log in or register to remove this ad

 

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.
 
Last edited:
Michael Tresca

Comments

Parmandur

Legend
They'd be fools to let revenue drop before starting work on a replacement, and Hasbro aren't fools.
The plan is to replace rotating core books with rotating expansion books, more like Settlers of Catan or even Monopoly (which does get new rule editions). Plan is working so far. There is no cosmic force demanding edition churn.
 

log in or register to remove this ad

darjr

I crit!
The episodic nature of the adventures is a phenomenon unlike any other edition in scope. So very much of the community gets them and runs them and then moves in the the next season. And it seems to only be increasing as a trend. The only thing comparable is the Paizo subscriber adventure path model but a magnitude larger.

Even if the core books drop significantly the seasonal adventures might just take up the slack.

which, honestly, blows my mind.
 


While I think there could be a better edition, I'd actually like D&D to reach a permanent edition. Once it gets things right, there is no need to reinvent the wheel. They can publish setting material and even additional mechanical toys forever without needing to change how you roll a d20 or how the Fighter class works, once they get it done right.

I think it would take about 1.3 more editions to get to the point where I'd say it's there. One new edition to try to present everything they learn about how to make the best D&D up to that point, and then a partial revision to fix the parts that didn't come out quite right in the initial release.

Of course, since I don't own the IP I unfortunately don't get to make the decisions about when and how.
The problem with making a permanent edition is eventually that one edition will become so bloated that no one will buy the books anymore.
 


The plan is to replace rotating core books with rotating expansion books, more like Settlers of Catan or even Monopoly (which does get new rule editions). Plan is working so far. There is no cosmic force demanding edition churn.
The great thing about Monopoly is that, unless you're really into Monopoly, you have no idea it's been updated multiple times in your lifetime. Wasn't that property always worth that? Wasn't it always located there? No, it wasn't, and it took the stats nerds really getting into Monopoly to make it happen.

Newer purchasers get a better game, but no one goes "holy crap, I'm not playing Monopoly again until the new version comes out -- IF I want to reward them for invalidating my raggedy ass box that I've had for 20 years!"
 

Mercurius

Legend
The time to work on a new edition isn't when the current one is tanking, its when it's still doing ok. That way, when it does start to tank, you're all ready to roll out the new version. Profit stream continues with maybe a slight dip and (hopefully) a huge boost as the new edition hits, rather than a couple of years of nothing then a boost.
I hear your point, but I think there's room between "working on" and just being passive. I think it was Mearls who said that they have a "6E folder" for all the bits and pieces they think of along the way. But I doubt they are actively "working on it," other than the anniversary possibility I mentioned.

Maybe a 5E equivalent of the Basic Rules Cyclopedia would be warranted by 2024...

I think the crunch-focused were always the minority, but WotC didn't figure that out until they got into BiG Data in the postmortem for 4E. 3.x and 4E were focused on the minority, whereas 5E has turned to the majority.
Yes, that's probably true. But as I said, the minority back then was a larger percentage of the total fan-base. It is the folks that play the game, edition after edition. "Lifers," if you will. In truth, I think that's a big distinction that should be made, and perhaps a conundrum that WotC puzzles over. You have temporary players who play it for a year or three, perhaps catching the fad, and then interest fades. But then you have lifers--those of us (everyone posting here, I'd imagine) who caught the bug and, whether it was OD&D or 5E, we're in it in some form or fashion for the long haul. What I think WotC must puzzle over, although realize is unsolvable, is how to "convert" the faddish fans into lifers. I'm not sure there's an answer to that. But it would seem that the cultural context at least increases the likelihood that some of those faddish fans will become lifers, and of those that don't, perhaps their temporary stay will be longer.

Or to put it generationally, it would seem that 5E has really caught on with younger millenials--those born in the 90s and early 00s. It remains to be seen whether "Gen Z" (born roughly 2004 and later, according to Strauss-Howe) will be hooked to a significant degree.
 

Mercurius

Legend
The episodic nature of the adventures is a phenomenon unlike any other edition in scope. So very much of the community gets them and runs them and then moves in the the next season. And it seems to only be increasing as a trend. The only thing comparable is the Paizo subscriber adventure path model but a magnitude larger.

Even if the core books drop significantly the seasonal adventures might just take up the slack.

which, honestly, blows my mind.
I think its pretty clear that WotC modeled their story arcs after Pathfinder's adventure paths. It works.

For me the main missing component in the strategy, and what I miss from AD&D days, are modules. I'd love to see them augment the two big story arcs a year with a few 32-pagers (Maybe throw in a 64-pager every so often).
 

The problem with making a permanent edition is eventually that one edition will become so bloated that no one will buy the books anymore.
Sure, if they just keep making more crunch books. But an RPG's feasibility doesn't demand an endless stream of crunch. WotC could freeze all new mechanics (except maybe monsters) and still keep putting out their mega-adventurers and making setting books and sell D&D indefinitely.

The idea that you have to build to a critical mass of mechanical content and then start over, isn't inherent with the media; it's just something that has happened before.

As far as setting, that's even less a concern. You can continue to create new settings and adventures indefinitely without needing to create a new edition.
 

Mercurius

Legend
Sure, if they just keep making more crunch books. But an RPG's feasibility doesn't demand an endless stream of crunch. WotC could freeze all new mechanics (except maybe monsters) and still keep putting out their mega-adventurers and making setting books and sell D&D indefinitely.

The idea that you have to build to a critical mass of mechanical content and then start over, isn't inherent with the media; it's just something that has happened before.

As far as setting, that's even less a concern. You can continue to create new settings and adventures indefinitely without needing to create a new edition.
Exactly. They publish their four books a year, maybe throw in a surprise every two or three years, and re-package the core books every decade or so with minor revisions and, voila, D&D: The Perennial Edition.
 

Parmandur

Legend
The great thing about Monopoly is that, unless you're really into Monopoly, you have no idea it's been updated multiple times in your lifetime. Wasn't that property always worth that? Wasn't it always located there? No, it wasn't, and it took the stats nerds really getting into Monopoly to make it happen.

Newer purchasers get a better game, but no one goes "holy crap, I'm not playing Monopoly again until the new version comes out -- IF I want to reward them for invalidating my raggedy ass box that I've had for 20 years!"
I can see 6E being that way.
 

Parmandur

Legend
I hear your point, but I think there's room between "working on" and just being passive. I think it was Mearls who said that they have a "6E folder" for all the bits and pieces they think of along the way. But I doubt they are actively "working on it," other than the anniversary possibility I mentioned.



Yes, that's probably true. But as I said, the minority back then was a larger percentage of the total fan-base. It is the folks that play the game, edition after edition. "Lifers," if you will. In truth, I think that's a big distinction that should be made, and perhaps a conundrum that WotC puzzles over. You have temporary players who play it for a year or three, perhaps catching the fad, and then interest fades. But then you have lifers--those of us (everyone posting here, I'd imagine) who caught the bug and, whether it was OD&D or 5E, we're in it in some form or fashion for the long haul. What I think WotC must puzzle over, although realize is unsolvable, is how to "convert" the faddish fans into lifers. I'm not sure there's an answer to that. But it would seem that the cultural context at least increases the likelihood that some of those faddish fans will become lifers, and of those that don't, perhaps their temporary stay will be longer.

Or to put it generationally, it would seem that 5E has really caught on with younger millenials--those born in the 90s and early 00s. It remains to be seen whether "Gen Z" (born roughly 2004 and later, according to Strauss-Howe) will be hooked to a significant degree.
I think they've realized trying to make that conversion as their primary goal is a fools game: the real money is in giving those more transitory fans a movie to go see, video games to play, or t-shirts to buy. The game is not the commercial engine, merchandise is.
 

Mercurius

Legend
I think they've realized trying to make that conversion as their primary goal is a fools game: the real money is in giving those more transitory fans a movie to go see, video games to play, or t-shirts to buy. The game is not the commercial engine, merchandise is.
Yes, and coupling that with the (presumed) strategy of establishing D&D as a perennial game ala Catan, which continually draws in new people and casual fans can come back to, again and again.
 

Parmandur

Legend
I think its pretty clear that WotC modeled their story arcs after Pathfinder's adventure paths. It works.

For me the main missing component in the strategy, and what I miss from AD&D days, are modules. I'd love to see them augment the two big story arcs a year with a few 32-pagers (Maybe throw in a 64-pager every so often).
They haven't done two storylines in a year since 2016...Perkins couldn't keep up that pace.

All of their Adventure books are basically collections of 16-32 page modules with a thin excuse for connecting them. And 9-10 modules for $30 is a better deal than releasing them individually for $20...
 



Haffrung

Explorer
I think if WotC were to publish another edition of D&D, it would actually be mechanically simpler than 5E, and lean into PC background and storytelling. That seems to be what most new players coming to the game from streamed games are looking for.

One thing that WotC learned from the Next development and playtesting is that while hardcore gamers who enjoy number-crunching are highly active and visible on forums, out in the wild they're greatly outnumbered by casual players and others who take a rules-light approach. The leads pretty much came out and said as much during the development of next. And my sense is the massive influx of new players in the 5E skew even more casual and rules-light. The same thing happened with tabletop boardgames - the hobby exploded in the last 10 years, most of the growth has been at the casual end of the market.

Or to put in another way, if WotC did a market analysis of the people who have been introduced to D&D in the last five years, and designed a game from the ground up to suit their preferences, my sense is it would be a much simpler system mechanically.

Of course, there's only so much simplification they could carry out while keeping the game backward compatible with 5E. But the point is the market for an advanced 5E would be much smaller than the market for D&D light (or 'saga D&D').
 
Last edited:


Parmandur

Legend
I think if WotC were to publish another edition of D&D, it would actually be mechanically simpler than 5E, and lean into PC background and storytelling. That seems to be what most new players coming to the game from streamed games are looking for.

One thing that WotC learned from the Next development and playtesting is that while hardcore gamers who enjoy number-crunching are highly active and visible on forums, out in the wild there's greatly outnumbered by casual players and others who take a rules-light approach. The leads pretty much came out and said as much during the development of next. And my sense is the massive influx of new players in the 5E skew even more casual and rules-light. The same thing happened with tabletop boardgames - the hobby exploded in the last 10 years, most of the growth has been at the casual end of the market.

Or to put in another way, if WotC did a market analysis of the people who have been introduced to D&D in the last five years, and designed a game from the ground up to suit their preferences, my sense is it would be a much simpler system mechanically.

Of course, there's only so much simplification they could carry out while keeping the game backward compatible with 5E. But the point is the market for an advanced 5E would be much smaller than the market for D&D light (or 'saga D&D').
One easy thing they could do.Cut Feats, cut Multiclassing. Most of the people I know who play avoid even looking at those options, as they find them fiddley and intimidating. Makes room in the PHB, too.
 

Eyes of Nine

Everything's Fine

Advertisement1

Latest threads

In Our Store!

Most Liked Threads

Advertisement2

Advertisement4

Top