“The Heroes of Shadow product, originally scheduled for March and presented in digest-sized, paperback format, is moving to April to accommodate a change to hardcover format. Additionally, three D&D RPG products have been removed from the 2011 release schedule—Class Compendium: Heroes of Sword and Spell, Mordenkainen’s Magnificent Emporium, and Hero Builder’s Handbook. While this means fewer books, we plan to deliver just as much great content for players this year through other formats, including board games, accessories, and digital offerings. I’ll keep you up-to-date on the latest releases each month as we go along.”
Or, in other words, “We’re not going to print actual books for D&D, but we’ll make some board games, collectible cards, and computer programs we’ll get half done and then abandon.”
Seriously, cut backs in core rule books this early in the product cycle, and right after a semi-relaunch with the Essentials line, is a really, really, scary thing. Yeah, “Imminent death of D&D predicted, film at 11”, but canceling announced rules product has usually preceded the announcement of a new release/version… but it’s way too early for that and Essentials was a kinda sorta semi not really “4.5”, keeping the same rules and systems but kicking one of the key design elements — uniform class progression — to the curb and then running it over.
Obviously, there may be lots of factors involved in the decision. Going from a softcover to a hardcover for “Heroes of Shadows” is generally a sign of strong sales, not weak. It may be that internal review decided the canceled products were just not up to snuff or didn’t fill a clear niche and it was better to cancel and start over than to force inferior product out the door. It’s hard to predict the future, especially when it hasn’t happened yet, but I am having a hard time finding a good spin on “Books, no; board games, si!”.