Schrödinger’s Virtual Tabletop

Poor kitty always gets kicked out of D&D groups. DM’s don’t like splitting the party, much less reality.

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.

 Photo Credit


  1. Alhazred says:

    I think you hit the nail on the head. The existing VTT wasn’t usable on very many platforms, and platforms are evolving rapidly. You CERTAINLY want something that works on a tablet, and the existing VTT was never going to work on iOS, and probably not on WinRT/Windows Phone Whatever/Android, basically nothing mobile (maybe maybe Android).

    Scrapping the VTT Beta means they free up those resources to work on the next generation of something. It could be an HTML5 based VTT ala Roll20, or a Facebook app, or lord knows what. While you’re surely correct that there’s no point in working on 5e DDI at this point they could certainly begin building up a framework for a nextgen VTT. There’s not a lot of rush, but I’d think they’re going to want to learn from their lessons on 4e and try to roll SOMETHING decent out at launch. 5e is pretty much the last hurrah for WotC D&D after all. If it sinks into the void of indifference due to lack of complete support they won’t get another chance. I’d be VERY surprised if the 5e rollout isn’t accompanied by every possible bell and whistle they can imagine and have the budget to conjure up.

  2. OnlineDM says:

    Why is it so important for WotC to actually have their own branded VTT at all? I’ve been playing 4e on MapTool for years and loving it. What I would love to see is WotC saying, “There are other excellent VTTs out there. Our job is to make it easy for you to play D&D on those programs.” And then build tools to help integrate their game into those VTTs (PC and monster import, adventure support, etc.).

  3. it failed solely bc of wizards incompetence. no other reason.

    for almost two years we have been telling wizards what they needed to do to make this successful. most of the steps would have been easy for them to do. more tiles. DUH wizards. DUH. more tokens. DUH wizards.

    at the beginning of the beta, we could share adventures. this made it easy for new dms to pick up the tool. they took this away, shooting the learning curve into the stratosphere. DUMB wizards. DUMB.

    rarely have i ever seen a company so poised to succeed then when 5e was announced. if they had anything but ROCKS for brains, they would have uploaded all of the test material and said ‘HERE we made it EASY for you to test. you get a limited time access to the VT’. this would have started dozens of groups and turned them into paying customers. instead, we are reading enworld blog posts about people who havent even gotten to test it yet. FAIL. total failure.

    it wasnt ironic that Paizo sent out a release that they will have a free VT on the same day that wizards cancelled theirs. its not ironic anymore, its expected. wizards cant pick money off a table, and paizo will im sure be a stunning smash in the vt world

    vts are the future. osr people are using them more and more. wizards were in perfect position to take advantage of this. they could have locked in players for years by tying it to 5e. all they had to do was actually LISTEN to the testers. instead, what did we get. poor josh, i know he did his best but the reality is, they were secretive, they never responded to even BASIC questions.

    i was in the ‘vt sages’ group. let me tell you guys what a pathetic joke it was. its me and plague basically asking them questions with no response. thats all it is.

    only wizards could be so inept as to miss out on the revolution in tabletop gaming that is online play. only you wizards could be so brain dead. i would have subscribed just for the vt. at least you showed your hand; when it comes time for you to take down the 4e tools, you will blame US. pathetic. you guys had everything going your way and were just too imbecilic to close the deal. total failures.

    looks like ill be porting over to this other company to play, but once, just ONCE, i would have loved for you guys not to have lived up to your reputations

  4. The VTT closure is almost meaningless; it provides slightly more fuel for the irrational flamers (look, there’s one now!), and it *might* signal something about the frankly terrible DDI team’s future.

    Having played and run hundreds of hours of on-line D&D, it would be a generous stretch to give the DDI VTT the #5 place in a top-5 on-line D&D tools. One important thing to remember is that the DDI VTT was written for the time period when Atari had an exclusive contract (from Hasbro) on anything and everything that included both `D&D’ and `electronic games’ (this is what killed Tiny Adventures, for example). One (actually, I think it was two, but who’s counting?) very long and probably painful lawsuit later, and Atari no longer owns D&D+computers.

    Having tested the VTT in multiple forms, I say “Goodbye, poor VTT. You will not be missed.”

    I guess there is a third point of value to the VTT closing: it allows some of us to sit back and say “You complained that 4e promised too much too early, and now you’re complaining that 5e isn’t promising you everything more than a year early. Maybe pick a single `obvious truth’ and stick to it?”. Soft chuckling optional but recommended.

  5. Chris Arthur says:

    The VTT was only part of the problem that I had with WoTC. You see they produced a game that very nearly absolutely required you to keep very very close track of squares and positioning and then took nearly the entire lifetime of that product to give us a piece of software that could do that with some minimal effort which they had promised before the books delivered. I have a somewhat large gaming group and to be blunt you can’t play 4th Ed. with more that say 6 people without some serious headaches. The different “marks” and challenges that fire off different abilities. It was tremendously difficult to track and consequently combat took exceedingly long to resolve. One encounter would take my group of 9 characters 2+ hours. That’s over half a normal gaming session.

    But that still isn’t or wasn’t really the problem I had. You see I was also playing Magic: The Gathering Online during the 2.0-3.0 debacle. That wasn’t entirely their fault as the company they had contracted really dropped the ball when it came to scaling the servers, but with that plus the charging for DDI and not delivering what was promised, well, I’m sorry but you if don’t deliver I don’t buy. Simple.

    So now we’re at this new crossroads and I have no real opinion on D&D Next except a simple straight forward, I don’t trust them anymore. That’s a really difficult thing to say after all these years, but its true. This is the 21st century and like it or not evolution into the digital world is no longer a choice, its a requirement. On top of that, media is instantaneous now. If WoTC can’t deal with the trolls and haters, that’s just not my problem.

    Seriously, ask yourself this question, Vanir, if someone has consistently let you down and screwed up, would you wait and give them a third or fourth chance without being vocal? I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt but rumblings are making me think they aren’t actually doing what they’re saying they’re doing, taking the community into account and I will not allow that to stand without yelling about it. I don’t like being lied to or promised things you cannot deliver. I’m sorry if the tone of my writing went a little hateful, I really would love to see WoTC get this right, but I don’t foresee that at all.

  6. It isn’t the first time WotC has promised software and failed to deliver. Well they fooled me once with e-tools. They even came out with grand plans and ooh this is going to be wonderful and a boon to Dungeon Masters everywhere. As time wore on they continually pared back their expectations and eventually threw their hands up in the air and gave the project to Code Monkeys to have. Code Monkeys had PCGen already in place and it was superior to e-tools anyway though. Then with 4E in the pipeline they pulled the license for Code Monkeys to use the data.

    4E comes out and they make a subscription based service that takes over where e-tools left off. Great so now I have to pay for it monthly. Awesome. But we’ll eventually also get a virtual table top to play on. Fool me once shame on me. Fool me twice I’m gonna kick your ass. Well they didn’t fool me one bit. I never became an “insider” and never paid a dime for what their latest promises were. And I was proven correct in the end. It never came out of beta so anyone that became an insider on the hopes and dreams of a VTT got screwed.

    Frankly, I’m done with WotC. I really like what I see with DnD Next, but they’ve dropped the ball too many times and I won’t pay another penny for one of their products.

  7. For Pelor’s sake, I cannot imagine a more thankless job than being on the WotC development team. Every statement is scrutinized, every sentence parsed, with the inevitable conclusion reached being some combination of cluelessness and malevolence on their parts. If you didn’t get exactly what you wanted in exactly the form you wanted RIGHT NOW, then WotC is a conclave of morons who are actively lying to their customer base. Sheesh.

    The more likely explanation is that they are understaffed, underfunded and trying to walk a razor-thin tightrope over a pack of dire wolves who are ready to pounce on any mislaid word and bay to the internets that WOTC SUCKS PAIZO RULES HUR HUR HUR.

    Really, the biggest wonder I have about the 5E team is how they have so far resisted saying “screw all of you” and walking away. Slinging burgers would have to be a more satisfying job than the impossible task of trying to simultaneously please several generations of gamers.

  8. Hey Froth: I think you just went on for several paragraphs on exactly the topic & attitude that Vanir very rightly wished we’d avoid.

    I love cranky discussion board posts, almost as much as I love people who get really, super, mega, over the top worked up about things that are not REAL.

    I love the game. I’ve played it for over 30 years. And I will NOT sweat it because…it’s a GAME! Seriously…it is. It’s not real. It’s all made up.

    I’m not kidding. Lathandar will not smite me for saying that he’s made up, too.

    And dragons? Not real.

    Dwarves? Arguable.

    +5 Swords of Everything Bane? Not real, either.

    Seriously. Now go outside and get some sun.

  9. Chris Arthur:

    I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt but rumblings are making me think they aren’t actually doing what they’re saying they’re doing,

    I’m curious, what rumblings are those? The only thing I hear that sounds at all like that are from people that clearly have lots of hate and no actual information.

    If you’re talking about the playtest feedback on the rules for D&D Next, I can assure you (as can our generous host, I believe) that they have already made changes based on playtester feedback, multiple times.

    On the other hand, WotC has always been pretty terrible at doing computer stuff themselves. I don’t know if that will change, if they’ll start getting better partners, or if they’ll just aim to make the table top rpg simple enough that it doesn’t matter so much – I have dozens on 2e characters on my computer, all happily made without any specialized software, and a good chunk of those are Skills and Powers & Spells and Magic monstrosities. This surely isn’t an area where WotC has a positive proven track record.

  10. Someday WotC’s D&D department will figure out that they need to outsource their software development instead of doing it in house and focus on their core competency (making RPGs and RPG content), like M:TG has done with Duels of the Planeswalkers, which is great! Although they really need to take the same approach with Magic Online, which, in its 4th iteration that’s in beta, STILL has an awful UI.

  11. E-Tools, The original Character Builder, the Adventure Tools, at least one version of the VTT, and at least one version of MtGO were all out-sourced, in addition to Duels of the Planeswalkers. The difference is that Duels is still maintained by that external company, while the others were brought in-house (presumably because the cost of having a 3rd party run constant updates and maintenance was too high).

    At heart, there’s a tough monetary dilemma here: some people view DDI as a software service, while some view it as a subscription to D&D materials. The cost margins for either one are basically not much better than what TSR had when it drove itself bankrupt (as near as we can tell from outsider back-of-envelope math), and the fans want both. While Wizards is the 800lb gorilla in the space, nobody else seems to be able to pull it off either. The closest alternatives seem to be more like Paizo’s strategy, which is to let a 3rd party offer a good-enough product that costs more.

    Maybe Wizards will move to that model as well; I dunno. I *will* be surprised to see a $15/month subscription that supersedes the need to buy any game materials and also includes Player, DM, and game table software. It could happen, but I’ll be surprised.

  12. Kirkdent says:

    Didn’t WotC indeed outsource their software development for VTT and CB and then get screwed by teams that couldn’t produce? You don’t see Wizards getting all snarky and blaming someone else for the problems this caused, they simply acted professionally, took responsibility, and have since been totally slammed for their efforts by the infant-minded people out there who think they’re entitled to everything without considering how much effort is going into it already.

    There is so much ass-hattery going on here with some posts, it blows my mind. Wizards has admitted that they screwed up the development process of much of 4e, and are trying to move on, but too many of you still insist that they will forever lie, cheat, and steal to get your money. They’re doing their best now, but I’m sure Hasbro gives them beggar’s salaries to accomplish their goals, so cut them some slack.

    Also, regarding a certain previous post, if you’ve already decided that you’ve quit on WotC, why bother ranting on this post about the failures of their digital desktop, and then make so many uninformed assumptions about D&D Next if you were never going to participate in any of it? You don’t like 4e. You like Pathfinder. We get it. Shut up and go away. :p

  13. Vanir thinks (from chatting with him directly) that there are three types of people on this one… The apologist for wotc. There’s a few of those posting here. The “burn the company to the ground” crowd. There’s a few of those as well. And “you guys are acting like retards. go outside and get some sun.” Yep got those too.

    But it’s real simple. The apologists are passive. They want to give the company another chance. They want to hold on to that little glimmer of hope that they might get it right. And that’s fine. I have no problem with that. I hope they get what they want in 5E. And if the game itself is good, I might be convinced to buy it.

    Those that are ready to “burn the company to the ground” have a point. They are angry and they have a right to be so. They are the ones that bought 3E and got the nifty Character Generator that was to become e-tools WAY later. They are the ones that got strung along with false claims and had to make do with what they eventually got. They are the ones that were promised so much stuff with DDI on 4E launch day that never happened that they really SHOULD be crossing t’s and dotting i’s for a class action lawsuit (they paid cold cash for a service that never provided what was promised.).

    1) e-tools – failed to produce until sold or given to Code Monkeys and never did live up to it’s original promises.

    2) Character visualizer – never happened

    3) Monster builder – beta?

    4) Virtual tabletop – beta? Cancelled (turned over to original dev team?)

    5) Willing to sue the shit out of anyone if they so much as lean in the direction of creating tools that fill in the gaps of what they have promised and didn’t deliver.

    That’s not the actions of a company that should be apologized for.

  14. “You don’t like 4e. You like Pathfinder. We get it. Shut up and go away. :p”

    No. Don’t think so. You are JUST going to have to deal with the fact that people have opinions contrary to your own. The world kind of works that way, ya know?

    I’m pretty sure I never made any assumptions about 5E that I couldn’t have gotten from the public beta OR the private beta of which I was a part of. The only “assumptions” I’ve made about it here is that they will be putting up digital content for 5E, replacing 4E content which is already being pulled.

    And just because I’m sick and tired of WotC and their shenanigans detailed above doesn’t mean I am no longer able to form an opinion on them. Or that I cannot voice that opinion. Pretty sure crit-hits isn’t D&D exclusive as I’ve played a number of games with Vanir that weren’t D&D, and I’m pretty sure he writes about other games as well.

    So. Your opinion is noted, and not much more than that.

  15. Interesting development for the VTT:

    Basically, there’s someone in the VTT forums claiming to be part of the company that developed the software originally who’s setting up a 3rd party site to continue running the system:

    I am the Vice-President of GameTable Online and I am happy to say we will be adopting the VT platform and are currently preparing to host it at our new RPG portal. GTO coded and developed the VT so we are very familiar with the platform and are excited to be going live with this roleplaying game application.

  16. I truly understand where Froth is coming from. following the trail of events closely, starting with Gleemax, results in a horribly consistent tale of misspent millions, bad decisions, and broken promises. The announcement that the VTT is closing down doesn’t anger me because I think it should still be running. It angers me because it suggests Wizards’ project management is not what it should and could be. It suggests more of this could come in the future, rather than establishing that Wizards knows how to deliver on tools many gamers want. I have a great set of players where I live, but many don’t. And that old vision of playing D&D instead of WoW if it were easy? It is still worth doing. As I wrote here, the vision is sound, but the execution painful.

    This doesn’t have to be about being a Wizards fan or not. I’m a huge Wizards fan. I can still see areas that badly need improvement. I get it that the goal of digital tools is hard, but all the indications are of really poor project management and oversight, rather than this being an impossible task. My comments are made as a fan. I want Wizards to do better, and a free pass on yet another digital blunder doesn’t help them get better.

  17. I think the big issue with killing the VT is that WotC didn’t immediately fill the marketing gap with what D&DNext’s take on it was going to be. i.e. not at all, having something new, or something as straightforward as they haven’t made up their minds yet…

    That’s really half of WotC’s issues with D&DNext – it isn’t whether or not they plan to resolve the issues, the problem is how they communicate what their intent is(or not)

  18. Kirkdent says:

    Kanati said “Frankly, I’m done with WotC. I really like what I see with DnD Next, but they’ve dropped the ball too many times and I won’t pay another penny for one of their products.”

    It was this statement that I was referring to when I inferred that you’re not a 4e player, and that you have no interest in 5e. I don’t quite understand why you’re bothering to talk about WotC if you’re “done with them.” When I’m “done with” something, I’ve stopped considering it entirely. I think this is just a difference in semantics, and what “done with them” means to each of us.


    “Pretty sure crit-hits isn’t D&D exclusive as I’ve played a number of games with Vanir that weren’t D&D, and I’m pretty sure he writes about other games as well. ”

    This article IS about D&D though, so I don’t understand your point here.


    @Kanati: I’m really not trying to start a fight with you, and only one comment of mine was directed towards you, which I addressed above.

    I’m also not trying to bash legitimate opinions from people who seem informed, such as yourself. As I said before, there are just too many uninformed statements going on that rip WotC to pieces based on speculation, and those are the opinions that really motivated me to post. I’m really just trying to explain to those people that WotC is in a hard place: trying to make good RPGs while being beholden to Hasbro’s need for a bottom line, while also getting seemingly little support from said parent company. (<—- THIS is my beef with the WotC/Hasbro situation.)

    Also, sorry for the snarky ":p" that I left at the end of my previous post, it was undeserved.

  19. No harm, no foul. There are strong opinions all around about WotC/D&D. There’s bound to be friction.

    Maybe I should say that I want desperately to be done with WotC/D&D. But I equally desperately want 5E to be what it promises to be. And what I’ve seen in the public and private playtests IS promising.

    Their digital offerings though have ALWAYS fallen short and it’s frustrating in the extreme given their promises. Being a software developer, if I promised a product with 10 features and delivered a product with 1 feature I’d likely not have a customer much longer. And yet that’s what they have always done with their digital products. IF they can correct this in the future they have a chance to lure people back. And really… all they have to do is stop promising the moon and delivering a candle. Instead of promising a product and detailing it out, just promise A product. Finish it or get it into an almost ready state. THEN talk about how many things it’s going to do when it’s actually released. Then people won’t be so disappointed when none of it pans out.

  20. Thanks for having said “HTML5”. I’m counting the days waiting for that damn Silverlight abomination to go down a hole straight to hell.

  21. If your going to state that WotC’s beta product “isn’t particularly popular” could provide some hard data? The article is interesting, but why kick over this hornet’s nest?

  22. oregonpinkrose says:

    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.

    Funniest thing I’ve read in hours! Thank you.