I've moved on to using Impetus for ancient wargaming this doesn't really bother me. But as a trend it does. I have to say that I think going digital only is a really bad idea for various reasons.
First it's a basic business principle that you don't make it harder for your customers to use your product. Yes most people these days have smart phones but not all of us. While I would read a book on a decent sized tablet I would never try to read one on a smart phone, the screen is much too small. You also have to realise that people use paper rulebooks differently than they use ebooks. For instance it's quite common for me to keep a finger on one page and quickly flick back and forth to another page to cross check things. Although you can bookmark pages in ebooks it's just not the same.
Next there's the cost. The current rulebook has a list price of £25 for a full colour hardback book. This seems to be about the norm for price when comparing it to other rulebooks. After all full colour printing is very expensive and then you have the distribution and storage costs to add on to this. So will the new digital version be considerably cheaper, I doubt it. I'm sure they'll justify the cost by saying it's expensive to develop the app or you're getting free rule updates and errata etc.
Lastly I just don't see people using a smart phone as a rule book. Adding a laptop to all the stuff you already cart down to the wargames club just isn't on, even if you did there's no guarantee you can find a power socket. Plus trailing power cables will just be a recipe for disaster. You can use the battery but what happens when it runs out mid game, you know it's bound to happen.
While I'm all for innovation I just don't think this has been thought through very well. Having to spend £200 - £300 pounds on a device just so you can read a set of wargame rules just isn't a runner for most people. Will they sell less copies of their rules? Yes. Will they lose money? Maybe not, it will depend on the pricing and the production costs. Will they lose market position as the main Ancients rules? Yes I think they will, there's lots of good options out there.
Of course your opinion may vary which is fine. Also I may well end up like the following 'experts':
"I think there is a world market for maybe five computers."
Thomas Watson, president of IBM, 1943
"There is no reason anyone would want a computer in their home."
Ken Olsen, founder of Digital Equipment Corporation, 1977
"I predict the Internet will soon go spectacularly supernova and in 1996 catastrophically collapse."
Robert Metcalfe, founder of 3Com, 1995
"Television won't be able to hold on to any market it captures after the first six months. People will soon get tired of staring at a plywood box every night."
Darryl Zanuck, executive at 20th Century Fox, 1946
"Nuclear-powered vacuum cleaners will probably be a reality within ten years."
Alex Lewyt, president of Lewyt vacuum company, 1955