I’d quibble a bit with the idea that 4e was designed around vtt play. It was designed around public play. You’d be able to RPGA style play as the baseline.
Of course that overlaps with vtt play quite a lot.
The problem was, most people had established groups and were quite understandably baffled by design decisions that make perfect sense in other contexts.
Bart Vance on Quora offered this up:
Joseph Batten was the Senior Manager, Digital Technology Projects for Wizards of the Coast since February 2008, promoted after just 3 months of being Senior Technical Producer supporting Gleemax.com. he was in charge of the push for the integration of D&D 4th Edition and an online Massive Multiplayer Online game (MMO). Since D&D had broken from tradition and instead of making another version of a role Playing Game (RPG), they wanted to cash on on the online $billions. They knew that those wanting a really good RPG game would be highly disappointed with the direction, but saw only dollar bills and turned traditional D&D into an online game, to better adapt it to an actual online MMO, to really rake in the cash.
Joseph Batten, by all accounts was brilliant. Unfortunately, he was also unstable. His poor Leadership method, was to keep everything close to his chest and revealed/shared as little as possible with those directly under him and supporting him. When his wife, Melissa Batten, a Harvard-educated lawyer and Software Development Engineer for Microsoft, separated from him and moved out and got a restraining order against him after he tried to confront her at her work, Joseph went out and got a gun. He confronted Melissa in the parking lot of her friend’s apartment, where she was staying, and shot her several times. He eventually turned the gun on himself and committed suicide before the authorities could arrest him.
That whole thing is a personal tragedy, but the business tragedy for WotC/Hasbro, was that he kept so much info to himself, in a critical role to facilitate the transition from Dungeons and Dragons Insider (DDI) and Gleemax.com, that there was no way to continue the project. It would take too long to find another person for the job, get them up to speed, re-discover all the things Batten had already discovered, both gains and pitfalls, as Batten had kept it all to himself. Not only would this be a long process, but the build teams would grind to a standstill and sit idle for months, at the least, as Batten had shared nothing with the ones directly under him, so they had no way to move forward beyond his last immediate requirements. At this point, just starting over would have been more successful than picking up the pieces and trying to put them together again. This also had the online version happening so far after the book releases, that it would have destroyed all momentum of the version release, that the online version would look like a pale afterthought.
From a business standpoint, this was a complete and utter failure. Instead of going ahead and wasting time, resources and money, they wrote off alot of the work as part of the game design for 5th Edition.
A few would say that 4th Edition was good, mostly new gamers migrating over from online and console gaming, most would say it sucked, especially RPG and hybrid online/tabletop players. But if the pairing of the two, the book MMO and the online MMO, who knows how successful it would have been, tapping into a market.
So, quite literally built from the ground up with computer play in mind. Fascinating!