posted Tuesday, January 9th 2007 by
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.