As 4e looms (ok, it's still 6 months off, but it's BIG, that looming shadow shows up early), I'm seeing a lot of folks talk about the possibility (hope?) that the market will split enough for 3rd party support for 3.5 to continue.
In other words, these folks are hoping that enough people continue to make 3.5 stuff so that they don't "have" to convert.
They would disagree with the way I just characterized their dilemma, but I don't think that makes it any less accurate.
See, as those against 4e would be quick to point out, the old game worked fine. Here's another observation that I'm sure isn't unique to me: OD&D, Basic/Expert D&D, 1e D&D, 2e D&D, 3.0 D&D also all worked just fine.
Better than fine in fact. I will attest that each was a great game.
And yet, when the new edition was released, the vast majority eventually upgraded.
Why? Why do the mavens (those early adopters who flock to and champion the new) win over the grognards (those who cling to the tried and true) with each new edition.
Well mostly because this isn't the design of an internal combustion engine we're dealing with here. We're not searching for the most efficient way to do something and sticking with that forever.
The new is part of the fun.
Tinkering with the new rules. Finding out where they're busted as hell. Seeing where they offer the best game experience you've ever found. Looking for that perfect fighter build again.
These are all fun activities in and of themselves.
Who enjoys these things? Primarily GMs and highly active players. These are the mavens. The early adopters.
They will drive their groups to convert on day 1. This is like planting a seed that can only grow. Through various social networking (local game stores, online communities, college clubs) these people will expose others to the new and shiny.
This will not only entice more passive players into trying the new rules, it will also draw back into the fold the lapsed gamers out there, those folks who left gaming altogether for whatever reason awhile back.
Why do these players tend to gravitate to the mavens and not the grognards? Because the shine of the new casts its light further away.
People will be talking about how awesome their new tricked-out fighter build is.
Others will be talking about how horrible the new rules are, what with their munchkin-y tricked-out fighter builds.
Both attract curiosity more than the guy who says "remember this game you played 10 years ago? well it's just as good now as it was then".
Why play "Risk" when you can check out "Civilization 4"?
Eventually, a tipping point will reach, and it will become harder to find a game running the older rules. In the past, this was something of a pocket universe effect, where your area might still be running OD&D while the rest of the world was running 3e.
Today however, thanks to online communities, these grognards can keep in touch and see they're not alone. E-bay allows them to find the old books they need (or online reprints in PDF form).
However, eventually the lure of the new, championed by the mavens, will draw the vast majority of players to it, as has happened in the past.
Remember, both 2e and 3.5 were derided very loudly.
They were also adopted by the vast majority.