When I talk to other game industry people, they often ask me what is going on at WotC. There was certainly a time when I could tell them, having worked there for four years and knowing many of the people still inside the beast. These days though I don’t have much to report. Many of the people I knew have moved on and those I remain friendly with like their jobs enough not to go spilling secrets. So please don’t read too much into what follows. I sat down to write a little something about where the game industry was at in 2007. With all the other stuff I have going on, I realized that it was going to take me a long time to finish and it was going to be a lot longer than I expected. So I figured I’d do it in chunks instead and where better to start than the local heavyweight? These are my personal opinions, not those of Green Ronin, and I based on little more than observation and a fair understanding of the marketplace.
I might as well start with the question vexing the denizens of all D&D; fan boards at the moment: the dreaded new edition. I expect to see an announcement from WotC this year about 4th edition D&D;, probably at GenCon. The types of products that they are doing show all the signs that a new edition is in the works: compendiums (first spells, soon magic items, and then rules), disposable adventures, experiments (Book of Nine Swords), and nostalgia products. This is all the sort of stuff that happened in the waning years of second edition. Plus 2008 will be five years since the release of 3.5, which makes it a natural time to hit the reset button. I have talked to some folks who think this might be announced as early as next month at the “D&D; Experience” (the re-branded Winter Fantasy) but I really doubt that’s the case. There’s too much announced product in the queue and any 4E announcement is sure to kill sales on subsequent 3.5 books.
This year I also think D&D; minis may begin their decline. I think the majority of the purchasers have been roleplayers to date. DDM as a game barely seems to be a blip. Now that the minis have been available for a few years, I suspect most roleplaying purchasers have robust collections that give them most of the figs they need. The number of folks who will buy a full case on release will drop and instead they will buy the specific models they need from a new set on the secondary market. Of course, if set runs get smaller the secondary market will also suffer.
What WotC really needs to do to keep sales up is take the minis from being optional RPG accessories to mandatory ones. I don’t know what their plans are, but I would not be surprised if 4th edition takes a form that ties minis even tighter to the RPG experience. This will certainly make many fans howl if it happens. However, I’m betting that that collectible minis are making WotC a lot more money than D&D; books at the moment, which means the tail may now be wagging the dog. Considering the attitude of many RPG R&D; people when WotC first got into miniatures, this is supremely ironic.
While all this is going on, Magic will keep plugging along like it always does, giving WotC the solid baseline it requires to move ahead. It’s amazing that the workhorse keeps pulling the cart, but it has endured while games all around have died horrible deaths.