In my previous article, I discussed my thoughts on the future of Dungeons and Dragons and it’s place in the marketplace. I ended with a prediction that WotC would sell off the D&D brand and that Paizo would buy it. Today I want to make some predictions of what that would be like.
As I said yesterday, I expect that Hasbro is quite unhappy with WotC’s sales figures (more specifically Dungeons and Dragons) and that they are doubtful that those figures will improve significantly in the near future. Therefore, Hasbro/WotC must be evaluating the benefits of simply selling off the D&D brand. If that were to happen, who would buy it? Paizo Publishing springs instantly to mind as the company who would stand the most to gain. Steve Jackson Games would certainly be a possibility as well, but I’d rather not travel down that road.
Paizo Publishing is a company. Every company’s goal is to make money (otherwise it won’t be a company for long). Therefore, any prediction as to what they would do in a given circumstance has to take this goal into account.
Another goal set by this company was to preserve Dungeons and Dragons in its 3.5e form. Since WotC owned the rights to the game, Paizo couldn’t just reprint the books. They were forced to use the OGL and were bound by its restrictions. The result was the Pathfinder game. Paizo did a wonderful job putting it all together, made a number of changes that (in my opinion) improved the game, and have done an admirable job in all aspects of preserving pre-4e D&D.
But what would happen if Paizo bought the D&D brand? Pathfinder would no longer have to live under the OGL flag. If that were the case, what changes would be made?
So What Would Change?
The first thing I would expect to see happen would be for Paizo to release new versions of all their products. Not new content, just new versions (primarily just a cosmetic change). Therefore, no one would need to buy any new books. The changes would include rebranding to emphasize the Dungeons & Dragons name, while retaining the Pathfinder logo (such as in the thumbnail picture above). I would expect the new versions to be released as non-OGL products containing intellectual properties (such as Beholders and Mordenkainen’s named spells) normally banned from OGL products.
To emphasize the fact that this is primarily a brand shift, I expect Paizo would release errata for the original books to cover any changes in these new books. Requiring people to buy new books (outside of a major edition change) would piss off the userbase so I think they would loudly proclaim that buying new books was not necessary.
Clearly, a new PF OGL would become necessary. I won’t offer a guess as to exactly what additional changes it might have but I suspect it would include a number of surprises (in a good way).
Paizo obviously listens to their users and tempers their comments with good sense. Therefore, I’m sure we would see a return of PDF sales, of all products clear back to Chainmail and the LBBs.
But What About 4e?
Those that don’t like 4e would probably be happy to just shelve it and forget it ever happened. There are two pressing reasons not to do this. As a company, it would be unwise to throw away a valuable asset. As a company with a conscience, it would be hypocritical to simply tell all the 4e-fanboys that the game they like is wrong and turn them away. After all, that’s what WotC did to the fans of previous editions.
Back to the first reason. 4e is a valuable asset. However, book sales have slowed and there is enough bloat to question the need for very many additional products. I think discontinuing 4e printed products in favor of PDFs (with perhaps a few exceptions) might be a good move. Beyond completing existing 4e projects, I would not expect Paizo to produce any future 4e printed products.
DDI subscriptions, on the other hand, represent a great deal of revenue. It would be reckless not to support it. I would envision existing 4e writers be kept on in order to continue to produce new content. The character builder, monster builder, and various databases would also need to be maintained.
Most importantly, the VTT would have to be finished. With the transition, additional pressure to make it extraordinary would be placed on the designers.
All electronic tools would have to be updated to support the Pathfinder rule system in addition to the 4e rule system. All DDI subscribers would probably have access to both rule sets.
What I would do
- Discontinue all 4e printed products. Offer PDFs instead.
- Complete existing 4e projects (to be released as PDFs).
- Create PDFs of all products (all the way back to Chainmail and the LBBs).
- Give all DDI tools access to Pathfinder databases.
- Create a 4e OGL.
- Move 4e databases outside the subscriber wall, making DDI strictly a source of tools.
- Update character builder and monster builder to support PF in addition to 4e.
- Complete VTT with support for both PF and 4e.
- Treat 4e as a dead version (although with PDF and DDI support)
- Rebrand “Pathfinder” as “Dungeons and Dragons – Pathfinder” (as in the thumbnail above).
- Create new non-OGL versions of all existing Pathfinder products.* (Release errata for existing books.)
- Most importantly, keep PF developers and 4e DDI staff at different locations! Make sure they work independently of each other. Sharing of ideas between these two groups would be harmful to both.
* Include all previous banned monsters and restore named spells.
How Realistic is This?
Unless WotC can drastically improve D&D revenues, I strongly suspect that they will sell off the D&D brand sometime in the next 18 months. If it becomes available for sale, I strongly suspect Paizo Publishing will be interested in buying it. However, I have no idea if Paizo has the resources for such a purchase. If Paizo were to purchase the Dungeons & Dragons brand, I think what I have suggested is pretty realistic. I am absolutely certain that, if Paizo bought D&D, grognards everywhere would rejoice!