I've been talking a bit about DDi, rules distribution and digital tools for gaming lately. I've been drawing a lot of parallels between gaming rules and software - both are updated with new material frequently, can sometimes get over-complicated, and now have the option of being updated digitally.
What initially started me thinking about this was a post by Bill over at Digital Monkey Shines, where he likens various editions of D&D to software and tax code.
The tax code part got me thinking... Right now, the government releases the tax code and provides the technical specs for submitting taxes electronically - they say "this is how it works". Anybody who wants to can write a piece of software that contains the tax code information, does calculations automatically, and creates files that allow you to submit them electronically.
And this works freaking great. Tax software is relatively inexpensive (free in some cases), is generally both accurate and usable, and is compliant with the required format. There is also a lot of selection, and thus, lots of competition, making for very good product.
Imagine then, if you will, what a Government-produced tax software, that everyone was required to use, would look like... Once you have stopped screaming, and put some ointment on the claw marks on your face, consider that WotC has basically been playing the role of "the Government" in this little drama for a while.
Right now we have a new online Character Builder, online Compendium, unsupported Monster Builder, no encounter builder, no parcel treasure builder, no character visualizer, no online gametable, no virtual minis, no great campaign manager tools. We have maybe 1/3 of the tools that WotC announced when DDi came out. Which kinda sucks, because I was pretty stoked about those tools.
When asked about why they don't have these things, WotC generally respond "we still don't really know shit about computers" or some variation thereof.
So - you want to sort this digital shit out, Wizards? You should, cause it's been a sticking point.
Try this - give some guidelines about what a software app needs to do to be considered "Wizards-Approved". The app maker will need to pay you a certain amount to get "Wizards-Approved", and there will probably be ongoing licensing fees. You will give them access to the game data and such, and they can build the programs. Then you let the market decide which programs are really good. If they are bad, people won't use them. If they are good, people will probably pay to use them. The really good ones, you sign an "Official Support" agreement with, package onto DDi as premium content and then you enjoy the shit out of actually having good digital tools.
Because guess what - there are people out there with good computer skills who like D&D and will do great stuff if you A) stop imagining that you have to do everything and B) start thinking like a smart company.
But that might be hard...