To 4E or Not to 4E

After the announcement of Fourth Edition Dungeons & Dragons back at GenCon, I wrote in my blog about what would need to happen for this to really benefit Green Ronin. Today WotC announced the new terms of the Open Game License and how publishing would work under it. I was part of a conference call yesterday with nine other companies in which WotC gave us the skinny, so I’ve at least had a day to chew over the news. Back in September I said six things would need to happen for 4E to work for us. Let’s take a look at these again in light of the new info.

1) The new rules need to be good.

Jury is still out on this. More to the point, I can’t find out if they are good any time soon unless I’m willing to shell out $5,000 to get early access. That’s a big leap of faith.

2) WotC needs to convince the lion’s share of their fanbase to make the switch.

The marketing of 4E has not been stellar to date. This is still an open question.

3) The new rules need to be more successful at recruiting new roleplayers.

This remains unknown.

4) The d20 brand needs a new iteration that sheds the bad connotations the original took on.

We now know the d20 logo is dead. There will now only be the Open Game License, but it is going to include the type of strictures that previous only appeared in the d20 System Trademark License. The new OGL apparently will allow the use of some kind of compatibility language that includes a variant of the D&D; logo. This may remove some of the onus of the d20 logo, but it is going to make it harder to solicit books to retailers and distributors.

5) WotC needs to get us the new rules in time to learn them well enough to design good product and to make strategic plans that can capitalize on the game’s launch.

If you are willing to pay $5,000 up front, this can happen for the hobby market at least. It doesn’t help the book trade business of companies like GR and Paizo, since we needed to get info on our summer releases out this past October. One hopes that six months of lead time is enough to learn the rules and design for them, but without seeing the rules it is still hard to say.

6) WotC needs to do something to prevent a second d20 glut.

They have done something but perhaps not enough. The six months of exclusive time for those that pay for the Designer’s Kit will prevent a huge rush of stuff from small companies. This plan does nothing to prevent well funded and established companies from flooding the market with junk though and that was just as much of a problem in the original d20 market.

Naturally, people want to know what Green Ronin’s plans are for 4E. All I can tell you right now is that we are still debating internally. When WotC gets us the new OGL, we have to review it and see what we can and cannot do under it. So while I was hoping that this news would make our decision easier, our path is not yet clear. It may be that the smart play is just to put all our muscle behind a A Song of Ice and Fire Roleplay and push that like mofos. We’ll see.

8 thoughts on “To 4E or Not to 4E

  1. I should have hit your blog before nikchik’s — I posed the question there you just answered here (essentially, “the jury’s still out”). When Dave emailed the rest of us about the announcement this afternoon, I laughed and responded something like “Looks like we’ll be waiting for January. Ha!”

    $5,000.00 is a serious leap of faith for those of us without a serious commitment to that particular game, and I am not known for being a tower of faith. Oh, well.

  2. I’d vote for not bothering with it at all. But, if you are going for 4e, wait until it’s free, Chris. I can’t see how Wotc could expect anyone to pony up 5K on something they haven’t even seen and then won’t have time to really digest (unless you’ve got some of those freelancer playtesters on the line), and then you’ll have to bust butt to get out a product for GenCon.

    Forget 4e. Make more kickin’ M&M; and True20!!!!


  3. Glut, shmut. Guess who had the first third party 3e product to market? Green Ronin. They were a junky little company no one had heard of at that time, and then Death in Freeport was for sale at Gen Con the same day as 3e. It was great (not perfect, but given the timeframe was better than expected) and both contributed to the success of the 3e launch, and turned Green Ronin from nothing into something.

    Shame on Wizards for doing anything that would inhibit people from helping out the 4e launch in the same way, with great related product.

    And a bit of shame on Green Ronin – that’s exactly how you got started. Now that you’re big, you want the little guys shut out more?

    The common wisdom about the d20 “glut” is misguided IMO. The d20 logo doesn’t mean “crap!” to gamers nowadays in my experience, it just means d20 compatible. And having more content for your system is *good*. Some of it will be bad, and it won’t sell, and those companies will pass away. It’s like PC games – anyone can write one, which is WHY the PC is the best gaming platform. I think people are blaming the d20 glut on the RPG downturn, when they have the general economy more to blame. Saying that “oh, too many books, people can’t tell the good from the bad so they get confused and wander away” is retarded and it’s logic that doesn’t hold up in any related field. Does that frieghtening sci-fi book variety at Barnes & Noble cause the book industry to tank? No. Having three aisles full of PC games at Frye’s doesn’t make the PC gaming industry sink. This is disinformation that only feeds the interest of the guy trying to be the monopoly.

  4. I don’t want the small press shut down. If I did I certainly wouldn’t allow small companies to publish Mutants & Masterminds material under our M&M; Superlink program for free, for example.

    What I wanted was WotC to try to something with the new OGL to prevent what happened last time in the d20 world. With the 5K price tag they have made it hard on the small press without doing anything to stop larger companies who can afford that from pumping out as much stuff as they want. That was my point.

  5. The big question that has to be answered (I think) is whether Green Ronin would earn $5,000 more in net profit by releasing its first 4.0 products in August than they would by releasing the same products in January. And without seeing either the license or the source materials in advance, that’s a mystery.

    Spike Y Jones

  6. While M&M; and True20 are Stand alone, they both have their roots firmly entrenched in the 3.x version of D&D;, IMO; I think GR would do well to investigate the 4.0 stuff. I would love to see Fantasy M&M;, or rules for making abilities simular to the ones Wizards have discussed in either of your games. Add to that that NO ONE but GR has come up with a decent d20-esque superheroes RPG. I see a nich that needs filled.

  7. CP-

    From what little I have been able to gather so far (the two Preview books and the various EN scuttlebut), I am of the somewhat informed opinion that 4E is going to be very, very big.

    Hundreds of retailers will end up actually playing it in Vegas this spring, and they’ll go back to thier stores stoked for the new release.

    And again, this is my best guess, but as a retailer, I’m actually pretty happy with where they’ve set the bar to entry on the 4E stuff. I understand your fears of a glut anyway, but I think the companies that pony up the cash are all likely to be responsibel and market-savvy enough to know pick their releases reasonably wisely.

    You have alot of internal stuff that affects this, but I do want to invoke the ‘first in last out’ lesson that seems ot have stayed true the entire rise, decline, and fall of d20.

    When d20 first hit, there were half a dozen companies hwo had it together enough to release product. And for the mostpart, those companeis are the only ones whose product we ordered consistently throughout the ENTIRE cycle of d20, and in some cases (Freeport?) are still ordering, even as the line winds down.

    I cant’ help but think that the ‘geek cred’ that being part of that early elite garners is really worht something, especially given just how significant I really think 4E is going to be.

    The real bottom line, though, is that it would totally suck not have a Green Ronin adventure to run at our 4E launch party.

    -JC @ Modern Myths

  8. 4E because of the 5,000 dollar fee won’t have 5 million support books which might be a good thing because 3X was just TOO Much Crap that glutted the whole OGL.

    However, a good % of the players won’t run out and buy this product. First off, the golden age of RPGs in the 90s has passed. I know I have a ton of out of print books, and honestly our group has said “Why buy new rules?” when tons of prefectly good settings and books and RPGs on our shelves?
    If it offered something more than rules (by way of interesting settings) then maybe we’d be interested, but many players, like myself, don’t want to buy all new books for the 3rd time in 8 years just to have a new way to play the paladin mechanics while still role playing the same paladin we did in AD&D.;

    The desire to copy everything ala World of Warcraft is driving them. Aside from the obvious mechanical similarities of the game, they want a monthly subscription fee for premium content,(DDI). Don’t be fooled, of course they say “you don’t have to have DDI to play the game” , but they are in this biz to make money so EXPECT, (and don’t tell me they won’t do this as I’ve already seen many old wotc articles get moved to the DDI section) the really cool whistles, bells, feats, prestige classes, to be for DDI people only. Anyone that thinks otherwise is going to be sadly mistaken as they eventually will pay 14.99 a month for DDI or get it illegally or chuck the game in defiance of DDI.

    The advertising for 4E (the cartoons) are clearly aimed at 14 year olds and makes and old gamer like me feel like playing 1st edition just to stick it to them.

    So my predictions? The young rabid fans will buy the core books in june. Sales will be good, wotc will claim 4E is a success but continued sales will slump because many gamers will choose not to play 4E, many gamers will wait to see what happens, and lack of products because of the 5,000 fee will cause the hype to dive off early. Wotc will in turn hurry to crank out crap with lots of errors and mistakes to make money quickly for declining sales. Hasbro will attempt to sell wotc while they can use the june sales to prove how successful the biz is.

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