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Where Wizards Went Wrong

posted Tuesday, January 9th 2007 by Jonathan Drain
None of the Above

While I don’t think Wizards of the Coast will admit it, I think it’s a general consensus among players that the popularity of Dungeons & Dragons has been waning. Certainly it’s to be expected that some players will eventually get bored of any game. I think the question is, have Wizards made any decisions that, in retrospect, we would consider to have been big mistakes?

Here’s what I’m thinking.

  • Refusing to publish adventure modules. Wizards’ strategy of the Open Gaming License was innovative, to say the least, allowing WotC to publish only the most profitable material (core rulebooks, player character splatbooks) while leaving a free market of numerous small publishers to fill in the rest. However, relying on third-parties to produce all of third edition’s adventures was nothing short of foolish. In reality, the most successful third party publishers also realised that some material was more profitable than others, and put out a wide range of their own splatbooks. Without a steady stream of high-quality adventures keeping things fresh for players, a significant number of D&D fans no doubt became tired of their DM’s homebrew material and simply quit playing.
  • Eberron was ebber-wrong. Keith Baker’s setting was an ambitious project, and when I bought the main seting book I immediately found several things I liked about it – the backstabbing intrigue, the immortality of outsiders, and the elemental binding, to name a few. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a cool setting. The problem was that in releasing a plethora of Eberron products at the expense of every other setting, Wizards really put all their eggs in one basket – a basket that isn’t for everyone, because it doesn’t represent the traditional hack-and-slash D&D experience. Greyhawk, on the other hand, was shelved early on despite free advertising in the core rulebooks, and Forgotten Realms has been all but cancelled despite a huge fan-following from Salvatore’s Drizzt novels the popular games Baldur’s Gate and Neverwinter Nights.
  • The OGL was a flop – sort of. For third parties, the opportunity to write D&D content without paying a licensing fee was an incredible boon. Unfortunately, this had the drawback that Wizards made nothing from many third party products, many of which competed directly with their own books. What’s more, the growing PDF market gave rise to an awful lot of small-time self-published writers with absolutely no grasp on the subtleties of the d20 system, thus releasing all manner of low-quality or unbalanced products that may have discouraged players from the game in general.
  • Finding groups is still difficult. Dungeons & Dragons is not a solo game, and a player whose group dissolves often has difficulty finding another. The question is, why isn’t Wizards encouraging the retailers of their books to set up game days or clubs, or at least put up a noticeboard for players to find groups. I’m sure many shops do this already. Wizards is losing money because mine does not.

To be fair, however, there are several factors which have always been out of Wizards’ control, or perhaps couldn’t reasonably have been predicted.

  • MMOs have stolen everyone’s players. Of all modern RPGs, D&D is widely considered the most “hack-and-slash”. Although a D&D can be played without any combat at all, the entry-level game that gets most young guys interested is always going to be the competetive, gamesy old-school D&D where gamers play to win with consistent rules. World of Warcraft not only provides the multiplayer hack-and-slash experience, it does so on-demand and with flashy graphics. Why play D&D for four hours a week when you can get your powergaming fix online whenever it suits you?
  • People are getting bored. By now, many players who joined in third edition have done everything in the game. They’ve learned every rule, fought every monster, played every character. The novelty is gone, and that’s enough to get some people to leave for a new game. After all, D&D is only one game – would you still play PC games if the only one available were graphical upgrades and different expansion packs for Quake?
  • There are only so many prospective players. The market for games is limited. A lot of people just aren’t interested in rolling dice while pretending to be an elf, and cannot be convinced by any amount of marketing; of the people who would enjoy D&D, a lot of them already do play the game, and there are only so many books that one person can buy. For this reason, the game’s userbase cannot grow indefinitely, and with players quitting for various reasons it makes sense that the market will gradually shrink over time.

Comments

  1. ScottM

    January 9th, 2007

    Interesting thoughts. I don’t know how much I agree… but that’s probably because our group doesn’t just play D&D. Generally, there are lots of classes and options that my group is still interested in– because we’ve only run two 3.0+ campaigns.

    The options from recently released books (like the Complete series) came out after our last round of character generation, so they weren’t really a part of our character design. The next campaign we start, we’ll get to start with those options, which should shake things up.

    For me, Ebberon is the only published world I’d prep for; I agree that other ideas (Forgotten Realms and Greyhawk) are closer to used up.

    While it isn’t a panacea, RPGA game days have been very good for pickup gaming. If I was looking for a full time group, I’d probably recruit from people I enjoyed playing with at RPGA events. Still, there’s always room to do better.

  2. Dragon_Child

    January 9th, 2007

    To me, you left one of the, if not THE most important things: 3.5, and the wizard designers being retarded monkies.

    WOTC has gotten rid of most of the good designers, and kept only some of the worst. Ed Stark and Andy Collins have only done material that helps their personal PCs, and 3.5 was such a total flop it’s rediculous. Nothing was balanced, there wasn’t even an EFFORT to make warrior classes useful, and there are more things that need to be houseruled now. Why would I want to buy tons of WOTC crap, produced by arrogant, stupid designers, when I can just play a system that’s of better quality with designers that’ll actually talk to me, listen to me, and seek my input (see: HERO)?

  3. snuzz420

    January 9th, 2007

    First thing, I must be honest I have NEVER played the 3E edition of D&D (also known as the d20 system). I personally play a mixture of 1st and 2nd editions of Advanced Dungeons and Dragons. Being a DM the one thing that i think most people need to learn is that the books…no matter what edition are just guidelines. They are simply there to give you an idea of how to play the game. I personally play with family members..we learned that it was a fun activity that we all enjoyed and allowed us to get together. So I have not had an issue of getting players. I think that the D&D tabletop gaming has been given the short stick due to all of the “electronic” RPG’s out there. I do enjoy a good D&D themed game, but personally nothiing beats tabletop gaming.

  4. MadMaxJr

    January 10th, 2007

    Well, WOTC has /tried/ to steer toward the MMO craze. Look at the PHB2 for instance. The knight is a class that controls aggro. The Dragon Shaman is an aura-buff person. They’re trying, but not sure if it’s right.

  5. Dragon_Child

    January 10th, 2007

    The “control aggro” stuff is hardly MMO stolen. It’s what’s necessary to make a useful warrior tank – something that the PHB fighters totally fail at. I don’t think you can blame WOTC for trying to make warrior types that are actually useful.

  6. Jonathan Drain

    January 11th, 2007

    A drawback to fighters is that archetypically they are very often either dwarven or in medium or heavy armour, dropping their speed to twenty feet. This means that it’s possible for an idiotic non-fighter such as a rogue to open combat by charging sixty feet and becoming a front-line fighter.

    The D&D fighter’s main goad ability lies in his ability to engage the opponent first. Smart and tough opponents will attempt to push past him to attack weaker members, but most opponents are either too weak or too dumb to pull this off successfully (thankfully for the wizards).

  7. xXpieXx

    November 14th, 2007

    there is alot less setbacks than you are let to believe(in order by bulleted list)
    1. not producing adventure modules:
    that is the whole point otherwise if you do use adventure modules than it completely kills the point of having something i call CREATIVITY and CREATIVITY is the only way you are accually going to have fun so if you play it that way it is comletely missing the point of the game
    2. no comment just no
    3.no because the children nowadays believe that dnd is “geeky”
    4. true but what one school did a dnd club that is private by the students now they have so many players that the dm is overwhelmed
    5.hardly and wtf there is solo champains and live action roleplaying also which means it is on demand also and you dont get fat while doing it lol
    6.accually with the bacic format is all you need you can create YOUR OWN class YOUR OWN item YOUR OWN race YOUR OWN god YOUR OWN domain YOUR OWN pretty much anything that is comepletely wrong
    7.that is because when it started in the early 70s there where nothing better to do so most people accually did play dnd but the reason why it is shrinking ( yeah you idiots it is about 30 yrs old so it COULD’T have copied because it did not have mmorpgs so the statement that is copied is comepletely wrong)other wise it’ll end up like the beatles which you are mostly dead but if those baby bomers could just teach them about dnd they would most shurely get hooked

  8. Jonathan Drain

    November 15th, 2007

    @xXpieXx:

    1. If adventure modules miss the point of the game, I doubt they would be so popular. Pre-written and free-form are both valid avenues of play, in my opinion.
    3. This has little or nothing to do with the success or failure of the OGL.
    4. Precisely my point. The dungeon master is the bottleneck: players without groups are far more numerous than dungeon masters who can’t find players.
    5. Of course, MMOs haven’t taken all roleplayers, or I wouldn’t be here blogging about it. However, they’ve taken a lot of them.
    6. D&D third edition is very exacting about game balance. Even so, the game is always races and classes going into places killing things and taking treasure. You can only extend it so much by putting out new fill-ins. Certainly, you and I aren’t getting bored with the game, but other people are – Wizards’ sales figures will attest to this.

  9. grand admiral thrawn

    March 3rd, 2009

    you said “Although a D&D can be played without any combat at all, the entry-level game that gets most young GUYS interested is always going to be the competetive, gamesy old-school D&D where gamers play to win with consistent rules”
    i find that some girls are more interested in that than i am

    go apostle of peace prestige class!!!!!

  10. elf master supreme

    February 13th, 2010

    I found other problems with how dnd works

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