DDi for 4E was pretty much a bad showing for WoTC. Late, slow to come out, several changes in direction resulting in multiple versions of the same tools, and a major scaling back of what it was meant to be.
In the end, the Adventure Tools is just a monster builder. The character builder showed the promise of really allowing players and DMs to customize their game, but the online version removed much of that ability to customize. The VT is a bare bones table, that when compared to tables others put out in their free time, is laughable. The only thing it has to recommend is that you can import monsters and characters.
The facebook app for Neverwinter Nights MMO is more appealing than the official VT that is still in beta.
The potential the VT had for increasing the brand by bringing in new players to DnD was never realized. It’s best used, as WoTC has said many times, for people who want to find a game and roll some dice, or for people that can’t find a game near them.
That said fifth edition will still need to have a digital side to it. Not only that, the really need to be on the ball with it, and have part of it ready to go at launch, that being at least a Character Builder, that is pretty much finished when it launches, none of that only three levels or severely limited functions.
I’ve learned to not expect too much from WoTC in the last few years. So I don’t expect a full set of tools at launch. But I do expect a rough schedule of when I should see new tools come out. I shouldn't have to wait a year and a half, only to find out it's because they redid everything.
The game shouldn’t be designed to be played ONLY through the online tools. They are after all meant to help make the game faster to set up. Which means if you don’t need digital tools to play the game, you won’t need them. No one should worry about being forced to have a monthly subscription.
But without the digital aspect DnD will basically become a low earning brand, which Hasbro will probably shelve, and bring out every few decades. This is the digital age. Ignoring that is what killed newspapers and magazines. It’s what’s hurting big educational textbook companies, and why traditional stores like Barnes and Nobles and Borders are closing stores. Online delivery of content is here and it’s never going away (barring a collapse of human society, reverting us back to a pre technology society, say a zombie apocalypse, or alien invasion).
It’s not just the delivery of online content; it’s also the ability to customize that content to a consumer’s needs, and to be interactive with it. People also need to be able to share what they customize. WoTC can not act like everything you do is theirs. The game doesn't work that way, nor do people.
That means WoTC also has to figure out a safe way for them to deliver this content in a digital format at publication time. No, PDFs are NOT the answer. Sorry, they just lack any decent security. Yes, I know lots of people LOVE PDFs. I do. They are great. But as a publically traded company, WoTC can’t release a product that increases theft because of the products nature.
That is why they had to stop doing that with 4E. It wasn’t individual people putting out pirate copies of the books, it was a company reselling licensed copies of PDFs in the thousands under the table. No company can legally ignore something like that.
Having recently entered into the area of making eBooks, I now understand why they haven’t released their books via Kindle and other e-Readers. The designs of the books don’t translate easily to those formats. It would basically require to versions of the material. And that’s just not something you want to do in publishing, because of the double work it creates, that is always going to lead to huge mistakes. This version says one thing, that version says another.
I hope that WoTC comes up with a design for 5E that does allow them to translate the books into epubs and mobi files. Time will tell.
That’s for them to figure out.
One thing for sure, an app that works like the compendium would be awesome. Imagine playing, and a question comes about opportunity attacks? You look it up, and ask for just rules, and all the rules about OA, comes up.
This will be WoTC’s third try at this aspect. Here’s hoping they have seriously learned how to actually do it this time.