Red Box, Mike Mearls & the Direction of 4th Edition

Posted by Labyrinthian in ,

I found myself over at Geek Related recently reading the new that Pathfinder had pulled even with 4th edition sales according to a recent sales report by  Generally happy with Paizo's success I purused some back articles on the site to see what else they had written lately.  I came across an interesting piece from the middle of September entittled, "Mike Mearls Admits D&D 4e Blows."  Finding this somewhat hard to believe as Mearls in basically in charge of 4th edition, I have it a read.  The article was short and mainly made reference to a recent interview that The Escapist had conducted with Mearls himself on the direction of 4th edition D&D.

As our regular readers here know, no one here at The Labyrinth plays 4th edition, and as a result we can fall a bit behind the most current news regarding the most recent edition of D&D.  That having been said, I'm a little embarassed that I am only reading that interview now.  I like to keep up on the comings and goings of the hobby and I think that the interview really has some important info about where D&D 4e is heading.  Whether you love WotC and 4e or not you have to admit that whatever they do has effects on the whole industry for good or ill so when Mearls speaks I feel like we should all listen. 

I generally like the Escapist, it has good info on thing from time to time, is a well put together site, and covers a wide variety of things I feel are interesting.  But I will say that this is, without a doubt, the best article I've ever read on that site.  It is informative, well written, and links to other great resources throughout.  It is beyond one of the best things I have read in a while on the Escapist, it is one of the best I've read on any site. 
There has been a lot written about Red Box on the RPG Bloggers Network in recent weeks.  I haven't read much of it since, as I said, I don't play 4th edition.  Yet it seems like, according to the interview, that Red Box is an attempt to reach out to those gamers who felt disenfranchised by 4th edition, people like our own Professor Obscure.  I can only assume that Wizards is attempting to generate extra revenue by tapping into the large market share that opted out of 4th edition.  This seems like a sound strategy to me, they are a business afterall.  But the question is, will it work?

Well Mearls says some very compelling things, speaking directly to those who felt slighted by 4th edition:

“If you are a disgruntled D&D fan, there’s nothing I can say to you that undoes whatever happened two years ago or a year ago that made you disgruntled – but what I can do, what’s within my power, is that going forward, I can make products, I can design game material, I can listen to what you’re saying, and I can do what I can do with design to make you happy again; to get back to that core of what makes D&D, D&D; to what made people fall in love with it the first time, whether it was the Red Box in ’83, the original three booklets back in ’74 or ’75 or even 3rd Edition in 2004, whenever that happened, to get back to what drew you into D&D in the first place and give that back to you.”

Personally I like what I'm hearing, but think it might be too little and too late.  To turn D&D 4e into the kind of game I would want to play would require a massive overhaul of the system, making it unreconizable as D&D 4e.  This would almost certainly disenfranchise those who love 4th edition and have invested hundreds of dollars in it.  Many already feel that is what is happening.  The irony here is that 4e players are poised to feel slighted in almost the same exact way that players of other edition have felt only to be told by those same 4e players to pretty much, "Get over it."  At least that was my experience when I voiced my concerns around the launch of 4e.  "Get over it" isn't the advice I would give 4th edition fans, instead I would say to speak up for what you want.  The loudest a customer can speak to a business is with their wallet.  If you don't like what they are selling then don't buy it.  WotC will hear you loud and clear very shortly. 

Do I think Red Box will work?  No.  I think that this tight rope walk that Mearls is trying to do, attempting to please everyone, might just end up alienating more people.  I like what he is saying, but 4e is like Windows Vista to me, the only thing to do is sweep it under the rug fast and come out with Windows 7, or in this case 5th edition.  I don't see that happening any time soon.  WotC seems to be executing their business model of a "living edition" well enough to please the hard core 4th edition fans.  Those DDI subscriptions bring in regular monthly revenue which cannot be discounted.   Whether rules inflation (Did you know there are currently 2638 feats in 4th edition?!?!) will become an issue remains unclear but I don't think we'll see 5e for some time.

Then again, I said that about 4th edition. 

This entry was posted on Saturday, October 09, 2010 at Saturday, October 09, 2010 and is filed under , . You can follow any responses to this entry through the comments feed .


Here, here.

Trying to sell WotC D&D by using the aesthetic of TSR D&D is insulting on one hand and silly on the other.

Those who know the various editions know it is a superficial attempt to bring back disenchanted gamers. That's just not going to work.

I can only surmise that they hope the guy that played 25 years ago, and missed everything since, sees it on a shelf and grabs it thinking it is Gygax's D&D. That's simply false advertising, poor business, and will lead to consumer confusion.

October 9, 2010 at 2:23 PM

I don't know that I am insulted, but I am certainly not swayed or persuaded. I played 4E (and ran games) for two years, but by the beginning of this summer I'd become so frustrated with the game that I have just given up completely.

The pace of the releases, the unfulfilled promise of the system and the increasingly creaky mechanics left me cold.

Essentials will probably sell just fine -- to the fans already playing -- but the evidence of Pathfinder's growth and Mearls' attempts to draw in lapsed players -- seem to support the idea that 4E has not lived up to all it's hype.

I know some players really like 4E, and I'm genuinely happy for them, but I gave it a chance and I'm pretty much done with it.

October 9, 2010 at 10:01 PM

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