Friday, August 17, 2012

New WotC announcement

Well, in the wake of the ongoing GenCon and other things, a lot of news is coming out of WotC about stuff happening in the next little bit.  One of them is that, as of September 18th, the 3.5 core books are going to be reprinted with new cover art in a premium format--which I think just means that they'll be really expensive like the 1e reprints were, and otherwise be very similar to what they would have been in an "original" format.  This is curious, and has sparked more than a few debates.  I've even been a little bit involved in one such.  Hence my lack of an update to my A to Z series.  Sorry, folks!  D for House Dracul is coming soon, I promise!

So, here's the sitch, along with some commentary by me.  1e reprints have been out for... what, a couple of months now?  3.5 reprints will be out within about a month.  5e, or DnD Next, or whatever they're calling it, is about two years away is what official scuttlebutt is saying.  4e continues to be out, but with 5e prominantly announced, will probably have reduced sales on its titles as folks hunker down in anticipation of switching over.  This means that, other than 2e which was already quite close to 1e in terms of core books at least anyway, every edition of AD&D or its successors ever published will be in print at the same time!   In addition to this, most of the other stuff that's not in print will still be available via PDF again.  Why in the world would WotC do this?

Here's where I meander into pure speculation and make crap up.  But allow me to iterate some assumptions, and you can tell me how wrong I am afterwards...

  • First, WotC has an imperative to generate revenue to pay for development of DnD Next.  I think the reprints do a nice job of creating a probably reasonably high margin revenue stream in the meantime while 4e sales will (presumably) be lower than they would be because of the impending new edition.  It's a nice move for the fans, it's a nice move towards "healing" the fractured player base somewhat, generates some customer goodwill, and hey, brings in some money at the same time.  Win/win for customers and WotC both.
  • Second, lots of people theorize based on some sketchy and circumstantial data that Pathfinder might actually be outselling D&D these days.  If it isn't, it's at least got to be making a noticeable bite out of their market share.
  • Third, on Amazon, the used market for out of print 3.5 edition books has prices still as high or higher than new for many, if not most books.  Even in mediocre condition, in some cases.  This suggests, although it certainly doesn't prove, that there's still a robust demand for 3.5 edition books.  Which in turn suggests that many groups are quietly still going about their business playing 3.5.  Maybe even in really pretty big numbers.  Maybe, and this is where I get really speculative, in numbers rivaling that of groups playing Pathfinder or 4e.  
  • This in turn means that the D&D market is more or less fractured into four significant chunks, the OSR guys, the 3.5 guys, the Pathfinder guys, and the 4e guys.  I hesitate to say that they're roughly equivalent in size, but I bet they're at least on the same order of magnitude.  By reprinting the 1e core books and the 3.5 core books, WotC are making a direct warning shot against two of the three non-4e market segments that they are interested in getting their attention again.  I don't know how they directly address the Pathfinder guys, but then again, Pathfinder was supposed to be an iterative improvement on 3.5.  A 3.75, if you will.  
  • Speaking of which, what's the relationship between lingering 3.5 groups and Pathfinder groups and whatnot anyway?  Here, I hesitate to even speculate on the market at large, but I can at least offer my perspective.  Keep in mind that I rather reluctantly migrated from 3e to 3.5 in the first place.  In fact, because of the SRD being freely available, I never even bought the 3.5 core books (although I did buy the Monster Manual--that one I at least thought would be more convenient to have in book format rather than as a webpage.)  I don't think that 3.5 as a core ruleset necessarily improved on 3e.  For everything it fixed, there was something else that it broke and half a dozen other things that changed just for the sake of change, being neither better nor worse, but sadly being different, meaning that it became difficult to remember exactly how it was supposed to work properly (although to be fair, I remember this being an issue back in the day when people migrated freely and openly from the B/X or RC line into AD&D and back.)  With Pathfinder, the situation was very much the same, although because of the way in which it was done, Paizo managed to generate a fair bit of customer goodwill rather than cynicism with the move.  But from a purely systemic standpoint, it's not at clear to me (or to a number of other players I've spoken to) that Pathfinder is actually an improvement in 3.5.  Sure, some things are better--archetypes are great, for instance, and the skill list consolidation was a good thing.  CMB/CMD was a nice clean-up of a perennially ugly part of the mechanics.  But they did absolutely nothing to address what seem to be the two most common complaints about 3.5--that it breaks down at higher level, and that it's too complex and fiddly.  In fact, in the latter case, it gets qualitatively worse.  Their solution the first problem seems to have been elegant yet also pretty dubious; in their flagship product, the Adventure Paths, they simply started having them end earlier instead of going all the way up to 20th level.  And plenty of other things are just different for the sake of being different again.  Long and short of it, it's not really clear that it's universally accepted that Pathfinder is an improvement on 3.5.  I'm certainly not sure that I think so, and I don't think that I'm alone.
  • All of this means that there is circumstantial evidence of WotC acting somewhat strategically, without being arrogant or tone-deaf either one, in terms of trying to woo some of the big blocks of "lapsed" players; by which I mean players who don't buy anything from them because they don't play the current edition of the rules.  No matter what else you might think of WotC or DnD Next either one, that's still a pretty good thing, right?


ADD Grognard said...

And just to clarify, Pathfinder has been outselling D&D for some time now.

I know there is this air of 'sketchy' around the number reporting but the easiest way to tell is that Wizards is making a new D&D and Paizo isn't making a new Pathfinder. (also look at how Paizo owns GenCon this year)

When grouped together what I call the 3.x is the most played game system around. That includes D&D 3.0 / 3.5, Pathfinder, Trailblazer, Everstone, Fantsy Craft, all the OSR retroclones and clones and many indie games all based on the SRD/OGL.

Now it looks like they are pushing the clock back even further saying no new D&D:N for 2 years.

Their smart move is to leave the 'new shiny shiny' alone and concentrate on their legacy product.

But they have not been known for making many smart moves lately.

(And Paizo just won Gold for Best Product for the box set)

Joshua Dyal said...

That doesn't prove that Pathfinder outsells 4e. It suggests it. All we have is suggestive circumstantial evidence.

In any case, I don't really think it matters which one is "winning" I still think that the OSR, the 3.5 players, the Pathfinder players and the 4e players are on the same order of magnitude in terms of size. That's probably about as precise as we can hope to claim, even speculatively, without just making crap up.

ADD Grognard said...

See, this is what I hate about these conversations. I have to somehow prove what I say but everybody else can just make up something with no proof and slap it down.

It bores me stiff, but here we go:

Black Diamond Games-Retailer:

And that was 2011.

Ok...I hear it already...'that's just one store'...



Something this year you say?


Paizo Publishing's Pathfinder continues to lead the role-playing game industry in sales with Wizards of the Coast's 4th Edition Dungeons & Dragons in second place, Fantasy Flight Games' Warhammer 40K role-playing games (Dark Heresy, Rogue Trader, and Deathwatch), Green Ronin's Dragon Age, and Cubicle 7's The One Ring. The print edition of Internal Correspondence elaborated:

"D&D's going down faster than Pathfinder is going up," one distributor said. "I've been shocked at how badly received D&D is right now," another distributor said. "D&D is still down," a third distributor told us. "There's no getting around that. Pathfinder is continuing to gain more market share in our RPG category."

And there's about a billion more of those.

And the 4e stuff has already started showing up on 70% off tables in the big bookstore chains. It seems it started in Canada (wish I had the pic I saw of the markdown table but didn't grab it) a few months ago.

People are playing D&D...just not 4e.

4e is dead.

Joshua Dyal said...

No, you don't have to prove it. You just need to read my second paragraph where I say clearly that which one is "winning" is beside the point anyway.

Joshua Dyal said...

Plus, your proof isn't as definitive as you seem to think if is. Is it likely that Pathfinder consistently outsells 4e? Yeah. Is it definitively proven from those articles or others like them? No. Does it matter anyway? Also no. My point is and was that 4e, Pathfinder (and in my opinion the OSR and 3.5) have current playerbases that are about on the same order of magnitude.

ADD Grognard said...

Of course my proof is never good enough...typical fan boy reaction. So this is where I say 'show your numbers' and you have nothing. And if 'winning' doesn't matter why did you bring it up?

What got me looking into it was the quote Mike made in the Escapist interview where he says 'we didn't just wake up one morning and decide to run off all our customers'...I wondered what that quote was responding to. The interviewer hadn't said anything up to that point about numbers and fan base loss. So I started looking.

It would seem when Wizards took over the IP there was a fan base of about 25 million players. By the time of that interview they were down to 1.5 million players.

There is a phrase the kids like that fits this perfectly:


D&D needs to be put to rest. I know the last year has me looking at my collection and thinking about that burning pit out behind my house. Yeah, that's how sick I am of all this. I've spent the last 6 months proving to myself that it's not all gamers who drive me crazy...just D&D fans (which I'm ashamed to think of myself as one).

And I have been reminded of that again.

Ok, back to wargaming...

Joshua Dyal said...

You're seriously accusing me of being a D&D fanboy because I happen to know enough about statistics to realize that your proof doesn't really prove what you claim it does? Seriously? Are you for real?

I mean, clearly you don't read my blog. But if you don't, maybe you shouldn't post ignorant comments on it. I don't even play D&D. I don't even like D&D. I've never played a single game of 4e, and never bought a single 4e product. I made my peace with 3e/3.5 only after house-ruling it out the wazoo to get rid of most of the "D&Disms." I left D&D in the mid-80s during the 1e and B/X years because the D&Disms bugged me to much to continue playing it.

And Pathfinder is D&D. In fact, that's a common comment made by Pathfinder fans, that it's more D&D than 4e is. And it's a legitimate position to take.

So if you're going to go around slinging accusations of fanboyism, first make sure that you don't sound like one. Because you're insistence that I accept that Pathfinder is outselling D&D, when I never really claimed the contrary, and have said repeatedly that which one is outselling which is completely beside the point of what I'm trying to say anyway, sure makes you sound a lot more like a fanboy than it does me.