So, this happened, “this” being WotC’s announcement that they’ll be shutting down their lukewarmly-popular Virtual Tabletop application that let people play *gasp* over the Internets. Of course, now those same Internets are on fire with all sorts of FUD and vitriol about how WotC is out of touch and predictions on how long before WotC sells the company to Paizo (obviously the clear winner of the online/tabletop RPG arms race). I’m not really upset about this. Why? You have to read the rest of the article for that, silly.
It’s no big secret that WotC hasn’t handled 4e’s digital offerings as well as it could have. We got promised stuff that never arrived or that showed up years later in a form not as cool as we were expecting. The VTT is a good example of the latter. While it might not have been as cool as the previews we saw back when 4e was just a puppy, it still turned out pretty decent, and some people really liked it. It’s a shame they’re closing it up.
One might be tempted to speculate as to why WotC is shutting it down. Like it or not, the twilight of 4e has begun. The last of the 4e books is out. They still have new content on DDI, but no major new releases are planned. They have a complete overhaul of the game in the works, and they’ve got a beta product that wasn’t particularly popular. Maybe they’re going to devote the VTT’s resources elsewhere. Maybe WotC really is out of touch and they’re afraid of the Internet just like everyone’s stereotypical great aunt who steals your weekends making you kill off the malware she picked up on her Court TV Yahoo groups email logins password.
The truth is, we don’t know. We may never know.
There’s something else we don’t know too: a set containing the vast majority of things pertaining to D&D Next.
If We Had An Infinite Improbability Drive, We Could Have VTT And No VTT Simultaneously
One thing that has been frustrating to watch in recent months is how people are treating the D&D Next playtest as if it was a finished product. It’s not. It’s not even close. And it’s fine to be frustrated by stuff you don’t like or stuff that isn’t in the game yet at this stage, but it doesn’t make sense to make assumptions about the game or the company that makes it (especially the angry kind that makes you write manifestos) with a game that isn’t done yet. All it does is fan the flames, and we have plenty of those. Maybe this is what all the worried parents were actually seeing back in the 80’s. It wasn’t devils in a pit of fire. It was neckbeards, swimming in a blazing Internets, livid about the horrible future they have prophesied with too little information.
It doesn’t stand to reason that WotC killing off the VTT means WotC is abandoning their digital strategy or making Terrible Decisions. Yes, this is still a possibility, and one that I hope does not wind up being reality. Keep in mind, though, that we’ve heard plenty of times from plenty of people from WotC that they are well aware of the issues they faced and that they want to make it better the next time.
Is it anything close to an announcement or a promise? Of course not. Does it give me any hope? A little. Either R&D wants to do right by us, or they’re amazing liars. But that’s not why I’m not angry.
That comes from the fact that I don’t have any knowledge at all about what’s going to happen with digital D&D. Why would I? The game’s not done. The software to support it is likely not, and should not be in development yet. That means we don’t have enough information to make any real assumptions.
Don’t Fire Until You See The Whites Of Their “No”s
I have no reason to believe at this point that we either will or will not get a version of the VTT for D&D Next. I’m inclined to think we will, because WotC feels like it moving in a more “give people what they want” direction lately. I will be mad if we aren’t provided a suitable means of playing D&D over the Internets by its creators. (Yes, I know there are tons of completely awesome tools out there, but a lot of players won’t go find them.) Could they have reused what they already had? Maybe. But I’d like to see it rebuilt all happy in HTML5 and so cross-platform that it burns me. There is worth in starting this one again from scratch.
Maybe they’ll make tools for us. Maybe they’ll open the market up for 3rd party developers again. Maybe they’ll cruelly leave us in the cold to starve without the nutrients only online D&D can provide. We don’t know anything yet.
So let’s just relax until we do. We can even keep all the torches and pitchforks in an easily-accessible place.