Rolling for Initiative is a weekly column by Scott Thorne, PhD, owner of Castle Perilous Games & Books in Carbondale, Illinois and instructor in marketing at Southeast Missouri State University. This week, Thorne looks at the upcoming showdown between Pathfinder and Dungeons & Dragons.
I re-read the interview with Paizo Publishing publisher Eric Mona that ICv2 ran on April 4th (see "Paizo's Erik Mona: The ICv2 Interview" and "Erik Mona: The ICv2 Interview, Pt. 2") and came away wondering if Paizo really believes that the Pathfinder RPG is strong enough to withstand the onslaught coming from Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition. I have to wonder, given how Mona indicated that Paizo is preparing for the release of D&D 5th Edition.
First, Paizo will release the Emerald Spire Superdungeon in June; a 16 level adventure with levels from writers such as Ed Greenwood, Chris Pramas and Frank Mentzer. While that's great, and some players will buy it, by its very nature, a Superdungeon targets gamemasters. Modules and gamemaster-oriented books typically sell 4-6 times less than do those targeted at players. So Paizo is kicking off the Summer of D&D 5th Edition (notice how I studiously refuse to call it D&D Next?) with a book not targeted at the vast majority of the company's target market.
Then, in August, likely at Gen Con, Paizo will go up against the juggernaut that is the D&D 5th Edition Player's Handbook with the Advanced Player Class Guide, adding 10 new character classes to the Pathfinder RPG, and Iron Gods, a fantasy/science fiction crossover campaign setting, that from Mona's description sounds an awful like Expedition to the Barrier Peaks, a classic 1st edition AD&D module with similar themes.
The problem Paizo faces, with the launch of the new edition of D&D, is the overwhelming brand recognition the older brand brings to the table. Though, as Mona points out, Pathfinder currently has a much stronger organized play program, with some 60,000 active players, more people recognize, and ask for, the Dungeons & Dragons game. I, and most stores, have almost never had a new customer come into the store asking for Pathfinder. The Pathfinder RPG is almost unknown to the wider market. Instead, what we see are parents and new players coming in who are interested in role-playing and invariably ask about Dungeons & Dragons. As we get closer to the launch of 5th Edition, I fully expect to see a number of the releases in the mass media, much as we saw with the release of Third Edition. While I expect the hobby media to cover the release of the Advanced Player Class Guide and Iron Gods, I will be very surprised if the mass media devotes much space, if any, to either release, and I would expect Paizo is fine with that. As Mona says in the ICV2 interview: "My hope is that an invigorated new edition of Dungeons & Dragons brings even more people into the hobby. I was at Wizards during the launch of Third Edition and they were putting ads in Maxim magazine. They were really doing significant outreach to lapsed players and to new players in a way that most companies cannot afford to do. My hope is that a new D&D brings new players into the hobby. Whether they're able to sustain the interest of those new players with subsequent releases is an open question. If some of those people are not going to be satisfied, I'm very happy to have a roleplaying game that ideally will appeal to them as well."
Paizo's plan, it appears, is to wait for WoTC to launch its campaign for 5th Edition, look for it to bring new people in and lapsed players back, then, when they start to lose interest in the new edition, steer them to Pathfinder, as happened with 4th Edition D&D. With the Pathfinder Society, Paizo has a great tool for doing this and I hope they have something in the works to leverage the group, but, if they are, neither I nor my local Pathfinder Society have heard it.
The opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the writer, and do not necessarily reflect the views of the editorial staff of ICv2.com
Column by Scott Thorne
Posted by ICv2 on April 20, 2014 @ 11:27 pm CT
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