On Monday I brought-up D&D Essentials again, reminded of the topic again from a blog. I'm beginning to worry about the future of 4e and D&D and wonder if DDE is a sign of desperation or a desire to get more funds than the standard D&D is providing. This is probably related to the Big DDI Blunder. The big blunder of our age.
I'm not suggesting 4e is the only edition to have major goofs. A few biggies spring to mind from earlier editions. 1e and 2e have a shared blunder in the split product lines dividing the staff and audience: basic D&D and AD&D. As WotC_Hucarl reminded me the other day, this was partially the result of legal desires. But the largest blunder of 2e was the campaign settings. A half-dozen extended lines of books with limited shared audiences each with their own team of staff and writers. It was a giant financial pit.
3e brought with it the most innovative and productive of blunders, the Open Game Licence and System Reference Document that put almost all the rules of three full books online for free while simultaneously allowing competitors to steal business away by producing alternate campaign settings, accessories, adventures, and products. The idea behind the OGL was to allow Third Part Publishers to produce the less profitable products for WotC (adventures, campaign settings) while the players would buy the official books. Instead it created a massive glut of books of varying qualities competing and burring official products and generally diluting the edition. That's not including the alternate Player's Handbooks and products that copies Core text, or the people who just downloaded the SRD and played using that.
The big blunder of 4e is also one of its better ideas and contributions: Dungeons & Dragons Insider!
As has been stated often, there is no need for a player to buy the books when a subscription is cheaper, has all the crunch, and has the added benefits of the magazines and Character Builder. Whenever I've seen a new player on the forums ask what book to buy next, or what they need to play the answer is always the same: just buy DDI, all you need is there. And while the $72 for a year is nice and a solid regular investment, it's also less than the cost of three books. Of course, DDI goes straight to WotC and doesn't have to be split across distributors and printers. The profit margin should be much higher. Still, this must be eating into book sales.
This was exemplified in on ENWorld. Specifically:
As a seller of 4E books, I can tell you that sales have dropped dramatically for new books. The first 60 days of sales of Martial Powers 2 was well under half the comparable sales of Martial Powers 1, and whereas I used to bring in a dozen or more copies of each new book for opening week, I am now bringing in no more than half a dozen.
Now, this is only a single retailer, but I've heard this reiterated from other retailers and my FLGS seems to be ordering fewer 4e books and they seem to be sitting on the shelves longer. I'd love to hear from retailers or about stores that have seen an increase in 4e sales over the past eighteen months, or even sales holding steady. But realistically, as a product line ages it sells less. There are going to be those people who pick-up every book at the start not realizing they're committing to a book-a-month and so their purchases tail off, or those who start buying everything but segue into buying what they will need and use. Or those who buy alot before the start a game or between games but buy less after they've settled into a game and know what they need. Books are going to slowly dip in sales. DDI is just accelerating the process: if someone wants the book for alot of options, or to complete their collection they'll buy it, but if they just need a single feat or power then they'll get it from DDI.
DDI was planned and conceived early, announced with the edition revelation. Much of the initially selling of 4e was paired with DDI and there was talk of free PDFs with purchased books. Likely, the original plan was to limited options in the Character Builder to books the player had purchases. But those plans never materialized due to the number of complications and problems. The result was a program anyone could use without purchasing the books, which often meant the books were not needed.
Software has high development costs, recouped by entry-level prices and subscription costs.
DDI has a low entry price. And it's much lower than it was intended to be (roughly half) because half its components are still missing. They must have been in development for a solid year and there were usable demos of components like the Dungeon Designer and Character Visualiser so much work had to have been done. Now they're gone.
That had to have cost alot of money in hardware and staffing. What was expected to be a short-term cost has suddenly become a long-term with the currently slashed staff, low expectations, and limited production as a result. The Tools are a failure. While the ones released as good, they fall far below what was promised, and what is still promised in the back of every PHB sold.
DM Books Versus Player Books
DDI likely impacted players the most, as 80-90% of the contents of the Power books (and nearer 100% of the Adventurer's Vault books) made it into the Character Builder or Compendium. In contrast, the DM books with their higher percentage of fluff and advice only partially make-it into the Compendium. The planar books are still must-buys for anyone planning a campaign involving those places. This is partially a paradigm shift with 4e, where the story, role-playing elements, and background are left mostly in DM books with rules and crunch dominating PC books. But that's a whole other blog.
The Monster Manuals are the exception. Everything is available from DDI. If I keep my DDI subscription until the release of MM3 I probably won't pick-up the book. Heck, even if I don't I can just re-up that month as $8 for a month, which is a third of what the book would cost me and I'll get all the monsters included in the Monster Builder. With the fluff being so limited there's no incentive to buy the actual books. In fact, with the regular updates and changes, it makes sense not to buy the books which will only become useless and filled with errors after a few short months.
DM books also have a much smaller market: Dungeon Masters, likely one for each table. While players can shared books they often don't, or rely on the collection of the person hosting the game. It's awkward rebuilding or levelling-up without the actual book in your hand, so PC books might sell twice or three times as often as a DM book. Except, again, for DDI where one subscription often gets passed around the table.
I wonder if DDE is a reaction to this. A new set of Core books set-up in a different way so they might be "incompatible" with the Character Builder. A way to quickly boost book sales at the midpoint of the line. (They may also be a test for new 5e ideas, since production on that must be just starting). Regardless, as much as I like the idea of DDI, it's a blunder that's probably costing them and has cost them a heck of alot of money.
Continuing this week's themes of mistakes (it's a loose theme), on Friday I'll blog about the lesser blunder (blunderette?) that is the power system in 4e.