There's a lot of talk in some areas of the Net about the next official edition of D&D. Some people think that WOTC will try to create an edition of D&D that will bring back not only Pathfinder players but players who prefer even older editions while retaining the 4e fan base.
Personally, I do not believe that any new edition of D&D could appeal enough to all D&D players that it will be their "go to" edition of D&D. What people want and need out of a set of D&D rules varies so much that, in my opinion, it would be impossible to handle this in one set of rules. After all, many of the "must have features" of one group of D&D players directly contradict the "must have features" of other groups of D&D players. Here's a list of twelve examples of the type of "must have features" problems that would somehow have to be overcome to create this visionary edition that reunifies the D&D hobby.
- Some people want rules that are light in the crunch department, some people want lots of mechanical crunch in the rules. It would be hard to truly satisfy both in one game.
- Some people want the details of every likely action accounted for in the rules with official modifiers written by the game designers so all they have to do is find them in the rules and apply them. Others don't want that level of detail, they'd rather just assign the mods they feel fit the situation instead of "wasting time" looking them up. In theory, I guess you could satisfy both camps by supplying all the modifiers in a supplemental "Book of Modifiers" that only players and GMs who want "official mods for everything" needed to buy.
- Some people want fast combat (say 15 minutes real time max) and don't want a lot of tactical detail as combat isn't the core fun in their games -- and therefore they don't want it taking up a lot of play time. Others want detailed tactical combat that uses minis, battlemats, 3-D terrain, etc. (with rules for using all that) and want the combat rules to be very detailed -- and do not mind if combats take 45-90 minutes of play time each (and perhaps even longer for "boss" combats) because combat encounters are the core fun for the players in their games. Worse, more than the first two points I listed, this is a spectrum with many people wanting medium length combats somewhere in the middle. One could handle this like GURPs with a Basic (and fast) combat system for the people who want very fast and abstract and an an advanced (and somewhat slower) combat system for those who want more focus on combat (with lots of optional rules for those who want even more detail and don't mind the even longer battles). The game rules would have to include both from day one, however -- you could not pick one and add the other in a supplement next year as you'd lose the camp you put off to the supplement.
- Then there are two types of combat tactics to account for. Some people want combat tactics confined to "real world tactics" (i.e. attacking from the rear gives an advantage, defending from high ground is better, etc.) while others want what I call "rules manipulation tactics" where tactical advantage comes from knowing the mechanical combat rules and manipulating them for an advantage in combat (4e combat is an excellent example). People who want the former generally don't want the latter in their games while people who love the latter often don't even see the former as "tactics".
- Some people want character classes that are all equal in combat while others want variety so player interested in combat can take a class that is great in combat while those less interested than take a class whose abilities are mainly non-combat. The latter is easier to provide in a game with very fast, abstract combat as combats do not last long enough for those players playing mainly non-combat classes to get bored. Of course, that doesn't work well in games where combat takes a lot of time to play out. However, assuming everyone is interested in combat is a bad idea even in games where combat takes a long time. Players not interested in combat should not penalize the party's chances of success if all they want to do is roll to hit instead of getting involved in 4e style "character synergy combat" where all players need to be interested in combat and willing to learn to effectively use the rules-based tactics or the entire party suffers.
- Some people want high-powered spells in the game even if this means wizards are powerful and can dominate the game at higher levels. Other people want magic (and spell casters) limited -- but often can't agree on how it should be limited.
- Some people want a lot of mechanical customization of characters even if this leads to "character optimization" players dominating the game. Other people want some customization but want character optimization really reigned in. Other people don't want much mechanical customization because they want to be able to create characters very quickly -- either because they are causal players who don't want to be bothered or so they can have games with character death is relatively common. Then you have the people who want customization to be limited to just being better (a bonus to some action) at stuff anyone can do (with only stuff that truly requires a special ability to even try limited to only those characters who take a particular customization), while others don't mind limiting things that anyone should be able to try to do to those who have selected a particular customization -- if "knockback" is a feat, they want the rules to prohibit any character from pushing a target being back unless they have taken the feat, no matter how unrealistic this might be.
- Some people need monster descriptions to include lots of non-combat info about each monster as they use this to create their adventures and campaigns while others only want combat info on monsters as that's all they use monsters for.
- Some people want the game to be based on the player's skill while others want the game to be used on character skill. The two camps are often so divided that they don't even consider the way the other camp plays to be "roleplaying."
- Some want a game with lots of limits so they can play in tournaments or organized play with strangers and not have to worry about strange rules interpretations or rules abuse by the GM or other players. Others have no interest in tournaments or organized play on don't want the game designed around the needs of tournaments and organized play.
- Vancian magic: Some people hate it with a passion while others don't consider a game without it to really be D&D.
- Some people want the rules designed to somehow reign in those they consider to be "bad GMs", others don't want average or good GM limited in an attempt to stop bad GMs.
There are of course many more design points in D&D where you not only cannot please everyone but are likely to actually drive away those who want the "opposite" of the decision the designer made. However, I think that just these points show that would be almost impossible for a single edition of D&D to satisfy all D&D players.
Note for edition warriors: Please understand that none of the incompatible "options" I mention above are objectively right or wrong, they are just "right" to the players who want them and "wrong" to those who would not play in game with them unless forced at gunpoint. What you need from a D&D rules set to be willing to play is just as valid as what I need from a D&D rules set to be willing to play -- even if they are completely incompatible with each other. Where D&D is concerned, there is no one true way. That's a huge problem for anyone who wants to design a new edition of D&D that most (let alone "almost all") players of previous editions are likely to switch to.