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5E The Last Edition of D&D?

Changes in Dungeons & Dragons' various editions have ranged from the incremental to the epic, shaking up the game's sales along with its playerbase. There is evidence that Wizards of the Coast is following a new model in which there are no more editions, just updates and backwards compatibility. It's a model long touted by the software industry, and for an idea what the future might hold we can look to the future of video game consoles.

Edition History
To put Fifth Edition's longevity in perspective, it's worth looking back at the lifespan of the earlier editions. These editions lived long after the debut of later editions (and will live on in perpetuity on the Internet):

[EDIT: Alzrius did a much better job of summarizing editions, so I've replaced my timeline with his here, thanks Alzrius!)
  • Original Dungeons & Dragons: 1974 (woodgrain boxed set) through 1976 (Swords & Spells) - 2 years
  • Advanced Dungeons & Dragons (1st Edition): 1977-1979 (depending on whether you could it as beginning with the release of the Monster Manual in 1977, the Players Handbook in 1978, or the Dungeon Masters Guide in 1979) through 1988 (DL16 World of Krynn) - 11 years
  • Advanced Dungeons & Dragons (2nd Edition): 1989 (Player's Handbook) through 2000 (Die Vecna Die!) - 11 years
  • Basic Dungeons & Dragons (Holmes): 1978 (the Holmes Basic set) through 1979 (B2 The Keep on the Borderlands) - 2 years
  • Basic Dungeons & Dragons (B/X): 1981 (the Moldvay Basic Set to 1983 (X5 Temple of Death) - 2 years
  • Basic Dungeons & Dragons (BECMI): 1983 (the Mentzer Basic Set to 1993 (Champions of Mystara: Heroes of the Princess Ark) - 10 years
  • Dungeons & Dragons (3.0 Edition): 2000 (Player's Handbook) through 2003 (Ghostwalk) - 3 years
  • Dungeons & Dragons (3.5 Edition): 2003 (Player's Handbook) through 2008 (City of Stormreach) - 5 years
  • Dungeons & Dragons (4th Edition): 2008 (Player's Handbook) through 2012 (Into the Unknown: The Dungeons Survival Handbook) - 4 years
  • Dungeons & Dragons (4th Edition Essentials): 2010 (Dungeons & Dragons Starter Set) through 2011 (Monster Vault: Threats to the Nentir Vale) - 1 year
  • Dungeons & Dragons (Next): 2013 (Ghosts of Dragonspear Castle through 2014 (Legacy of the Crystal Shard) - 1 year
  • Dungeons & Dragons (5th Edition): 2014 (Starter Set) through Present (Mythic Odysseys of Theros) - 6 years+
Looking at these averages, the lifespan of an edition ranges from as low as a few years to as long as 11 years. At 6 years old, Fifth Edition is now at the beginning of when it might be considered old enough to warrant a new edition—Fourth Edition lasted just four years (if we count Essentials).

No More Editions?
Mike Mearls had this to say about a hypothetical sixth edition:

We’re nowhere near 6th edition D&D, but if we get there this is how I’d like it to play out. Zero disruption to what you’re already doing, just new toys to make your game better.

In an Ask Me Anything on Reddit, Mearls clarified in response to a question about modeling D&D's roll-out after Microsoft's roll-out of Windows 10:

Is the goal of 5e to get all D&D players onto one edition and then to support it for a long time, much like what Microsoft is doing with Windows 10? Should we expect 5e to last longer than the 5-6 year lifespan of the previous several editions?

I think we'd do a new edition only when the warts of the current one are bothersome enough that people want them excised.

The much-touted Microsoft model, itself inspired by the iPhone model, comes up frequently because it minimizes disruption to consumers while ensuring they still benefit from systemic improvements. And there's a good reason for customers and developers looking for another way: A platform change can be devastating to a game's market.

Damaged Edition
As D&D has become more embedded in the Internet ecosystem, it has become increasingly difficult for it to pivot. The Open Game License (OGL) era ushered in by Third Edition, in which many third parties flourished in support of the new game, came to a hard stop with the debut of Fourth Edition. Two planned hardcover supplements I wrote never saw the light of day because the rumors of a new edition spooked the publisher from producing new material. The hint of a new edition was enough to make third party developers change their tactics, and for good reason.

The current D&D ecosystem has only grown larger thanks to the new OGL and the DMs Guild. All the video streamers who are currently buoying interest in the game, the D&D-related Kickstarters launched every week, and market expectations for the brand’s IP as a transmedia franchise suggests that the investment in D&D goes beyond customers and includes small business owners too.

Before a new edition comes out, the existing edition takes a hit: D&D gradually lost market share to Pathfinder, dipping to third place according to ICv2 in 2012 (when Fifth Edition was announced). The drop was not solely attributable to D&D's edition change of course. The issues with Fourth Edition and Pathfinder's popularity certainly had something to do with the shift in positions, but it seems likely the steep drop to third place was accelerated by the edition announcement. We have further data that bears this out in Pathfinder's Second Edition launch, in which Pathfinder First Edition slipped to fifth place in Spring 2019, just before the Summer launch of the new edition.

There's a parallel between an edition of a tabletop game and a video game console, which can have limited backwards compatibility with the games before it. Like the tabletop game industry, the video game industry convulses every six to eight years when a major game development platform (Xbox and Playstation) announces a new system. Developers change their schedules to accommodate and gamers stop buying the current platform as they wait for the new one to debut. This cycle grinds sales of video games to a halt; it can be so devastating that the current down cycle threatens to wipe out GameStop, one of the few remaining brick-and-mortar video game resellers in the United States (GameStop's desperation was on full display during the pandemic).

Something Has to Give
Increasingly, publishers are realizing that although this model produces an uptick in sales and expenditures in the short-term, it's damaging to the wider gaming ecosystem. This is why console producers are moving away from the existing model to one in which continual upgrades are possible while still guaranteeing backwards compatibility. They do this by building in compatibility from the start so that the console can easily run older games, while at the same time releasing more powerful products that consumers can opt-into as they see fit. In a similar fashion, one of Fifth Edition's goals was to be backwards compatible with the editions that came before it.

A longer market window to sell D&D has had some interesting side-effects, most notably that it creates an opportunity for luxury, high-end products. These products wouldn’t be able to flourish in a market where a potential high-end consumer would balk at investing a significant amount of money on something that wouldn’t compatible in a year.

There’s also signs that the old model no longer makes sense. D&D’s older editions never went away—Pathfinder’s success is an important reminder of this fact—and any new edition would have to compete with the five editions before it for digital attention. In the video game industry, downloadable content allows games and platforms to incorporate feedback and update themselves in real time—just like D&D is now doing with its Unearthed Arcana content and surveys.

Will we ever get a new edition of D&D? With Ray Winniger replacing Mearls as head of the D&D team, there may well be a declaration of a Sixth Edition in the near term, but it seems the game will always be backwards compatible … in which case an edition change is more a branding update than a radical change in the game’s rules.
 
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Michael Tresca

Comments

The background of Warhammer 40.00 isn't my cup of tea, but it's is too dark, or it shows a very negative vision about the mankind, with a mindset of "we have to destroy all it's different because we can't understand it". Let's say it would rather something more "hopepunk". (yes, this last word is real).

I bought some books of Warhammer Fantasy RPG, when it was black&white pages. I guess because its art was very close to my loved "Hero Quest" board game. But I am not interested into the new editions.

And the future of Warhammer franchises are in the videogame industry. I have heard Games Workshop is making more money with the videogames than the minitaures, and the age of the create your own minitaures with your 3D printer is arriving. And today they are lots of board games with minitaures for players who don't want to spend too much money.

I remember my April's Fool was to say Hasbro had bought Games Workshop. I was kidding, but I don't say it was immposible.

But the biggest cities the most of players would rather Warhammer because to find players for other wargamers is more difficult.

And WotC has got plans to create its own wargame, maybe set in Birghtright.
 

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Urriak Uruk

Debate fuels my Fire
GW has a very different business model for 40K, and to lesser extent for Fantasy. The power balance in the game shifts every edition and that's a prime motivator for people to buy new armies. The newbs come regardless, but the changing editions and standard codex creep keep miniatures flying out the door. Everyone wants to be playing the new hotness.
40K model? No thanks.
My understanding is that Warhammer's audience changes every few years, aging out after having completed their armies, and their model is built around giving newer, younger players a good jumping on point to start their collections.
To be clear, I was not saying D&D should have a release schedule like 40k (GW is primarily a miniatures company after all, game designer second).

Just pointing out how interesting it is that both are at peak success, yet have completely different responses with edition development.
 

darjr

I crit!
To be clear, I was not saying D&D should have a release schedule like 40k (GW is primarily a miniatures company after all, game designer second).

Just pointing out how interesting it is that both are at peak success, yet have completely different responses with edition development.
I didn't think you were. And it is interesting. Just my allergic reaction to the 40k business model is rather intense.

I do think it would be interesting if they tried the D&D model. They do seem to be popular enough to try it. But maybe that's the point. Maybe they aren't really.
 

Parmandur

Legend
To be clear, I was not saying D&D should have a release schedule like 40k (GW is primarily a miniatures company after all, game designer second).

Just pointing out how interesting it is that both are at peak success, yet have completely different responses with edition development.
Oh, I followed. My point was maybe more that GW shouldn't necessarily follow the D&D model, either. Warhammer is all about the physical objects, the miniatures. They clear the board regularly to remove barriers to new players being able to amass competitive armies. D&D shouldn't operate on the same model, and frankly they tried in the Aughts and found that didn't work.
 
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Fenris-77

Small God of the Dozens
Supporter
My understanding is that Warhammer's audience changes every few years, aging out after having completed their armies, and their model is built around giving newer, younger players a good jumping on point to start their collections.
Yes and no. Not so much the case on the competitive scene. A lot of those guys are hard core, and they tend to be older. I don't just mean hard core terms of play, but in the effort it takes to, say, get a whole new army painted every year to high competition standard and build a fully sculpted display board for that army. I love those guys. Events like Adepticon are awesome for 40K fanatics in a way that other Cons don't really match for other hobbies.

Anyway, I'll pull off 40K memory lane and back onto D&D drive now...
 

Urriak Uruk

Debate fuels my Fire
I didn't think you were. And it is interesting. Just my allergic reaction to the 40k business model is rather intense.

I do think it would be interesting if they tried the D&D model. They do seem to be popular enough to try it. But maybe that's the point. Maybe they aren't really.
I don't think the D&D business model works for WH40k... for one thing, they're primarily a miniatures company (and they're way better quality than anything WotC does), secondly they kind of need way more rules to cover all of their miniatures (both historical and releasing).

D&D doesn't need to have that much output, and focuses on quality.
 

darjr

I crit!
Yea, also there doesn’t seem to be a way to do the story/season thing with WH40k. Maybe. It does seem that each edition puts a focus on a different conflict. Like this one is Necrons. Or is that not true?

Huh. It would be an interesting challenge to model 40k after the D&D model. But I think it would be far more interesting and satisfying in the long run.
 

Fenris-77

Small God of the Dozens
Supporter
Yea, also there doesn’t seem to be a way to do the story/season thing with WH40k. Maybe. It does seem that each edition puts a focus on a different conflict. Like this one is Necrons. Or is that not true?

Huh. It would be an interesting challenge to model 40k after the D&D model. But I think it would be far more interesting and satisfying in the long run.
There is usually a narrative game season, centered around some massive conflict. The results from participating stores around the world are tallied every week and those dictate the outcome of that weeks events in the grand narrative. It's pretty cool. I'm not sure they still do that, but it used to be a regular thing.

Separate from the above, each new starter box has two armies in it, and a light narrative to contextualize that conflict. The armies are usually either very popular (Marines of some kind) and/or related to an upcoming new release set. This isn't usually connected to the narrative season.

I think GW would sell a ton less minis if they used the D&D model. Sadly.
 

darjr

I crit!
Would they? What happens to the old 40k gamers? Many I know get tired of the tread mill and drop out. But many are mini painters and crafters and keep buying things to paint and push around a table and such, just not 40k anymore. Or is that just my experience?

Does the 40k model NEED to lose those older players, is their loss inevitable? Could they retain many of them and get new players?
 

Fenris-77

Small God of the Dozens
Supporter
Lots of them get retained in one way or another. It's only a treadmill if you want the new minis or if you regularly play at stores on in environments where you are more or less forced to use the new rules set. If you have a group that likes edition X and has armies to play it, you can roll like that indefinitely. They've also added some more for adults stuff from Forgeworld, specifically the Horus Heresy era game, that doesn't roll it's rules like normal 40K does, and a lot of older guys move to that. Or, much like D&D, they take a break for a while, or even a whole edition, and then jump back in.

The guys that paint and sculpt aren't really going anywhere, but if that's all their doing they aren't a huge swathe of GWs income. GW wants people buying armies and rules books, and those guys do neither.

In general I think the model doesn't need to lose the older guys, but is also only really concerned about the people actually buying armies. It is inevitable that some of those guys drift away, just like any hobby of course, especially one that is often played in public and with a younger age bracket.
 

Parmandur

Legend
Would they? What happens to the old 40k gamers? Many I know get tired of the tread mill and drop out. But many are mini painters and crafters and keep buying things to paint and push around a table and such, just not 40k anymore. Or is that just my experience?

Does the 40k model NEED to lose those older players, is their loss inevitable? Could they retain many of them and get new players?
From my friends who are in that scene, there is a huge attrition at a certain point, when people feel they have what they need or find themselves in a position to need their money for other things (romance, children, school, food, housing...). Economically, GW can't love on the lifers no or collectors, the new players are their bread and butter.

Whereas D&D is stupidly cheap...
 


Fenris-77

Small God of the Dozens
Supporter
My point was they ARE still buying miniatures and armies, just not 40k
That's another set of guys, yeah. They migrate to Warmachine, or Malifaux, or something historical, and just never come back. It happens. You could redo some of Caesar's battles in Gaul at 1:1 for the cost of a new 40k army these days.
 


Fenris-77

Small God of the Dozens
Supporter
Certainly those folks exist, but GW is and always has been aiming for the much, much larger target of teenage allowance and Summer job money.
And more recently the emerging professional geek money. That has really been the biggest source of GWs recent success IMO, is that players aren't aging out as quickly.
 

Jharet

Explorer
If you don't like 5e, then Pathfinder First Edition is the answer in the opposite direction. PF2E is some weird place in-between. PFRPG1E will remain the pinnacle of d20 gaming for years to come - in my opinion of course.
 

Urriak Uruk

Debate fuels my Fire
Would they? What happens to the old 40k gamers? Many I know get tired of the tread mill and drop out. But many are mini painters and crafters and keep buying things to paint and push around a table and such, just not 40k anymore. Or is that just my experience?

Does the 40k model NEED to lose those older players, is their loss inevitable? Could they retain many of them and get new players?
From what I've seen among the Warhammer community (both Age of Sigmar and 40k) is that the new model tries to straddle both lines. 40k remains tilted in favor of the grognards, but new editions and may "rules lite" versions available try to make it easier to jump in. Age of Sigmar is the built from the bottom-up to be newbie friendly, and they even have skirmish games available for only a handful of miniatures.

I myself just recently decided to migrate from painting Warhammer to C'mon miniatures. You just get way more from other companies for the same price, even though GW remains the king in sheer quality.
 


MaskedGuy

Explorer
I do think life time of a system is about 10 years on average, 4-6 years is more about corporations being quick to want to cash in and throw out system before it grows old :p
 

If you want to play a wargame the RTS videogames are a cheaper option. If you want to paint miniatures then there are lots of board games as cheaper option. If GW makes money selling figures then it hasn't to worry about people who download PDFs of the armies books.

Almost all of 5th Ed is updating monsters, modules and lore, with almost nothing of new crunch but the subclasses. This means the system isn't "out-of-step" yet. We are only seing the point of the iceberg. The really hard playtest will be with the videogames. Mores players finding any possible weak point for the power balance. And fixing that is easier with only the next update pacth.

I have said if WotC wants to add new ideas is better with a different title, because here we don't agree about d20 Modern 2.0. as a independient spin-off or only a module line within 5th. If WotC can't publish a new d20 Star Wars yet, then maybe other famous franchise (Conan or Star Trek neither, got by Mophidius).
 

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