When you sit down to design any game, one of the first questions you want to answer is, “Who is the target audience?” This is doubly true when you are starting work on a new edition. Most new editions choose one of these two options:
1) The game is for newbies.
2) The game is for the entrenched fanbase.
So basically, are you trying to attract new players or are you trying to please your existing fans? Now obviously you have some room to move here, but this fundamental choice is going to affect everything about the game. When I was designing the second edition of WFRP, making the game attractive and easily accessible to new players was my most important design goal. That’s why I considered it crucial to make character creation fast and simply, keep the entire game less than 300 pages, avoid overly complicated rules, and limit the setting info to the Empire. I’ve been reading Ars Magica, Fifth Edition lately (because Nicole is starting a game) and it takes the opposite approach. The design choices seem to be made for longtime fans first and foremost. This is good in some ways, because you have plenty of choice, but not so good in others, because character creation has so many options that it takes a lot longer than it used to. Generally speaking, many things that used to be simpler now have more comprehensive and thus more complicated systems.
Now I am not saying that if you choose to try to attract new players, you are writing off your existing fanbase. There’s plenty you can and should do to keep the old players as you move into a new edition, but I do think focusing too much on pleasing the hardcore players can be a mistake. When you launch a new edition, it’s an event and a chance to bring in a whole new group of players in on the ground floor. I think you want to show off what’s best about your game and to make it approachable to those who aren’t steeped in its lore. If you can hook people with your new edition, you can always add in the other material in supplements. If the new edition fails to engage them in the first place, your plans for follow-ups are academic.