Someone recently asked on a forum if the fourth edition is anything like the launch of third edition in 2000. It seems that second edition players objected a lot less to buying the new edition in 2000 than the current edition players do now.
I think there are two major differences.
First, that the delay between 2ed and 3ed was exceptionally long, in RPG terms. When I first read 2ed AD&D it was 1995, and that was the revised printing released six years after the 1989 original. AD&D’s flaws had been picked and beaten for over a decade, and so a new edition was a godsend. It had been long enough for people to get bored of the game, then nostalgic for how it used to be. Players were hungry for a new, fresh Dungeons & Dragons, and third edition was a smash hit.
On the other hand, 3.5 was pretty much a disaster. It was too soon, like an early dinner after a late lunch – you could have stomached it, but it was too much too soon. The head chefs at Wizards of the coast impatiently pushed on to the second course, leaving everyone dissatisfied with the result: a rushed, undercooked serving that was far more than anyone really wanted.
Now they’re making a big deal out of doing a proper job with fourth edition, but after 3.5 everyone’s a little distrusting of Wizards. To a lot of people, it feels like yet another money-grabbing rushed edition. “We want more money, so hand in your old books. Surrender everything you like about third edition, and pay us for the privilege!”
The second difference between 3e and 4e is the internet. Disgruntled voices carry a lot further here, and everyone is confirming each other’s paranoia. Look at how little has been said of the new rules, and already the masses are declaring that this edition will be awful, they’ll never buy these new books. Players are coming together on the internet, and the mass of like-minded people has them feeling like they can fight this thing together. (Although not as violent in its result, I strongly suspect this is the same vein of thinking that is how riots start.)