New Character Builder screenshot

The new Character Builder

WotC announced something good and surrounded that with bad things.

First, the Character Builder is going to be Mac compatible—in that it (come November 16th) is a website accessible by OSX. Well, a website where you have to download, of all things, Microsoft’s Silverlight module.

Not having to boot into Windows just to briefly use a single program is luxurious news! It’s something I’ve been wanting since the whole DDI was first announced.Three cheers!

Unfortunately, there was a slew of bad news that fairly drowned out the good news. Let’s get to ’em…

Reduced functionality

Easily the #1 complaint, which is entirely justifiable, is that WotC is reducing the functionality of the Character Builder—drastically. In fact the list of missing features is too long for this medium, so I’ll just mention a few highlights:

  • No house rules — This means I can’t use the Character Builder for the campaign I’m in. Worse than that, of course, is that we won’t be able to compensate for the Character Builder’s mistakes—which my epic-level players in my Monday game know of all too well. This lack of functionality makes using the Character Builder effectively unusable at launch.
  • No exporting — This is a feature that’s going to be added “later.” Why this is a problem is that third party developers—who’ve demonstrated an ability to build superior apps than WotC’s—won’t be able to function.
  • No customizable character sheets — Your ability to prioritize the data on your sheet is gone. Instead, you’ll have a choice of two sheets to pick from (more will be added “later” but, you know).

No tablet support

The perfect device for using an electronic tool at the table is a tablet, not a laptop. It’s exceedingly odd that support for tablets wouldn’t be included in such a web-based initiative. Also, I read through much of the discussion forum about this new development and I was surprised at how many times iPads were called out specifically.

Lack of trust continues

Surprising customers by replacing an extant product with a new product that offers less functionality—after saying that everything with the previous product was on schedule—is one of many reasons why there is such distrust about WotC and digital products.

I think a better method would be to telegraph what’s coming and ask for feedback on features before the product is released. That exporting was the #1 request shouldn’t have been a surprise, to name one of many potential examples.

And, principally, don’t mislead customers.

Backfire

I wasn’t personally aware of this, but it makes sense: One (significant) problem with the Character Builder is that people would buy a subscription for one month then download all the updates for it—which equates to getting every book—then cancel the subscription.

That’s not right, I agree. Moving everything to a server environment and requiring an active login (and therefore an internet connection) is the way to combat that, and I support that idea.

But this whole mess has resulted in the following quote by a friend of mine who routinely pirates everything—yet is a paid subscriber to DDI:

“I’m a pirate by nature and I was giving them money—and they burned me for it.”

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