We interviewed Wizards of the Coast Vice President of Digital Games Randy Buehler about the company's new Gleemax initiative (see 'Gleemax:  WotC's New Online Initiative').  In Part 3 of this three part interview, we talk about how Gleemax can be used to recruit new gamers.  In Part 1, we talked about hobby gamers and the Gleemax target audience (see 'Interview with Randy Buehler, Part 1').  In Part 2, we talked about the Gleemax business model (see 'Interview with Randy Buehler, Part 2'). 


You mentioned that your initial target is the tabletop gaming audience but that you also saw this as a way to recruit new players, which in the past had been done on a more face to face basis. How does this initiative help to recruit new players?

Once it's up and running, I think it will be an awesome community to welcome new players into our culture. When I say our primary target is existing tabletop gamers, I'm more talking about the launch--who are the players we expect to sign up first. In some cases they don't have to sign up, because we already know who they are we've already got a lot of information about them in our databases. We want to grow the network by starting with tabletop gamers; in particular Magic and D&D customers are easy for us to access.


We will turn our attention to recruiting relatively quickly.  Before the end of the year I expect us to have enough of the existing tabletop community invested in this site that there's now a thriving community. When we do go to spend our marketing dollars to recruit those kids to the site, the site has content for them. Growing the audience and growing the hobby market in general is our motivation, it's just the tactics we're using to accomplish that are step one, take existing customers, invest it, make sure there's content on the Website so when we do bring those new customers in, there's lot of cool stuff to do and people to talk to.


What's the gateway content for a potential new player that's being exposed to hobby gaming for the first time through the Web?

I think the draw is the community. We think the first thing you want people to run into is other people. The games are secondary in our opinion. The right way to grow the hobby industry is to invest in hobby gamers; it's to invest in people and community. If those conversations are interesting and those friendships start to form, we all win in the long run. I really think the community content is the gateway.


The idea is that a friend might tell another friend 'Hey, I'm on this site, I've got my page, why don't you check it out, ' and through that process they'll get involved in gaming?

We hope that word of mouth and viral marketing will do some work for us, but we also recognize that we'll have to spend some money, like banner ads put in places where high school kids hang out. We have a lot of ideas of how we can drive awareness for the Gleemax initiative.


A question about the board game portal.  You said that would allow a digital version of board games and you felt that would grow the whole industry. Can you tell us how that feeds back into the sale of tabletop games?

We're not going to limit the board game portal to just our own stuff. We're interested in working with other board game publishers and other developers to potentially have other board games on that portal. I don't have any of those relationships in place right now. We'll probably launch with mostly Avalon Hill games, because we're launching end of the year, first of next year. That said, I'm imagining a world where we've got other board games up and that board game description is driving traffic to their Website. Did you enjoy this game, well why don't you buy a copy, or go to this store where they play it every Wednesday night or go buy it here, or search for people who want to play it in real life, or go to GenCon and hang out in the board game hall. By recruiting people in with this digital experience that's convenient, we then get the opportunity to make them aware of the social real world experience that's also available to them.


Given that your experience with Magic Online was in the other direction with tabletop gamers moving online, what research do you have that leads you to believe that being exposed to it online first will then lead to tabletop?

The Ticket to Ride Website is a great example of this, they've basically only have TTR getting significant traffic, but they've included the online version of TTR as a thing that you get for free, and I'm sure they're selling more copies of the board game because of people on the Website. I don't know that for a fact, but it makes sense to me.  They're letting people sample the content for free, in a form that's convenient and easy, and they're surrounding that whole experience with opportunities to buy the board game. It certainly looks like a good model.


Will retailers be able to put up scheduled events for games other than Wizards'?



So the hope is that this will be a onestop for all types of games for all users?

You got it.


Retailers can put up a store page, is that right?

Yes. We'll have a special kind of page that we'll give away for free. We'll have to put some verification step in to make sure that every person with a Website doesn't make it look like a retail store. We'll give away a set of customized tools to these guys to really try to get them to move into the space and help our customers find spaces to play this game.


It sounds like you're going to have a locator or the users will be able to designate their area where they're looking for organized play events.

As a player, I can say where I'm from and what games I care about. That will accomplish a couple of things. One thing is that we'll be able to populate your event calendar with stuff that stores have told us about. The second thing is we're going to have a really good search tool to help you search for gamers who like games you like, or people who want to trade miniatures, or people who want to get together and play some obscure game that you're having trouble finding players for. That search tool will really let people find each other in the real world, so that sets up the community up to bridge the gap between community and real world. A lot of that will take place in the hobby stores I'm sure.


So if you wanted to find players for an out of print game like Decipher Star Wars CCG you'd be able to do this using that search function?

Absolutely. That's exactly the kind of thing we imagine.


Is any patentable new technology going to be a part of the site?

We're not trying to push the envelope with technology. We're interested in taking advantage of technology that already exists. We do not see ourselves as a technology company in the online space, we see ourselves as valuing game play and community and that sets us apart from the other people playing in the digital space. Instead of obsessing over cutting edge technology we're instead taking a step back on technology and pushing the envelope on game play and community.


Is the promotional game for the launch Wizards' first ARG?

No, we did an ARG with the Hecatomb game as well. It was sort of smaller scale, but they worked out pretty well for us. Given the size of that audience, we were very happy with the response we got.