1. It’s a huge, open playtest, the first of its kind so early in the design process. Thousands of people will be publicly providing feedback on a game’s design, which will be improved and re-published for testing every month or two.
2. That design will go through designers. This isn’t an attempt to crowdsource rules; it’s an attempt to get lots of feedback. People complained about lack of playtesting in 4E, so why complain about an open playtest now?
3. It’s a new approach to rules. The core will contain basic rules, with plenty of optional rules modules to let players add specific flavors to the experience: tactical combat, enhanced skills, diseases, etc.
This means that GMs can build a rules-light, old-school dungeon crawl experience; a more expansive 2E experience; a gritty, detailed 3E experience, etc. Players can create very detailed characters or simple ones.
4. Options let different players play together. Ever tried to get a non-gamer to join an existing D&D 3E or 4E game? Tried to coach them through character creation? Found yourself saying “It’s actually not that bad…”? Imagine giving that player only a few choices that completely define a character.
The RPG market remains tiny; we need new players to keep the market alive. We need innovation, and Wizards of the Coast is providing it.
Will it work perfectly? Nothing does. At least they’re trying.