Those who have been following this blog for a while know that my attitude toward the D&D Insider service errs towards a cautious optimism. Today's news, however, offer me no bright side to look upon. A new version of the Monster Builder has been released, completely devoid of the most basic elements you would expect in such a tool - notably, the ability to Build Monsters. Thus, for the first time ever, I have sent Wizards of the Coast an Angry Letter (tm), which I reproduce here for your enjoyment and shared indignation.
To: Wizards of the Coast customer service
Re: Missing feature (Monster Building)
The newly released online tool for DDI has been wrongly announced as a Monster Builder. This is an unfortunate mistake, since its monster building capabilities are almost nil. The removal of this essential feature would have been a serious letdown to me, had it been properly communicated. However, there has been no official word on the matter, and I have only found out when browsing the tool, by clicking hopelessly in search of the most basic functionality. This makes things so much worse.
This is not a product ready for public release. I have been following its progress since the beta, and I can see the polishing effort that has taken place since then. However, its current feature set provides no value at all to me, being little more than an alternate interface for information that I could already access from the Compendium. I was excited to see this tool, because it didn't cross my mind that it would be released without editing functions.
I honestly wonder what led you to think this could be a good idea. If editing features are to be added at some point in the future, you should have waited until they were ready. If they are not, I guess this still has value exclusively as a component for the virtual table - so you should have released it whenever the VT came out. The importing feature could have been a redeeming point, if not for the fact that the original Monster Builder has been bugged into almost uselessness for months now, so I am unable to generate non-corrupt monster files. The only thing this tool has managed to do is annoy me.
Please, don't do this again. I can take delays and cancellations, and even a certain amount of bugs and instability on a release, but trying to pass off some hollow piece of software as the real deal is utterly pointless, and a waste of your time, as well as mine.
Edit (23/03/11): The following comment has been posted by WoTC_Trevor on the official forums, addressing many of the concerns expressed above. I'm not sold on their arguments, and it comes a bit late, but it's certainly better than nothing.
Now on to the topic of "why did you release something that wasn't feature complete?" questions/complaints. Main reasons, short and sweet - we wanted to give all the DDI members a chance to check out what we're working on, and we wanted to make sure that all DDI members had the chance to use the MB to import monsters into their VT games during the next step of the VT beta.
You still have access to the classic MB (you can download it right now). We won't be doing any more updates to it, but it's still there and still usable. Yes it has issues, but I'm hopefully most people understand that we won't be working on the old tools while adding features to the new tool. With the web-based MB, we have something that gives very basic functionality and is usable with the VT that we wanted to get into everybody hands, not just the small group of testers that we had before.
The VT point is a bit more tangible - Having the web-based MB out, even in this limited form, makes imputing monsters into the VT 1000% (statistic completely made up) better for DMs. So getting this out to DDI subscribers who will very soon be testing out the VT seemed a pretty important thing.
I am definitely sorry that I haven't given you more news on what to expect with this AT release these last few weeks. I'm also sorry if I led you to believe that the AT would be more robust than what the closed beta testers had access to. We did add a couple features, but the biggest changes are on their way. I will be back in the coming days with more information on the features we'll be implementing, focusing on whatever the next big thing is.
So at least we can expect the current state of affairs to be temporary - editing will be added, eventually.
Also, although I haven't seen it documented anywhere, there IS an upside to the latest update, as they have introduced a very cool feature that I could actually enjoy using. The Monster (sigh) Builder now has the ability to display pictures for each monster in the catalog. Currently, only a very limited selection of monsters features any art (try looking at Monster Vault or Monster Manual I creatures, for example), but they intend to add it for all of them.
The idea of having art in the MB was definitely a good one and we want to do that as well. For now we've implemented a lot of the art that was in the Monster Vault along with some additions, and we definitely want to get more art in there. I personally would love to have some contests for people to submit some art for those creatures that don't have any, and then use the winners as our official pieces of art in the MB. We'll see how things work out as we get more features/content.