Wednesday, 23 March 2011

A Letter to Wizards of the Coast

The new Monster Builder went live yesterday, and you can probably smell the shit storm from where you are. It's....not good....not good at all, and all the excuses from Wizards are doing nothing to quell the growing fury at the release of another sub-par (waaaaaaaay sub par in this case) virtual "product".

So, I have emailed Wizards of the Coast, and thought I would share my mail. I apologise in advance for sounding as if I am speaking for everyone in the world (I know I don't and can't), but it makes the letter flow better.

Anway (and with apologies for some of the odd formatting - no idea where it has come from);

"I wish this were the first time I felt moved to contact you with my concerns, but it is not.

Dungeons and Dragons Insider (DDI) seems to be on an ever deepening slide to ruin, and I am truly wondering if those responsible for marketing and for the good name of your product are really aware of just how bad things are getting. As you are aware, a new "Monster Builder" went live on the 22nd March 2011, the latest in the universally unpopular move to shift these tools from a local offline application to a Silverlight online tool. Expectations, given the extremely poor reception the Character Builder received (and continues to receive given its continued lack of custom elements, slow reaction and appallingly bad character sheets) for many were that your company would ensure that
this product was released as a stable, final release - or at least, something that was at least as functional as the original offline builder.

What we got instead was pre-alpha garbage; a clunky viewer that does not allow for anything beyond re-skinning of monsters and level adjustment - with incorrect maths applied I hasten to add. We are told (after the release) that this is actually a test release tied to the upcoming Virtual Table Top, and that the old builder (broken, you may recall by a baffling "update" that screwed it up to the point of uselessness and removed many of the monsters from its database) is still available.


Now I have been a subscriber since day one. I have played D&D for 23 years, and have a vast collection of rulebooks, miniatures and all the paraphernalia that goes with it. I love D&D, and will continue to play I suspect until I am too old or dead to carry on. I still find that almost all your print products are of high quality, and eagerly look forwards to each one.


However.


DDI is destroying my faith in your company. I have a yearly sub, and have seen the value of it decline by leaps and bounds over the last year. Dragon and Dungeon are little more than adverts for your board games and upcoming rule books, with the odd article thrown in*. My group currently use the character builder, but I have already informed them that for my new campaign we shall be using interactive PDF character sheets, and doing the maths ourselves  (it's just easier for us given the high amount of custom items we use and the terrible - and I want to stress again TERRIBLE - interface of your "improved" Character Builder. I stopped using the classic Monster Builder when the update destroyed its functionality, and with this new product...well, let's just say I find it far quicker and more enjoyable to do the maths (which I know by heart now) myself, and to type things up into a format where they won't be randomly deleted.

As for the Virtual Table Top - you need to understand one thing; a lot of people don't care. I have no idea how popular it is, or how many people have shown interest, and I am probably very wrong, but I really think it base foolishness to assume that all the ridiculous mistakes your company is making will be washed away when it is released. Many folks run a game at a table with friends face to face. They don't need the VTT and they don't want the VTT.


I intend to keep my subscription active until it has expired (October), and if DDI has become worth my increasingly stretched coin, I shall resub. As your product stands at present however, I shall not be resubbing. I shall continue to play 4e, and shall continue to buy your print releases, but I shall be done with DDI, and, as a knock on effect, so will my players - a mere 12 people, but 12 who themselves talk to other players who themselves talk to player etc etc.


Look over the forums - and not just the in house ones, the ones at ENWorld and other gaming forums. Your product is becoming a joke - and one with a very, very bad punchline. Please, for the sake of the hobby that I absolutely adore, and the credibility of DDI (a product that could, if run by people with basic skills with regards to marketing and programming, become indispensable - and indeed, once felt that way), listen to not only my own concerns but those of your customers.


SUGGESTIONS


* Dragon and Dungeon - Please, fewer articles that are basically adverts for your products. Articles that add to your products are different, as they add to the game as well as serving as an advert. Oh, and fewer editorials / employees thoughts; one per mag would be nice.
                              

    - Compilations - you might be surprised just how many people it infuriated when it was announced that we would no longer get compilations. They are convenient and sustain the illusion that we are getting a magazine and not a glorified blog. 
   
 - Don't promise and then not deliver. I would personally rather have a monthly all in one release than be drip fed articles if it means we get a final, polished product instead of the current poor crop of nonsense

* Character Builder - Okay, it's online now, and I accept that. However, please for the love of the immortals, lets have at least the basic functionality we had with the old one...and then

                    

              - CUSTOMISATION - D&D, you may recall, is a game where the DM tends to make up a lot of unique stuff. If there is no way to fully integrate their ideas into your software, your software ceases to have any function - or, more importantly to your company, dollar (or in my case pound) value. The CB NEEDS full customisation; powers, items, feats, skills - everything. It also needs to be built in such a way that their maths are integrated into the character sheet. A character builder that did this alone would be worth my yearly sub!

* Monster Builder - Personally, I use a third party app now that I manually enter my monsters into and that creates a virtual DM screen. I love this software, and if I am honest, now love making monsters entirely "by hand". Having said that, you need - and quickly  - to sort your online builder 
out. It's horrible.


* Virtual Table Top - You know what, it would have been nice to have been at least invited to have a look at the alpha, what with being a subscriber since the first day and being opted in for messages. I would have declined, but it would have at least given me the illusion of really being an "insider". Having said that, I cannot say that one day I wouldn't use this app. Just please, LEARN FROM YOUR MISTAKES WITH THE OTHER ONLINE APPS, AND RELEASE A STABLE, WELL TESTED PIECE OF SOFTWARE THAT ISN'T BEGGING TO BE
 FLAMED THE SECOND IT COMES OUT!

Alternatively, if your company can't do these things, then please, stick to print products and put DDI out of its misery.

I am under no illusions that this letter will even be read by anyone beyond customer services. I understand that I just spent half an hour typing to no end. But I hope that you get enough of these things to make someone, somewhere think "Hell, we might actually have a real issue here", and that someone with some grasp of how to run an online service will be brought in to manage the spreading blight that is afflicting your good name and reputation in the D&D world.

I hope that by October I am able to resub with joy. But you will have to excuse me if at present I find it hard to believe I will.


Thanks for your time,

Sefton Redshaw
                              
   


* The last month has been better however, so I am willing to extend you some good will here."

1 comment:

  1. Good letter Sef.
    Let's them know your pain and advises where they are going wrong.
    Keep us informed as to whether they reply

    ReplyDelete

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