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 2 of this three part interview, we talk about the Gleemax business model.  In Part 1, we talked about hobby gamers and the Gleemax target audience (see 'Interview with Randy Buehler, Part 1').    In Part 3, we talk about how Gleemax targets new hobby gamers (see 'Interview with Randy Buehler, Part 3'). 


What is the revenue model for Gleemax?

We want to give away most of the social networking function for free and subsidize it with ads. We're very much interested in giving players something for free.  We want gamers to call this site home; we don't want to charge them for everything. We'll have premium subscriptions available for people who want premium content, but most of the social networking functionality you need to enjoy the site will be free. In addition, the various games are where we expect to make most of our money and there will be a number of different business models built into the game. Magic Online for example, has a purchase model where we sell booster packs. The Goblin game is going to be pay for each instance of the game you want to play. The board game portal is going to be a monthly subscription to have unlimited access to all of those titles. The indie strategy game portal is the try and buy business model you see in the casual game space where you can download a trial version of the game, and if you like it, you have to pay us $20 to unlock the rest of the game.


We have a number of different business models all folded together, I'm sure they won't all work, but I'm sure several of them will, and then we'll start doing more of the stuff that works.


Big picture, give away the social networking for free, make our money off ads, and make our money off the games.


You mentioned there was going to be an editorial voice, is that editorial voice going to talk about other companies' games or just Wizards'?

We intend to talk about other people's games too.


Are you doing news?

Not really.  Insider blogs are the primary thing we expect to do. I don't want to try and compete with the game news sites; that's not something we feel like we have any expertise in. Really for us it's 'here's the WotC point of view.'We may comment on news, but we're not going to make any effort to be comprehensive or do press releases.


On the ad side are you going to sell ads to your competitors?

We haven't decided exactly who we're willing to let advertise in the space -- that's a policy that still needs to be written. In terms of letting the competitor set up shop in the network, we're not going to charge for that at all. The idea is that this is a home for gamers, so if somebody wants to create a personal page around a game that they're publishing, great, they should, this is the space where that's supposed to happen. Just like we're not charging the retailers to set up their pages, we're not charging the competitors to set up their pages. We're not going to go out of our way to call attention to a competitor's page, but it's there if the players want to rate that game highly, review that game highly, then they have the right to do that.


How about retailers, would you accept ads for online retailers?

In terms of who we'll accept ads from, I don't have a story for you there yet. In terms of how we're going to treat Iternet sales in general, Wizards is not getting into the business of selling products directly through this Website. There are no Magic booster packs sold by us. Our policy with respect to stores is very much to encourage them to set up a space, tell the fans what they've got available, and then we're happy to help drive traffic back into that core hobby channel. In terms of Internet resellers of product, that's a policy we haven't written yet.


What would you regard as Gleemax's competition?

It's a good question. I really feel that there's a tremendous white space available that nobody else is playing in, and I don't feel like we have direct competitors. You can look at an individual piece of it. If you look at the indie strategy games portal, I can point to Manifesto Games that's doing something similar but has a different take. With the board game portal, there are various publishers that have their board games online.


In terms of the big picture, in terms of social networking, you can look at MySpace as competition, I guess. Except, I really think the future of social networking is the niches, people who have a lot in common and just want to find each other. I don't think anybody is targeting our customer, the hobby game customer, the tabletop customer, I don't think anybody is targeting that guy directly, so I don't think we have any direct competition with Gleemax.


You said you'd have thought leaders from the hobby industry on your advisory board.  What kinds of businesses are you looking to have represented there?

A really good example of that would be there's an independent gaming manufacturers association, so we've extended an invite to Anthony Gallela who's the head of GAMA, to try and get independent voices that can comment on what's going on in the hobby, what's in the best interests of that hobby channel, to make sure we can set it up to be helpful. Anthony is interested and excited to be a part of that advisory board.


You didn't have any retailer or distributor representation?

We have not finalized the board at this point, we're still putting together that invite list. I don't have very many people that I can tell you about, because we're just putting that board together right now. I would like to have retail store owners, yes, but I haven't picked them.


And distributors?

It's a good question, but we don't currently have distributors on the board.


D&D online was a licensed product, right?

Correct. Atari had a licensing deal to use the D&D IP on the computer and they gave it to Turbine. We worked with Turbine and did approvals.


That's not going to get incorporated into this initiative at all?

That is not. We do have plans for D&D. I'm sure you noticed the license to the Dungeon magazine and the Dragon magazine reverted to us. We let people know that we have plans, but we're not ready to announce them yet. The story that we're ready to tell at this stage is the story about Gleemax. The story about D&D is for another day.  The relationship with Atari is unaffected by any of these plans.


Will the online initiatives that are replacing the print magazines be part of Gleemax?

Not directly.  We have a lot of really good ideas that I'm aware of, but we're not ready to talk about them yet.  I can clarify a little bit about the relationship between Gleemax and D&D and Magic. In 6 months, 12 months, people will look at WotC as having three big brands, we've got Magic, D&D, and we've got Gleemax. Gleemax is its own separate brand; it's a product created by Wizards of the Coast. It's a little different in that this product supports the Magic player and the D&D player and it's full of a bunch of features and tools sets that support gamers of all shapes and sizes, but it is its own brand and its own product produced by Wizards of the Coast. That's the relationship. D&D will still have its own web presence, D&D will still do its own thing, but there will be a lot of cross references with Gleemax. We'll be trying to drive Gleemax customers over to the D&D Website, and we'll be trying to drive D&D players over to the Gleemax Website, but they're not the same thing--they are distinct initiatives.


Click here for Part 3.