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Who really needs D&D 5e?

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In a comment to my Why D&D 4e "Failed" -- My Theory post a few days ago, Argent said:

I fear for 5e. Many of the people who loved 4e, me included, are concerned right now. I think it may just further fracture the base. The 3.5 and legacy players have got on fine without 4e so why do they need 5e? Us 4e players have tons of material and a game we broadly enjoy so why do we need 5e?

In my opinion, the only people who really need 5e are WOTC. Every D&D player I know or know of is happy playing the version of D&D that they enjoy the most now. They really do not need a new edition, especially another new edition that is likely to be fairly incompatible with everything that has been published before. WOTC's D&D "division" seems to exist by selling new editions of D&D to more or less the same set of players every few years. They mine their player base for all the money than can get selling core rules and supplements and then when sales wane too much, they redesign the game in a way that is incompatible-enough with previous editions so they can basically sell the same books rewritten for the new rules to their player base again.

Unfortunately, the number of people making the switch to the latest (and supposedly greatest, at least to people doing the marketing for WOTC) seems to decline with each new edition. When TSR published the D&D, this did not really matter much as all of their (many) editions were pretty much compatible enough with each other that adventures and campaign settings published for their current edition could easily be used with any of the other editions TSR had published. Conversion was generally simple enough that most DMs could convert say, a D&D Basic game adventure to AD&D 2e rules (or vice versa) in their heads as they were using the module in play. There was no need for hours of conversion work before the "foreign edition" module could be used, they could just run the module. Therefore, even players not using the current edition often would still buy setting and adventures published for the current edition. WOTC, however, seems to do their best to make each edition very different from all previous editions, so they really need almost every D&D player to adopt the new edition the instant it comes out as people playing older editions are unlikely to buy any of the adventures and settings from the new edition to use with their older editions -- so they cease to make any money at all from those playing older editions.

The WOTC edition treadmill is not helping the hobby and probably isn't doing anything for WOTC's long-term bottom line, either. Unfortunately, American businesses seem unable to do anything that will help them long-term unless it also boosts their stock value right now, so I don't see WOTC getting off this spiral of diminishing sales the edition treadmill creates as it does boost sales short term every time they release a new edition.

In summary, who do I think needs D&D 5e? Outside of WOTC, practically no one really needs it. Heck, outside of WOTC, practically no one really needed 4e or 3.5 either.

15 comments:
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SpiralBound said...
April 22, 2012 at 5:16 PM  

If you are correct, (and I suspect you are), then 5E may be the last WOTC D&D rpg. It was already published last year that Hasbro almost killed D&D as a product when 3.5 sales slumped & it was only by selling 4E as a multiformat brand (note all the non-rpg "D&D" products of late) that they were given a 2nd chance. I don't know what promises they made this time for 5E, but this is likely their LAST chance. If they can't make $50,000,000 per year with D&D 5E, Hasbro will indefinitely mothball it for sure this time.

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JeffStormer said...
April 22, 2012 at 5:18 PM  

Who needs any new RPG? Every hardcore gamer I know is happy with at least one game already. So why not just stop creating altogether?

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ancientvaults said...
April 22, 2012 at 5:34 PM  

Great post. And yes, I think we are done with D&D. It is pointless for WotC to keep rehashing the game and adding complexity. How is making something more complicated efficient? It isn't. I believe that you hit the nail on the head and that there is no point in D&D "progressing" any more. 3.0 was getting bloated, but it was fine, I suppose. Then 3.5 was a totally pointless endeavor that Paizo ran with and totally surpassed whatever it was WotC was trying to do in the first place. The OGL was the greatest thing that WotC ever did, not for them, of course, because we have all of the old games back by people not worried about shareholders that can afford to give away the core rules for free and an army of people out there (even me!) that provide free material for people to use in their games and there is no way that WotC can profit from this either, which probably ticks them off to no end. :D

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scottsz said...
April 22, 2012 at 5:38 PM  

Just a thought: the 'modular' aspect should support all older adventure content.

Whether it is the goal or not, WotC will be prepared to have 5E be the last version of D&D and shift their business model to game content.

Dungeon Command and other game channels for the D&D brand are already in place.

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Randall said...
April 22, 2012 at 5:41 PM  

@JeffStormer: Creating a new RPG is fine. The new game will succeed or fail on its own merits as its publishers can't discontinue another popular game to try to force people to move to it. Revising a popular game every few years so you can sell it again to the same player base again isn't the same thing, especially if you discontinue the previous version to try to force everyone to the new edition.

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JoetheLawyer said...
April 22, 2012 at 5:53 PM  

Just a thought---how funny would it be if their re-release of AD&D outsold 5e? :)

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ancientvaults said...
April 22, 2012 at 5:53 PM  

@Scottsz: Hey, how's it going?:D
Well, the modular angle might be a good idea, however, from what I have heard (from the developers diaries online) they are saying that a 1e guy and a 4e guy can be at the same table playing D&D, and I don't see that happening without causing more problems than it solves. HOWEVER, if what they really mean is that my group will play 1e with the new material and the group next door will be playing 4e then that makes sense, it is still kind of pointless as they could just release all of the old material, reprinting EVERYTHING as a print on demand surface and make us all happy at once, too.

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ancientvaults said...
April 22, 2012 at 5:55 PM  

surface/service drat!

And yes, Joe, that would be awesome!:)

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scottsz said...
April 22, 2012 at 5:58 PM  

@Joe: There would be an ironic justice in that.

@ancient: Right now, I'm wrestling with DoubleClick on work-related crap. Gotta love being an internet serf!

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kharathel said...
April 23, 2012 at 5:56 AM  

Releasing all content as on-demand product is the new business model that so many industries refuse to run with. It works for Steam games, and many others like it, but old content producers are notoriously unwilling to change - look at the movie production companies and music labels. They'd rather change the law than sell product on-demand. Let's hope the biggest content producers in RPG can get with the DriveThru/RPGNow/IPR/Lulu.com models and sell more product. It's clear the OSR people are starving for it.

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instantapathy said...
April 23, 2012 at 10:38 AM  

That's the thing... no one /needs/ a new game of any sort, if they have one that that does what they want. You don't need Mutant's & mastermind's if you have FASERIP marvel. You don't need SAGA Star Wars if you had the d6 version. You didn't need 3e if you had AD&D. But you might want that newer game if it fixes or improves the game you are playing now.

Now, who /wants/ 5e? People who think there are flaws in the game that this might fix. I'm reserved, but worried, in my opinion on 5e because while I find flaws in 4e I think stepping back toward AD&D isn't necessarily going to make the game better. You open up the possibility to bring back flaws (and I admit much of what I consider to be flaws in OD&D seem to be lauded by it's proponents as part of the charm/brilliance of the OSR style things.).

"Just a thought---how funny would it be if their re-release of AD&D outsold 5e? :)"

While that would be ironic, I can't see a real situation where that will happen.

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ancientvaults said...
April 23, 2012 at 11:19 AM  

And Instantapathy brings up an excellent point, but I believe that the wave of people getting into 3.0 consisted of people seeing a slick, new edition of D&D and many of those people had played at one point and then left for one reason or another. That won't happen now as many of the people that bought 3.0 have become disenchanted and play either the retro-clones or have gone back to the actual older material. It would be neat if the reprints outsold 5e, but I am sure there are number crunchers out there that will ensure this doesn't happen (whether it does or not) to protect their own interests.

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Randall said...
April 23, 2012 at 6:17 PM  

@instantapathy: The problem is I can't think of too many people who will see 5e as so much better than the edition they are playing now that they will want to switch. Looking at myself, for example, while I am pretty sure that 5e will be infinitely better than 4e from my point-of-view (as I considered 4e the worst version of D&D ever as my interests and style of play was not supported at all), I doubt it will be better than what I am playing now, let along the "considerably better" it would probably take to get me to do the large amount of work that would probably be required to learn the new rules and then to convert my campaign and its house rules to 5e. As many 4e players have pointed out, they have little reason to move to 5e as it looks to return to the more standard model of rules and play that preceded 4e which they often never liked to begin with. The only people I can see really wanting 5e are those players and GMs who simply like "new" or who feel they have to play the current version of D&D because they want/need it to be supported with a stream of new stuff to buy/use.

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benensky said...
April 24, 2012 at 6:52 PM  

Randall, this is an article I can whole heartedly agree with you on. This is all for the money. If they wanted to make the players of the older editions happy they could start selling material that supported the older editions (using the older rules).

I am an RPGA player and will be playing 5E when it comes out since the RPGA uses the current rules system. I cross my fingers, but am worried. From what I read of yours before you are more of a 3.5/Pathfinder fanboy. I however, am a 4E fanboy and only consolation about 5E/Next is the fact I felt like this when 4E was being developed and was pleasantly surpriseded how it was so much better than 3.5 when I started playing it. Likewise, there is always room for improvement, so I hope for the best.

However, I agree. People are perfectly happy playing the version of D&D they like and were not clamoring for a new edition. I would bet the 1E/originalonal game players are not. This is a game sales sastrategy. When the sales number of a gaming product dip to a certainrtan level, they create a new edition to bring revenue back up. It is only needed to bring the revenue up not because any version is broken.

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Eric Walker said...
October 31, 2012 at 3:37 PM  

If the modularity is possible then it isn't it great that a player that started plaiyng circa '81, '91 and '11 can sit down at a table and enjoy the same module and games. You guys could be play-testing and evaluating how to get how you play the game to work in the new game or even decide that it doesn't. This post is rubbish, OP is awful

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