Joseph Goodman's Analysis of The State of 4e
Over in this forum entry
, Joseph Goodman, owner of Goodman Games, makes his analysis of the state of 4e, business-wise.
Its a very interesting analysis of things. He suggests that 4e is doing very well. He also admits that it is not doing as well as 3e did, and tries to justify why that would be. That is the really interesting part on a number of different levels:
"All of this research (which I ultimately decided not to publish) forms the historical context for my opinion of D&D 4E. Dungeons & Dragons has had two, and exactly two, peak years. The first was 1982. The second was 2001. The mid-80's were a declining period, and the 90's were a trough. From a business perspective, the creatively-much-admired 1970's were really a low point for D&D. Fast growth, but very low sales volume compared to the years to come.From 1974 to 2009 is 35 years. Or, roughly two generations. D&D has roughly one peak every generation. 35 years total, 2 of which were great, and the other 33 of which were "okay."But what do people compare 4E to?One of the two best sales years in the past 35 years of D&D. Not the other 33 years.Is 4E doing as well as 3E sales in 2001? Definitely not. That was the high point in a generation.Is 4E doing as well as D&D sales in the times of 1974-1981? 1983 through 2000? And approximately 2002 through 2008?Yes.So, is 4E doing well?Yes. In the 35 year history of D&D, we stand at a high point. D&D is selling more copies, reaching more customers, supporting more game stores, than it has during most of its history.Will 4E do as well as 3E?Maybe. But frankly, who cares? That's like asking if 4E will do as well as AD&D did in 1982. Or as well as 2nd edition did. Or as well as the little white box. Anybody who's ever had a job where they're accountable for sales numbers -- and I've had a lot of these -- knows that there are some marketing events that simply hit the ball out of the park. 3E was one of those, and it will be hard to top for a generation to come. It was a once-in-a-generation feat, just as D&D sales in 1982 were a once-in-a-generation feat. For twenty years following 1982, D&D sales never recovered their peak. Twenty years. From the vantage point of 1983, was D&D dying? In 1983, you could have said that. The twenty-year decline was starting. But D&D went on to have another peak in 2001.
This is interesting first because Goodman's research demonstrates that there were two peak years, 1982 and 2001. These were the high points of the hobby. Indisputably, cold hard fact. 1982 was the peak of the D&D golden age (red box and 1e), and 2001 was, of course, 3e.
Note that he also describes the 90s, so loved by the Swine, as a "trough". It was the low point, the worst crisis the hobby went through.
Now, if you ask me, this really does seem like Goodman is damning 4e with faint praise. He's admitting that 3e was a defining force for a generation of gamers, and that 4e just plain isn't. And he's trying to offer apologetics for that, basically saying "geez guys, we're still selling real good!". Yes, that may be true, but 4e didn't get to be the transformative force WOTC wanted it to be.
Now, what did 3e and 1e have in common? Oh yes, each other! In respect to everything that made it popular, 3e was a return to the sensibilities of 1e and a direct rejection of the crapulence that was 2e. Even the format of the 3e books were made imitative of 1e! Tweet and Cook figured out what it was that worked for D&D and built upon that, not without changing many things, but coming back to that essence. On the other hand, Mike Mearls and his crowd seem determined to move as far away from that essence as possible.
Let me remind both him and Mr.Goodman: 2e didn't fail overnight either. It was, as Mr.Goodman so aptly demonstrated, a long slow decline over a decade.
The real question, the one our fortune 50 business man Joe Goodman failed to answer is: "is 4e becoming more popular and successful, or less?".
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