Or D&D Next, as some are calling it. Yes, it's what everyone is writing about these days. What will it do, what will it have rules-wise, why is Monty Cook working on it, OMFG. So I'm going to avoid that right now, and as I have done in the past, delve into the business side of things, at least, from my own limited perspective. Keep in mind, that as with all blogging, this is an Op-ed piece.
First of all, I was disappointed, if unsurprised, to learn that D&D was going to a 5th edition anyway, or at least, just doing a 5th edition. As I mentioned in the previous post, linked above, I don't think that adding another player to the edition wars is going to solve anything. The players who felt alienated when 3.x was abandoned for 4th pretty much either went to Pathfinder, or kept playing with the older material, and were lost as customers. They're not likely to come back in any lasting way for 5th. Also, the 4th ed base, who spent a lot of energy supporting that edition, splintered when Essentials came out, and will splinter further for this one, especially if it renegs on some of the best things about 4e (Economy of Actions, I am looking at you). While a Middle Way, which I think they're trying to do here, might be desirable, it is more likely that it will simply create more strife, because it means that 4e (which has been pretty much dumped for Essentials) and Essentials will no longer be supported at all.
A pause while those who are so inclined cheer over one or both of these things. Schadenfreude out of your system? Good. Let's continue.
As Shieldhaven will say at length, I am not a huge fan of 3.x, or Pathfinder (though I have just agreed to play a Pathfinder game. Another story for another post), because of various issues many of which I describe here (and which are actually worse than I describe, in fact). That said, every edition has both its problems, and its die-hard fans. The correct-- if perhaps difficult from a design manpower standpoint-- option?
The Two (or Three) State Solution: Support All Editions.
No, I mean it. WotC should take a clue from White Wolf, re-release all the material that they've got license to as e-texts, and offer Print on Demand. Potentially offer rules tweaks, new modules, and new content on a limited basis, primarily in an electronic format. And WotC can do this very, very easily. How?
The DDI character creator was the shit. I don't mean the online version, I mean the downloadable version that used to have all the updates. Making this a comprehensive and multi-edition database would be a product worth paying for. And how.
But I talked about all of this in the post that I linked above.
Now, while I know good and well that going back to supporting and providing content for 3.x won't, say, bring back those who defected to Pathfinder and are super happy with it. BUT it will be a more comfortable fit, and potentially get people back into generating sanctioned content for it, and allowing for more comfort with new additions, variations, and the like, as they can be secure that Their One True Edition will still be cared for. Continuing to support 4e and Essentials just means that they fail to lose people who invested in caring about those new rulesets, particularly those who are Less Than Enthused about the design stylings of Monty Cook, and what that means for future rulesets.
Also, the one New Book that I suggest for all editions is a DMG 2, much like was done in 4e. I cannot stress the importance of Show Me in how to run specific mechanics within a story.
Bring Back the Open Gaming License
Or at least, create a more wide-open licensing scheme by which people can offer home-brewed content, or small-press content at a nominal fee. This is more a point of Shieldhaven's than mine, but a huge problem with 4e, including DDI Char. Builder, is how hard it is to houserule, or for independent content reactors to actually generate compatible content. This is super good for the company in that it helps generate and spread interest; every interesting module someone makes potentially gets someone else to _also_ buy the core content.
Make it Clear
For my final point, it's less about the way the rules are (though that's important), but about how the information is presented. The biggest problem of all D&D editions up to this point is that the information in the rulebooks is explained so badly, and there's so much cruft, that finding anything is really very problematic. If the staff here spent some of their money on doing organization work on the books of the previous editions, this would go a _long_ way, I feel, to cleaning up some of the problems with them, by making things clear, and actually fixing legitimate errors and conflicts.
To sum up, I have a real problem with the idea that the best way to deal with the problems in the game(s) is to release a new ruleset every few years. I think that it's more a better way to just hemorrhage players, and drive everyone to either sticking with their old products, or going to games like Pathfinder, D20, or others. That's money left on the table, and it makes me super sad that WotC is not really looking into what these people actually want, and supporting that. I fear that they will wind up wasting a lot of time and money on an effective bust.