Every year at GenCon, Wizards of the Coast announces new products for Dungeons & Dragons giving a glimpse of what the next year will bring for fans of the game. Last year, I had fun doing some predictions for the product seminar and even though I was only about 50% right last year, I figured I would try again this year.
Prediction #1: No New Edition
A lot of people have said that they think a new edition of D&D (or a Basic version of 4E) is going to be announced at GenCon this year. A few things seem to be leading people in that direction – the abrupt course change in post-Essentials products, Mike Mearl’s Legends & Lore columns, WotC employees talking in public about playing old editions, and the recent departure of Bill Slavicsek and some other employees from WotC.
While those tidbits do make a pretty strong argument for a new edition in the pipeline, I don’t think it will be announced at GenCon. The Essentials line was released from September to December of last year, so its had just over half a year on store shelves. Unless sales were drastically worse than expected, I can’t see WotC managing to turn around from a longer planned run for 4E in order to announce a new edition after only 6 months. Instead, I think the earliest we’ll see the announcement of a new edition is D&D Experience in January 2012 with GenCon a year from now being a more likely venue for the announcement.
Prediction #2: Digital Distribution and Premium Physical Products
This prediction is largely based on the Dragon editorial from this month. In it, Steve Winter talks about digital publishing with a focus on the two magazines, but when reading it I couldn’t help but feel like it was a prelude to a bigger announcement. There was also some followup discussion (on twitter I think) where one of the WotC employees had implied that the decision had already been made to put more focus on digital distribution but the company was still trying to figure out exactly how to do it right.
I’m not sure whether or not we’ll see an announcement of digital versions of 4E books at GenCon, but I think the concept is having an impact on product design. Since the release of Essentials, it has seemed like WotC has been working on ways to have their products include bonus elements such as monster tokens and poster maps. The inclusion of physical elements like that would allow them to differentiate physical versions of their books from digital copies and make them into the premium versions of the products. My prediction is that most of the new products announced at GenCon will have these bonus physical elements even if the digital distribution portion of this two-pronged strategy isn’t ready yet.
Prediction #3: Dungeons & Dragons as a Broad Brand
Historically, WotC and TSR before it has focused strongly on the current version of D&D and novels set in its campaign settings (particularly Forgotten Realms and Dragonlance). I think in recent years, WotC has realized that there is a lot of value in the brand itself and that their 4E “breaking change” strategy had a somewhat negative impact on that brand. I think the board games have been just the first step in broadening the use of the D&D brand.
I predict that we’ll see more board games in the product schedule and an effort at getting those games into a wider set of store rather than just FLGSs. I also think WotC is making an effort to better manage the brand in other media such as video games and movies (see the tie-in products for Neverwinter and Book of Vile Darkness for instance), and think that trend will continue, but I don’t think GenCon is necessarily the right place for more video game or movie announcements. I predict that a third step in broadening the brand will be an attempt by WotC to reclaim stewardship of out-of-print editions of D&D. Paizo’s Pathfinder has converted a lot of 3.5 fans and I don’t see WotC being willing to put in the resources to support D&D 3.5 with new products to bring them back, but I think that a release of digital versions of old products could definitely help boost the opinion of WotC and the D&D brand while also serving as a test bed for digital distribution of the current edition.
Do you think my predictions are wildly inaccurate or is there a chance I’m right? What are you expecting to see announced and talked about at the product seminar?