The death of the downloadable Character Builder

Update 11/18/2010: I’ve added a review of the online Character Builder now that it’s available.

I don’t tend to write many posts about “news” in the role playing game community, but since I go by “Online Dungeon Master” I thought I should chime in with my thoughts on the news that Wizards of the Coast (WotC) is changing their fantastic Character Builder program from something you can download into something that you use within a web site.

The good news:

  • You will be able to access the Character Builder on any computer with web access and Silverlight installed.  If you’re visiting a friend or family member and want to help them create a character or something, boom, you’re rolling.
  • Heroes of the Fallen Lands and Dark Sun will be included on the November 16 launch date
  • Macintosh users will be able to access Character Builder without having to boot to Windows

The bad news:

  • If you have no internet access, you can’t use Character Builder.  No more building characters during boring plane trips or anywhere without reliable WiFi.
  • You can’t (at launch) export your character file and send it to your DM.  This is a pain in the butt for me as a DM – it really helps me plan sessions when I can see my players’ character files.
  • You have to rely on WotC to store your characters for you and to make the application available.  Server crash = no character for you.
  • For those cheapskates who liked to pay for a one-month subscription to D&D Insider in order to download the Character Builder and its updates, that’s not going to work any more.

I’m sure that combating people who only would pay for the occasional month of DDI in order to get the updates is a big part of why WotC is making this change.  I’m sure some of those people will say, “Oh well, I guess I’ll pony up for a regular subscription now.”  But for people like me, who gladly support the company by subscribing to DDI all the time, there is nothing meaningful in this news that is good.

  • I don’t care about being able to access the Character Builder on a machine without having to download it.  I really only use it on my laptop to begin with.
  • I don’t have a Macintosh.
  • Heroes of the Fallen Lands and Dark Sun should have already been in the downloadable Character Builder by now.

From my perspective, in an effort to combat piracy / cheapskatedness, Wizards of the Coast has diminished the value of their best program for their best customers.

I’m not one to say that I’m canceling my subscription or will never play D&D again or anything like that – I really enjoy the game and want the company to keep making it.  I’m guessing this is why this strategy will work for WotC – their good customers, like me, will be disappointed but will keep subscribing.  Still, it feels like a bad business decision to take value away from your best customers (offline access being the main one) without giving them anything in return.

Now, the expectation is that WotC will be making other online tools available for DDI subscribers, so it may be worth it in the end.  But for now, it’s bad news for good customers.  Bummer.

23 thoughts on “The death of the downloadable Character Builder

  1. Well, WotC will get at least one new subscriber out of this (that is, me). I *do* have a Mac and have never wanted to pay for a DDI subscription since the “best” part of the sub is didn’t work on my computer.

  2. WoTC lost a subscriber to me. I canceled my yearly.

    This is just a way to leech more money trying to force us to pay MMO prices for something as simple as character generator tool… That I might add we’re practically forced to use with all the errata being pushed out these days.

    Give me a tool I can buy and own for the content at the time and if you errata it you need to update that specific content. I don’t give two winks about Dark Sun but they darn sure should update items like racial ability score change errata.

  3. Cheapskate? Frack you. I paid hundreds of dollars for books that were made useless by errata. And I’ve paid at least 50-60 bucks more per year in DDi subscriptions to keep my character builder up-to-date for my group.

    And now they want not only the 400+ bucks I spent so far, but a locked-in DDi subscription for my and ALL my players? You can take your cheapskate comment and shove it up your sanctimonious ass.

    • @wickedmurph: Wow, such language! I’d say that was pretty uncalled for.

      I’m sorry for having offended you. I used “cheapskate” to describe how I think WotC (not I) views people who would only subscribe for a month here and there to get updates. Clearly that’s not you – you’ve paid 50-60 bucks per year for DDI.

      I’m not a WotC apologist here, and I’m surprised that you interpreted my post to mean that I was.

  4. I tend to see this as a bad move by WotC for a couple of reasons.

    1) Why Silverlight? They are dropping 1 Microsoft technology for another. And the kicker is that MS has recently announced that they are moving their focus to the HTML5 standard. Silverlight will only by used on the Mobile platforms. A pure, interactive solution could have been made via pure HTML/Javascript/CSS, and whatever server side language they wanted (.NET is what they currently use for their web site).

    2) The in-ability to export files is a major hindrance. I am a programmer, and a technical guy. I like having the new, fancy toys. My character sheet is on my Android, with an app that lets me manager my character (trake HP, feat usage, etc). Without an export, I will have to revert to using a paper character sheet, or I will just cancel my DDI subscription and use the old version of the the CB to make my characters and just make notes of the errata changes.

    Bad move by WotC.

  5. I’m with WickedMurph. I canceled my subscription yesterday and sent a request for a refund for the remainder of the subscription. DDI up to this point was a priviledge I paid for to get access to regular updates and a software tools (what few they provided) that I could use anywhere. The new model is instead a tax to play D&D which has no lasting value unless I subscribe in perpetuity. Screw that.

  6. OK, the language was a bit over the top, but the sentiment was solid.

    Why should I be made to feel like a cheapskate? I’ve spent quite a bit of money, and I’ve been vocal in my support for both WotC and of character builder.

    I sell, design and test software for a living, and going to a cloud-based system, with no export function is a move in the wrong direction, in my opinion. Sorry about the rant.

    • I appreciate the apology for the language. That was really my only problem with your post.

      Again, I wasn’t saying that, in my opinion, someone who only occasionally pays for Character Builder updates is a cheapskate. I’m saying that’s how I think WotC sees it.

      I agree that having no export functionality and no offline usability is a bad move for the Character Builder. That was the whole point of my post. You focused on the word “cheapskate” and thought that I disagreed with you. I didn’t.

      Now, it’s true that I think that Character Builder Classic, plus Monster Builder and the online Compendium, makes for a package of tools that’s worth paying for, and I think that people who only pay for occasional updates are getting a ton of value for very little money. I personally feel like I want to support the company that makes these tools, so I subscribe full time, but if people can’t afford to do so I won’t begrudge them or judge them. I’m sorry if I came across as judgmental – that wasn’t my intention.

      The bottom line is that I think this change makes these tools worse, even for people who DO pay for continuous DDI subscriptions. It’s obviously worse for occasional subscribers, but I think that was intentional on WotC’s part – they wanted to reduce the value they gave to those people in an effort to get them to subscribe all the time. I don’t think they intentionally wanted to make the experience worse for people who subscribe continuously, but that’s what they’ve done. That’s my complaint.

      • And as usual WOTC has taken the wrong path.

        Paying say $40 US as a once off (which includes a years updates) and then a small yearly fee of ~10-15 US is far more palatable to most users.

        Online only solutions for an application like this are bizarre to say the least as the software compliments the PnP, it doesn’t replace it.


      • WOTC is going to extremes with DRM. Spaceballs is the only real comparison that matches their behavior. Even the record companies know when to back off. WOTC just goes faster – ala “They’ve gone to plaid.”

      • I’d say “overkill” was the intended meaning.

        I don’t really think it’s overkill. there are benefits for a web-solution, but they alienated people in remote areas with slow internet and everyone without it. where before, someone could download the CB and have it updated and used in a no-internet environment, that is no longer an option for them.

        and not having a free lvl1-3 like before makes it hard for new players to start up, having to go through the tedious process of manual creation. I’m starting 6 brand new players and I can get them their characters with the offline CB, but once it switches, I’ll have a limited profile on WOTC’s cloud system and I can’t export their characters (yet).

  7. The issue for me is the online link. I want to try the system, again. The place where the group is wanting to meet has junk wireless service. So, it pretty much stops half of the party from being able to make characters onsite and using their laptops.

    The Spaceball thing is mostly a joke, but I guess it highlights how I feel. Every time I move to give the system a shot, WOTC makes it hard to use their service. First, they end the PDF sales which are my primary medium as GM and player. Then, they end the offline tool. Honestly, it feels like they are trying to make me not want to play the game at times.

    *not trying to troll* It is just frustrating at times. With Gamma World coming up… *shrug* I guess I am not sure what to do with 4e at this point. My old books are useless with the errata. So, it is not like I can refer to them during a 4e session.

    • I understand now, and you’re making perfect sense. I absolutely agree that making the character builder require internet access is a mistake.

      For what it’s worth, my personal guess is that they WILL have a free version of the online character builder for building very simple characters. I’m guessing that non-subscribers will be able to build level 1-3 characters (or maybe just level 1) using the basic Essentials options, with very limited customization. It just makes sense for them to give potential players a free taste, and I think they’ll give, for free, a small step up from pre-generated characters.

      Nothing like this has been announced, of course – this is purely my own speculation.

      • I wonder how big the cache is going to be. If it is a Silverlight stream, we could be looking at a barrier on mobile devices. If it reaches 10-20 megs, it could bog down in technical errors due to the Silverlight plugin issues on lesser phones.

        *adds speculation*

  8. I think another part of the problem is the fact that you’re limited (AFAIK) to 20 characters stored up. This is a real problem for DMs who don’t want to use premade characters from books, and who like to have a stable of dozens of NPCs they can draw from. This essentially punishes designers of new content.

    Having tried it this past Friday, I will say the DM’s computer spent all evening trying to download updates and start up in the browser, only to fail out miserably. Not a confidence-building feeling.

  9. I’m the DM for my group, and have never used the Character Builder, Adventure Tools, etc. The only reason I subscribed back in the day is so that I could continue to get Dungeon Magazine, to mine for adventures.

    While I definitely think the Character Builder should be available as both downloadable and online, I can see Wizards’ point in trying to lock in more subscriptions.

    I suppose the point I’m trying to make is the same as the point I’ve tried to make with every previous edition of the game – the flood of new material. I am a notorious tightwad, and am perfectly content to purchase the core books on the launch date, and then never purchase another book again. Dungeon magazine helps when I’ve got writer’s block, and I might buy a cool dice or tokens, but that’s all that I really want to purchase.

    My players (and believe me, there have been quite a few to come and go in my campaign) seem to love the opposite – searching every corner of every dark alley to find that next +1. I was stunned when, two years back, they started using powers and magic items that I hadn’t seen in the Player’s Handbook. They explained to me that all the material is made available to them via the Character Builder. Yes, even articles from Dragon, which somehow wind up official now.

    Sometimes I wish there was a Monster Builder that did the same thing. I would love a good old-fashioned anti-magic ray.

    I’ve thought about handing down a “Player’s Handbook 1 only” mandate, but deep down inside I know that would kill about 50% of the fun my players have.

    But now I’m rambling…

    • I think it’s totally reasonable to say, “In this campaign, only the following materials are allowed…” I start my campaigns off with no material from Dragon magazine allowed, for instance, and then gradually let a little in over time (though I maintain veto power to make sure nothing too ridiculous is chosen). You can even set this as a campaign option in the downloadable Character Builder – pick the sources that are approved for that campaign.

      As I’ve said in other posts, the important thing is for the PCs to have similar power levels to one another – either all are optimized or none are, but not a mixture.

      The Monster Builder is not as easily searchable as the Character Builder, but you certainly can do SOME searching for powers (although that might be easier in the Compendium). The thing I like about building monsters is that you can use the math as a starting point for hit points, attacks, damage and defenses, but then do whatever you like as far as actual powers go. You want an anti-magic ray? Go for it! Just because you might not find a monster that has the exact ability you want doesn’t mean that you can’t just create that ability from scratch. Just make sure it’s not unfun, and you’re good to go!

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