If you didn’t hear it yesterday, Wizards of the Coast has pulled the plug on Dragon and Dungeon magazines. Paizo’s license to publish the magazines has been revoked, much to the surprise of the magazines’ fans, some of whom have reading Dragon since the seventies. The cited reason is that Wizards moving this sort of content to an online model, although nobody’s entirely sure yet what this means.
However, by the process of logical deduction along with some educated guesswork, we can devise some reasonable possibilities. We know that Wizards is planning on putting out some kind of online material, and it’s reasonable to assume that Dragon/Dungeon would have competed with whatever this is. Presumably they’ll be charging for this, otherwise they’re going to just soak up the cost and I don’t see the current WotC doing something so unprofitable without a good reason. (A less likely theory is that Wizards simply need the Dragon trademark back for something else and Dungeon was merely competing with their own adventure sales.)
Best guess? Wizards, hoping to compete with the ever-encroaching MMO market, are starting up an online subscription-based service in order to sell D&D material. Getting people to “subscribe” to the game World of Warcraft style would be a big step to emulating its success, and it’s a reasonable bet that Dragon/Dungeon would have competed directly with Wizard’s system. A subscription service would provide the consistent revenue stream that D&D has lacked, with the “buy the core books once” player mentality.
What does this mean for players if it’s true? Potentially, this means an online content delivery system will exist to offer players downloadable material. My guess is the sort of material Dungeon/Dragon already ran - significantly, Living Greyhawk style adventure downloads. Potentially this means that we’re looking at a return to the old days of shared experience modules where a significant portion of D&D players one year will have played the same big-name adventure, and be able to share stories. Ideally we’ll also see a lot of the same stuff that we would have seen in Dragon/Dungeon, such as the Demonomicon articles and Core Beliefs articles.
All of this is speculation, of course. I will say, that for killing the magazines not to have been an utterly disastrous PR move, Wizards ought to have something incredible planned.