Like many of you, I had heard about the Digital Initiative back when 4th Edition was announced, as well as experienced the wide variety of marketing that let up to D&D Insider being released as a work in progress. I saw the rise and fall of Gleemax and some of the struggling points of the D&D Insider's suite of offerings, but all of that said, I cannot say that I am not pleased with what I have seen, thus far.
For what amounts to just under five bucks a month, if you pay the full year in advance, you get access to a digital version of Dungeon and Dragon magazine, which is cool, although I still miss the feeling of the pages under my fingers. Access to the D&D Compendium, which at first glance is a player's dream, let alone a dungeon master's, with a burgeoning bounty at your fingertips. Plus, there are the ever useful monster and encounter builders, as well as the ability score generator, all of which can make a DM's life much quicker and easier, not to mention empowers their ability to adjust things on the fly.
For years I have wanted something that would enhance my DM screen, that extra "umph", so to speak, and a laptop as provided it to some degree. Prior to the release of D&D Insider, Microsoft OneNote was the one tool, on a laptop, that I felt added to my gaming experience, be it as a player and/or a DM, but I think that D&D Insider is jockeying for position.
Sure, it is not yet complete, as we are still missing the character builder and visualizer, as well as the dungeon generator and digital game table, but those are still going to be there, just not yet. Instead, they are offering access to what they have now, which will then fuel the continued development, similar to what Blizzard, or other MMO houses, do with their fees. We pay monthly fees for game play, those fees go into the upkeep and development of the game.
Although I feel we have only seen the glimmer of what D&D Insider has to offer, I am more hopeful now than I was previously, with respect to what that potential offering will be. Technology is expanding, computers, be it laptops, tablets, or desktops, are growing more common at the game table, be it as a DM aide or a player aide, be it for campaign notes or a gaming soundtrack, and I think that this offering from Wizards of the Coast has the real potential to enhance the game in very positive ways for a long time to come.
Sure, 4th Edition D&D is different than what we have been use to before, not to mention that there are folks out there who will keep 3.5e alive (such as Paizo), but that does not mean that the industry cannot, should not, survive the splitting of the d20 fanbase. In fact, if D&D Insider is a look at what may potentially come from this schism, then perhaps the fracturing of the fans is a good thing.
If the usefulness of an unfinished product like D&D Insider is a sign of what the next few years are going to be like then I am all for it, since it will enhance my 4e experience and play, for what amounts to a few dollars a month, less than I pay for an MMO or magazine subscription and way, way less than my subscriptions to the variety of offerings from Paizo.
I say this, if you play 4th Edition D&D and enjoy it, yet would like a few more options, a few more utilities, especially the ability to quickly search for any entry containing the word "drow" or "goblin", then D&D Insider is worth a look, if not for the D&D Compendium alone. Buying a one year subscription is cheap, while a quarterly subscription is a little bit more expensive, and the monthly just a little bit more. But, regardless of if it is $4.95 a month or $7.95 a month, DDI is worth the month, now. Imagine what it will be like once they have finished it.