So in 2008, Wizards produced 4th edition. People tried real hard to like it (some succeeded), but the general consensus was that it kind of stank. At that time, indie and retro games were on the rise, but Wizards of the Coast RPG R&D was not-just-a-river-in-Egypt about what was happening.
(WTD Dire Curious prediction #2: Speaking of denial, in 5 to 10 years (maybe even sooner) you’ll hear surprising voices say that they never really cared for 4th edition. There’s a version of Stockholm Syndrome that happens when an entertainment product is your day job. You often learn to like it as a survival tool. If you hate, or are merely indifferent to, an artistic endeavor, it’s much harder to do good work on it. So you shift your attitude and find things to like. That’s how I got through stints on projects I didn’t especially care for after the fact. That is how several people on D&D got through 4e.)
Retro-clone games had already been popping up like mushrooms. And Paizo was sharpening knives. For about four tone deaf years, D&D lurched forward under power of momentum. But by 2011, sales figures had penetrated hardened hearts. This was the year Bill Slavicsek left Wizards — not of his own volition. Soon after, Wizards stopped producing D&D altogether so they could throw resources at 5th edition.
This vacuum could not possibly last long. Through bumblefuck business practices, utterly vacating a business segment, and continuing an annual tradition of throwing off talent, Wizards could only have created a healthier environment for competition if they’d been doing it on purpose.
Although some decree that the OGL was Wizards’ main error, this is wrong thinking. This thinking completely discounts not just retro and indie games, but the rise of non-indie competitor RPGs during the last three years: Savage Worlds, Fate, Numenera, 13th Age, Fantasy Flight Star Wars. Probably one or two more I’m forgetting.
That is a lot of major releases in a small window. There hasn’t been this kind of critical mass of fiscally viable RPGs appearing all at once since the ’80s heydays. As I said a couple of posts ago, people WILL make new games when they are not sufficiently entertained. And so they have.
Now! Now we have D&D reappearing. Next post I’ll talk about that and make some more exciting predictions.