Beta sign-ups are now live, unlike your party after their first encounter with the Gelatinous Cube with a gun in it.
Wizards of the Coast (longtime purveyor of dungeons, dragons, magic, gatherings, etc.) has announced a new toolkit for players and Dungeon Masters looking to digitize their 5th Edition D&D campaigns. The new service, dubbed D&D Beyond, will feature "a rules compendium, character builder, digital character sheets, and more," according to Wizards' announcement.
The service's official website promises forums and support for homebrew content, which implies that DMs won't be locked into officially sanctioned Wizards creations for their campaigns. Beta signups are also live, though no specifics are given with regards to when either the beta or the final service will launch. There's also no mention of pricing, which one assumes will be part of the whole deal since the pen-and-paper versions of these tools cost real-world human money.
The service will be powered by Curse, which has a long history of developing (unofficial) web-based and stand-alone solutions for VoIP and add-on management in games in like World of Warcraft, Skyrim and Kerbal Space Program. Curse was purchased by Twitch in August of 2016, and will also be responsible for Twitch's upcoming desktop app, so we wouldn't be surprised if D&D Beyond eventually features some kind of Twitch functionality, though that's conjecture on our part.
Whenever it does launch, D&D Beyond's main competition will be Roll20 , the go-to web-based service for DIY tabletop RPG shenanigans. Roll20 is free , and offers all the same functionality that Wizards is touting for Beyond—the main difference is that Beyond will feature official Dungeons and Dragons content and tools especially tuned for D&D 5E, whereas Roll20 is primarily a blank slate designed for use with a multitude of different tabletop engines, at least in its free form.
We say "primarily" because the Roll20 Marketplace does feature a small handful of officially licensed D&D campaign modules ranging from $20 to $50, which include prefab maps, locations, character tokens and various other goodies. This may give us a good indication of how Wizards' will price similar content on D&D Beyond, though it remains to be seen if Beyond's default/free asset offerings will compare with Roll20's, should Beyond even offer a free tier of access. (Thanks to @RollinBishop for pointing this out!)
If someone is planning a 5E campaign and has the choice between a free service that requires more work, and a paid service flush with assets and bespoke tools, the convenience may win out over the cost. This, of course, depends on the eventual price of the service and the financial capabilities of the person playing, which has always been the most serious consideration for anyone looking to get serious about playing Dungeons and Dragons. Those books are expensive, y'all.