Why are we surprised that D&D Next is bad?

By now, the “D&D Next”  materials have made their way out into the interwebs. I spent a good ten hours participating in an all-day playtest of the system.

Yeah, it’s pretty bad. However, someone else made a point I think is important:

The game system we have in front of us is exactly what they told us it would be.

I can’t emphasize this enough. This playtest meets all of the stated design goals: it plays like an old-school game, it is ostensibly “modular,” and it has already been lauded among many players as a return to pre-3e design sentiments.

What this really speaks to is how isolated and unsupported the D&D team is at WotC. I remember stories from 5+ years ago where any team that wasn’t Magic had to go around begging for playtesters any time they released anything. With the growth of the Magic brand, this has obviously only become more of an issue. The reason this looks like the product of a couple old dudes in a basement is because it really is.

D&D is a drop in the bucket as a brand when compared to the $200+ million that Magic brings in. (Even generous estimates had D&D bringing in about 1/20 of that revenue per year.) In a sense, I kinda feel bad for Mearls & Co. They are working on something they love, but they have the dual burden of being under corporate supervision without any sort of support from the rest of the company. Somebody gave them the goal of “reuniting the editions” after Pathfinder has eclipsed D&D, and then gave them no money or time to do it in.

I remember opening the 4E PHB and my jaw dropping – not because of the rules, but simply because of the production values inherent to that book. Full-color 3/4 page illustrations for each class and chapter. Beautifully templated, color-coded power descriptions. It was the first time I’d felt that since I opened the GURPS 4E Characters book, and the only other time I’ve been so taken was with the Mouse Guard RPG.

That was the height of branding D&D for WotC. They released one of their flagship games in full force, and it still didn’t make a tenth of what Magic does. It’s over. They’re done throwing that kind of effort into a brand full of toxic fans and endless bickering about products that won’t get sold.

I’m not saying it won’t sell, or that it won’t get played. However, I can tell you that we aren’t going to see the support for D&D that we saw for third or fourth edition. D&D is officially a legacy brand now.

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47 thoughts on “Why are we surprised that D&D Next is bad?

  1. “They’re done throwing that kind of effort into a brand full of toxic fans and endless bickering about products that won’t get sold.”

    Meh.

    It wasn’t the fault of fans that a toxic atmosphere was created, nor is it the fault of fans that 4e wasn’t well-received. Nor will the success or failure of D&D Next be due to anything other than the success or failure of WotC to put out a good product, market that product well, and undo to whatever extent they are able the ill-will their handling of the 4e release created.

    And they have definitely taken some steps in the right direction, although I think that the NDAs for the beta playtest are a really bad idea (not required by most recent rpgs, including Pathfinder and Dungeon Crawl Classics, despite Mike Mearls’ claim to the contrary), and I don’t think 5e will fly without the OGL.

    The systems that are doing well right now have the right combination of “good system + goodwill”, and I don’t think Hasbro is going to allow WotC the leeway needed to recreate the goodwill that was seen with the advent of 3e.

    • fugaros says:

      The toxic fans of D&D precede third edition by a decade or more. The release of the SECOND edition of AD&D was greeted with endless hand-wringing and complaining. There are still people who refuse to play anything beyond first edition – and no shortage of people who wouldn’t play third edition because it’s “too much like Diablo.”

      Goodwill with the fans is a misnomer here. The “goodwill of 3e” came from the fact that there could be no backlash – we thought D&D was DEAD, and now here’s a new edition! Yay! Oh wait…it’s mechanically insolvent. Maybe WotC will fix that in 3.5? Nope. Oh well.

      Then they did fix it, and half of their market defected because it was too different. They didn’t stop bitching about products they won’t buy, though. The good news is that 4E was reasonably successful and we got two full product lines out of it.

      The bad news is that it wasn’t Magic, so Wizards is done with it as a real brand.

      • Where I was at, whether or not TSR went under had little to do with whether or not the game could still be played….much as whether or not WotC decided that 4e was the way to go had little to do with whether or not earlier materials could still be played.

        IMHO, and IME, WotC generated goodwill by reversing the toxic decisions of TSR….especially late TSR, although the Gygaxian era wasn’t immune. TSR said “these toys are ours” and sent threatening letters to those who disagreed. WotC said, “these toys are ours, but we are willing to share, and make them partly yours, too”, and that generated more goodwill than anything I can think of.

        Out of curiosity, what makes you believe that 4e was “reasonably successful”? The turn around between 4e and 4e Essentials was pretty short, and isn’t even acknowledged when Mike Mearls talks about the system getting its first overhaul since the advent of 4e. There is also a lot of philosophical turn-about in 5e, AFAICT, which makes it doubtful that the direction forged by 4e was “reasonably successful”. Also, I can buy almost any 4e book at a severe discount an my local BMV, which has stacks of them, and which suggests the opposite.

        So I again assert that the “toxic” fan is largely mythological in this case. It is clear, even to WotC, that the release of 4e was mishandled, and created a toxic environment.

        And, again, when WotC was ramping up to 3e, they made all sorts of materials available ahead of time in the pages of Dragon, no NDA required. It is difficult to say, on one hand, “We would like you to trust us” while saying, on the other hand, “but we do not trust you.”

      • Ewen says:

        The toxicity of the RPG scene, especially with regard to D&D and even more so as discussed online, very clearly and obviously predates 4e, and stretches back to the usenet days. Publishers have some effect needless to say, but the attitude espoused goes quite a bit beyond “they made a game I don’t like,” which would be about the extent of a rational response to 4e (or 3.5 or 3rd or any other edition) not being to one’s tastes.

      • Meh.

        Me thinks thou dost protest too much.

        There is a difference between disagreement and toxicity, as most people use the terms, and I for one am not keen on blaming business failures on the folks you want as customers.

      • fugaros says:

        You…don’t actually know what “methinks the lady doth protest too much” means, do you?

  2. Drance says:

    @fugaros: so between the release of the D&D playtest materials yesterday and today at 11:12 am EST (where I am right now), you’ve played in a 10-hour game using the rules? Can you give us some examples from that game that point to your opinion that D&D Next is “pretty bad”? Can you give us concrete recaps of some moments in the session that give specifics about what you deem to be bad? I’m not trying to be snarky here, I just am curious to get something more detailed than just some blanket statement.

    @Raven Crowing: I’ve just signed an NDA to playtest a game in development by a publisher that stands tall in the OSR’s estimation. So it’s not just WotC that’s asking for such.

    Bottom line: I’m not a blind lover of all things WotC, but neither am I demonizing them at every turn. I’m wondering why it seems so many are so quick to suspect that WotC has any ill will toward the gaming community.

    • Ewen says:

      That insistence that WotC couldn’t possibly be acting even a tiny bit in good faith is a perfect example of the toxicity Fugaros has been talking about, and it’s been around a lot longer than 4e. The way people act like no one ever had any problems at all with 3rd Edition makes me feel like everyone else had a bout of selective amnesia in early 2008 that made them forget how the howling over the changes D20 brought was embarrassingly similar to the complaints leveled against 4e.

      • The only toxicity I am aware of is the suggestion that opposing points of view amount to “howling over the changes”. :lol:

        I, for one, had plenty of well-documented problems with 3e, but it is only in the wake of 3.5 that I could find anything wanting in WotC’s conduct as a company, and that was slight. Maybe I am just ignorant of what I should have been “howling over”….?

        In any event, the announced changes at the beginning of the 4e cycle seemed to target specific problems that I (and others) had with 3e. Indeed, their initial proposed changes seemed to indicate that they had read those threads, and were prepared to use the solutions which had been proffered therein.

        Somewhere along the line, though, the proposed changes seemed to lose focus, and the proposed fixes were either (1) unlikely to fix the problem they sought to deal with and/or (2) likely to create additional problems (at least for my preferences). At the same time, their campaign to get people on board rubbed a number of people — myself included — very much the wrong way.

        What I’ve seen of D&D Next (and it is admittedly only a little) seems to be moving in a better direction, but the campaign to get people on board is not so good. There seems to be a real “comments by committee”/”this is what you are allowed to say” mentality in the community outreach. It’s frustrating.

        On top of that, WotC tried to “pull the rug” out from under the OGL with its initial GSL, preventing companies from operating under the former license if they wished to take advantage of the latter. The licensing that 5e appears under is therefore of real concern, because who wants to discover that they really love a game only to see all support for it disappear two years later when Next Essentials comes out?

        At this point, D&D Next needs a license structure akin to the OGL to be worth my time. DCC RPG is very much moving into my “go to” spot, and by the end of the year is poised to dominate it. It is a better game, for what I want, than the one I was building myself. 5e has big shoes to hope to fill.

        And, once more, lest you feel that this is just “toxicity”, there are clear signs that WotC is stepping in (for me) the right direction. Telling them what I think is a service to the company, in that they can at least then determine whether or not there is any value in those thoughts. But I will not do so on their sight, where posting include(d?)(s?) a stipulation that they own my words.

        Simply put, I would prefer that WotC produce a D&D I want to play. That means both that I like the game, and that I trust it will still be supported tomorrow.

    • fugaros says:

      Drance, I was actually avoiding such things for this article. I didn’t want it to come off like I was ragging on 5e specifically, although I will certainly want to do that later. The summation would come down to three things:

      1. The only way for non-casters to have any effectiveness is to go outside the rules.
      2. Almost every encounter was solved by the Wizard casting a spell.
      3. It’s nearly impossible for a Fighter to survive a single encounter without dropping, much less “keep going all day.”

      (To answer your first question, yes, I participated in a game from 10:00 PDT to 20:00 PDT. Check out #AllDay5ePlaytest on twitter!)

      • Drance says:

        @fugaros: that’s what I’m talking about! Thanks for some more detail, and especially for a link to even more detail. It’s really refreshing. I appreciate someone basing their opinion on more than just assuming WotC sucks and therefore all their products suck. As you know, the blogosphere is overflowing with people who spout opinions without a whisper of their justifications.

      • fugaros says:

        I hope to never to that with this blog. I’m wrong sometimes, and to be honest, I like it when that happens. I always try to lay out my thoughts and feelings about the industry as plainly as possible here, and I do my best to respond to criticism with the spirit in which it was issued. Hell, my opinion of the playtest has been refined by just reading someone elses’ log!

    • logicalphallacy says:

      “wondering why many are so quick to suspect that WotC has any ill will toward the gaming community.”

      This one is actually really easy to address. WotC is first and foremost a business. Has been for a relatively long time. TSR went back and forth on whether or not it wanted to be a business or a nerd factory. TSR’s fans hated it most when it acted like a business. That said it was acting like a nerd factory that lead to its demise (and oh what a demise it was).

      WotC (more often than not) makes decisions that make sense from their business experience: Randomized Minis because randomized magic boosters are a backbone of their business model; Not publishing many adventures because the few times they have they’ve sold poorly; Hiring people with a track record in the gaming community and relying heavily on less credited freelancers.

      These are things that the RPG community often dislikes things that make sense for businesses to do. And it really dislikes it when companies succeed at doing them.

    • Did you sign an NDA to playtest that game in anything being described as an “open playtest”?

      Because, sure, in a closed playtest an NDA makes sense. You don’t want information about what you are doing to leak out. In an open playtest, you conversely want people to talk about what you are doing.

      I am not faulting WotC for making their initial playtests closed. That makes a lot of sense. Making your “open” playtest closed, though? That’s bone-headed. No matter who’s estimation you stand high in.

  3. Sam says:

    I think Raven Crowding illustrates your point about “toxic fans” perfectly!

    • Suggesting that the “success or failure of D&D Next” will be due to “the success or failure of WotC to put out a good product, market that product well, and undo to whatever extent they are able the ill-will their handling of the 4e release created.” is pretty toxic, I’ll admit.

      No, I should instead suggest that, regardless of how well the product is received, it will be due to factors other than the product itself, the marketing, or how people feel about the company. Clearly, it’s all the consumer’s fault! :lol:

      “And they have definitely taken some steps in the right direction” is pretty toxic, too.

      The observation that Hasbro may well be affecting WotC’s ability to do what is necessary to make 5e a success is not only not toxic, it is in agreement with the post.

      • DrNick says:

        You seem to be making a lot of assumptions regarding WotC’s 4e release and Hasbro’s corporate policies. Just sayin’.

      • I make the assumption that both Hasbro and Wizards generally make rational decisions based upon information that we don’t have direct access to. The corollary to this is that those decisions reflect said information, and that rational guesses about that information may therefore be made.

        If Wizards and Hasbro are, instead, acting irrationally, all supposition is thrown out the window.

      • Which, I suppose, does illustrate the point perfectly. It is not the fans who are “toxic”, but rather the willingness/desire to claim that opposed viewpoints are “toxic” on the basis of nothing more than disagreeing with yours!
        :lol:

      • fugaros says:

        Oh, no, I love disagreeing viewpoints! I replied to yours, and I’m interested in what you have to say to my points!

      • I would love to respond to your points; I am not sure that you have posted anything relevant to respond to.

        Possibly this is because I don’t think of “toxicity” as broadly as you do; I see a real difference between any edition prior to 4e and 4e in terms of fan reaction. From my reading, WotC saw the same thing….certainly they have attempted to deal with the problems caused by the ramp-up to 4e’s release, with varying degrees of success.

        In any event, “shut up and play it” (as Tom Crow so eloquently put it) is unlikely to be the message WotC would prefer associated with this edition.

      • Halloween Jack says:

        Have you seen the reactions to 5e on RPGsite, or ENWorld? There’s a prevalent attitude of investigating the rules to make sure as many filthy, dirty 4e mechanics as possible were scrubbed out of 5e. As a 4e fan, I was happy to see a new version with classes that a 3e player or AD&D player would enjoy playing; there are plenty of grognards out there who want to see anyone who liked 4e PUNISHED by the new edition.

        That’s part of what’s meant by toxic fans. There’s a ridiculous and contemptible “Victory for us is to see you suffer” attitude out there.

      • You know what? There is something to what you are saying here.

        I’ve said before, and I will say again, that 4e seems to have met the (later) design goals of the designers, and is obviously a good game in its own right for those who like that style of play. No one should be punished for liking what they like, be it 4e, 5e, 1e, or 54e.

        During the days when 4e was first being discussed, I had some clear misunderstandings of intent that were cleared up on EN World. But I also had some observations that I think still hold true. And, there were those who espoused a position that 4e was the edition to end all editions — it would forever be updated and would never be supplanted by a new edition. Finally, there was a lot of criticism of those who didn’t care for the direction Wizards took with 4e, who were told that they should move to the new edition, because the prior ones were “inferior” on the basis of being replaced by the next “evolution” of D&D.

        Saying “I told you so” is not mature. Granted.

        On the other hand, some of those same folks seem to think that 4e had the same life span as 3e, or that 4e sales were hunky-dory, or that the D&DI profits were enough to make WotC really invest in that side of the business. I don’t know how to address those people, apart from hoping that they can learn from the lessons of the past.

        I wish the designers at WotC well. I have a hard time wishing the corporate entity that keeps laying those designers off for the December holidays well. I have a hard time wishing the corporate entity that keeps getting in the way of those designers well. What I do wish is that the corporate entity would also learn from the past. The buck you save by laying off your designers this year might be lost manyfold the next when people dislike how you treat those designers. Whatever it is you think you are gaining with the NDAs might also cost more than you think, as did the change from OGL to GSL.

        I don’t need Wizards. I don’t need D&D. But I do have a sentimental attachment to the brand, and I would like Wizards to produce a D&D I’d like to play. But I don’t need them to. Others have already stepped into that gap.

        It is on Wizards to produce a game that plays well, marketed in a way that makes people want to buy from Wizards. It is not on anyone to just shut up and play, nor is it on the fans to make Wizards a success. Nor does stating that make the fans “toxic”.

      • fugaros says:

        This is a series of ridiculously good points, and I want to thank you for making them. It’s good to have a perspective that can’t be categorized as “3e Fanboy” or “4venger.”

        The only thing I would avidly disagree on you with is the assertion that ANY edition of D&D has been a failure. I wrote a post about such things on this very blog (it is a bit 4E-focused).

        The biggest thing that this playtest has reminded me of is how little we, the current RPG players, need D&D as a brand. For the pre-WotC players, there are dozens of retroclones. For 3.X kids, there is Pathfinder, and for the lost 4E fans, there is the new 13th Age RPG produced by some of the big names in that game. However, the industry needs a leader, a name everyone recognizes, to draw in new players and define the direction for the hobby. For at least a decade, that has been Dungeons & Dragons. If it’s not to be that any longer, some company needs to step up and produce the new game to draw another generation of players into this hobby.

      • In this case, success or failure has nothing to do with how much someone might like a system, or whether or not the system meets its design goals. It has only to do with how the company making that game views its success or failure: Did this make enough money to keep producing it?

        I grant that Wizards tried very hard to project that 4e was a success, business-wise, and that there are many people who think it was a success game-wise. But I also think that the evidence is, if circumstantial, also clear that 4e was not the commercial success that Wizards would have liked.

        Personally. I lay much of this on the GSL. If 4e had been made under the OGL, then Necromancer would have also produced old-school options using the same engine, and Wizards would have had my money for every release under the system, more likely than not. And if not every, certainly far more than they did.

        To demonstrate a parallel, during 3e, I began to like certain 3pp far better than what WotC was offering. It was sort of funny, because sometimes the books were by the same authors. For example, Mike Mearls’ 3pp were superior works, IMHO. But I still bought WotC books because, while my game was supported better by the 3pp, it was still roughly the same game, and I could make use of the WotC books as well.

        Also, I despise the Delve format, rendering WotC adventures unpalatable (to me) even for conversion to other systems. If WotC wanted me to buy into their game, they would need the robust market for 3pp adventures that existed during the 3e heyday.

        I really hope they consider getting that level of 3pp support for 5e.

    • The perfect way to stifle debate: declare (to others, not the person themselves) someone’s opinions “toxic”.

    • Lochness_Hamster says:

      Agreed, the Cult of Paizo™ has a lot to answer for, they are just one branch of the Toxic fans

      • Ad hominem isn’t a point in any rational sense, but it may well be this “toxicity” everyone is talking about…..?

        Also, while you may certainly attempt to sharpen your rapier wit at my expense, you are wrong if you think I advocate Pathfinder as a game system.

  4. Rulebook Heavily says:

    Good lord this playtest was terrible. I was the other fighter, and both fighters had the same experience: Drop as soon as you start actually playing like a fighter. I’ve never had less fun playing a fighter, and that’s with Basic and AD&D under my belt.

    And the frightening thing? This is pretty clearly working as intented. What a way for D&D to strangle itself.

  5. Leperflesh says:

    The discussion of whether or not 4th edition was successful always seems to ignore D&D Insider as an enormously successful ongoing revenue stream. The ability to have a regular monthly income like that is unmatched by any other RPG publisher ever, and it’s remarkable. I canceled my D&DI subscription when Wizards killed the installed character maker support and switched to the online one that doesn’t support customizations; I still feel that was a huge misstep.

    But it’s just crazy to suggest 4th edition wasn’t successful. It’s possible that pathfinder has topped D&D in terms of revenue (nobody knows for sure because Wizards does not make its revenue from D&D public) but being second place doesn’t mean you’ve failed. Unless you’d characterize literally every single other RPG publisher in the world as also having failed?

    D&D 4e made money. Lots of it. It’s still making money. The question about 5th edition isn’t whether it will “succeed” or “fail”, but rather, whether it will increase or decrease the amount of money Wizards is making from D&D, as opposed to A) not releasing any new edition or B) releasing a new edition that is totally different from what they’re actually doing with 5th.

    The answer to A is almost certainly an increase. People already have their libraries of 4th edition materials if they were ever going to buy them: they’re still paying for content on D&DI and there’s still the occasional PHB being sold in stores but there’s no doubt sales have dropped off. Even if a 5th edition library sells only half what the new 4th edition sold, it’ll still be an increase in total D&D sales over the current situation.

    The answer to B is that nobody can possibly know. Opining that Wizards “would have sold” more copies if they’d done such-and-such is simply speculation: often well-informed and careful and detailed speculation, but still totally impossible to confirm.

    So it seems to me that what people are *really* talking about is whether or not they like where 5th edition is going – a legitimate discussion – and that the conversation about whether or not D&D 5e “will fail” is mostly pointless speculation.

    I’ve played literally every edition of D&D since 1979. I’ve never hated an edition but I’ve always appreciated the game’s rules being brought forward and evolving into a better, more balanced game where it’s easier for everyone at the table to have a good time. After reading 4th edition I knew I had no interest in playing 3rd again because so many problems I had with the rules had been eliminated.

    I’m worried 5th edition will be the first time an edition of D&D fails to do that for me (because of the stated design goals of deliberately regressing, as pointed out by Fugaros), and if it does, it will be a failure in my eyes *irrespective* of financial success or failure. Actually if I hate it but it succeeds wildly financially, that’s the worse situation, because it means I’m less likely ever get the game I really want from them. Of course I can keep playing a game I want to play – I still have my 4th edition (and 1st edition and basic and etc.) books, or I can find some other system that suits me better (it won’t be Pathfinder). But I’d rather have a new D&D game that I liked.

    • That may be astute; I have no direct information about WotC’s revenue stream. What I do know is the following:

      1. WotC decided to move to a revamped product (Essentials) more quickly than the 3e to 3.5 changeover.

      2. 4e had a shorter edition life than any other by a wide margin.

      3. Pathfinder outperformed 4e in terms of book sales through distribution.

      4. I can buy stacks of brand-new copies of nearly any 4e book at rock-bottom prices at BMV on Bloor Street in Toronto. I cannot do that anywhere that I know of with any previous edition, nor have I ever had the opportunity to do so.

      5. I have read numerous complaints about how D&D Insider was not kept up-to-date, and the VTT never took off, suggesting that WotC didn’t see D&DI as worth strongly investing in, regardless of what you may feel. And, as you point out, the revenue stream from D&DI has not been made public.

      6. One of the primary goals of “D&D Next” was/is to bring those lost D&D players into the fold, which again suggests that their loss was keenly felt. Certainly, D&D Next represents a real philosophical change from what drove 4e’s design theory, which you also comment on.

      So, while I have little doubt that 4e was successful in some ways, I have some real doubt as to whether or not WotC actually thinks 4e was a success.

      I am therefore sceptical of claims re: 4e’s success. While we have incomplete knowledge, those claims seem contradicted by what we can actually know.

      • Rulebook Heavily says:

        “1. WotC decided to move to a revamped product (Essentials) more quickly than the 3e to 3.5 changeover.”

        No, they didn’t. 3e to 3.5 was three years.

        “2. 4e had a shorter edition life than any other by a wide margin.”

        No, it didn’t. It’s still being published, and it has lasted at least as long as 3.5 and longer than 3.0.

        “3. Pathfinder outperformed 4e in terms of book sales through distribution.”

        For two months out of twenty four.

        “4. I can buy stacks of brand-new copies of nearly any 4e book at rock-bottom prices at BMV on Bloor Street in Toronto. I cannot do that anywhere that I know of with any previous edition, nor have I ever had the opportunity to do so.”

        Back stock of AD&D products was released all over the place when 3e came out, and the “d20 bargain bin” is still a feature of many gaming stores – assuming they haven’t just pulped old product.

        “5. I have read numerous complaints about how D&D Insider was not kept up-to-date, and the VTT never took off, suggesting that WotC didn’t see D&DI as worth strongly investing in, regardless of what you may feel. And, as you point out, the revenue stream from D&DI has not been made public.”

        You can reverse engineer at least some of it from the number of exclusive subscribers on their insider forum. It’s been estimated from that alone to be nearly half a million per month.

        “6. One of the primary goals of “D&D Next” was/is to bring those lost D&D players into the fold, which again suggests that their loss was keenly felt. Certainly, D&D Next represents a real philosophical change from what drove 4e’s design theory, which you also comment on.”

        Oh look! You made an actual factual point.

        Just stop. Please. You’re embarrassing yourself.

      • “1. WotC decided to move to a revamped product (Essentials) more quickly than the 3e to 3.5 changeover.” No, they didn’t. 3e to 3.5 was three years. ”

        4e was 2008; 4.5e was 2010. By my count, 2 years is more quickly than 3 years.

        2. 4e had a shorter edition life than any other by a wide margin.” No, it didn’t. It’s still being published, and it has lasted at least as long as 3.5 and longer than 3.0. ”

        2 years is still shorter than 3 years. 2000-2008 is the total run of 3e, if we are to treat all things as equals, a total period of 8 years, and 2008-2012 is the total run of 4e, a period of 4 years. That said, 8 is considerably more than 4.

        3. Pathfinder outperformed 4e in terms of book sales through distribution.” For two months out of twenty four. ”

        So this is something that you actually acknowledge; kudos for you. That this is 2 months out of 24 is relevant when you consider that this is the result of the growth of sales in one system, and the decline in sales in the other.

        4. I can buy stacks of brand-new copies of nearly any 4e book at rock-bottom prices at BMV on Bloor Street in Toronto. I cannot do that anywhere that I know of with any previous edition, nor have I ever had the opportunity to do so.” Back stock of AD&D products was released all over the place when 3e came out, and the “d20 bargain bin” is still a feature of many gaming stores – assuming they haven’t just pulped old product. ”

        For the record, there is a big difference between having a bargain bin of 3rd party products that didn’t sell well, and having massive overstock of the core rules…and every other rulebook…from the publisher.

        AD&D 1e sold well consistently throughout its run, and is still in print, as WotC is reprinting the main three rulebooks. There is some indication that the core 3.5 rulebooks will also be for sale again shortly.

        Earlier D&D was and is popular enough that adventure releases continue to bring out new revisions of the older modules. What, pray tell, is the 5e playtest based on? What edition is the character sheet attempting to bring to mind?

        5. I have read numerous complaints about how D&D Insider was not kept up-to-date, and the VTT never took off, suggesting that WotC didn’t see D&DI as worth strongly investing in, regardless of what you may feel. And, as you point out, the revenue stream from D&DI has not been made public.” You can reverse engineer at least some of it from the number of exclusive subscribers on their insider forum. It’s been estimated from that alone to be nearly half a million per month. ”

        Let’s see your actual figures. Hopefully your math is better here than shown to be above?

        6. One of the primary goals of “D&D Next” was/is to bring those lost D&D players into the fold, which again suggests that their loss was keenly felt. Certainly, D&D Next represents a real philosophical change from what drove 4e’s design theory, which you also comment on.” Oh look! You made an actual factual point. Just stop. Please. You’re embarrassing yourself.

        Well, one of us is. :lol:

        It does no one any good, especially not WotC, to pretend that 4e is clearly a success. WotC knows better The direction of 5e is a pretty clear indication of that. 5e isn’t pointed at the 4e crowd so much as at everyone else. I guess if you look at that, it becomes clear that the money generated by 4e simply didn’t out-compete the money spent by….well, anyone who liked the earlier editions.

        And that is a problem WotC is wise to address. From my understanding, WotC’s “D&D Next” is intended to address that problem, and may even be successful at it. But, to be really successful, WotC needs the goodwill of the gamers who left the fold, and that is going to require respect for the intelligence of (most) readers when they put their releases together, and demonstration of a willingness — to some degree — to put the needs of the players they want above the desires of the lawyers.

        An NDA for an “open playtest” is boneheaded. And it is not the industry standard. It is for earlier playtests, when you want to conceal what you are doing, but not for open playtests, where you want lots of input, and lots of positive talk among potential players.

        Add to this that anyone who wants the materials can easily get them without signing an NDA, and one has to question just what the point is. The “no derivative works” clause might be there to prevent anyone who signs now from OSRICing 5e later, when WotC puts out 6e. Otherwise, it is just turning people away for very little benefit.

        (Or, if there is a real benefit, WotC has yet to explain what it is!)

      • fugaros says:

        Here’s a post I made that addresses several of your points in regards to the death/rebirth/effectiveness of fourth edition:

        http://yourbusinesssucks.wordpress.com/2012/01/16/dispelling-some-myths-about-fifth-edition-part-1/

        I am curious what you think. I think calling fourth edition a failure by any measure is an exaggeration at best, and hyperbole at worst.

        (Oh, also, as a courtesy, please stop referring to the Essentials line as “4.5.” It is no such thing, and it kinda makes you look like you haven’t read or even researched the game at all. You seem to have a good heart behind your arguments, so I wanted to call this out.)

      • Nothing in there to disagree with, from a cursory reading.

        Whether or not a thing is a success or a failure obviously depends upon what criteria you use to determine success or failure. It is pretty clear, to me, that some folks think 4e a success…presumably because it is a game they enjoy playing, and seem(s)(ed) to be making enough money for them to qualify it as a success.

        It seems likely to me, for reasons that I’ve already outlined, that WotC did not view 4e to be a success.

        I used the term 4.5 because those friends of mine who play 4e also call Essentials 4.5. Someone else once said, “They tried the halfway-reboot strategy with Essentials”, which is also akin to the halfway-reboot strategy that produced 3.5.

        Those people I know who play both editions have agreed, whole-heartedly, that the 3e -> 3.5e halfway-reboot was no more incompatible than the 4e -> Essentials halfway reboot. Some have told me that 4e -> Essentials is actually less compatible because the balance within 4e is more finely tuned than that in 3e; and thus optimization is more important.

      • One other thought….When 4e was announced, the DDI was intended to be an integral part of the experience. In your other article, you suggested that this time around (5e) the game could be created to take advantage of the DDI, whereas that was clearly the intent with 4e, and is less clearly the intent with 5e. I say this only because the characters and monsters seem far less “homework”-y than in 3e or 4e. That is a very good thing, IMHO, but also makes the electronic tools less important.

      • Leperflesh says:

        1. 3.5 replaced 3.0 – you had to re-buy core books and some material became obsolete. Whereas, if I understand Essentials correctly, it’s fully compatible with 4th edition. So I don’t think there’s a proper equivalent here.

        2. 5th edition isn’t out yet. 4th edition’s longevity ought to be measured by release date, not the announcement date of a new edition.

        Even leaving that aside, though, I don’t agree that the rapidity of a new release is a measure of success or failure. It seems to me that 4th edition was so successful from the start that Wizards was able to put more resources into preparing and publishing materials quickly. We got a very steady and rapid release of material for several years; three PHBs, three DMGs, the Power books, multiple campaign settings, etc. It may be that it’s time for 5th edition because 4th edition is sufficiently “complete” that further expansion of it only serves to weigh it down. If people don’t need any more 4th edition content, then for D&D to survive financially it must have a new edition.

        3. Source? Is “sales through distribution” a complete metric? If 90% of Pathfinder’s sales are through distribution but (figure chosen out of my butt) only 50% of D&D’s sales are through distribution, then this is a meaningless statistic.

        4. Anecdotal and pretty meaningless. My local store owner posts his own sales rates on his blog and while Pathfinder outsells D&D in his store too, his D&D content still sells at full price. It seems to me that your local BMV has an overstock problem that on its own says very little about the state of things. In any case, even if D&D is now selling very poorly indeed, that does not mean that 4th edition was or is a “failure.”

        If I can get ahold of a copy of Ghostbusters the movie for super-cheap almost anywhere, does that mean the movie was a failure? Of course not! Quite the opposite.

        5. I agree, actually: D&DI has had some significant problems, including with keeping the software up to date (TSR and now Wizard’s track record with promising and then totally failing to deliver software has been abysmal). Even so, D&DI represents a revenue stream no other game company has tapped. If you want to talk about the success of D&D 4th edition, you can’t just ignore that.

        6. I suspect Wizards doesn’t have a single, simple opinion about 4th edition’s success. It’s a big company. I suspect its various directors and executives have a much more nuanced understanding of their products than the vast majority of internet commentators. I suspect they look at profits and profit margins, volume and volume change over time, crossover products and merchandizing and advertising budgets, and they’ve come to various conclusions about which those insiders are probably not at a unanimous consensus.

        I think they’re making a mistake with the direction of the rules and in particular with the decisions about who to tap to write the next edition. But my opinion about that is irrelevant. They need to go where the money is, and that might mean a product I don’t want. They have information nobody in the public has, and if we can’t understand every one of their decisions, it’s still wrong to just assume – uncharitably, I might add – that they’re idiots or that their product is doomed to failure.

        Do we care about the games industry? I think we do, on this here blog. If so, what we should want is healthy game companies releasing quality products that attract and interest new people to come join our hobby. We should want opportunities for small publishers and new game-writers to get shares of the pie, while trying to avoid an avalanche of poor-quality content that overwhelms the diamonds in the rough and thereby gives a bad impression of the hobby itself.

        I think 4th Edition D&D definitely was a positive factor in all that. It was also clearly a profitable venture for Wizards of the Coast. On those bases I have to say it was successful. I’ve yet to see anything even a little bit convincing to argue it “failed.”

      • Sorry, what exactly is being assumed, do you think?

        As for the equivalence between 4e and Essentials, I have heard enough 4e players complain that WotC abandoned their edition with the release of Essentials to believe that some at least believe the materials were not equivalent.

        And the change from 3.0 -> 3.5 didn’t require the purchase of new books any more than did the change from 4.0 -> 4.5 in any event. 3.5 materials are at least as usable for 3.0 players as 4.5 materials are for 4.0 players.

  6. Tom Crow says:

    Talk about over thinking!! What we have so far is a beta, shut up and play it, give constructive feedback and see what the end result is. If you don’t like it don’t buy it. They made stuff and you bought it….success. Now they need you to buy other things so they are making something new. The landscape has changed, the brand name isn’t as relevant as it used to be. The market takes care of things like that. The game will absolutely fail if the fans don’t quit whining about it. Back in my day…blah blah blah. It’s a new day we are watching evolution take its course. Good luck D&D, I wish you well.

    • fugaros says:

      I don’t understand the point you are making here. Perhaps you could rephrase it? Are you agreeing or disagreeing with me?

  7. Bad Idea says:

    There are only five classes represented in the playtest; my understanding is that other classes (warlord, warlock) will play more like 4e, as will some of the add-on modules.

    The “playtest” is not really so much of a playtest as it is a marketing campaign. By releasing the old-school bits first, they have the maximum chance of winning over lost players. Later tests can then include the 4e-like stuff, once the grognards have been slaked. Because, as I’m sure the logic goes, the players who gave 4e a chance are also the players most likely to try the new edition simply because it is the new edition. They don’t need to sell as hard to people who is going to buy what’s next no matter what. If they peg that 50% of all 4e fans will buy 5e just because it’s What’s New, then they can coast on that during this early pre-marketing segment and focus their attention elsewhere. It’s not that they don’t want you as a customer, it’s that they judge you to be less maintenance, on average.

    Now, obviously, if a player is the sort who will not suffer a 4e-like character to sit at the same table under any circumstances, then they’re probably not going to be happy about what comes out of this process at the very end. But a lot of people aren’t that die hard about it. If WOTC shows them a game that looks like 2e for a few months, and then slips a bunch of 4e into the actual book, they’ll probably just buy it, ban those classes at their gaming table, and call it a day.

    And if they have enough 4e-style classes, a 4e-leaning DM can ban the Vancian stuff from their table, too. As long as there are parts that play like one game and parts that play like the other, individual DMs will be able to pick and choose a ruleset that feels the way they want it to feel. But they’ll all be playing the current D&D and all be buying the same books. Who cares about unifying all the players when you can unify their spending instead?

    Or at least, I think that’s what the idea is.

  8. Michael says:

    DnD is dead. DnD remains dead. And we have killed it. How shall we comfort ourselves, the murderers of all murderers? What was holiest and mightiest of all that the world has yet owned has bled to death under our knives: who will wipe this blood off us? What water is there for us to clean ourselves? What festivals of atonement, what sacred games shall we have to invent? Is not the greatness of this deed too great for us? Must we ourselves not become Gygax and Arneson simply to appear worthy of it?

    • So, basically, trying it out for ten hours is insufficient to make a decision as to how it currently is, right? I..e., if you actually try it, but do not like it, it’s because of a religious adherence to another game?

      Again, AFAICT, this is what toxicity is all about. “I cannot refute, therefore I insult.”

      • Rulebook Heavily says:

        And yet you seem to not have actually played it. Curious how that works.

      • I am not at all certain what your point is here……?

        I haven’t played it because I find the NDA problematic. Indeed, I find Wizards requires far too much for what they are offering in return. Which has been one of two linked points throughout this “conversation”: It is not the fan’s fault if they dislike the edition, and the NDA is a step in the wrong direction.

        (As an obvious corollary, if 5e is wildly successful, that will be because of Wizards, not because of the fans. They will have produced and marketed a good product, and overcome the ill-will generated around the release of 4e. It will be an achievement.)

        I need not have played the game to make either point. That I have not played the game is, in fact, directly the result of the second.

        Now, go back to that third paragraph, the one in (parenthesis). From what I do know of the playtest materials, I begin to suspect that D&D Next will be successful. From the playtest reports I have read, this is likely to be the best version of D&D produced under the WotC banner. This may change as new materials are released, but right now I find myself cautiously optimistic about the design.

        I’ve seen nothing so far to make me think that 5e will be more fun than Dungeon Crawl Classics, but I have seen enough to make me feel getting 5e might be worthwhile. Given the choice between Pathfinder and 5e, I would provisionally pick 5e, which seems to be one of Wizard’s major goals. However, I would be concerned about the game’s future, and about third party support, depending upon how licensing is structured.

        Wizards doesn’t have a very good track record re: adventure design.

        In conclusion, the NDA remains a boneheaded move, on par with the GSL. For 5e to be “D&D Next” it needs to feel like coming home…like a game that DM’s can take ownership of. It needs to not feel like a game you play only at the whims of WotC’s legal department.

    • bombasticus says:

      THOSE TREES IN WHOSE DIM SHADOW
      THE GHASTLY PRIEST DOTH REIGN
      THE PRIEST WHO PVP THE SLAYER
      AND SHALL HIMSELF BE SLAIN.

  9. Razz says:

    Here is the problem. WotC keeps releasing NEW EDITIONS. That is all they have to do. STOP RELEASING NEW EDITIONS.

    Why?! Simple. For each edition you release, you split the fanbase further and further apart. With 4 editions, you have 4 separate bases. This is because you have a large group of D&D fans that prefer 1 edition over the others. Players of 2e will not invest in 4e. You have lost them forever since 3e’s release.

    So what does WotC decide to do? Try to get all those lost customers back. Good idea. Finally, you understand what needs to be done.

    So how do they do it?

    By choosing to do the most silliest, half-assed, tragic idea of all Tabletop RPG history.

    “Let’s make an edition that has ALL ELEMENTS of EVERY EDITION and let the players decide what stays and goes and also make sure everyone at the table if playing a poor reflection of their favorite edition all at the same gaming table!”

    WHA—WHAT!?

    It’s going to tank. It’s only going to draw people in that actually like that idea, which will be few. Most will either try it or laugh at the fact that the game is going to play like the edition they enjoy. Which it won’t, it’s only going to be a terrible reflection of that edition. Why the hell would I WANT to be at the same gaming table as someone that enjoys 1e or 4e style gaming only and find myself playing a 3e-styled character that barely looks anything like my 3e game? I’d rather just stay with my 3e gaming group!

    WotC had the SIMPLEST solution. Re-Release ALL EDITIONS of the game. From 1st to 4th. Provide the products as limited prints AND provide all PDFs for all books. Each month, release 1 book per edition. By the end of the year you have 3 new books for 4 editions. One for DMs, one monstrous book, and one player-friendly book. In that year, release 3 campaign books. Or better yet, take full advantage of the e-zines of Dragon and Dungeon, as well. People will subscribe knowing they will have content for their favorite edition.

    Such a simple solution to a dying business yet WotC wants to continue to make retarded decisions like D&D Next, er, 5e.

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