Muchachos, hemos perdido la inocencia.
Aviso: enorme tocho en inglés, pero interesantísimo. Merece mucho la pena.
I discussed this with a couple of Paizo freelancers last week (who shall remain nameless) and they were both wondering what I thought about it.
Well, for one, we all agreed that Monte was at WotC working on 5th Ed.. There is no other reason for him to be there, so we are all agreed on that. It’s coming and there is no doubt about it. As for when, well that’s a much bigger question. My guess – and that’s all it is – is that we might see this in the winter /spring of 2013, and certainly by Gencon 2013 at the latest.
Please appreciate that there are a few other factors which will impact upon its release. The biggest element is the time it will take Monte and his team (he’s not alone on this) to design, playtest and write it. I don’t see that process as being less than a year – and maybe a little more than that. I think it is also likely that WotC will try to integrate software tools to fully support it. That code is going to require a substantial part of the rules system to be completed before it can really get under way towards a beta state. Because I’m convinced WotC is going to continue to emphasize its online subscription model for 5E, all of that says to me that 5E cannot possibly be ready before the Winter of 2013 at the earliest – and probably later that year.
The Five Year Trend
2013 also fits within WotC’s emerging “five year” horizon for their editions of D&D. After 3.0, WotC went towards an emerging trend of “five years” in terms of their “Revise. Reset. Resell” marketing strategy for the game. I find that marketing strategy to be exceptionally odious and the main reason why 4E was a failure in comparison to 3E. Never mind what it was or what it wasn’t in terms of its underlying design – it’s main failing was that it was released too soon.
As Monte noted on the podcast earlier this year, there was a tremendous interest in 3E because 2E was D-E-A-D at the time of 3E’s release. When 4E was released, 3E was still very much alive in the market place in terms of its value in use. Late era 3.5 sales edged down for WotC because the market they wanted to exploit (rule books) had only so much capacity before it was overwhelmed. And there is no question at all that WotC overwhelmed gamers with 3.5 rules – so many of them and released so often that WotC pretty much ran out of ideas and topics to write books about – and enough customers interested in those ideas – to make it sensible to make more of them. I’m not suggesting somebody could have come up with better ideas, btw. There’s only so many rules you can release in such a short period of time. (I’ve got at least twenty 3.5 books from that era on my shelf I’ve barely cracked – and never read.)
What WotC needed to do was come up with a different product line instead of selling rules. WotC needed a new product line that had more capacity for absorption in the marketplace. WotC did exactly that with D&D Miniatures and for a time, it worked. But WotC overestimated the capacity of the market to absorb the product in as short a time span as the product was being released. They ended up flooding the market with too much inventory in 2006/2007 and that inventory glut harmed that market in the short to medium term for the next few years, too.
So WotC ran out of topics to write books on and they ran out of customers who wanted to buy miniatures by the case. They couldn’t find a way to make adventures profitable enough for them to justify the development expense and sustain the product line over a longer life-cycle. It was time to release 4E.
As a consequence, 4E was not “too soon” for WotC, but it was much “too soon” for most of their customers. That’s a real problem for WotC’s business model and it is one that they still have not addressed.
Moreover, 4E’s break from compatibility with 3E was a disastrous design decision from a marketing perspective, because when the OGL was factored into the picture, it opened the market to actual competition against D&D’s brand. Taker a release of an Edition of the game which was put out too soon, add to it the OGL, and what you got was Pathfinder RPG. Pathfinder aimed directly at lifestyle gamers who weren’t done with 3.xx yet. As a consequence, in my estimation, Paizo has now pried at least half of those “lifestyle gamers” away from WotC and they have built their following for Pathfinder from that secure, (if demanding), customer base ever since.
Losing half or more of your lifestyle gamers hurt WotC’s success in the “long tail” of its product line in the later stages of 4E. Its expansion rule books did not sell nearly so well because half the people (or more) who would have bought them didn’t. They were off buying Pathfinder. Still, that’s not the real problem when it comes to marketing 4E. The expansion books sustain the brand and make a bit of money, but the real cash is in the temporary gamers. And THAT has been the problem we’ve seen in the past two years for WotC. The emergence of Paizo as a real competitor of an ongoing brand has siphoned off not just half of their “lifestyle gamers”. If that is all it was, it wouldn’t be so bad. But Pathfinder has become so successful that it has siphoned off a BIG ASS CHUNK of new gamers churning IN to the market for their temporary 1 to 3 year stint in the hobby. Those are the customers who bulk up the number of core rulebooks sold and can make the game significantly profitable.
I don’t know how many of the new gamers have “churned in” to Pathfinder RPG instead of “churning in” to 4E, but it’s a HELLUVA LOT. That’s why we have seen the sales numbers of Pathfinder’s Core Rulebook INCREASE in 2010 and 2011. There is no other explanation for that sales trend that fits the facts. Those are customers who aren’t WotC customers and never will be. That’s a big loss to WotC in terms of their sales levels. Not good. WotC’s Essentials line was aimed at those new customers, and the market performance of the Essentials lines indicates that it didn’t work. At the same time, there weren’t enough of those new customers coming in to make the D&D minis line profitable, and WotC has killed that collectible product line off, too.
So now we’re getting 5E.
5E will Probably be Awesome
So, what will 5E be like? I haven’t a clue. Given that it’s Monte Cook, and further given that WotC lost a lot of customers to Pathfinder RPG that they would very much like to have back (and FAR worse, has since lost a LOT of short-term customers who have become Paizo’s temporary customers instead of WotC’s), I think it’s fair to say that the future of D&D will look more like its past and less a significant break from the traditions of D&D that 4E was. I think 5E will not be taking not so much a step forward so much as it will really be one step back and two steps sideways.
While there will remain some aspects of 4E that WotC will continue with along into 5E, I think 5E will look a lot more like a fusion of Star Wars: Saga Edition & d20 Modern re-infused with Arcana Evolved/Iron Heros touch of 3.xx.. The game will look a lot less like 4E and a lot more like 3.5. It truly will be more of a ver 3.90. That’s my feeling. I may well be wrong.
But really, that’s not what’s important. I know it SEEMS that it’s important, but it isn’t. I’m fairly certain in fact that I will like 5E as a system. In fact, I am fully prepared to like it a lot. But there are three factors involved in 5E – all of which are beyond the capabilities of Monte Cook to redeem or remediate – which will cause me to not adopt it as my go to RPG.
I want to be clear that I really don’t think there will be “problems” with Fifth Edition, as such. I think Monte will do a pretty damn good job, overall. From my perspective, the “problems” with Fifth Edition stem from the corporate objectives and business model of Wizards of the Coast, not from the design talents of Monte Cook. As such, those problems are beyond the capability of any one designer to ameliorate == and any one edition of the game to fix.
The Problems with Wizards of the Coast Approach to the Hobby:
1. They want the fast buck, not the long dollar: If you have ever read articles by Ryan Dancey on the sales figures for the core books of 3.0, Ryan gives you a sense of just how many copies of the core rules that WotC sold a little more than a decade ago. It was a breathtakingly large number of core rulebooks. They sold hundreds of thousands of copies a month when it was released. The later iterations of 3.xx – even the core rulebooks for 3.5, never sold nearly so well. Hell, I’m not sure that (excepting the three core rulebooks for 3.5), that if you took the REST of the entire 3.5 product line, combined? My bet is that you wouldn’t match the number of core rulebooks that WotC sold for 3.0. They sold millions of those things -- just a stupid number of them.
When your sales figures get that large, your cost of production drops to extremely low levels. You can print those books for a couple of bucks each on that scale. Your profit per book still goes sky high. At that point, you realise that what your business is really all about is selling core rulebooks. The rest of your game is just window dressing and marketing spin so you can sell more core rulebooks to new gamers.
And that’s why WotC does what it does. They aim to sell core rulebooks to as many players of the game as they possibly can, in as short a timespan as they possibly can. They don’t care if those players churn in and churn out of the hobby in less than three years. A sale is a sale, in their view. If those customers stick around as “lifestyle gamers” – so much the better. But WotC is a division of Hasbro, and Hasbro wants the fast buck. That’s why the Revise. Reset Resell strategy will continue in another five years after 5E is released, even if Monte Cook gives us a Fifth Edition that he received from God on the slopes of Mount Sinai engraved upon Stone Tablets.
So when is 6E coming? It says right here in 2018. You know what? Fuck that. I mean *really*: FUCK THAT.
My timeline for an RPG system isn’t five years - it’s much closer to ten. I think ALL lifestyle gamers are customers who dig MUCH deeper and care MUCH more about the game than the 80% of WotC customers who are temporary gamers of convenience (game for three years or less). Lifestyle gamers are closer to a ten year product cycle than a five year cycle in terms of our edition horizon. So WotC and I don’t see eye-to-eye on this and that’s not EVER going to change with 5E, 6E, or 7E. Monte Cook sure as hell isn’t going to change WotC’s marketing strategy on that issue, either.
Paizo knows this and has been quite clear that their horizon for the Pathfinder RPG product line is aimed at a deeper and longer run than five years. They haven’t yet said how long they will aim for, but the intent is to longer than five and get closer to ten. Their business model and product release schedule on the Rules side is aimed at this longer span, too. (I do fear that Paizo’s release schedule on the Golarion side / Player companion aspect of the game is too ambitious. We’ll see.)
So that’s Knock #1 on 5E. In fact, I am so dead certain about that aspect of WotC’s business model that I know it will be a problem with a game that does not yet exist and that I haven’t even seen yet.
You know the line from Jerry Maguire, “You had me at hello”? Well, in this case, “You lost me at five years”. FUCK THAT.
2. WotC wants to sells Rules to Players, not Adventures to GMs: here, the problems of the approaches to the game as between Paizo and WotC are rather dramatically highlighted. As some of you might have gathered from listening to Chronicles, I happen to LIKE Adventures. I like them a lot. I like reading them, I like playing them, I like running them, I like buying them and collecting them, too. I LOVE adventure products.
WotC doesn’t. It’s not that they hate ‘em or anything. If WotC could make (what they consider to be) a good buck on adventures, I am confident that I would see 12 new WotC adventures on a spinner rack every month at the local 7-11 if they could manage it. In fact, it they could make it work, I am certain of that. It’s not that they are prejudiced against them; it’s simply that WotC’s business model does not permit Adventures to be a core part of their business plan in terms of their sales expectations for those sorts of products. So WotC does not make many of them and does not emphasize them in their game products line. They are instead an afterthought; marketing spin and product support to WotC. It's not something they consider their flagship line of their core brand.
In contrast, Paizo literally founded the Pathfinder product line upon selling adventures. The Pathfinder brand was created to sell ongoing adventures every month to subscribers. The Pathfinder RPG was, in fact, CREATED to service customers of their Pathfinder Adventure Path line (even if it has quickly grown beyond that need).
Paizo does this profitably because Paizo has seized upon something that WotC doesn’t have: directs sales to subscribers of their physical product lines. As a consequence, Paizo makes money -- a good chunk of money – every month by rolling out a new edition of Pathfinder Adventure Path. It’s in the black before it even ships, and every sale at retail generates more profit – it doesn’t just recoup costs of sales.
That isn’t going to change with 5th Ed. Monte Cook isn’t going to change WotC’s business model to permit it to create, market and sell new campaign spanning adventures on a monthly basis.
Which is a shorthand way of saying that the best thing about Pathfinder is Greg Vaughan, Tim Hitchcock, Richard Pett and the rest of the Werecabbages. That’s why Pathfinder has my loyalty. That’s why I am Pathfinder RPG fan. I like the “hardware” of the Pathfinder RPG “console”, sure, but what I like the most about it is the “software” (Adventure material) that is made for it.
That isn’t going to change with 5th Ed. I promise.
3. Strong World Setting, Vast in Breadth and Deep in Scope: Lastly, the thing which really saddens me about 4E is just how much WotC WRECKED so much of the IP that it inherited from TSR and developed on its own during the 3.5 era. Wizards managed to drive a spike through the chest of the Forgotten Realms during the change to 4E. I wouldn’t have thought that their send of brand management could be so flawed, but it was. They have buried so much of their setting material generated for previous editions of the game, I’m just AMAZED.
It may be that WotC will smarten up and attempt to resurrect an old setting for 5E. I could easily see a re-release fo Greyhawk for 5E in an attempt to woo back older customers. They might try the same with a new Dragonlance world setting, too (though I think that well is dry, tbh).
The problem is, WotC’s approach to new setting material is hobbled by their Five Year edition horizon and their lack of subscription sales to sustain the profitability of the product line. Again, Paizo has figured it out for Golarion in a way that WotC never did for any of its world settings. In a little more than four years, Paizo has churned out a simply ASTONISHING amount of setting material for Golarion. There is EASILY more information on Golarion than exists for Greyhawk. When you stop to consider how long Greyhawk has been around, that’s not just a BOLD statement, that’s a STARTLING one.
It’s true though. The AP line churns out 100 pages a month like clockwork. Add in the player’s companions and Chronicle settings and 32 page stand alone and all the PFS scenarios, plus special campaign hardcovers and map folios, you get this:
Pathfinder AP: 96 x 12= 1152
Pathfinder Stand Alone Modules: 6 x 32= 192
Pathfinder Player Companions: 6 x 32= 192
Pathfinder Chronicle Settings: 6 x 64= 384
PFS Scenarios: 26 x 16= 416
Total Page Count: 2,336 Pages PER YEAR
That doesn’t include Hardcovers, Compilations, Map Folios, GameMastery brand products or other special product lines. Per FRIKKIN year.
While some of that Player companion material may not be strictly Golarionesque, the vast majority of it is. And while adventures are not setting material per se, a lot of it is. As a result, in the past three years when all cylinders have been firing on the above product schedule, we consequently now have an almost STUPID amount of detail on Golarion. Even so, Golarion is so large and so varied that there is vastly more to be explored than has been explored already.
I’d rate myself among Paizo’s more knowledgeable customers on all of this world setting stuff, and even for me, it’s often confusing. From a standing start, it certainly can be a lot to handle for a new GM to the setting and that may be a real concern. Certainly, there is so much information on Golarion that a careful GM should take the time to research the areas and NPC’s where his or her campaign is set. Still, for now at least, it’s working and it’s working well in terms of sale, too. From Tabula Rasa to the most detailed campaign world ever (save the Forgotten Realms) in only four years! Given the headstart that TSR/WotC had, that’s quite a feat to pull off while not flooding the market with unsellable products and exhausting customer demand. (So far, at least.)
By the time that the current Pathfinder RPG is done, the size of Golarion will probably swell to an utterly ridiculous level of detail given the current production schedule. Still, to Paizo’s credit, their first “true sequel” to an AP or any other aspect of their world was only released in August 2011.
I enjoy all of this stuff; I enjoy it immensely, as a matter of fact. To me, it is a clear advantage that the Pathfinder brand has over 4E. What I love the most about it is how all of this stuff inter-relates and cross-supports each aspect of Paizo’s product lines, too.
I promise you that NOTHING about Monte Cook’s 5E will threaten that comparative strength or suddenly bring to the fore a competing line of equally as ambitious setting products from WotC. It won’t happen because their business model does not permit it.
Final Result of Some Unknown Ass Kicking 5e vs. The Pathfinder Brand Line
Longer product life-cycle. Better and more voluminous Adventures. Better and more voluminous setting material. Those are the current strengths of Pathfinder RPG over 4E and there is, in my estimation, almost a ZERO PROBABILITY of that changing with 5E.
So while I will look at 5E and will probably buy it, too – I have no reason to fear that Paizo and the Pathfinder brand have much to worry about from WotC. Paizo serves a segment of the market that WotC does not serve, and Paizo serves the same niche that WotC does serve, better, in my estimation.
And because of WotC’s business model, I don’t see that changing with 5E, even if 5E is the best damned RPG system ever created (and for the record, I am expecting that it may well be, too).
Bottom line: Paizo leverages their own subscriber base to obtain a better product line and greater market advantage from it than WotC has. Paizo started its business from the perspective of a company whose core business model was servicing magazine subscribers and has made it work.
That’s not going to change with 5E – or 6E, either.
Si alguno ha llegado hasta aquí, felicidades, machote.