However, upon closer review, I was pleasantly surprised. The downloadable Character Builder and the later Monster Builder quickly became invaluable tools for me, as I both ran and played D&D. Character generation time dropped from the hours it had become in 3.5e, down to mere minutes. I’ve often been quoted as stating that I could make a 30th level character, fully-equipped, playable, and reasonably optimized, within a 20 minute timeframe. The Monster Builder, similarly, allowed me to print out sheets with chosen creatures—both custom-made and pregenerated—reducing the amount of time that I spent preparing for games.
|RIP--The Downloadable Character Builder (11-16-2010)|
Then, the announcement: Wizards of the Coast would no longer be supporting the downloadable Character Builder software, choosing instead to implement an online-only toolset. The online-toolset debuted yesterday to much outcry amongst the gaming community.
With that in mind, I’d like to get on record now this thought: If the D&D brand is set to fail within the next decade, it will be because of Wizards of the Coast’s utter refusal to commit to either a set online plan and, through that, their customers.Having examined the new Character Builder, it has several fundamental flaws that not only defeat its design intent, but also harm the gaming community as a whole.
• The Character Builder is online only. This is the biggest problem, yet one that WotC refuses to address. The company line is currently one that states that the online-functionality of the CB software makes it accessible from anywhere that has an Internet connection. There are two flaws with this logic: not only does this make the CB harder to access, but it also makes it less available overall.
o Online-only MEANS online-only: For some people this may not seem to be a problem, but when thought through thoroughly, cracks emerge. If I go to play at any of my 3 local game stores, there’s no wi-fi available. My characters, saved on my computer, would be inaccessible, whereas with the Downloadable CB, they were at my fingertips. Similarly, if the WotC website goes down or crashes, my characters are inaccessible. This limits access, rather than making it more available.
o Silverlight is left in the dark. The new CB runs on the Silverlight framework, put out by Microsoft. That’s all well and good, but most mobile devices—including the iPad, most palmtop computers, and any smart-phone that doesn’t use Windows 7—can’t run Silverlight. Considering that these were the target users of the new CB, this design precept is utterly a failure.
• Your characters are no longer yours. This, as a writer and blogger, angers me beyond belief. Not only does the new CB have an absurdly-low limit of 20 characters, WotC has now made it expressly clear that the characters—despite the fact that you, as a player, assembled them—are not yours. With no ability to export a character to your hard drive (and no ability to even view it, once you have done so!), you will have absolutely no access to your own creations, should you choose to cancel your subscription. As someone who runs D&D at conventions and uses pregenerated characters, this limit is crippling—with 6 seats at a table, a mere 3 games fills out the limit, and that doesn’t even count any ‘home’ characters that I might have!
WotC has framed this as the ability to store these characters “in the Cloud”, implying that storing them on a hard drive or flash drive is somehow an inconvenience. Such is not the case. Again, it’s much easier to port over a character via a USB drive than have to log into a website, which may or may not be available/functioning.
|Maybe this can tell me why new the CB crashed 4 times in 15 minutes...|
• WotC’s Track Record: Promise Much, Produce Little. We’re told, through the occasional forum post or the CB FAQ, that the ability to export characters will be incoming. We’re told that core components of the game, such as the ability to house rule items, to include inherent bonuses, and to modify the character sheet on a fundamental level…all that “has not yet been implemented,” but it’s on the horizon. We’re told that all of this is coming.
But, I ask this: what about the rest of the functionality that was promised us? What about the rest of the Monster Builder updates, which have gone untouched? What about the much ballyhooed Virtual Tabletop, which would allow you to play with your friends across the country, with full chat utilities and stylized virtual minis? What about open communication, within the gaming community? Anyone remember GleeMax, WotC’s utter travesty of a social networking site?
|So, how long did GleeMax last? 6 months? A year? Did anyone care?|
All of this adds up to bad news in my eyes. It’s been mentioned—unofficially, of course—that WotC made this move to keep more nefarious gamers from cracking and subsequently bit-torrenting hacked version of the downloadable CB. If this is the case, though, it’s a paranoid attempt to deal with a minority of the gaming community, which only harms the majority’s ability to enjoy a product as a paying customer.
WotC has dropped a fully-functional, smooth program in favor of trying to rebuild their image. This, on a fundamental level, is a misstep. While I doubt that this would bring the D&D brand on the whole to a collapse, it does make for poor tidings for the world’s most popular RPG.
I, for one, will not be witness to this pratfall. Upon the completion of my already-paid year of DDI subscription, I’ll be cancelling.