My local game store, Gamescape North, runs a discussion forum for their customers and the local game community. Recently there has been a huge discussion going on about what WotC is doing with D&D 4th Edition. Check out at least the first post in the discussion before you read further.
It seems that WotC is not only doing nothing to support local gaming stores, but is doing multiple things to actively undermine them. Distributors like Amazon and Borders are getting D&D books weeks before local game stores are, and are able to order massive amounts of books and therefore sell them at less of a margin. Their announcement has also ensured that those 3.5 books will be almost impossible to sell over the holiday season.
WotC is also pushing this Gleemax/subscription model drawn from MMOs, which I think is asinine. As many have humorously pointed out, they’ll be competing with their own MMO in that market – but it seems to be what they’re intent on doing. To use their lame online dungeon software, you’ll have to register unique codes from all of the books and expansions you buy – or else you can’t use the rules contained in them.
They’re also keeping third parties out of the loop on the OGL material. They claim that 4th Ed will be OGL, but I wonder whether it will be meaningfully so? As of now, since 4th is coming out, no one is buying 3.5 anymore and those are gathering dust on the shelves. Third parties are unable to develop new 4th Ed material because WotC is telling them nothing about 4th Ed. So I guess they just sit there twiddling their thumbs and laying off staff or something.
This is bad because the OGL has been great for the hobby. It has allowed an incredible number of creative people to contribute content and has spawned a number of new companies putting out quality material for d20. It looks like, even if 4th Ed eventually goes OGL, the time of rich contributions from third parties might be in a major decline.
Is this anything but a crass money-grab from people who have no interest in the hobby overall beyond their own profit margin? Sorta looks like it.
As I said on the forum linked to above:
Long-term prediction: WotC kills D&D, Hasbro realizes you can’t really make money in gaming, and they sell the license to a better company as TSR did one upon a time, and life goes on. 5th Edition comes out at GenCon 2012 to great fanfare and huge paper-mache dragons. By then game stores have had to diversify somewhat, and the industry takes a while to recover, but the WotC D&D Reich has fallen, and we have our damn hobby back.