John Rogers, a professional writer for comics and screen, is a play-tester for D&D's 4th edition, due to be released in June. He's recently posted his thoughts on the game at ENWorld. Among other things, he notes:
I think the reason there's so much buzz around 4E combat is because that's where the most massive fun-change has come in, and so it naturally dominates discussion and perception. By the time my NDA playtest group got through our first session, we'd (unintentionally) fought three massive combats in one four hour session, many multiple opponents each time. When we finished we all kind of sat back, glassy-eyed, and went "wow." Except for the rogue. He was punching the air and cackling "More stabby! MORE STABBY!"
Because 3E combat had gotten so ... er .. gunky, combat's the first thing you notice when playing 4E. It's hard not to talk about it. A bit like if you bought a new car and got it up to 250 mph. The fact that it has a great interior, amazing safety features and a kick-butt stereo never really comes up in your first conversations about the car.
This is probably among the most informative things we've heard about the game. While others have made similar comments in the past, I believe Mr. Rogers is the first who does not stand to make any money from D&D.
Mr. Rogers has touched on a vital point for the success of D&D 4.0, I think. 3.x is slow, which is bad enough if you're a teenager with lots of time on your hands. It's a game-killer if you're middle-aged, with a job and spouse and kids and home. A quicker, sleeker game is vital for the aging RPG market. And it works great with their online gaming tools. In 3.x, if you can't devote a three or four-hour chunk of time to gaming, you might as well not bother. But with the virtual table-top and a "clean" (to use John Rogers' word) game system, it might make sense for my friends and I to log on for two or so hours on Tuesday and Thursday nights, after the kids are tucked in, for a bit of quick gaming. No fuss about driving across town, no need to find a four to six-hour block of time in our busy lives. We can log in, have some fun, and log off, which for me is about the only benefit MMOGs have over pen-and-paper gaming.
And I imagine I'm not the only one who feels that way.
Combine this with products like Paizo's adventure paths, which give us a textured, complex, more story-like experience without the DM needing to quit his day job, and you've got a winning combination for lots of fans of gaming who have been forced to abandon the hobby because they simply can't make the time for it.