When Wizards of the Coast launched the new D&D Insider for 4th Edition, one of the most intriguing components they promised was a virtual tabletop to allow easy D&D play over the internet. Promotional screenshots suggested fantastic three-dimensional battlemaps and the appearance of official D&D miniatures.
That tabletop has failed to materialise; earlier in the year Wizards announced a re-focusing of resources to prioritise getting the Character Builder finished. Now an official Wizards survey is asking some fairly pointed questions about how much players actually want the software.
One question asks how interested players would be in using Wizards-developed virtual tabletop software. Another enquires as to how often players currently roleplay using the internet or LANs.
More pertinent is this pair of questions:
"How much do you trust Wizards of the Coast to deliver quality gaming software?"
"How much do you trust Wizards of the Coast to deliver gaming software on time?"
Some may recall that Wizards suffered incredible problems delivering their player tools for D&D 3.5 on any sort of timetable, and ended up vomiting up some distinctly sub-par and poorly maintained results. Their 4th Edition Character Builder is better, but suffers deep flaws, chief among them an inability to export character sheets into non-proprietary formats. On the basis of the entire history of Wizards, I checked the above two questions "not at all".
This survey suggests Wizards is fundamentally rethinking their development of the tabletop. Up until now, they've been developing a full-fledged major application, which they were then going to give away to D&D Insider subscribers. That could be a hard thing to justify on a balance sheet. If the tabletop has hit ongoing development problems I wouldn't be surprised to see Wizards pull the plug.
They're missing the larger picture, though. Having their wider player-base hooked up through Wizards proprietary software gives Wizards a whole new market and a whole new way to sell virtual dungeon tiles, virtual miniatures, and pre-designed virtual adventures.
NB: I can't link to the survey, unfortunately, as it appears to either only offer itself randomly to visitors to D&D Insider or Enworld.org, or otherwise was a one-day-only affair.