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Outside the Box: Gleemax, an Interview with Randy Buehler

Jon Wood recently spoke to Randy Randy Buehler from the Dpeartment of Digital Games at Wizards of the Coast. The two talked about the upcoming "Gleemax" website that WotC is releasing.

An Interview with Randy Beuhler
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Last week, I received an email from someone at Wizards of the Coast, asking me if I would like to attend a telephone presentation on a new product. Well, I'm never one to let a cryptic comment like that pass (also, it was an announcement from WotC), so I agreed. Today, I am going to talk a little bit about the results of that phone conversation:

Gleemax. It sounds like a nonsense word, but in reality, it's the name of a giant brain in a jar that has taken over the Development Team at Wizards of the Coast.

Maybe I should start at the beginning for those who read that last sentence and are wondering if I've lost my mind:

Wizards of the Coast is the company behind not only their flagship game, Magic "The Gathering", but after they bought out TSR, they also became the owners of the Dungeons and Dragons Franchise (among others). In short, WotC is the leading pen and paper / tabletop publisher. Not only that, but they also have a very successful online version of their strategy card game, Magic Online.

The phone call that I received was from Randy Buehler at WotC. Randy earned his chops in the game industry first as a professional Magic "The Gathering" player. In fact, he earned as much as $25,000 in one weekend of play.

After that, he got a job working on the game with Wizards of the Coast and eventually, with the success of Magic Online, the powers that be at WotC created the Department of Digital Games, where Randy works.

Up until now, Wizards of the Coast has worked mostly through the small hobby stores all over the world that sell their products. While that method is still vibrant and strong in terms of capturing the market of 25-35 year olds that grew up with it, they are looking to grab the younger audience.

According to Buehler, "We're looking to recruit the next generation of hobby gamers. They're online."

Gleemax, the newest project from Randy's Department of Digital Games, is taking a step toward capturing that audience. Essentially, what we're looking at from WotC with this project is a massive website expansion that will see the inclusion of things like: community networking, reviews, downloadable games.

Buehler says that Wizards of the Coast has been doing user-generated content for years, and, if you stop and think about it, it's true. Take Dungeons and Dragons as an example. WotC provides the rules, and it's the players who provide the content. They hope that the new website will do the same thing.

Says Randy: "We make the parts that other people use to make the content."

In terms of networking, Randy tells me that WotC is building a home for gamers with: blogs, friend lists, event calendars, articles and more.

Beuhler said that they recognize the fact that while there are all kinds of avenues available for people online in terms of social networking, but that they also know that what's out there might not appeal to the average Wizards of the Coast customer. This new social network is meant to give players of their games (and all hobby gamers) a place to discuss their hobbies.

They are also planning on allowing members access to event calendars, where players can be notified of official events taking place near them. They're looking at things like webcasts to broadcast tournaments and the like over the site.

Randy was quick to point out that they did not want to limit the site to Wizards of the Coast products, and he strongly encourages the competition to set up shop in the new space.

On top of the social networking aspect of the site, Gleemax will also offer themselves as a portal for "indie" strategy game distribution. This will allow independent developers of strategy games to distribute through the site, but the best ones will receive the Wizards of the Coast "seal of approval".

One that was mentioned was "Uncivilized: The Goblin Game", a multiplayer turn-based strategy game developed by Wizards. I'm also sure that Magic Online will make an appearance.

Strategy games may not be the end of it either as they are also looking at making a board game portal and "port[ing] the board game experience to the online world."

Today marks the opening of their teaser site, and they hope to have more functionality by GenCon Indy, with "everything running" sometime mid-2008.

If this strikes your fancy, I would advise giving it a look at: www.gleemax.com.