There are a number of virtual tabletops for gaming available: Roll20, Tabletop Forge, and RPGTable Online. I was recently asked, what will make your product different from what’s already available? It’s a fair question to ask and a good question to answer. From time to time, it’s important to “justify” your work. To make sure that what you’re doing is unique and addresses existing needs.
So let’s take a look and see what’s the difference between what I’m offering versus other in this space.
Not Tied to a Third-Party
From what anecdotal evidence I can gather, Tabletop Forge is the most popular option available. I think this is due, in large part, to its integration with Google+ Hangouts. There were already a number of gamers who gathered on Google+ to game remotely and offering them a tool to help out, I’m sure, was a welcome addition.
In the long run, tying yourself to someone else’s product isn’t a good idea. Look at a company like Zynga, who ruled the Facebook gaming space. When Facebook decided it wanted to compete in that marketplace, things didn’t look so good for the folks at Zynga. As unlikely as it is for Google to decide to compete in such a niche market, Google could decide any time that social networking isn’t for them, or that G+ isn’t the way to achieve it, and pull the plug on Hangouts.
No Professional Polish
This isn’t meant as a slight against any of the products or their developers, but none of them appear to have been created by professional game developers. They are the product of engineers and, as such, are a little clunky and rely entirely on external art.
Rolling Dice Isn’t the Time-Consuming Part
The other products are primarily die-rolling apps. There are no inherent mechanics. In order to play, the user is required to do an awful lot of typing. Creating character sheets and monsters, setting up tables, etc. The only exception to this is RPGTable Online which includes some D&D 4E support. I’m not sure how they get away with this without some official sanction from Wizards of the Coast. Even using the Open Gaming License for a retroclone, it’s a direct violation of the licensing to use it in a computer game.
My product will have a rules-set in place that can be modified or overhauled for “house rules.” This would include bending the rules to reflect games that you already play.
Ease of Use
It will be easy to create your own maps and adventures. The editor will be drag-and-drop. Other products rely heavily on on either hand-drawing maps or stealing images from the web.
Because there is a rules-set in place, things like movement, visibility, combat—all these things can be handled by the software rather than relying on the GM to look things up and interpret the die-rolls every time.
It will be pretty.
As I’ve looked at all the existing products I can’t help but notice that not only are they very similar, they are primarily updates of the erstwhile WebRPG. I’m building something different. Something that can do the heavy lifting and let the play happen. Something that I would gladly load up and play a game with friends again. And that’s something that I haven’t done in a very long time.