Unless you’ve been living in a particularly deep portion of the Underdark, you know that Wizards of the Coast announced that it is working on the Fifth Edition of D&D last week. Let’s be honest here: we know so very little about the system that any sort of useful speculation on its actual content is impossible.
However, there are several myths that are thrown around on the internet about D&D and its history that I would like to address. Quite simply, I believe D&D 5 could be an amazing move for Wizards, and gaming as a whole.
Myth #1: Rebooting D&D is Killing It
This sentiment is often followed by “X Edition is just fine!” Often, people point to the fracturing effect of edition wars as evidence to the idea that no new editions should be released. The idea that the shitty, toxic parts of the fanbase should rule the industry just baffles me.
Truth be told, this is a perfect opportunity for Wizards to do something awesome with D&D. Why? The answer is simple: DDI.
Dungeons & Dragons Interactive, a subscription-based set of web-based tools for creating characters, monsters, and scenarios, is one truly new thing in the industry. It’s a consistent, participation-based source of revenue for Wizards: basically, it allows them to monetize the fact that people are playing D&D! You don’t have to sell books, you just have to keep the players playing!
Every marker show us that DDI has been remarkably successful. A subscriber count from the WotC forums shows us that Wizards is raking in revenues of at least $400,000 a month from DDI, or $4.8 million a year. To put that in perspective, they would have to sell 342,000 more books (34.95 a book) a year – more than any edition of D&D has sold in decades, if not ever – to equal the revenues from DDI.
(Incidentally, this is the source of the “X game outselling D&D” claims. It’s true, they are being outsold on the book market; however, Wizards likely doesn’t care about anything but the bad press.)
What’s more, DDI is great for players. A new player can spend less than $40 and have access to every bit of rules content out there, fully errata’ed and revised. An existing player doesn’t have to purchase new books to keep up with everything. All you have to do is subscribe.
If DDI is so successful, though, then why a new edition? Well, Wizards isn’t perfect. Fourth Edition has succumbed to the same heat death that killed Third:bloat. There are thousands of powers, over five thousand feats, dozens of classes and builds. Quite a bit of those are useless from a player standpoint, and just clog up the character builder. Monsters are wildly variable in power and staying ability. Skill challenges still suck as written.
They tried the halfway-reboot strategy with Essentials. The best option is to tear down the system, and build a new one out of what worked in previous editions. They have the opportunity to build Fifth Edition around the DDI platform, instead of adding DDI as an afterthought. This is a real opportunity for success.
We’ll see how they handle it.