When you first get into the exciting and dynamic hobby of tabletop, pencil-and-paper roleplaying games (RPGs), you are likely to notice two things, at some point. First, the game that you are playing has often gone through at least one significant and official change in its rules, setting, or both. Second, people who play the RPG have definite opinions on the subject. This actually can be explained rather easily: RPGs run more smoothly when everyone’s memorized the relevant rules, or at least are familiar with them. People don’t mind learning good new rules, but they can get a little cranky if rules or settings change and there’s no immediately obvious reason for the change (and ‘immediately obvious’ is, of course, a subjective term).
But the question is thus begged (I think that that’s what meant by ‘begging the question’): why are there new editions in the first place? — And the answer is not ‘money,’ which is arguably why they do computer role-playing game sequels (that’s going to be a post, later). Putting out a new edition for a RPG can be an exercise of frustration, aggravation, and marginal fiscal profit. So why do it?
Well, first off: the rules may actually need significant fixes. Despite the best will and playtesting in the world, rules that look good in theory can end up being disasters in actual campaigns. Or at least mildly ridiculous*. Combat rules in particular often need to be revised, because combat regularly happens in a lot of RPGs, which means that those rules get tested to destruction sooner. After a certain point, it just makes sense to take the whole thing and revise it into a new, and hopefully improved, form.
Then there’s the setting to consider. In most RPGs there’s a premade setting for people to play in; and people will play it for a while, and explore all the nooks and crannies, and generally squeeze all of the juice out of it. A finite game means a finite practical amount of stories to tell using it. Typically, game systems get around the problem by producing various game supplements that provide new groups, areas, adventures, and whatnot — but because all of these are additions, eventually they start contradicting each other. One of the interesting things about roleplaying game worlds is that they’re typically collaborative enterprises; and when you have multiple writers you not get multiple takes on particular concepts. Eventually, again, it just makes sense to take the whole thing and revise it into a new, and hopefully improved, form.
And then there’s the nebulous thing called ‘tone.’ A lot of RPGs incorporate social commentary of one sort or another – and before you wince, you can’t do, say, really sophisticated horror without taking into account what we as a society find frightening — and the things that one year or decade finds noteworthy may not be the things that another year or decade find noteworthy. Case in point: Pagan Publishing’s Call of Cthulhu game Delta Green. This game was written in the 1990s as ‘X-Files meets Cthulhu,’ with government conspiracies a Mi-go. One of the reasons why they’re releasing a new edition this year is because the phrase ‘government conspiracies’ means something entirely different to people now than it did back then. Which is not a problem if you want to play a historical game, but if you want to play something that’s more contemporary then the game needs to change with the times.
Finally, truth be told: sometimes it is kind of about the money. At least in the sense that people don’t often make new editions of games if they don’t think that the new edition will sell enough to at least break even. People have to eat, after all.
*My personal favorite example of this were the old language rules for Steve Jackson Games’ GURPS system: it was the rare campaign that the party didn’t have at least one native-level speaker of every single language that the players were even remotely likely to encounter. Which isn’t even a good fit for every genre of fiction, let alone real life.