Is Wizards of the Coast Killing D&D?

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.

One thought on “Is Wizards of the Coast Killing D&D?

  1. I agree and disagree:

    – Big distributors tend to take priority over little ones. This is always the nature of the beast. I call this a factor of business, rather than any deliberate attempt to undermine the hobby. However, in my opinion, local gaming stores are utterly key to the future success of Dungeons & Dragons.

    – D&D Insider competing with the D&D MMO is irrelevant to WotC. In fact, I suspect they would shut the MMO down in an instant if they thought it posed a serious threat. In reality, D&D played online is dramatically different to an MMO based on the D&D ruleset, and in that regard WoW has largely beaten DDO into obscurity.

    – The gametable software cannot and will not prohibit you from using content contained in books you don't own. It simulates only a gaming table; the DM is still the rules arbiter. This said, as someone who runs D&D weekly as an online event I'm concerned that the software will fail to live up to expectations, and I am utterly unimpressed by what passes for web desgin at WotC – which is a shame, because a quintessential subscription service is precisely, precisely what the game needs.

    – The expectation that the OGL will be a farce is so far purely conjecture. As you mentioned, none of the third parties know anything at this stage. It's a certainty that third parties will continue to bolster the market, but to be fair, a great deal of PDF-based OGL material has been utter rubbish. In that sense I've been very surprised that Wizards actually allowed it.

    Consider the number of people who swore up and down that they would stick with 3.0 and never move to 3.5. Those same people are the ones defending 3.5 against 4th edition. In reality we know very little about fourth edition – even with rules previews, we don't know how well it plays in practice. In that sense, we have room for optimism.


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