6d6 Fireball

D&D is Doomed (But Not Just Yet)

The fourth part of the D&D Carnival – This time focusing on it the game’s future.

“On a long enough timeline, the survival rate for everyone drops to zero”

The simple truth is that D&D, the product and the brand, will one day disappear. Long before that, it will be unrecognisable to anyone who is playing D&D now. This is nothing to do with Edition Wars but it is the inevitable fate of all brands.

When a brand is launched it is new and exciting. This attracts buyers and if the product is good, they tell their friends about it. As the brand grows, the product is refined – the recipe is improved, the packaging made more appealing or the rules revised – until it reaches a critical point. The point when the product and the brand become household names (at least amongst its target audience). The brand will then remain fairly static with a large group of dedicated buyers.

Now the brand has a problem. Sooner or later a competitor will come along with a better product (Google versus Yahoo) or the technology will change (New York Times and all other newspapers) or a new generation will come along avoiding all the products their parents brought (Pepsi versus Coke, Levi Jeans). If the brand sits still and does nothing it is doomed but if it changes, it risks upsetting a large number of existing fans (e.g. ‘New Coke’, D&D 4e). Some brands manage to steer a path though this, adapting to the changing times but they are always on the edge. Sooner or later the product’s luck runs out and the death spiral begins.

When a trusted, reliable brand starts to fail, the first thing every marketeer does is to relaunch it and aim it at a younger market. This almost never works and only damages the brand further. Faced with a failed relaunch and declining sales, most companies will sell the brand on. Whoever buys the brand has to now relaunch it again, which again will fail. This cycle continues the value of the brand is destroyed.

Sometimes this process takes decades (e.g. the American car industry), sometimes just years (almost any fashion brand) but all brands, all products, follow this life cycle.

Where is D&D in the Brand Life Cycle?

Clearly Fourth Edition is a stumble. WotC / Hasbro made the decision that they needed D&D to change, to make it a 21st century product. If they had gotten this right it would of been brilliant and secured the brand for the next 10 years or more. But they got it wrong. The online tools were late and are still missing most of the promised features. The changes to the rules themselves were too radical, alienating a large number of fans and yet they have failed to attract a new audience in meaningful numbers.

This does not mean that D&D is now on a death spiral but if Hasbro work hard, they could kill the brand’s value in just a few years. If a bean counter at Hasbro panics and decides that there needs to be a version 4.5, not to make the game better (as 3.5 did to 3.0) but purely to make money then D&D is doomed. A new version within the next three years would alienate all the 4.0 players and won’t attract any of the people who stuck with 3.5. It would be a death blow for the brand.

A variant on this scenario is Hasbro selling off the D&D brand to a small, more RPG focus company. The D&D brand won’t be cheap to buy and whoever buys it will need to make a lot of money back quickly. This inevitably means a new edition with all the problems Hasbro faced except without the financial support of a major toy company. Bankruptcy is almost guaranteed.

The Worse Thing Hasbro Can Do

Strangely, the worst thing that could happened to D&D is for Hasbro to turn it into a hugely successful MMO like World of Warcraft. The revenue potential from a smash hit MMO dwarves that of D&D. The marketing and development of the computer game would be the number one priority and the tabletop game would be forced to fall into line. The tail would wag the dog and it is hard to see many fans sticking with the tabletop game in this scenario.

Death by a Thousand Cuts

Most brands or products are not killed outright by marketing blunders. They are just repeatedly wounded and continue to struggle on with a slowly but surely decreasing fan base. There will be a day when D&D is no longer the biggest RPG. Another product will steel its crown and D&D the brand will eventually die. But all this is unimportant. As long as we have our books, our dice and our imaginations, we will keep D&D alive.</p

Tagged on: , , , , ,

78 thoughts on “D&D is Doomed (But Not Just Yet)

  1. Tom

    Gimme a break, I’m pretty sure 4e is selling quite well, yet you don’t like it so “Clearly it’s a stumble”. Why is it clear btw? Nice weasel word.

  2. Chris Tregenza

    @Tom – To stretch an analogy, it is a stumble because it wasn’t a clear step forward. 4e alienated a lot of fans and hasn’t set the world on fire.

    As to sales figures, the best guide publicly available is Amazon’s sale’s rank.

    PHB 3.5 – Current Rank: 3061

    PHB 4.0 – Current Rank: 4329

    It doesn’t look like 4e is setting the world on fire.

    So I think a stumble is a good description. It doesn’t mean that D&D / 4e has fallen flat on its face but neither is it striding ahead without a care in the world.

    Chris

  3. Pete H

    Looks like a reasonable assessement to me.

    I don’t really follow the RPG market closely but based on a quick flit around the UK Games Expo in Birmingham a month or two ago there didn’t seem to be much new in the way of RPG’s.
    Are other companies producing games that are eating into the D&D market while the punters make their minds up about 3.5/4th?
    What is the ‘big new thing’ in rpgs today?

  4. Bryant

    Right now, 6 of the 3.5 PHBs available are new while 23 of them are used, so around 80% of those 3.5 PHB sales are used copies. Doesn’t that mean there are just a lot of people selling off their old copies?

  5. Mad Brew

    I decided to check Pathfinder, #1,931, which is #5 in Roleplaying Fantasy, but guess what is #1?

    4e Divine Power at overall rank #311 with 4e Eberron Campaign Guide coming in next at #1,120, then the 4e Eberron Player’s Guide at #1,603, and the 4e Monster Manual 2 at #1,860.

    So 4e owns the top 5 selling books in Roleplaying Fantasy and has 13 books in the top 20… I’m not a 4ed fan, but it sounds like it’s doing fairly well to me.

  6. Anonymous Coward

    Helo dear reader and hello 6d6fireball,

    I want to tell the American(US) readers that 4E could
    only be selling well in the USA because there is also the international market. And I have yet to see and read a comment that 4E is doing good on the international market.

    In my country – Germany – D&D 4E is literally dead!
    WotC Europe wanted from the local licensor – the little company that would translate and print and distribute 4E – too much money because of their thinking that 4E should sell very well.
    Then WotC Europe saw that these predictions were not going to be met and cut off the licenses from this little company. So, 4E stopped to be translated and sold to the German market.

    BUT:
    The so called simulacrum get more and more fans, and also there are entrepeneurial fans here who translate and POD print the simulacrum for the local market.
    Also Pathfinder will get an officially backed translation and professional printing and marketing.

    I do not know how and where to make a poll like questioning in which countries 4E is getting marketted (translated,printed and sold) and where not – maybe a known blog such as 6d6 could be a place for such a question to the community – .

    Only the very short sighted look of the american people that 4E is doing good because the american consumer jumps on everything WotC is farting out disturbs me somewhat – I would like to see from such a good educated crowd a more wide look on the market -.

    Thank you for reading my comment
    A good day and good gaming

  7. admin

    @Mad Brew – Yes but PHB 2 is a supplement book.

    The basic PHB is a pretty good measure of how many people are taking up the game because it is what every player needs to get started.

    The sales figures suggest more people are getting into 3.5 than 4e. However I suspect that is misleading. I think most PHB 3.5 sales are going to existing players buying stock whilst they can.

    What is clear though is that 4e is not doing brilliantly. Over a year since its release, the product managers in Hasbro / WotC would want to see 4e sales wiping the floor with 3.5.

  8. admin

    @Pete H – I think there are lots of new RPGs but none of them are making any real impact. More importantly, I don’t think any RPGs are really drawing new players in the way that D&D did in the 70′s and 80′s

  9. justaguy

    I think their asking price would be “Get out of my office.”

    As for the amazon stuff, I don’t really do amazon-fu so what does that represent? Total sales to date? Because if so, 3.5 is just under a 1000 points ahead, but has had 5 more years to get that ranking. Or can you actually limit the sales data to the time period in which 4e is available and get that? (I’m asking honestly)

    I remember when 3E released… and from what I recall their was as much doom and gloom about what it was doing to DnD as their is about 4E. It’s just easier to find it now with the increased prevalence of things like blogs and such. It took time for the waters to clear and smooth out. I don’t really like to predict, but that will probably happen with 4E. And, whenever it comes around, 5E…. people will bitch and complain and then adapt.

  10. admin

    @Rick – Good question. Hasbro brought wizards for $325 million at a time when magic the gathering was shifting around $50 million+ worth of cards. So a lot of Wizards value was Magic related.

    Looking at the quarterly reports, D&D does not get mentioned, even in the period around the launch of 4e where something like Wolverine film tie-ins do.

    This suggests that D&D’s revenue in terms of sales is fairly low, less than $50 million, possible less than $20 million. So if Hasbro wanted to sell all its RPG related assets, you could have them for between $20 – $100 million. However, wait a few years until Hasbro have the choice of investing in a new edition or selling the brand, you might get it a bit cheaper.

    However, this would not save the brand. D&D, as an tabletop RPG brand, is on a unstoppable downward slide, the only question is how quickly it slides.

  11. admin

    @Anonymous Coward – Non-English speaking markets are even harder to measure than the US or UK. I wonder if 4e has been a massive hit (e.g. bringing in a lot of non-gamers into the game) anywhere?

  12. Bartoneus

    I’m not going to argue with your assumptions, or using amazon sales ranks (which factor in lifetime sales) on a book 6 years old vs. a book that’s been out for a year, but I will question: what was the point of this post? A buffer at the beginning referencing the “edition wars” as an outside factor does not exclude your writing from contributing to such things. Honestly, what were the objectives of this post?

    Instead of arguing, all I’m going to tell you is: posts like this make me much less likely to click on any of your future links that I see.

  13. admin

    @justaguy – The Amazon sales rank is just an extension of the classic ‘top 10 best sellers’ list you find in the New York Times. The only difference is that it goes on indefinitely.

    It is not a very good measure of sale, especially amongst books only selling a few copies a week. These tend to shoot up the list by many many places when they have a good week and sell a few extra copies.

    The key thing is that is give a comparison. As flawed as the sale rank is, it is equally flawed for 3.5 and 4e. So the fact that PHB 3.5 outranks its 4e equivalent is significant.

  14. Anonymous

    I think it’s a shame that the carnival was handed off to the likes of you. It’s clear you cannot present an unbiased view point. I would call this month’s carnival an unmitigated failure since it has turned in to little more than a dogpile on 4e by a bunch of obsessed haters. It seems that you folks do little more than bitch while the bloggers supporting 4e continue to turn out fresh content without the need to crap all over someone else’s fun.

  15. admin

    @Mad Brew – 4e is certainly shifting supplement books and that this no doubt represents a good financial return. But how many new players are buying the books? A new player will want the PHB not Divine Power.

    This is important when measuring the success of 4e.

    When the Wotc / Hasbro management team planned 4e, one of things they would of been interested in would be attracting new players, especially in the 13 – 18 age group. This is critical because without new players in this age group, D&D will whither away.

    The real measure of success is how many more people are joining the hobby because of 4e when compared to 3.5 or other previous editions?

  16. The Chatty DM

    I’ve seen countless ‘D&D is dying’ posts in the last 10 years and this one doesn’t seem, in my opnion, to bring anything new or tangible to this year-long beating of long-dead horse.

    I find your methodology dubious at best and your responses to some of the critic to be suspiciously like many many arguments I’ve seen where plausible evidence is discarded/ignored in favor of whatever proves one’s point. Hell were I to open my Cognitive Psychology book.

    What I will concede is that I think that 4e then, turned away many players who played and enjoyed the game explicitly for elements that the 4e design team discarded (Lone Wolf PC types, Vancian Magic, etc). Heck, I quit 2e for some design decisions. While many gamers left and some of those gamers happen to be very vocal about it online, I’m convinced that this does not spell the doom of D&D.

    In fact, if there is an impeding doom of D&D, it will probably be linked to the death of the RPGs as a sustainable buisness model, re-opening the door to a revival of the industry as Hobby-centric like in the early 80s. Case in point the OSR projects.

    So I’m all for your freedom of speech Chris, and I love your community building projects. However, I too invoke the right to call ‘Bollocks’ on your doom-saying and your argumentative techniques.

  17. admin

    @Bartoneus – The point of the post? To explore my thoughts about the future of D&D and about the life cycle of brands / products. As with all my writing, I write about what I think about a subject. I don’t write posts to be popular or appeal to certain bloggers.

    If you don’t like my style or you don’t like someone having a different point of view from yourselves, then please don’t read my blog.

    As to Amazon Sale Rank – whilst they do take into account historical sales, it is mostly based on the last hour or week of sales. Please see: http://www.rampant-books.com/mgt_amazon_sales_rank.htm or http://www.fonerbooks.com/surfing.htm for more background.

  18. Bartoneus

    @Chris (I assume that’s who admin is?): A quote from your first link, which I read before commenting:

    “It is, however, weighted by overall total sales (they put this back in after having dropped it for a couple of years), keeping long-term big sellers afloat even after their sharp sales peaks have leveled out.”

    With regards to your style or you having a different view from mine: I still read what people write who don’t agree with me, what I try to avoid reading is people who don’t write honest, informed, and rational arguments. Don’t bother posting a comment in response, I won’t come here to read it. However I fully encourage you to e-mail me if you’d like to continue the conversation on how you lost a reader today.

  19. admin

    @ChattyDM – Please do call bollocks on my doom-saying. I like debate and different opinions. As to argumentative techniques, well I don’t see them other than I have a different opinion than you. If I was being argumentative, I would call 4e players idiots or claim anyone who doesn’t play original D&D a puff – that is being argumental.

    One thing interesting about people’s responses (and you can reach for your psychology text book here – it probably the same one I’ve got) is that everyone assumes I’m taking attacking 4e. I merely described WotC 4e problems as a stumble, I’m hardly damming them. Compared to TSR who had a golden egg laying goose and still managed to go bankrupt, WotC/Hasbro have done a brilliant job. But 4e fans do seem suspiciously sensitive to criticism of the game and cry foul at the slightest suggestion it is not brilliant.

    D&D will be around for many years but it is still doomed.

    Look around your office, at all the brands and products you can see. How many of those are older than 35 years? I bet most of them are younger than 10 years old. Brands and products come and go very quickly. The fact that D&D has survived for this long is a testament to the game and its players but it won’t last forever.

    D&D’s (the table top game) glory days are behind it. Either it will die over then next 5 – 15 years or it will change into something complete else. These are the only two possible outcomes.

  20. admin

    @Bartoneus – Given that you have just called me dishonest, uninformed and irrational without any providing evidence to support your claim, why would I waste my time worrying if you read my blog or not?

  21. The Chatty DM

    My 4e skin is thicker than some ;)

    Interestingly enough speaking from a Brand perspective Hasbro considers Magic the Gathering to be ‘like Monopoly’ and expects it to become eternal like it. I wonder how they think about D&D and if they will let the Brand die, hidden in their dusty IP vault, should they ever decide to shut the game down.

    If that is the case, as you say the game will die and the gamers (a company or hobby driven) will just use another alliteration to play a game they like.

  22. admin

    @ChattyDM – I’m surprised about the Magic / Monopoly comparison. I would of thought that something collectible is far more reliant in fads and trends than a static game like Monopoly.

    Personally I suspect Hasbro will sell off their RPG interests at some point. D&D just doesn’t seem to sit very well with their other toys & games interest. It is more complex and has a very peculiar market / fan base.

  23. Dave T. Game

    4e Gift Set (all 3 books): Rank #2,445
    3e PHB: #2,839

    Also useful (especially in the comments):
    http://www.thecoremechanic.com/2009/04/players-handbook-2-on-wsj-top-15-best.html

    “But 4e fans do seem suspiciously sensitive to criticism of the game and cry foul at the slightest suggestion it is not brilliant.”

    http://www.csun.edu/~dgw61315/fallacies.html#Argumentum%20ad%20hominem

    That’s a generalization that’s over the line and untrue, especially in an article that is not about the game itself.

  24. Stuart

    Why would Hasbro ever sell off D&D? Marvel / DC run their comics publishing divisions at a loss and make up the money on licensing the intellectual properties for other things (eg. Movies)

    When thinking about the 4e $numbers you need to consider the additional revenue from increased sale of D&D Minis and DDI subscriptions.

  25. Thasmodious

    Is that at all like you claimed “clearly 4e has stumbled” without providing any evidence to support your claim?

    Clearly, you are a pornographer.

    As for current amazon sales rank, its a ridiculous assessment of sales for anything, its updated by the hour and reflects purchases in the last hour. By accounts of Amazon total sales trends and peak positions as well as other Bestseller trends lists (that track over time, not the last hour), that has been posted exhaustively everywhere, 4e outsold the fuck out of 3e and has been a big hit. It has. If you think otherwise you are uninformed and wrong, period.

    But hey, the edition wars will never die as long as brave soldiers like you keep fighting on, right?

  26. admin

    @Dave – The 4e Gift set / 3.0 PHB comparison isn’t very helpful as it is not comparing like with like.

    As to the PHB II selling well, that misses the point. I was using the two PHB sales ranks as an example to show that 4e has failed to significantly expand the market from what 3.5 achieved. All PHB II sales figures prove is that people who brought the 4e PHB felt they needed to buy another book.

    You are right about the ad hom attack. It should of read “But SOME 4e fans…”.

    Many apologies to all 4e fans who don’t go round calling people dishonest just for writing something slightly critical about their favourite game.

  27. admin

    @Stuart – There is very real chance that D&D (the brand) will turn into something else – a highly profitable MMO or a movie franchise (lets not talk about the previous D&D movies). But as I comment in the article, that could be very bad news for D&D (the table top game) as Hasbro could end up using the game to market the movies and not the other way round.

  28. Griff

    I’m not a fan of 4E but continue to play it in order to give it a more than fair shake before urging my group to return to 3.5. I’m also anything but a marketing expert. I took a class in college but only because it was a requirement.

    That said, I don’t think D&D as a brand is going to die anytime soon. While it might not have the life of Coke or Sony or Apple, it’s pretty nicely entrenched with all things “geek”. Think of a “geek” and you’ll likely make the free association of d&d at some point.

    Pop culture aside, 4E is practically designed (intentionally or not is anyone’s guess) for use as a basis of computer games. We should see the next wave of Baldur’s Gates and Neverwinter Nights using the 4E ruleset anytime now. While the sale of those PC/Console rpgs won’t really reflect how 4E is selling, they can still give an idea of how strong D&D is, as a brand name.

  29. admin

    @Thasmodious – I’m not sure how you get from stumbling to pornography. Would you care to explain more?

    As to sales rank – one commenter on here is criticising it because it takes into account historic sales figures whilst you are complaining that it is updated too quickly. Clearly both of you cannot be right.

    And as you appear to be an expert on the subject, could you post links to anywhere that posts definitive sales figures for 3.5 and 4e? As far as I know neither Wizards nor Hasbro have published sales figures. If you can provide me with this information I would love to see it.

  30. Stuart

    The first D&D movie was *awesome*. I saw it right after watching the Dragonlance movie… so my expectations might have been lowered a bit… but it was so much better than people led me to believe. It had Riff Raff and Doctor Who in it! It had dungeons AND dragons. It had a hot non-Aryan Elf. That’s all good. :)

    4e isn’t my game of choice (for D&D I like 1e and for minis I like Battletech) but I think WotC has a good formula for recurring sales / subscriptions to existing customers that’s probably superior to what they had with 3e. There’s so much potential for them to do more with their assets (A good boxed set for kids, tying Magic and D&D more closely together, selling modules with all the necessary minis, etc) that I don’t see them in a downward spiral. They might need some help at the controls(?), but there’s no reason for them to be doing poorly.

  31. admin

    @Griff – It gets confusing talking about D&D as there are two aspects:

    1) A table top game (the game)

    2) The name itself (the brand).

    D&D (the brand) certainly has the potential but the more successful the brand, more diluted D&D (the game) becomes until D&D is mainly known as a computer game and the table top game will wither away.

    Of course, if D&D (the brand) doesn’t continue to enjoy success as a computer game / film / whatever then Hasbro’s interest in D&D (the game) might wane, depending on its profitability.

    Either way, D&D (the game) as we know it today will not live eternally.

  32. admin

    @Staurt – You liked the first movie! No else I’ve met ever did.

    WotC formula for 4e is a good one. Reoccurring sales from online subscriptions was a brilliant idea. However they failed to achieve what they set out to do and I’m not sure they every will. The online gaming table software was really the centre piece of 4e and that will (probably) never see the light of day.

    D&D and Magic moving closer together or a kids version are very logical moves for Hasbro. They will ensure D&D (the brand) lives on the D&D (the game) will turn into something people playing today don’t recognise. It will be D&D in name only.

  33. Jeff Rients

    Thasmodious, if you can’t see that 4e has stumbled then you aren’t paying attention.

    “The 4th Edition rules emphasize faster game play, offer exciting new character options, and reduce the amount of “prep time” needed to run the game. D&D Insider includes a character creator that lets players design and equip their D&D characters, dungeon- and adventure-building tools for Dungeon Masters, online magazine content, and a digital game table that lets you play 24/7 on the Internet — the perfect option for anyone who can’t find time to get together.”

    Source: http://ww2.wizards.com/Company/Press/?doc=20070816b

    Tell me, does 4e in its present state match up to the announcement?

  34. Thasmodious

    No, I’m actually playing the game. Your nerd rage leads you to make a lot of unqualified leaps.

    The launch was successful, the rules solid, the majority of players moved over to the new edition. The books are selling very well, D&D Insider subscribers are happy with the content, the online magazine format is great and the quality of the content has been top notch. Where’s the stumble? So the game table hasn’t seen the light of day, that hardly constitutes the death spiral of the brand. You guys need to be happy with your old school leanings and let others be happy with their leanings and quit trying to find ways to convince others that the evil overlords at WotC has killed D&D and your puppies. Seriously, its far past time to get over yourselves and move on.

  35. Jeff Rients

    Dude, you are the one making unqualified leaps here. You’re the one who the word “stumble” as “the death spiral of the brand”.

    If you want to call my reaction to WotC’s maneuvers nerdrage, so be. Maybe it is. Frankly I’m disappointed because they change the game beyond my recognition and failed to knock the ball out of the friggin’ park. They could spin, fold and mutilate the system as much as they want, if they just got more butts in the seats at the FLGS. Remember when you couldn’t go into a game store without bumping into kids playing Magic? That’s what the hobby needs, not the apples of the 4e gift set ranking marginally higher than the oranges of the 3e PHB. I don’t have anything against the players of 4e. I don’t have anything against the game other than it annoys me a bit that a brand I loved is attached to something so different than the product I grew up with. I can get over that. What continues to vex me is that WotC announced they were shooting for the moon and failed to reach it. Sure they put out a game. Sure, lots of people are having fun with it. Anyone other game company could do that. This is the hobby’s leading brand, the license to print money. Marginally better than 3e isn’t a success for D&D, it’s a failure, either of vision or execution or both.

    So please, go on playing 4e. More power to you. Pardon me if I’m a little bit unhappy that 4e wasn’t the blow-the-hinges-off-the-door, a-million-newbies-at-the-tables success it could have been.

  36. Milambus

    @Griff: “Pop culture aside, 4E is practically designed (intentionally or not is anyone’s guess) for use as a basis of computer games.”

    Sorry, but no.

    Most computer/console RPGs are moving towards real-time combat, as can be seen in any MMO, Neverwinter Nights, Mass Effect and many others.

    4e with its exception based rule design, its emphasis on tactical positioning, and its use of interrupt actions would actually be just as difficult (if not more so) to implement in a computer system than 3.x rulesets were.

  37. wickedmurph

    Oh good god. Chris and Jeff, you deserve each other. Dungeons and Dragons isn’t going anywhere, and 4e is hardly a stumble. You don’t want to hear that, so you’ll tune me out, of course. You’re allowing personal dislike to get ahead of intelligent analysis, and I’m going to have to go with Thasmodius on this – you’ve lost a reader if more Edition War vitriol is the best you can come up with.

  38. Greybunny

    I think the logic is flawed in using Amazon ranking of the PHB only and disregarding supplements to determine success of the new edition, but not for the reasons already cited. Or rather, for another big reason not already cited: A new player being introduced to the game is more likely to be buying the book at a brick & mortar store where they were introduced to it than they are to buy it online, in all likelihood a game or comic store that doesn’t contribute to bestseller lists. Supplements come later, and those are more likely to be bought through a convenient source like Amazon (though really, support your FLGS, folks). Even beyond that, in terms of general brand health obviously those supplemental book sales can’t be dismissed, because people who aren’t playing the game clearly aren’t out there buying supplemental materials for it.

    As for the health of the hobby, I can’t say I’ve ever seen it better. Local game shops here in Seattle that once hosted just Euro board game geeks and the occasional small lone group of D&D nerds now run regular game nights that fill up multiple tables. One shop I frequent, Blue Highway Games, actually has separate delve nights for adults and kids. Say what you like about the rules themselves, but popular as they were amongst established or returning D&D geeks (myself included), 2nd and 3rd ed never generated that sort of enthusiasm at the shops I frequented. For the first time in years, D&D has become something that isn’t limited to a tight group of friends (often relegated to the background for cooler systems like WoD) or the rare convention.

    Was the game table a screwup? Most definitely. I still pine for it’s ease of use and pretty pretty virtual minis, and I’m sure WotC lost a fair amount of money on it. Frankly, though, I don’t think it had much effect other than giving the frothing haters a little extra foam. In fact, it probably brought attention to alternatives like Fantasy Grounds and MapTool to people who never realized virtual game tables even existed. Meanwhile the character builder and compendium have been unalloyed successes, and the campaign tools look to be following suite with the monster builder. I’ve actually been pleasantly surprised to see WotC release an API for the compendium, allowing a variety of rather nice community built tools like iPlay4e and Dungeonmastering.com’s.

    On the original point, though, such as it was: I particularly loved the line “If a bean counter at Hasbro panics and decides that there needs to be a version 4.5, not to make the game better (as 3.5 did to 3.0) but purely to make money then D&D is doomed.” Does no one else remember the frothing hate that poured fourth at the announcement of 3.5, that filthy money grubbing attempt to make us all pay for our 3e books all over again with only minor changes to the system? Bastards! Completely unrelated, of course, to the frothing hate that poured fourth at the announcement of 3rd ed, Hasbro’s bald faced cash grab move that threatened to destroy the finely tuned perfection of 2e. Or.. well, actually I don’t recall much frothing about 2e, probably due to a combination of being eager for anything that offered to fix 1e and the fact dialup BBSes weren’t quite as good at generating global flame wars as the internet. I’m as sure that new editions will keep generating frothing hate and doomsayers as I am that people will keep buying them.

  39. Wyatt

    While a ruder part of me wants to say that this whole “D&D is doomed and 4e is the catalyst!” thing is really giving me a “birther movement” vibe, that’s really insulting, so I’ll retract that. Nothing is as stupid as the birther movement.

  40. admin

    @Milambus – Sorry but yes.

    4e is a doddle to computerise compared to any previous editions. Not surprisingly as it was specially designed for use with an online gaming table. The designers themselves are clear on this [ http://games.slashdot.org/article.pl?sid=08/02/18/1459259 ]/

    “… there were things we wanted to do digitally, like the Digital Game Table and the Character builder, it became clear that we should create a new, fully integrated system, with rules that would support our online applications.”

  41. admin

    @wickedmurph – Hmm Vitriol – “Bitterly abusive feeling or expression”. In the entire article, the worst thing I said about 4e was that is was a stumble and that was in context of its marketing and business strategy. Nope, nothing here matches your claim, except possibly the comments from @Thasmodius.

  42. admin

    @Greybunny – Your point about people buying their first PHB from bricks & mortar stores is a good one. A similar issue is that most 13 – 18 year olds don’t have credit cards so are unlikely to use Amazon.

    I’m glad the Seattle stores are doing well. Here in the UK the number of shops with a decent selection of game material has been shrinking for years. However I think the hobby, in the broadest sense, is doing well. The online activity around the hobby (bloggers, forums) certainly suggest it is doing well.

    However, the nature of the gaming has changed over the years. The rise of Games Workshop skirmish games (a direction 4e has followed), the influence technology has plus the concept of Role Playing (RP) things like Buffy or Harry Potter in online communities means the whole hobby is growing and changing.

    This is a good thing.

    But what it does mean is that brands that represent the old world of gaming (e.g. D&D) will either fall by the wayside or be forced to change into something unrecognisable. Hence the headline of the article.

    Re: 3.0/3.5 – Yes there was a mass of complaints when they released 3.5 only 2 1/2 years after 3.0 was released. The big difference between 3.0/3.5 and a potential 4.0/4.5 is that 3.0 had problems.

    3.0 was a good upgrade on 2.0 but it did have some flaws that were recognised pretty early on. So a large number of fans welcome the upgraded to 3.5.

    I don’t think this the case with 4.0.

    Fourth edition is a good system, even a great system, from a technical, game design point of view. Most peoples complaints with it are not to do with the mechanics in the system but with the nature of the system. This is something that cannot be changed by re-doing a couple of character classes.

    A 4.5 release, within the next couple of years, would simply annoy all the 4e fans and further fragment the D&D fan base.

  43. admin

    @Wyatt – I had to look up exactly what a “birther” was – thank you for not being that rude.

    However, you have missed the point of the article. It is not about 4e being the catalyst for D&D’s doom.

    D&D is doomed because all brands have a life cycle. Some brands do live longer than others but in the end, all brands either die or mutate into something completely different. To say otherwise is to suggest that D&D will still be on sale as tabletop RPG in 2100AD or 2500AD or 25000AD.

    The question is “where in the life cycle are we?”

    I content that D&D (as a tabletop RPG game) has peaked in terms of market dominance. Most likely it will gradually decline over a number of years but it may mutate in a computer game / card game / something else that is hugely successful. However, what it won’t be the game as we play it now.

  44. admin

    @Anonymous – Thank you for taking the time to comment. It is always nice to have such intelligent and well thought out feedback.

    For reference, out of four articles on D&D as part of the carnival, 2 have not mentioned 4e (or indeed any edition), one was all about it where I described it as “a great system” and this article is only tangentially about 4e as it is about the future of the game. Not exactly “a dogpile on 4e by a bunch of obsessed haters.” is it?

    There is also no requirement for a carnival to be unbiased. The point of carnival is to stimulate debate, a debate you could of contributed to but instead you decided to leave aggressive, anonymous comments.

    As to “the need to crap all over someone else’s fun” – why do some 4e fans think that my attitude to 4e somehow impacts on their games? It is not like I’m kicking down your door and shitting on your gaming table. I’m a blogger, if you don’t like what I write, ignore me. My existence has no impact on your fun.

    And it is also my fun.

    I’m playing 4e and I’m having fun. It is not D&D but it is a fun game.

  45. Rob

    I’d like to go back to the original point about the possible demise of the brand. Chris, I disagree with your bsic premise that the DnD brand will die. I do not think you can predict it.

    My first point is that many of us contributing to this debate are older gamers and whilst the sales stats are interesting we are guessing about popularity and the take up of 4E amongst new and younger gamers. I really have no idea how many are coming into the hobby as a direct consequence of 4th Edition because like most older gamers I don’t get out too much. I am however heartened by the comments about the vibrant interest in DnD in Seattle and hope it is a widespread phenomenon.

    On brands, I worked with perhaps one of the oldest existing brands for 10 years – Aga-Rayburn. As the owner of the Coalbrook foundry, Aga debatably started the industrial revolution. They are still knocking out over 10,000 units a year of a dated cast iron, overpriced range cooker. The reason they endure is because they stay true to their design principle, and have a loyal customer base despite the fact they last for over 50 years. They also grow sales by add-on products that use brand leverage to use market babble.

    Is not this the same model as the DnD one? Aga have moved away from traditional fuel models (solid and oil burners) to gas, electric and dual fuel but the core brand is sacred. 4E is still set up (primarily) as a paper based table top fantasy role playing game. The tinkering with the role playing aspects are ultimately minor whereas the system had a big revamp. It is STILL based on rule books! all the online playing aids, the plastic miniatures, the failed aspects from launch are just brand building fluff. Some work, some are less successful, some appeal to certain players but not others. The point is whatever they do these are hooks that may or may not draw in new gamers with broad and diverse expectations and hopefully make the game accessible to those potential players. The bit that is common to the brand, core system – the rule books and supplements.

    I think for a game brand to last 40 years odd should be recognised as a great success. So long as WOTC or a new owner keep to the rule publishing core, DnD can continue indefinitely. No doubt there will be other peripheral fluff thrown out in the future for us to rant about but that’s fine by me. Any successful brand must explore current and future market/social/technological trends to endure. At the same time, listen to your customers (and not just the happy ones).

    As a final point Chris, why don’t you look to take the next subject into more positive directions? I’d be interested to know where contributors want their RPG’s to go in the future. This might be a debate on the main systems or a more general point about tools and accessories. It might be about campaign settings, genres new media, up to you!

    Thanks guys, again, and entertaining debate.

  46. Tetsubo

    @Stuart: “Nerd Rage: What the *other guy* arguing about role-playing games with me on the internet is doing. Never what I’m doing.”

    That was beautiful Stuart.

    I’ve cut all ties with WotC. Even though I still have interest in the SAGA line. They won’t ever see any of my money again. I am voting with my dollars. To say that I am dissatisfied with 4E would be a *massive* understatement. I don’t think it’s even a role-playing game let alone D&D. So I think it fails as a RPG. I think it will succeed as a product for Hasbro. But to the detriment of the RPG hobby.

    I see 5E as a pure board game, without any GM. It will have collectible toy elements in the form of miniatures and card game aspects in the form of power cards. It will sell millions of units. Hasbro will be thrilled. Role-players will mourn.

  47. Etherrider

    There are some very good points in many of the replies (ChattyDM and others), but I was really drawn to Justaguy’s and others talking about the 2.0 to 3.0 change over.

    I remember the dread about that time. All the talk at many cons about D&D is dying and how others games would make it just a memory. I left D&D at that time and came back just as 3.5 was about to come out….because I felt some nostaligia for the game I loved.

    I have found some enjoyable memories about every version of the game and as long as that happens….I will be playing that game!

  48. Paul (The Mink)

    I’m actually going to question your origional premise.

    I accept that brands are required to evolve and that does risk a drop in popularity and gamblers dilemma means that eventually the raw numbers will take you down. However the substance of the post isn’t “Everything dies, that is sad” but instead “D&D4 has started the death sprial of D&D.

    So though the quote may be true, I feel your comment about where D&D is is not valid. I accept that D&D4 has radically different game mechanics to the older editions however that could be said of each of the previous editions as well, so the change in mechanics isn’t the problem.

    If I had to point to a reason why I enjoy bringing out the old books every now and again and forcing my players to roll up an elf (It isn’t a race its a class) is that the old games were “crunchy” -there were huge amounts of things to remember (or look up) whether it was that P Force was VSM or that the Paladin’s mount’s attacks where “magical weapons”. This made the game esoteric – which was one of the reasons I like it. However it doesn’t make it a good game. Either from a fun or introduction sense.

    Everytime now that I want to introduce someone to D&D I use D&D4 – the first time with Pre-gens and then next adventure they get to roll up a character themselves.

    Does it help maintain brand that the game (out of the box) is something that a “normal” teenager has no problem understanding – I’m sure it does (I accept that a lot of us long-time players never qualified as normal teenagers, but that is where a big jump in sales has to come from if they are going to get one).

    So I would say that D&D4 is a good direction for them to take the game if they are trying to maintain brand popularity.

    My concern is that D&D5 – in a decade or so, is going to continue the trend. I have been doing some navel gazing as to where I can see them taking it (And where I would like them to take it). I have some concerns about the overall direct rather than the current point on the path.

    We currently use “Play D&D” for our “Lets play a roleplaying game” and it could mean any sort of game (Trav, Rogue Trader, Gamma world, etc etc)

  49. admin

    @PinkTheMink – Thanks for taking the time to think about and respond to the article.

    I’m not saying D&D is in a death spiral because that suggests a fairly quick demise. However I do think that D&D has passed its zenith. With careful management the brand has 10+ years left in it (as the game we know & recognise). But having passed its peak, the only way is down and bad management can radically speed up this descent.

    One of the mistakes bad management can make is pursuing the idea that D&D is a game that “normal” teenagers should be able to play.

    When a brand moves from cult to mainstream, it loses something of its appeal, becomes commonplace and thus devalued. This is why fashion labels charge £75 for a t-shirt that costs £3 to make or why Apple products are so expensive. They are placing a barrier in front of their customers so that those that can afford it feel special.

    D&D’s barriers are difficultly and, much less nowadays, concepts. Early D&D was hard to understand and the gamer needed to have a good idea about the concepts of swords and sorcery. This, at the time, came from books and less then 10% of the population read books, let alone fantasy books. With LotR and Harry Potter films, fantasy is now mainstream so that barrier has mostly fallen away.

    If the game continues to get easier, becoming a game that anyone can play, I think there is a real danger than no one will play it.

    In marketing, how people identify with a product is far more important than what the product actually does. A product that anyone can use / afford will never have the same allure as one that make people feel special.

    D&D became successful because it was geeky, because it was something the smart kids could do that the jocks did not understand. It formed a tight knit culture and it was this culture that spread around the world as much as the game itself did.

    Fifth edition will continue the trend towards popularism. It is in the nature of a big company to Hasbro to try and target their products at a wide an audience as possible. I also suspect this will happen in three to five years, and not a decade.

  50. shadesofkin

    “D&D became successful because it was geeky, because it was something the smart kids could do that the jocks did not understand. It formed a tight knit culture and it was this culture that spread around the world as much as the game itself did.”

    Let’s face it, everyone likes to be different, and yes the sad truth of the matter is that if D&D continues to try to market to “everyone” it will become something that the people who it was original created for (and by) won’t want to participate in because they will no longer feel that it is theirs to enjoy.

    I don’t hate 4th Ed. I don’t play it, but that is because I don’t like the player base it has attracted, I started to play it, I own the books, but I sat down at several different sessions over a period of 5 months at my FLGS and the people that joined me could not understand my jokes, my “geek references”, my taste in music, my favorite television shows, my favorite comics, or my favorite gaming moments.
    They were “normals” that were really enjoying the game and having a good time, now to me they were just sitting around playing a tactical game that lent itself to them using problem solving and group skills but they were still having a great time and I applaud that Hasbro/WotC has created this, but it stopped being my game because it wasn’t right for me anymore and I think that is the best way to describe why we see the edition as a “stumble”

    WotC has created an “everyone” D&D edition, this is great, but it does alienate the people who played D&D because it was something they could do that others couldn’t. Does that sound like they were trying to find a way to be different? Well of course they were, they felt different so they went ahead and looked for ways to make those differences count.

    Why do you think that older Goths and Punks despise places like Hot Topic?
    Because it made their culture, yes I said their culture, mainstream and they felt alienated from the thing that made them what they are.
    I grew up on punk music, and the stuff put out that calls itself punk or portrays itself as rebellious bothers me, I don’t say much because it’s not my scene anymore and I live by my way, but it still sits funny when I pass by kids wearing clothing they paid way too much for that I made by hand as a teenager.

    The same goes for this newest incarnation of D&D, it sits funny with a lot of people because it isn’t what it was to them, or for them, it’s for anyone now, is that great for the hobby as a whole? Sure in a purely numbers sense, but not in a cultural sense at all. It’s putting it in what I like to jokingly call the “coffin for creativity” it’s conforming, and that is a sad thing to a lot of people who did it for the reason that it didn’t make them feel like they had to conform to the “normal” standard.

    But this is all just my point of view, I figure that it will either rise and fall without me, I play the Pathfinder RPG as my D&D core rules game, and use whatever other games will excite myself and my group to entertain us. Some of my players who only make it to game night once a month play in a 4e game that they really enjoy, but they don’t disagree with me that it’s not what I introduced them to, they just smile and say it works for them.

  51. Idzack

    Just to ask a little thing about product sales. Anyone considered pirating? I mean previous editions couldn’t be downloaded over torrents, I personnaly have 3 players who downloaded Pdf’s and didnt buy the books. I dont endorse this behavior personnaly, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it made the sales lower as it does with music and computer games but at a lower extent.

    Second point, 4Ed is simple yes, different than 3.5, but not just a tactical. They simply put roleplaying where it should be, not encroached in heavy useless rules. If you play 4ed playing strictly with the rules, then yes there’s little roleplay, but it’s the same with every RPG.

    Third point, I do agree that 4e goes toward the MMo style and that D&D will fade over time, but for me, as long as it lives with my group and our roleplay is cool, it will remain a good experience even if less popular.

  52. D Skinner

    I haven’t read ALL of the comments, but…

    It seems to me that everyone is putting a “bandaid” rationalization on what has already happened. To sit down and put your personal touch on marketplace influences is just editorializing. The brand was powerful when it was controversial. That was the only time it was in the mainstream; and that was because of an overwhelming marketing blitz. When the left wing nutters couldn’t rally the troops with the “worshiping satan” thing they moved on to greener pastures. Dungeons and Dragons died the day they were sold and bought by a company. It is no longer a game it is a commodity. They are in the BUISNESS to make money, and when they can no longer do that they will dump it.

    D&D was never and will never be like it was (yes that sentence was written just like that for a purpose). It will be looked at through rose colored lenses by the fringes of gameplayers just like it was back then. Gaming has changed; reflected by the new 4th edition. Video has evolved the tabletop, pen and paper game to NEEDING miniatures. I mean it doesn’t need minis, we never needed them, but apparently our imaginations are deteriorating at an alarming rate. I appreciate the use of minis but they’re not that needed.

    Just a quick rant and for a quick needle to the writer of the article; you need to proof read:
    “If they had gotten this right it would of (have or ‘ve) been brilliant and secured the brand for the next 10 years or more”. There were others but that one was really bad. All out of love man.

  53. Grackle

    “4e is a doddle to computerise compared to any previous editions. Not surprisingly as it was specially designed for use with an online gaming table. The designers themselves are clear on this”

    Nuh-uh. 4E is an _awful_ effort if it was designed to be computerised. It just reinforces my view that Heinsoo, Collins and Wyatt are not only incompetent and tasteless designers for the tabletop, but also woefully ignorant of software game design needs, and should never have been trusted with the game. Bring on 5E with none of those names attached.

    1. Chris

      @Grackle, 4e is a lot easier to computerized. Partly because it has more standardised mechanics but mainly because it cut down the number of occasions a GM has to decided what happens. This is mostly obviously in the spell / powers list. With the exception of a handful of rituals, all powers are tied very strongly to game mechanics. Spells like Pass Without Trace, Silence, Detect Lie, Zone of Truth etc etc have disappeared of changed beyond recognition just so the DM doesn’t have to decide anything. 4e can almost be played without a GM, perfect for a computerisation.

  54. Grackle

    It is awful. The timing of turns, interrupts, affecting others attacks, pushing pieces around etc. is an archaic nightmare to implement for anyone versed in games programming. Which they aren’t.

  55. Kevin D Murphy

    I disagreed with several statements in your article. One, 3.5 was an improvement over 3.0 in my opinion. Just as the path finder PHB is an improvement over 3.5 I liked all the editions with the preceding one fixing most of the problems I saw while introducing only a few.

    On the topic of MMO’s vs Tabletop games – I can’t speak for everyone but I know our DnD group which has been playing every Sunday for about 6 years won’t be shelving our dice for any computer game. No computer game will ever match tabletop gaming. Some people like, some don’t. Those that do won’t find a substitute in pixels and mice.

    As for 4th Edition I’ve seen a lot of hate, even from my gaming group (where not one player aside from myself has even read the PHB, let alone played a 4th Ed. session). I have yet to play 4th Edition but the reviews from experienced long time players seem to be positive. You will have to tweak it to fit your groups play style, just like we all did with our 3.0 and 3.5 house rules, but that’s nothing new. I don’t think DnD is facing the crisis mentioned above just yet and I think it’s a bit cliche that is casting doubt where none need be.

  56. chad360

    d&d (the concept) is so totally open source it shouts DON’T BUY ME!…
    …that is unless you like the art, the hardback, etc…
    I still have books and game stuff I don’t use in my game just because it gets me stoked to look at the old rules, art, etc…

    I like d&d for d&d, not “the edition”
    I’m amazed that paizo has not printed SRD game cards (which is what my posse games with).

    I hope Hasbro chokes on the property. Long live the Dragon!
    .-= chad360´s last blog ..Involving the Community in Updating the Comp Plan =-.

  57. EltonJ

    “. . . the majority of players moved over to the new edition.”

    The majority of those who post on the WotC message boards moved over to the new Edition. Assuming that all have moved isn’t right since some people have moved back to Pathfinder.

    Sales don’t matter, polls should be taken on who is playing the game? How many people are actually playing 4e is more important than how many people are buying it.
    .-= EltonJ´s last blog ..World Building, Pt 1 =-.

  58. EltonJ

    About D&D as a brand that is dying . . .

    Yep, I agree. I believe that D&D as a brand is dying. When D&D came out the year I was born, it appealed to a certain audience — and it was so simple and so new that it held to its premise. It’s a game where you can literally do anything. The rules of OD&D were so scant that the DM was able to build his game from the scaffolding. I.e. put the meat on the bones.

    Now, more than 35 years later, there are rules and more rules. And quite frankly, even though I haven’t bought 4e yet, this is killing the game. A person who plays D&D must be creative and have imagination to enjoy it. However, the mainstreaming of the game has really increased the pool of players and diluted the culture.

    Massive marketing on this scale, and reengineering the game to appeal to a wider audience has changed the game from something for creative kids to something for the mainstream. And it boggles the mind.

    Why play it anyway if the people who play with you can’t appreciate the game the same way you did when you were a kid? D&D as a brand is a dinosaur. D&D as a game can be revived, but under a different brand name. Hopefully, it will be something to attract creative kids back. We need a game we can call our own. :)
    .-= EltonJ´s last blog ..World Building, Pt 1 =-.

  59. Adult Role Playing

    As one of the people that never moved onto 4E…I think it is dying amongst the older generation of gamers. (e.g. the 21+ crowd who played at least 3 & 3.5E)

    That said, I don’t think it is a death knell for one of the oldest brands in roleplaying, or even a stumble, but rather an attempt to take it in a new direction (simplified mechanics in an attempt to hit a larger mmo roleplayer market). The fact it has not clearly moved it upward in adoption rates in (as shown by the similar numbers compared to 3.5E) represents a tactical blunder imo. Strategically, they are still powerful enough to shrug it off (as shown by the fact the numbers remain similar) but the mmo-style market is not the market for tabletop roleplaying brands.

  60. sebmojo

    Oh – and the last session I DMed, last Wednesday, had one abortive fistfight in it and was otherwise completely rules-free RP.

    Take from that what you also will.

  61. Trygon

    When I started playing DnD Online, and an oldschool DnD fanatic friend of mine couldn’t even tell me with certainty what edition I was playing, I really realized how minimal the changes are.

  62. karolusb

    Clearly coke is going down the tubes as we speak ;-) .

    4E is a failure in the minds of some folks at WOTC, but thier thoughts are very different from yours. It is a question of expectations. Pathfinder said they would sell (going from memory) 5000 copies, and they did. WOTC said they would sell 100,000 copies, and they didn’t. By expectations Pathfinder is a success and 4E is a failure. The fact that 4E has outsold pathfinder 16 to 1 is ignored in this analysis.

    I know this original aritcle is old so comparisons may be unfair, but a look at amazon sales ranks compared to http://www.rampant-books.com/mgt_amazon_sales_rank.htm amazon ranks to sales estimates.

    Current Leader in the Category
    4E PHB 3 Rank 153 (225-249 copies sold this week.)

    Core PHB
    PHB 3.5 rank ~8800 (15-20 this week.)
    Pathfinder 2113 (40-75 this week.)
    4E PHB 6580 (15-20 this week)
    (4E Gift Set Rank 2728 (40-75 this week))

    3.5 PHB2 Rank ~73500 (1-5 this week)
    4 PHB 2 Rank 6033 (15-20 This week)

    What I see here is intersting, pathfinder at 6 months old is doing only slightly worse than 4E at nearly 3, in terms of new players. That seems good for both of them (pathfinder is a much smaller press, so has lower expectations). New 4E supplements are strong sellers, and the market for 3.5 beyond the core books is dead dead dead (and even the core is far from exciting).

    I see things differently than you of course, I ran a game store that went out of bussiness shortly before 3.0 came out. 2nd ed, contrary to what the publishing figures might convince you of, was dead. Yes they released 500 (or whatever) books a year, but sales and interest were non-existent. The Alliance and Zocchi guys never told me how great the new AD&D books were selling, cause they weren’t.

    3E, as much as I would never go back to it now, completely revitalized the archaic and stale D&D brand. 4E didn’t do the same, but it didn’t come out 5 years after the functional death of it’s predecessor. The 4E PHB undoubtably sold more copies in june of 2008 than a 3.5 PHB 3 would have. From a business perspective that is a success. For me it was also (mostly) a design success, but that is a more personal element.

    If your predictions for D&D are as good as they are for Coke I presume we have a long long future to look forward to.

  63. Chris

    @karolusb

    Thanks for taking the time to write this comment and do the research on the sales figures.

    If you check what I originally wrote, I did not say that Coke was doomed, other than the fact that all brands will ultimately die out.

    The Coke versus Pepsi battle comment illustrates how even massively dominant and apparently safe brands can be threaten by outside factors. In 1950, Coke had outsold Pepsi by more than five to one, but by 1984 Pepsi had a 22.8 percent share of the market while Coke had a 21.6 percent share. It was this collapse of market share that made Coke introduce the ill-fated new formula Coke.

    Comparing Coke to D&D is flawed because D&D cannot stick to the same formula for 100+ years. However it does highlight some key aspects of the brand life cycle.

    All products / brands have to reinvent themselves. With Coke, the product remained the same for 80 years but the brand image, e.g. how it was marketed, changed. Only when the company felt it was on the ropes did it actually change the product and it went disastrously wrong despite all its market research saying New Coke would kick Pepsi’s butt.

    Whenever a company changes it core product, it is running a huge risk but D&D as a product cannot remain the same. It has to reinvent itself every ten years or so with a new version of the game.

    The laws of probability state that if you do something risky enough times, it will go badly sooner or later.

    4e was a brave move by WotC because they radically changed the product formula and simultaneously tried to shift from a paper publishing house to a mixed paper / digital publisher. Unfortunately the digital side of things was badly managed and the rule changeres alienated a fair chunk of their audience.

    However, it was not disaster in the way that New Coke was because fundamentally, 4e is a good product with its own distinctive feel. This has allowed WotC to move past the problems on the digital side and attract enough new customers to replace those it has lost (and then some).

    I described 4e as a stumble in the D&D brand history and if you compare it with New Coke’s “arse-over-tip, flat on your face fall” I think this is fair.

    The long term repercussions of 4e may be more serious. 4e in effect created Pathfinder as a rival brand. Whether Pathfinder can become Pepsi to D&D’s Coke remains to be seen, though my guess is that it won’t.

    I think the real failure of 4e was the digital side. Had WotC delivered on their promises for 4e from day 1, D&D would of been assured of its dominance for another 10+ years. As it is, they have left the door open for another company to deliver an RPG that successfully marries the online world with the tabletop.

    Whoever can deliver on this, will be the company that knocks D&D off the top spot.

    Chris

  64. Dangermouse

    I look at the whole thing from the ground level as a player. I’ve been playing D&D for over 20 years (all editions, even 4th). I’m what they call an “old school” player. I have many friends (20+) that still play. 3rd ed came around at the right time and was a hit and we all grabbed up the books as they came. We invested $$$ in it.
    But, when 4th ed came around, out of all of us, only 3 grabbed up the 4th ed books. The rest of us were alienated.
    It wasn’t the right time or a good move for Wotc to do 4th. Not to mention during a recession. It left alot of players behind, including my group.
    So if Wotc doesn’t care enough about its old school players and thinks that enough new 4th ed players will come around then thats up to them. Not a good move in my opinion.
    They lost about 17 players in my group but gained 3. Is that good odds? It’s clear that 4th ed is not flying off the shelves like Wotc wanted. I tried it and did not like it, so I’m happy with my 3rd ed books.
    .-= Dangermouse´s last blog ..Zombies, Iranians Don’t Want To Be Overlooked Anymore =-.

  65. Ray

    @Trygon DDO (DnD online) is based off of the 3.5 rules but with very minmal changes to fit the replay value, as many online players love replay value. There are some changes that i noticed, and i havent read a DM guide or monster manual in 12 years.

    As for the comment that a MMO verson of the game being the downfall is vastly wrong. As DDO just celebrated 1 million players worldwide, more than PnP ( what the gamers call the book version) gathered in the years it was played.

    I have heard many mixed reveiws about 4e, though i personally try things myself than take the words of another, no matter how trusted they are

  66. SteamgothIronRider

    It’s been a while since this thread’s seen traffic, but…

    It seems to me that Hasbro is actually trying to keep the D&D brand afloat, even trying to generate new interest from a new generation of gamers (and their nostalgic gamer parents) by issuing the “classic Red Box” with 4e D&D inside instead, and producing D&D-branded miniatures for a miniatures game (HeroScape) which had been languishing, presumably in the hopes of generating sales for both lines. (Incidentally, I haven’t seen “classic” HeroScape minis in stores in months, and the Marvel HeroScape box set – for which there were never any boosters I’ve ever seen – is currently on clearance at Wal-Mart in my neck of the woods. But my FLCGS, Sci-Fi City/Enterprise 1701, is carrying the D&D-branded HeroScape minis alongside the D&D Miniatures line.)

    Personally, I’m not at all fond of the changes that were made with the introduction of 4e D&D; while the intent was to go back to their roots as a fantasy-themed miniatures combat game with a roleplaying element, they’ve really gone more towards a tabletop MMORPG. I’ve found that the Pathfinder RPG fits my personal gaming style better, while still improving upon the 3.0/3.5 D&D system.

  67. D.A. Howard

    This is not how marketing works. As an M.B.A., Tide detergent is the example often used. “New and improved!,” “Brighter colors!,” “New scent!” All these strategies have extended Tide detergent since 1943. It still continues to be in demand today.

    Other examples are:
    1. Coca-cola (1886)
    2. Pepsi (1893)
    3. Ford (1885)

    Come on now. It depends on market-demand. The product has to change to adapt to existing formats (PC, E-paper, I-Pads). However, if there is a demand, and the producers adapt, a product it will survive for over a hundred years or more.

  68. Tyndmyr

    Checking today, 3.5 and 4e are still quite close on amazon. They’re both hovering in the 10k rankings. The fact that they’re still so close is certainly significant, especially considering the 3.5 price is much higher.

    PF, however, is rocking it at 1,543. Good for them.

  69. KSB Snow Owl

    Nearly three years since this blog post, and I stumbled upon it by accident. Seems the blogger was quite accurate in his predictions. In the last six months we’ve seen Pathfinder overtake 4th Ed D&D in sales, then WotC announced 5th edition, not even 5 years into 4th’s run, basically admitting they screwed up with 4th Ed. Then just last month WotC announced they will be reprinting the 3.5 books.

    They learned that the market wanted 3rd edition D&D, and WotC wasn’t getting any of that market share.

    Yep, I’m feeling pretty good that I never wasted a dime on 4th ed.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>