D&D 5E What is Quality?

Oofta

Legend
So this seems to come up on a regular basis. People say that 5E is not a quality product, I respond that millions of people disagree then out comes the retort "popularity is not quality".

I don't get it. D&D is a product. The goal of the team developing it was to create something that would sell well, that would have staying power. They exceeded all expectations and we've had the same edition for a decade and it's still going strong with minor optional enhancements and modules. From a business perspective minimal investment + continued popularity + year after year double digit growth = quality.

My reasons for saying 5E is a quality product is simple:
  1. It's had relatively little errata and clarification. With 3.0 we had so many changes that they had to release 3.5. With 4E, it had a ton of errata starting almost immediately after release and Essentials was an attempt to make fundamental changes to the game (even if for many it was too little too late).*
  2. The rules are coherent and largely without conflict.
  3. It's the most popular TTRPG ever. WOTC's goal is to sell books, stopping churn of new editions is also beneficial.
  4. People may pick up D&D because of brand, but they play and continue to play it because it works for them. History is littered with products that were once successful and are now forgotten because they let quality slip.
  5. My opinion based on what I value. This edition works better for me and my group better than any previous edition.
Many people will tell you that a Rolex is a higher quality than my old department store Casio digital watch I used to wear** because of what they value, what they consider important. But objectively? The Casio was likely as accurate if not more accurate than the Rolex. Probably less fragile, came with more functionality with features such as alarms, stopwatch, timer, a multiple time zone option. Objectively the Casio was a higher quality product, just not as flamboyant. For that matter, most people can't tell the difference between an $18 bottle of wine and a $3,000 bottle; they only rate the more expensive wine as better if they know how much it costs.

So how else are we supposed to judge quality of a product other than how well it sells and meets or exceeds it's targets? While nothing is perfect in my opinion 5E is a quality product, the highest quality of D&D released to date. If popularity isn't a primary indicator of quality, what is? Your opinion? Why is your opinion worth more than the opinions of millions who purchased and continue to play the game?

*According to Mearls, 4E was rushed to publication, they wanted something like Essentials integrated in on release and were not given enough time.
**Back when I wore a watch instead of carrying one in my pocket.
 

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So this seems to come up on a regular basis. People say that 5E is not a quality product, I respond that millions of people disagree then out comes the retort "popularity is not quality".

I don't get it. D&D is a product. The goal of the team developing it was to create something that would sell well, that would have staying power. They exceeded all expectations and we've had the same edition for a decade and it's still going strong with minor optional enhancements and modules. From a business perspective minimal investment + continued popularity + year after year double digit growth = quality.

My reasons for saying 5E is a quality product is simple:
  1. It's had relatively little errata and clarification. With 3.0 we had so many changes that they had to release 3.5. With 4E, it had a ton of errata starting almost immediately after release and Essentials was an attempt to make fundamental changes to the game (even if for many it was too little too late).*
  2. The rules are coherent and largely without conflict.
  3. It's the most popular TTRPG ever. WOTC's goal is to sell books, stopping churn of new editions is also beneficial.
  4. People may pick up D&D because of brand, but they play and continue to play it because it works for them. History is littered with products that were once successful and are now forgotten because they let quality slip.
  5. My opinion based on what I value. This edition works better for me and my group better than any previous edition.
Many people will tell you that a Rolex is a higher quality than my old department store Casio digital watch I used to wear** because of what they value, what they consider important. But objectively? The Casio was likely as accurate if not more accurate than the Rolex. Probably less fragile, came with more functionality with features such as alarms, stopwatch, timer, a multiple time zone option. Objectively the Casio was a higher quality product, just not as flamboyant. For that matter, most people can't tell the difference between an $18 bottle of wine and a $3,000 bottle; they only rate the more expensive wine as better if they know how much it costs.

So how else are we supposed to judge quality of a product other than how well it sells and meets or exceeds it's targets? While nothing is perfect in my opinion 5E is a quality product, the highest quality of D&D released to date. If popularity isn't a primary indicator of quality, what is? Your opinion? Why is your opinion worth more than the opinions of millions who purchased and continue to play the game?

*According to Mearls, 4E was rushed to publication, they wanted something like Essentials integrated in on release and were not given enough time.
**Back when I wore a watch instead of carrying one in my pocket.
Weird. Yesterday I was thinking whatever it’s shortcomings, it’s been a good game. A “quality product.” And I am going to play it today! Can’t wait!

I was an old AD&D player 1st edition! And I miss some parts of it but I find the new game colorful and malleable. They did well with a lot of things.

Overall the physical stuff is well produced and we have fun. The rules are consistent enough, the game is flexible and it’s not overly complex. Plenty clean. I still have a first printing and it’s fine
 


Oofta

Legend
People are absolutely terrible at differentiating between "I don't like it" and "it is bad." The number of times I have read the words "it's bad design" from people who have no idea how to design things is overwhelming.

In short: I wouldn't worry about it too much.

I'm not worried about it. But when people state "Popularity is not quality" what do they think defines quality for a mass market product?
 

Individual aspects of 5e could be called good/bad/whatever but the overall system is way too fluid to be given such a restrictive description unless you don't like that aspect. Which in itself is subjective.

For example I could say the editing for material could be better formatting to make it more user friendly. I could say the early printings has physical quality issues. I could say the rule RAI clarification communication paths are poorly executed.

I couldn't say the new direction or ASI as racial traits is poor quality. I can't say that the fact they haven't done a X type splat book is poor quality.
 


Quality does not rhyme with popularity.
Take the VHS vs Beta recorders. Beta was the better product. Way better than VHS but... Beta had two hours or recording and VHS 6 hours. Guess which one won?

The same can be said with fast food and good quality restaurant. McDonald is quality fast food (even if these two concept do not go well together) but it will never beat the quality you will find in a five star restaurant. And yet, which one makes the most money? McDonald's by a large, a very very large margin.

And music? Everyone knows that the music in classical and heavy metal is richer than rap, hip hop and pop (and I love hip hop and pop). But which one are the most popular? Here, the formers need way better musicians than the laters and yet, the laters sell quite well.

The analogy works as well for D&D 5ed. Or even D&D in general. The fact that it sells so well does not mean it is top quality product. Who beside me had to repair their 5ed PHB because the books were falling apart after a few months of using? I know that I am not alone because I repaired quite a few for friends. My three PHB had to be repaired including my MM. There is more to quality than the system. They have improved but the simple fact that many PHB, MM and even DMG had to be repaired can be an indication.

But the system of 5ed, in general, is of really good quality. There are very few things that bugs me (the bard, the sorcerer, the monk and beast ranger for example). Few things in the rules do not make sense (no punchy smithadin...), the removal of alignment and the coming back (sort of) or simply the addition of floating ASI at large where only the +1 would have suffice... At launch, 5ed was great. Now... well, the direction is quite opposite of what I do want, but does that make the product of less quality? I do not think so. But it does make it less in line with my personal (and my table's) preferences. There are RPGs out there where the design is more consistent and dare I say, of better quality? But they are not as popular as D&D.
 

Reynard

Legend
I'm not worried about it. But when people state "Popularity is not quality" what do they think defines quality for a mass market product?
I don't think they have an alternate definition in their minds, they are just defending their disdain for something popular. It's like when Christopher Nolan or whoever comes out against Marvel movies because his newest cinema de tedium didn't sell half the tickets Black Widow did.
 

clearstream

(He, Him)
So this seems to come up on a regular basis. People say that 5E is not a quality product, I respond that millions of people disagree then out comes the retort "popularity is not quality".
RPG popularity is measured on one dimension - number of people playing it - which is objective.
RPG quality is measured on many dimensions - what those are and how you weight them - which is subjective.

An observed relationship between the two is that quality acts as a multiplier on marketing budget; through organic drivers like conversion, retention, and promotion. The games market follows a winner-takes-all pattern, where the top few claim a disproportionate share... again, probably through factors that multiply together such as store owners giving the top products higher prominence, or search engines showing them on page one. You can picture a relationship like this

Awareness * conversion * retention * promotion (organic) = popularity.

Quality feeds into conversion (those who try it find it satisfying), retention (those who find it satisfying, continue to do so), promotion (those who continue to find it satisfying, tell others.)

Commercial success delivers more funding to sustain quality, but that comes with increased expectations and constraints. Those constraints can lead to taking the safe path - the one likely to satisfy (count as "high quality" for) the greatest audience - which can be dissatisfying to those in cohorts that are currently minorities. There can be a feeling of oppressiveness, although I think on balance the success of 5e is creating space for other RPGs to prosper in.
 
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Minigiant

Legend
Supporter
It's had relatively little errata and clarification. With 3.0 we had so many changes that they had to release 3.5. With 4E, it had a ton of errata starting almost immediately after release and Essentials was an attempt to make fundamental changes to the game (even if for many it was too little too late).*
That was a choice. 5e could really really use a 3.5 style update. The designers choose not to do it to keep the old book relevant. They choose to like DM due the heavy lifting or let groups ignore the stuff that doesn't work. Plus TCOE and MOTM updates.

5e is still quality. It's high quality. It's just not perfect. It's nowhere near perfect. It's just "good enough to not mind due to late of competitor".
 

Micah Sweet

Legend
I don't think they have an alternate definition in their minds, they are just defending their disdain for something popular. It's like when Christopher Nolan or whoever comes out against Marvel movies because his newest cinema de tedium didn't sell half the tickets Black Widow did.
People can have complaints about something popular without it just being sour grapes, so I find your argument reductive. That said, 5e is probably the best D&D for me mechanically, and easy to hack to suit my sensibilities (which is great, because lately I've disagreed strongly with the direction they're taking).
 

Reynard

Legend
People can have complaints about something popular without it just being sour grapes, so I find your argument reductive. That said, 5e is probably the best D&D for me mechanically, and easy to hack to suit my sensibilities (which is great, because lately I've disagreed strongly with the direction they're taking).
I wasn't saying there are no valid criticisms of 5E. Far from it. What I am saying is that in answer to the OP, when people say "popularity doesn't equal quality" without any further discussion, THEY are the ones being reductive. I wasn't commenting on the "quality" of 5E at all.
 

Oofta

Legend
Quality does not rhyme with popularity.
Take the VHS vs Beta recorders. Beta was the better product. Way better than VHS but... Beta had two hours or recording and VHS 6 hours. Guess which one won?

The same can be said with fast food and good quality restaurant. McDonald is quality fast food (even if these two concept do not go well together) but it will never beat the quality you will find in a five star restaurant. And yet, which one makes the most money? McDonald's by a large, a very very large margin.

I don't care for McDonalds and haven't eaten there this century. On the other hand, McDonalds has extremely high quality control standards. You go into a McDonalds and order a Happy Meal and it will be a Happy Meal whether you're in Fairbanks or Miami. You'll also know that the place will be well lit and clean. On the other hand, while I don't eat out often I do enjoy a burger at Culver's now and then. For me? A burger and a shake on average has been more satisfying and enjoyable than highly rated expensive restaurants I've tried. So for me, by and large that burger is a higher quality. There's no accounting for taste. 🤷‍♂️ Just like most people can't tell the difference between an $18 bottle of wine and a $3,000 bottle of wine.

And music? Everyone knows that the music in classical and heavy metal is richer than rap, hip hop and pop (and I love hip hop and pop). But which one are the most popular? Here, the formers need way better musicians than the laters and yet, the laters sell quite well.
So ... classical music is higher quality because you say so? I would say that they're different, it doesn't make one higher quality. It depends on the goals of the people making the music. For one person Wagner might be da bomb, for someone else it might be Rhianna. While Rhianna isn't on my Spotify list personally, she has very high quality production and concert standards. Many bands hit big and then flair out because they simply can't sustain a quality product. Whether that's because they were one-hit-wonders who just happened to get lucky or because of personal issues with the performers.

When it comes to 5E, if it wasn't a popular product they would have been like one-hit-wonder Blind Melon or Nickleback who were big for a while but had so, so many issues.

The analogy works as well for D&D 5ed. Or even D&D in general. The fact that it sells so well does not mean it is top quality product. Who beside me had to repair their 5ed PHB because the books were falling apart after a few months of using? I know that I am not alone because I repaired quite a few for friends. My three PHB had to be repaired including my MM. There is more to quality than the system. They have improved but the simple fact that many PHB, MM and even DMG had to be repaired can be an indication.
If your books fell apart you should have sent them back for new ones. I did (twice, different books) and not only did they replace it with no questions asked and no receipt, they also sent me an additional product as well. I agree the printer of the books wasn't great quality but their customer service was quite high quality.

But the system of 5ed, in general, is of really good quality. There are very few things that bugs me (the bard, the sorcerer, the monk and beast ranger for example). Few things in the rules do not make sense (no punchy smithadin...), the removal of alignment and the coming back (sort of) or simply the addition of floating ASI at large where only the +1 would have suffice... At launch, 5ed was great. Now... well, the direction is quite opposite of what I do want, but does that make the product of less quality? I do not think so. But it does make it less in line with my personal (and my table's) preferences. There are RPGs out there where the design is more consistent and dare I say, of better quality? But they are not as popular as D&D.

Yeah, nothing is perfect. I'm not saying 5E is the highest quality RPG of all time because I don't know how you would measure that. But 5E seems to be a quality product for millions of people, more people play every year. For a game when there's so much competing for our spare time to accomplish what 5E has to me indicates that for a lot of people it is a quality product.

People have voted with their dollars and time.
 

Minigiant

Legend
Supporter
I wasn't saying there are no valid criticisms of 5E. Far from it. What I am saying is that in answer to the OP, when people say "popularity doesn't equal quality" without any further discussion, THEY are the ones being reductive. I wasn't commenting on the "quality" of 5E at all.
I think that argument is usually a response to "5E is the most popular RPG so your criticism are invalid and unpopular" that itself is a response to most criticism of or desires to add to 5e.
 

Campbell

Relaxed Intensity
5e is a well designed game. There is a lot more that goes into its popularity than it's design quality (although it definitely has an impact). There are also plenty of games that are just as well designed. I don't really see the value of constantly pointing out 5e's popularity rather than to outgroup those who are fans of other games (even if they are also fans of 5e).

It also shortcuts actual interesting conversation. You want to talk about the quality of the design? Then please talk about the actual quality of the game design - what makes it so good. Then we can have an actual discussion.
 

Oofta

Legend
5e is a well designed game. There is a lot more that goes into its popularity than it's design quality (although it definitely has an impact). There are also plenty of games that are just as well designed. I don't really see the value of constantly pointing out 5e's popularity rather than to outgroup those who are fans of other games (even if they are also fans of 5e).

It also shortcuts actual interesting conversation. You want to talk about the quality of the design? Then please talk about the actual quality of the game design - what makes it so good. Then we can have an actual discussion.

So how do you define quality of design? I gave my reasons, ongoing success is just one and it's only a measurement. I think you have to look at the goals of a game, what the developers were trying to do and how they accomplished their goals.
 


Oofta

Legend
The argument is not about saying it isn't 'a quality product', it's about not liking it when someone bombs discussions about flaws and critique with 'It's popular, so shut up' in order to cut that discussion off.
When you criticize something that I think works well, I don't think it's wrong to disagree.
 


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