WotC Character Builder: Missed opportunity?

Thursday, 4. November 2010

Critical Hits has an interesting article up on the new updates to the D&D WotC character builder. Allow me to say that before I begin that I’m not even really a 4th edition player. I still like third, although I do own the books for 4e.. the changes really don’t interest me. (3rd has its own problems, but that’s another article.) Some of these changes really strike me as anti business. I won’t recap the entire argument but just add a few of my thoughts here. There is a lot of meat in the comments (probably more than the original article), so make sure to take a look at them as well.

I’m well aware of what Wizards is trying to do here.. that is create a secondary recurring revenue to their main income stream of selling books and games. It’s really a solid strategy for any business, particularly if your secondary brings a lot of value. Value of course, is the issue. Because of that, I believe that the implementation of it is piss poor and a turnoff to owning the game itself. Now, they have done some good things, encounters is a good simple way of spreading game play but it could be magnified with some proper effort.

Lets look at some of the advantages listed. Update-ability, Cross platform usage through silverlight and the ability access characters anywhere. The first is primarily a company advantage and although it transfers is of a far lesser concern to us. The second I think go together very well. The potential usage of them through a virtual game table is big although honestly from the demonstrations I’ve seen that are completely virtual doesn’t interest me. It takes editorial control away from the GM even though it streamlines the entire process of combat (one of the games huge slowdowns right now.) Looking at it further, the ability to use handhelds (phones, ipads, blackberries, etc) is really very big, but it’s something that needed to be rolled out from the get go! It would bring some definite portability to characters as well as the ability to scrap a lot of paperwork, but as it stands thats simply a distant promise off in the future. The accessibility goes hand in hand with that and is a big plus. The company looks toward the future here, but it shortly falls apart.

Now, the downsides in my eyes… the major one in my mind is the constant subscription required in addition to privacy issues. Yes, you don’t need to use the character builder to play. It’s a useful additional feature to make play and creation quicker. You would think however that if you were interested in selling games you’d make character creation less of a pain in the ass.. or you would offer the service free at the most basic level. Maybe base classes only, levels 1-3 or something similar. Sign up to get more. That’s the way of working it, you give your good product away at least enough to get people hooked on it to pay for it. 
Base level interest generation is worth far more in the long run than a couple of bucks in the short term.  I’m afraid that sums up corporate thought right now in general though, immediate stock value is only what matters.

As for Privacy… Data mining could be a good thing for the company as they could really focus their development on what players are interested in. Then of course, because of the echo chamber effects this might ultimately be self defeating. Creating hype on rubbish only works for a short time frame before it burns itself out. Ultimately I think it’s somewhat less of an issue as you’re already signing all your info over to a pay service. That’s a hell of a lot of data that is useful itself, finding out more about your play style is just icing on the cake. If they’re ripping off your intellectual property well.. then it changes the dynamic of the argument greatly.

I think they have a lot of potential to work with here in short, but they need to get get on it in order to really make it happen. Leverage the growth potential instead of just throwing it away for some short term cash.

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2 Responses to “WotC Character Builder: Missed opportunity?”

  1. Don Says:

    What is allowing WotC to achieve such character-builder success is their utter incompetence at rolling out 4E. They have enough errata out on their source books to make a new hardcover book. Unless you’re a lawyer versed in the studies of case law it becomes very problematic to look up or know where the sentence you’re reading is at in the errata stream. By introducing a character builder with up to the minute errata reflected in the ability descriptions, WotC has found a way for people to bypass the book delving to make a viable character.

    While I really like what 4E has done in regards to making all classes relevant throughout the leveling spectrum, I dislike the fact that we are really playtesting the game for them, and paying money to do it.

    Couple this with the fact that WotC seems happy to rev the game every few years, it makes me very reluctant to buy their material. I’m sure 4.5E will be out in 2 years, and will be a very playable game, as it will be incorporating all the things that 4E has vetted for them.

  2. Grey Says:

    I thought 4.5 was out already :D Isn’t essentials the rebranding of 4E, at least updating it to 4.1 or so if not?

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