Read this topic, mulled over it, actually created an account to reply. Hello, everyone!
My take: I have severe doubts that we will see a 4th edition of WFRP.
As has been pointed out here, 3rd Edition ended up splitting the fanbase in a way which 2nd Edition simply didn't. I'm not going to engage in any edition warrior nonsense here because let's face it, we've all seen the arguments one way or another already and everyone's already made their minds up on this point, but I don't think anyone here is going to deny that a split has occurred. Maybe it goes one way in some local scenes and groups, maybe it goes a different way elsewhere - with only anecdotal evidence to go on it's hard to see the extent. But it's fairly clear that it's happened.
(As an aside: ICV2 sales statistics are interesting, but should be taken with a pinch of salt. They only compile those things from a few brick-and-mortar games shops - which have an increasingly small presence in the sales space compared to online mail order anyway - and even then only those shops who a) receive the ICV2 survey and b) bother to send it back. It is by no means clear whether or not this is a fair or representative sample. Additionally, there's been swathes of games over the years which have come out, shot to the upper regions of the ICV2 charts in the early phases of the product line, and then sink like a stone because there's few sales happening beyond the burst of early adopters.)
I think recent events with the DH2 beta playtest show that Fantasy Flight are very, very cautious these days about anything which might split the fanbase for one of their game lines. The fact that they completely retooled the beta because people loudly omplained that the original beta would destroy backward compatibility says it all. Indeed, I think it's partly that lack of backward compatibility that I think has driven the split in the WFRP fanbase: 2nd edition was, with a few patches here and there, a very complete game line, even more so if you took 1st edition stuff into account - and using 1st edition stuff with 2E really was a breeze, and for a lot of people - including me - it simply wasn't worth buying into a brand new system we couldn't use our old books with (at least, not without much more extensive restatting than would be required to use a 1E book with 2E) when we already had enough WFRP goodies to last us a lifetime.
Fantasy Flight seem to have come to the conclusion that it isn't worth radically retooling a game if in the course of doing so you end up splitting the fanbase (particularly when you are talking about Warhammer-based RPGs, which are more likely to attract the hardcore gamer crowd rather than attracting an expansive new demographic who haven't previously touched this sort of game). I don't actually blame them for this. A split fanbase leads at best to reduced sales, because half the people who'd otherwise be fans of your game aren't touching your new products because they're sticking with the old system; at worst, it leads to toxic relations within the game's community as edition warring runs rampant (just look at all the ill feeling generated by the D&D edition wars).
It's notable that the WFRP 3E style of presentation seems to have been inherited by the Star Wars games - being new games set in the Star Wars universe, those games aren't going to offend the existing fanbase (because even people fond of older Star Wars RPGs aren't seriously going to expect FFG to simply reprint WEG's or Wizards of the Coast's Star Wars stuff). Because FFG have a more or less clean slate to work with - because nobody has any preconceptions as to what a Star Wars RPG from FFG would look like - they're free to apply whatever system they like there. Conversely, the 40K RPGs which have emerged since WFRP 3 came out have incorporated none of its innovations, and with the clear fan demand that new editions of the games be backward compatible I don't see that they're ever likely to.
In short, I don't expect to see FFG ever applying radical top-to-bottom system changes to any of their existing RPG franchises in the foreseeable future, because of this reluctance to split the fanbase. As it stands, the WFRP fanbase is already split. And there's no good solution I can see for undoing that.
- If they go back to a 2E-style system, that'll enrage those who preferred 3E even though it'll excite the 2E/1E fans.
- If they put out a revised 3E, they won't win back any of the people who got off the bandwagon when 3E originally came out, and they might piss off the 3E fans anyway depending on how they do it. (How many of you want to buy brand new boxes, hm?)
- If they make a brand new system, they're more likely to end up with a 3-way split than they are to mend the split - and if they don't win over a bunch of new fans with 4E, that's going to really sting when it comes to sales.
About the only way I see a new edition happening is if two conditions are met:
- FFG decide that one side of the split or another is large enough and willing to spend enough money to make a new edition worthwhile.
- FFG can see a way to make a new edition which will a) convince whichever faction they choose to side with to buy it and b) give then enough profit to make the endeavour worthwhile.
I really don't think that's what FFG are seeing at the moment.