Thursday, April 11, 2013

The Virtues of Digital Content

Like it, love it, or hate it, digital gaming aids are here. In fact, they've been here for a very long time. For those of you who swear you haven't ever used one, check to see if Army Builder is on your computer, or if you've posted an army list or paint scheme to your favorite forum...

...or read gaming blogs.

The current state of media, as well as our hobby, darn near dictates that you either are using, or will be in the near future, some form of digital gaming content with this hobby of ours. This time 'round, we're going to look at what is currently available to us, the benefits and criticisms both, and try to dial in just how useful digital content really is.

Let me begin by saying that digital content, be it a codex, game play aid, or even just ebooks are a God-send for me, a necessity even. I have a fairly severe allergy to dust, and the reality is that you cannot dust paper products sufficiently enough to deal with my allergy. I've sold a personal book collection/library that numbered over 1250 novels, and have re-taught myself (and am still in the process of re-teaching myself) how to draw, illustrate and paint on my iPad.

All that being said, I already own an iPad so the digital publications that GW has put out are available to me. I realize that Android users aren't feeling the love right now, and honestly there is no word on when that platform might get any attention. However, the supposed "neglect" of the Android platform is not what I'm going to be addressing here as one reality of the situation is that the iOS platform is easier to develop for because of its enforced consistency and widespread use. The other reality is that the only GW digital products offered are those on the iOS platform, so that's all I can truly speak to anyway.

Digital White Dwarf

My first foray into digital products was the Digital White Dwarf, and I hadn't subscribed to WD in a couple years. The price for a 14 month subscription, though, through Apple's Newsstand put each issue at a price of barely over 4 dollars each. I couldn't pass it up! Now, White Dwarf has disappointed in the past, but I was willing to take a chance for the price and opportunity.

The improvements, or not, of WD aside, the benefits of a digital magazine are huge. The ability to enlarge images, have 360 degree views, hotlinks to the website and the simple ability to carry every issue with me for reference is great.

Digital Codexes

I currently own every digital 40K codex there has been released so far, Necrons, Space Marines, Dark Angels, Daemons, Chaos Space Marines and finally Tau. I can honestly say that for those who have said that they are just ebooks, why can't they release them for any e-reader, have no idea what GW has done with these digital Codexes. They are so much more than just ebooks, they are an app all to themselves. They too have the ability to see much larger, and high-res versions of images, 360 degree views, hotlinks to the website...but they have a few features that are intrinsic to their usefulness that the digital White Dwarf doesn't. Tapping on a rule, or piece of wargear pulls up a pop up that actually describes the rules and stats, without having to flip back and forth.

On each army entry there are a series of lettered bubbles, each referencing either imagery, rules, army listing, or summary for that particular unit. These two features combined with the ease of use and navigation of the codex in general make comprehension and learning the army in question extremely easy and enjoyable! Now the price on the digital Codexes are no different than the paper ones. Some folks have issue with this, however for the amount of programming that goes into them, and the functionality, I'm fine with the cost. Oh, and did I mention that they get automatically updated with FAQ, Errata and I've got both the Storm Talon AND Storm Raven in my Marines you?

Psychic Powers App

This one...this one I don't own. I've read that you can program in what psyker you have, what powers you have, and actually have the app work with you turn by turn during your game. Sorry, this is a bit on the weak side, but I'd love to hear from anyone who has some hands-on experience with the app and let folks know in the comments what you think!

I'm sure you also noticed that I keep EVERY codex's FAQ in my iBooks as well...the ability to just keep it all on me for reference on one single device is just too good a feature to not take advantage of.

There that've it, and here you are folks. Have at it and let me know where you stand with the current state of the digital world invading our hobby!

- Tim



  1. They are interactive ebooks, which is great. GW is leveraging the medium very well, which surprises me considering the debacle that used to be their website. But there is little to no reason they could not have made them platform agnostic, except as a means of DRM. That said, the electronic versions are probably closer to being worth the price, as they are bundled with a service. Not going to buy soemething that I can't use on all my devices though.

    1. I can understand the OS frustration, and I've heard arguments for both sides of the coin when it comes to can they/should they/could they. I just have to come from the angle of what I have available is all.

      That said, I will agree that they are much closer to being worth the price considering the interactivity.

    2. Yeah, one downside of the iBooks Textbook format is that its iPad only, you can't even get them on the iPhone. The reason for that is that it was intended...well obviously for textbooks lol. But the nice part is that its basically a souped up version of Pages+Keynote (Apple's versions of Word and PowerPoint), so it is extremely user friendly and doesn't require GW to hire any developers.

      The file it outputs is a proprietary Apple format forked off of the ePub standard, so it can't be used anywhere else. If GW wanted, they could output a plain PDF and sell that with DRM (or just without DRM since every book is out as a full quality PDF within like 2 weeks of the release), but clearly they are only interested in creating the interactive style book, or they would've done this years ago. That means, most likely, GW will remain Apple exclusive until there is demonstration of enough income and demand to justify expanding to add android developers. Don't expect it for Windows 7 ever, maybe Windows 8, but only if that platform demonstrates substantially more demand than it does right now.

  2. I can't speak to the digital codices because I have, in all honesty stopped playing and mainly paint now.
    Things I do love:
    1)The digital white dwarf. Great 360s and CUs of the minis and no more stacks of shelves of old issues. Easy jump to format to skip the crap I don't care about and yes, the price is better given the interactive content! Only thing I don't like about the digital WD? Those tempting buttons that let you jump to the site and impulse buy those newly released minis - so dangerous for my wallet ;)
    2)Black library books. I can't tell you how many books and short stories I've read in the dead of night (after my daughter was born) with a sick kid sleeping in my lap or on a plane ride or waiting at the doctors office. Portable and un-intrusive; especially with that night mode for the text.
    Long live digital!

    1. The Digital WD is indeed a solid product, they just need to keep working on solid CONTENT. in the reviews I've done, I've tried to be fair and impartial, and sometimes, they just drop the ball. I do feel that WD is a better value for the money at this price point though.

      BL books are indeed a god-send, agreed. also the MP3 versions of their audio books are great :) Guess what I'll be listening to on the way to Chicago for Adepticon ;)

  3. I am feeling somewhat conflicted about this whole subject, to tell you the truth:

    One the one hand, I think it's great that GW utilise the digital media as well as they do, implementing all kinds of additional functionality that really makes sense for users of tablet devices. The ability to update those digital versions of the books is also a real boon.

    On the other hand, I am just a huge print nerd, and nothing beats browsing through all those publications on actual paper for me, even if they are almost falling apart from years and years of use -- I'm just a packrat like that ;)

    Personal feelings aside, though, I really think the challenge here is the fact that not only will the printed copies never have all those additional functions and doodads - for obvious reasons - but you're also stuck with a version of the codex that no longer represents current rules and FAQ's in the long run -- and there's no way to fix that short of getting a later edition. That just seems unsatisfying on a level that I cannot fully put words to, but there's little to be done. What I really don't like is that the ability to "patch" any release with additional corrections and FAQs after the fact might mean that Codices are sometimes just published full of sloppy mistakes -- at least, that's certainly what happened with the first print edition of Codex DA. And while the digital version is easily fixed, there's no such option for the more expensive print edition.

    You know what, there should be the option of buying a special package containing both the book and a download code (or something similar) to get the updateable digital version. That's a kind of special edition I would actually consider buying, instead of those ridicolously overpriced special editions with just a different cover...

    1. Your last point is something that folks have been clamoring for! I would happily buy a printed 'Dex if it also came with a code that allowed me to download the digital version! God forbid I forget to charge my iPad before a tournament :P

      I can understand the need for paper...that textile need is one that I've been told time after time, and folks just enjoy it. Heck, *I* enjoy it! I just have to do away with as much paper in my house as I can, unfortunately :P

  4. I've started buying the digital WD. I'm still shy about digital products because I like to have something tangible for my money, but looking at the huge stack of older WD's and considering the space they take up... Digital WD is favorable in this aspect. Content however; WD digital actually has LESS content than its printed counter part.

    I have to admit that it bothers me a great deal when a review states that digital WD has "the ability to enlarge images". This is misleading. Only a select few images have the ability to be enlarged and these are typically only the showcase images for new releases.

    I like the digital codex for the ability to tap on a key word and have its rules pop up in a bubble and that the FAQ's get incorporated into them, but I still cannot bring myself to pay that much for something intangible.

    1. Digital WD has less content? I hadn't known that actually. Can you give an example of something that's left out of the digital version that is in the printed one? I'd love to have a comparison!!

      I can see your point when it comes to "the ability to enlarge images" being slightly misleading. One thing I'd like to point out though, is that I can take a screen grab on my iPad with the Retina display, bring it into a photo app and enlarge it...and actually be able to read the text on the sample codex pages. Is it as great as the images you can actually enlarge? no, but it's better than you get when it's printed in the actual magazine.

      I have heard the hesitation with reason of intangible product before and I can understand the trepidation. Let me say that after 3 years of buying nothing but eBooks, I don't miss the physical books at all. I carry my entire library with me on my Kindle, and if I want to re-read a book, go on a trip or whatever, all I do is buy a couple new books, or re-read old ones and I have whatever I want to do at my fingertips at all times. Well, except for take-offs and landings on a plane. that's still irritating, but still.

  5. I totally get where you are coming from, but you can't just ignore the platform issue. Especially not when you start by justifying - wrongly the possible reasons for it.
    The only reason for it is because the Apple system hasn't been cracked and that means people can't get their hands on it for free - in the interactive format.
    Not providing to arguably a much larger userbase is really poor, but then Android and other system users tend to be much more savvy than Apple users who are for more likely to spend a premium on a product.

    I literally can't afford $83 (AUD) a codex anymore, and certainly wouldn't pay that for a digital edition regardless of how interactive it is.
    I save and get an order from the US with the codex, with the way digital publishing works and the price disparity I can't even do that...
    I would consider WD for $4 a (digital) issue, but its something like $200 a year here last check (paper).

    I scanned my copy of the only codex I still use and use it on my tablet, and I buy a lot more ebooks now despite preferring hardbacks of the series I follow.
    For a reasonable price I would probably consider the digital GWS options but not paying an even bigger premium simply for being an Australian.

    1. Okay, so let me start by saying that I wasn't justifying the apple-only content. I have friends who are developers, and have been told that the apple platform is easier to develop for and reach a widespread userbase. That my only basis for that comment, truly. I'm not attempting to completely ignore the OS disparity, more comment on the fact that I own iOS devices, the content is only there for those devices and that's all I can comment on.

      Now, that said, the little dig at apple users versus android users isn't called for :P. personally I own an iPhone, iPad, kindle, PC at home that I've personally modified, and enjoy an old-school UNIX environment. Lets try and avoid digs like that, fair?

      Now when we get to the blatant disregard for a hobbyist's wallet like GW does in Australia, I couldn't agree with you more. I have friends in your neck of the world and I don't blame anyone for ordering from a US supplier from a cost standpoint. I just wish it did t hurt the scene so badly there.

      I'm honestly hoping that android users do get some love in the near future, and moreso that you folks get a break in cost. I think you at least got my main point in that digital products not only are here in force, but that they are in part, a large part, the future for our hobby.

  6. Admittedly I haven't finished reading the post yet, I jumped down to the comments after you mentioned you were painting/drawing on the iPad. I wanted to mention a product that you may have already heard of, but which I have been using for the last 4 months or so that is pure awesome.

    That is, the Pogo Connect, which is a stylus for your iPad that uses the low energy bluetooth 4.0 standard to connect to the pad. What this gives it is pressure sensitive drawing and the ability to ignore palm and hand touches.

    Now, it requires support within the app to use these features, but there are a fair few of the better drawing apps that support it. I've been toying with it, and while I am not great at drawing (particularly digital drawing), I've found a great deal more success with it than with other styluses.

  7. Also, I have been using the Psychic Powers app since it dropped. Admittedly, the fact that it didn't have rulebook powers made it kind of useless, but since I primarily play CSM, once the new book came out (and I got over my utter hatred of paying 7 dollars to use the app like 2 weeks after i bought it for 14), I was golden. I have been using it happily ever since, and I have to say it is excellent. So much so that I am annoyed the random Daemons upgrades can't be tracked in a similar fashion, because that is one of the annoying things I've noticed about 6th: there is more book keeping.

    Well, instead of rolling powers, referencing the book, etc, the app works as follows:

    You first have a page that is the list of the disciplines, you can view all of the powers from here for quick reference. Great for thinking about strategy on the train, maybe while listening to a 40k Podcast.

    Next you can create individual psykers for your different armies, select their mastery level (for the Chaos books you choose their alignment as well) and can take a photograph of your model. Unfortunately, you cannot load a library photo, which is too bad because I like to use the macro lens in the lightbox for my good pics, but whatever.

    The real gem of the app is game management. You select which psykers are in your list, click start a game, and begin generating powers. You get a menu of all of the disciplines you can choose from, you select a discipline and it gives you 6 flipped over cards (3 for chaos powers). You click a power, it pops up, and you can either elect to take it, or swap for the primaris. Continue until you have all of your powers. Next you select whether you go first or second and the app then tracks your psykers, the phases their powers cast in, and the number of warp charges you have left. Its pretty remarkable how much faster it is to have everything on there. Imagine that for the chaos reward tables from CSM and Daemons.

    Overall, despite the high cost its quite excellent.

    1. Criminey, Ian!! I'm going to edit the post to make sure to point folks down to this comment since you went to such an extensive review of it!!

      Thanks for your mini-posts in the comments. You've brought a lot of insight and solid thoughts and facts to the article!