D&D 4E Ben Riggs' "What the Heck Happened with 4th Edition?" seminar at Gen Con 2023

Parmandur

Book-Friend
That’s… problematic.

So much of the design of 4e was grounded in trying to grow the market. So I’m not sure how much they were “following their muse” and how much was following profit.

Which is always true for any commercial product. There’s always a balance to be found.
Heck, all the way back to the White Box that was an issue.
 

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Well yeah, the ultimate goal of any company is to make money- got to keep the lights on somehow. However, there is a key difference between companies run by gamers who are passionate about the hobby, and those who are run by soulless corpo types who barely understand the product they are producing.

Say, Larian studios vs. Electronic Arts, if you will.
Maybe, but SJG and WotC are THE only 2 publishers of an RPG that are really going concerns which make money, and one of those 2 is largely inactive in the TTRPG space. So I would conclude that "warm and fuzzy" is a recipe for going out of business...

I mean, realistically WotC values D&D as a valuable business asset, and that's probably mostly compatible with some degree of preservation of the culture and such. I don't think I would confuse that with curation!
 

Yet no one will even consider my idea that we form an ENworld investment activist group and buy up shares of Hasbro.
Well, I know the investment business, and I think looking into them is probably interesting, more because they might be a good private equity target though. Lol. Not giving any advice however. But I would not go in with a bunch of gamers, they won't be objective enough. Values investing is cool, but needs to be done super carefully!
 

Mannahnin

Scion of Murgen (He/Him)
I find edition wars hard to understand. Games evolve out of and influence one another. For example, 4e's action mechanics were an evolution of 3.5e design work done in Tome of Battle: The Book of Nine Swords. And surely no one looks at 5e and fails to see how it hearks back to earlier editions? As much as they may have been influenced by WoW, the 4e designers were also responding to background RPG discourse, what was being done in other games, and well-known flaws in earlier editions.

Everyone says that about ToB, but I think 4e is a more radical departure than it gets credit for, specifically for establishing daily resources and standardizing resource schedules. Late 3.5 was all about experimentation with different class chassis, with Incarnum, the Tome of Magic and so on.

The edition war was as much about the end of 3.5 material (and iteration on it as a design direction) as it was about 4e itself.
Yes, Book of 9 Swords was a really memorable example, with three new martial classes and a shedload of powers/maneuvers making them badass, but late 3.5 had a lot of experimentation. In addition to stuff like ToM, MoI, and UA, the Swift action got added in the Miniatures Handbook, and the Immediate Action in the Expanded Psionics Handbook, before both got codified/adopted into the main line in PH2.

My point - primarily in reply to @Lanefan - is that commercial publishing houses will act as commercial publishing houses.

The days when TSR or WotC would publish something because it demands to be published were gone, in the former case, probably by the early 80s, and in the latter case, by the time they purchased TSR and possibly before.

That's before we even get to the question what would it mean to be a custodian of D&D? That can't possibly mean, as @Lanefan asserted, continuing to publish modules for Moldvay Basic. Even if there are things that demand to be published regardless of their commercial prospects, those would not be such things.
Yes. If we've learned anything from books like Game Wizards and Slaying the Dragon it's that D&D publication has ALWAYS been about profit and growth as well as about publishing an enjoyable game. The designers have ALWAYS been motivated by money.

The D&D & AD&D split was arguably the edition most accurately describable as a "cash grab" as it was literally designed in significant part to cut Dave Arneson out of royalties and credit. Gary threw lots of rules he barely or didn't even use into AD&D almost exclusively for the purpose of making it more distinct from D&D. And explicitly told the B/X design team to experiment and make it more distinct from AD&D. To this day (and for at least the 12+ years since I first encountered and played with Frank Mentzer and Tim Kask at conventions) the surviving original TSR folks will tell you that as far as they're concerned OD&D and AD&D are one game.

Probably the height of romanticism in D&D publishing WAS Peter Adkison's determination to acquire and save D&D and TSR from being stripped for parts by TSR's various creditors. But he still had to make a business case for it to his board, especially acquiring it before it went under and all the existing staff scattered, rather than buying the components cheaper after dissolution.
 
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Hussar

Legend
And let’s not forget that the investment was a spectacular success for Adkison and co. They bought out tsr and then sold to hasbro in only a few years and made very good money on it.

Does that make 3e a “cash grab?” Or is it only a cash grab when we happen not to like what the company is doing?
 

Mannahnin

Scion of Murgen (He/Him)
And let’s not forget that the investment was a spectacular success for Adkison and co. They bought out tsr and then sold to hasbro in only a few years and made very good money on it.

Does that make 3e a “cash grab?” Or is it only a cash grab when we happen not to like what the company is doing?
The definition is A product designed primarily or solely with the intent of generating profits or money . I think pretty much every D&D edition has been written with BOTH the intention to make a good game AND to make money. So calling one a cash grab is almost always a canard, but I think there is a degree of truth to it here and there.

The ones with the least dominant profit agenda in the mix might have been OD&D and 5E, due to low expectations. OD&D was expected to be a hobbyist product and succeeded beyond TSR's wildest dreams. 5E also had modest expectations and succeeded beyond WotC's wildest dreams.

One could argue that 4E had a really heavy profit motive due to Hasbro's Core Brands directive. Certainly the GSL is also evidence of that. I argue that 1E & B/X were very clearly cash-motivated (although also credit, with Gygax wanting to establish clear ownership of the game's legacy) due to their existence and the whole terminology/forking of D&D happening due to the Arneson royalties dispute.
 

Red Castle

Adventurer
How dare a company try to sell me a product I might be interested in... Shame on them.

If a company stop selling products then they don't make money, and if they don't make money then they can't pay their employee, which means they can't produce new product anymore which means the game stop being supported. TTRPG being one of the most cheapest hobby on the market (you only need the playerhandbook and technically speaking, just one person from the group need to buy it, now let's compare that to miniature gaming for fun), I think that it is only natural that a company will try to make the most out of it.

You, as the customer, are in no way forced to buy anything from them. If a product doesn't interest you, then don't buy it. If the product is just a cash grab (so something not really interesting just out to make money) then nobody will buy it. But if a product sell, it's because there was actually demand for it, so I think it's nice for the people that do want those products to be able to buy them.
 

Micah Sweet

Level Up & OSR Enthusiast
How dare a company try to sell me a product I might be interested in... Shame on them.

If a company stop selling products then they don't make money, and if they don't make money then they can't pay their employee, which means they can't produce new product anymore which means the game stop being supported. TTRPG being one of the most cheapest hobby on the market (you only need the playerhandbook and technically speaking, just one person from the group need to buy it, now let's compare that to miniature gaming for fun), I think that it is only natural that a company will try to make the most out of it.

You, as the customer, are in no way forced to buy anything from them. If a product doesn't interest you, then don't buy it. If the product is just a cash grab (so something not really interesting just out to make money) then nobody will buy it. But if a product sell, it's because there was actually demand for it, so I think it's nice for the people that do want those products to be able to buy them.
Who had demand for a book all about giants?
 

Mannahnin

Scion of Murgen (He/Him)
Who had demand for a book all about giants?
I guess some people. Maybe WotC decided there was interest based on how well SKT did. And/or based on the popularity and universality of giants in myth and folklore in general, which makes them an interesting antagonist not linked to/limited by a particular IP or fictional universe.

Why do you ask? Is it a problem if they print books other people are interested in, that you're not?
 


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