OK, I know I said yesterday that I'd not speculate on what WotC was going to do with D&D and that I'd just get back to my own business, but my contrary brain wouldn't stop thinking about it, so here it is.
Point One- Ditch the full color, expensive art on every page; black & white line art can be just as evocative and it's easier for kids to afford or for parents to buy for their kids when the book is $20-25.00 rather than $40+ . I also would prefer an art direction that takes us stylistically back to a more realistically medieval look rather than dungeon punk, but I may get out voted on that. That said, feel free to mix it up some too, David C. Sutherland III, D.A. Trampier, Tom Wham and Jean Wells all got art credits in the 1st edition AD&D Monster Manual, David C. Sutherland and D.A. Trampier got them for the 1st edition Players Handbook, David C. Sutherland, D.A. Trampier, Darlene Pekul, Will McLean, David S. La Force and Erol Otus got them for the 1st edition AD&D Dungeon Masters Guide; I could go on and list the art credits for various other old D&D and AD&D books , modules and supplements I have, but I think my point is well made- Stylistically these various artists vary quite a bit within the same products and that's OK; all of them can represent D&D.
Point Two- Get rid of the instant gratification. People, even the kids you have been trying to attract get bored when you hand them everything they want on a silver platter. D&D was designed for long term campaign play. Sure, one of the biggest complaints going into 3rd edition was that nobody ever got to play high level characters because campaigns never lasted long enough, dropping the amount of XP required to level alone should have fixed the problem, you didn't need to amp up the amount of XP everything was worth too. I get that nobody likes being 1st level, but everyone feels a sense of real accomplishment when they make it to second, third, fourth and so on under the old rules; now everyone knows that they are going to level pretty much every time they play and it steals the sense of accomplishment from the players and replaces it with a sense of entitlement.
Point Three- Put the danger back in. This goes hand-in-hand with the last point. Since 3rd edition the PCs have been pretty much gods walking the earth, and the encounter scaling system doesn't help this problem. If there is no danger, no real fear of death and failure, then there is no real sense of accomplishment for the players there either. I am not familiar with 4th edition myself, but I have heard stories from my players who tell me that the power levels of PCs are even higher, and therefore worse, than they were in 3rd edition. Get rid of at will, per encounter, per day, per whatever powers; these are still supposed to be people adventuring not superheroes.
Point four- Make skills, feats & powers optional if you include them at all. Obviously I am biased against them, but I might still be playing a new version of D&D if they had made it easy to rip out the parts I didn't like as simply optional sub-systems.
Point Five- Scale back races and classes to the core four, at least at first. I write a lot about 1st edition AD&D and I sometimes lose sight of the fact that post-Gygaxian D&D has gotten way more complex and both class and race heavy than EGG was taking us when he was dismissed from TSR. 2nd edition gave us the endless series of Complete X splatbooks with their numerous kits and subraces. 3x did the same thing and called them Prestige classes instead of Kits. 4th edition, apparently, just published newer Player's Handbooks with new races and classes.
Point Six- Design the entire system first, before releasing anything. Nothing screws things up worse than having a great idea added to a game half way through it's life cycle and then making it mandatory for play. While you're at it remember to fire the first guy that says every class needs to be balanced equally with each other at every level, and then everyone that brings it up again after that. The classic D&D experience was full of unbalanced things and nobody cared, it was part of the fun. People played their characters then instead of these horribly optimized min/maxed things they use for their tactical combat game they call D&D these days. Also, some randomness is a good thing.
Point Seven- Bring back the OGL or something at least as liberal as it was. Get every other game company making product for your game again, it only makes sense, it increases your power and prestige in the marketplace when everything in the game shop says "requires 5th edition D&D to play", or has a D&D logo on it. Hell, give away the D&D license too, let other companies meet a more stringent quality control level and share their profits with you. Lucas does this with Star Wars video games, novels, comics, whatever, all it takes is hiring on a couple of people to make sure they aren't trying to print the adventure "Sex-Slaves of the Under-City" with a D&D logo on it, and if they do, you have the legal Death Star called Hasbro to back you up and destroy them
Point Eight- License official D&D miniatures from every manufacturer that wants to make them and can meet a decent level of quality control and make them all to the same scale and look like the pictures in the Monster Manual and other books, again, this could be done at no cost to you except making sure their product doesn't suck. It really doesn't matter if they are pre-painted plastic or resin or metal, as long as they meet your standard. The cost is all on them and they share the profits with you. They take the risk, you get the reward.
Point Nine- Bring back Dragon magazine as a real, print magazine. Seriously, and make it a real magazine that covers all of gaming again instead of a house organ. Back when D&D was big Dragon Magazine was the one thing that every gamer tried to get every month, players and DMs alike, it had something for everyone. But don't spend more than a third of your magazine space on previewing your own upcoming products, or doing tie-ins to recently released products, or reviewing your own products (unless you have an independent reviewer that's allowed to call you out on a suck product); cover everything in the RPG world, some board game love wouldn't hurt either and I guess I could live with card games getting some space every now and again too.
Point Ten- Don't fuck with us. You say you are going to listen, then listen. Right now you are all conciliatory, you want to re-unite the tribes under your banner. I know this is because you are weak and getting beaten in sales by Pathfinder. Your biggest competitors are your previous editions, that's why the OSR exists. I have spent more money on old TSR product in the last decade than I have on any D&D produced by WotC. If I buy new RPG product at all, my money usually goes to Kenzer & Company, the last time Wizards of the Coast got money for an RPG book from me it was $39.95 for the Saga edition core rules in 2007. I want to love D&D, not OSRIC, Pathfinder, Labyrinth Lord, Swords & Wizardry or Adventures Dark & Dangerous or any other retro-clone, but you are not making it easy.
Point Eleven- Resurrect TSR. Just as an imprint, a separate division within Wizards of the Coast. Wizards of the Coast is a CCG manufacturer and it has the reputation as the company that killed TSR and D&D. TSR invented RPGs. Avalon Hill still gets to be a quasi-separate entity within your empire, and it is a good thing from the perspective that it gives a sense of continuity to the hobby of war gaming. Bringing back TSR would do the same thing I think for RPGs and it would be a show of good faith that you were going to take D&D seriously this time around.
Point Twelve- Release the PDF library of old editions of D&D again. Removing them from being able to be legally purchased made them only available illegally, you created a piracy problem that was almost non-existent by being draconian about piracy and insisting that everyone only play the current version of the game. I didn't need the PDFs for the most part, but I know a lot of people did, that said I would not hesitate to take illegally that which you made impossible to obtain legally if I felt I needed a module or a copy of a book I didn't have and could not find at a reasonable price in the secondary marketplace.
Now, down to nuts and bolts, I would like very much for them to put out a beginners boxed set. Not like the Pathfinder box, although, by all accounts, it is very nice. I want them to do something very much like Moldvay or Mentzer Basic. Simple. Doesn't require miniatures or tokens or a battle map; just dice, pencil, paper and imagination. I think race as class is a dead concept these days, killed by time out of favor if nothing else, so I won't try and push for that. This set should include a players book and a DMs book and a beginners module like B1 or B2 or both, it should also focus on dungeon exploration and the first few levels of play, maybe 1-5.
Follow that up with an Expert boxed set. Give new DMs advice on how to take the game out of the dungeon and into wilderness exploration. Include a module like X1 and a bare bones campaign setting, D&D's the Known World AKA Mystara by choice, my reasoning I'll get to later. This should cover levels 6-15 maybe. Add in a few more modular optional rules, for more granularity if the players and DMs want to add them.
Concurrent with the release of the Expert set, I'd release the Advanced D&D Monster Manual. Every monster in it would be 100% compatible with the B/X sets, they would just have a little extra rules crunch to them that wasn't yet explained. More monster choices are always welcomed. This would probably end year one of 5th edition D&D.
Next add a Master boxed set, obviously by the time you are DMing for characters that are this level, you are probably not a newbie DM anymore, but the game focus and scale has changed and there needs to be advice on how to handle this. More optional rules should be added here, including rules for mass combat and warfare, the governing of domains and the challenges they face and what else to do with higher level characters. Have it cover levels 16+
Maybe a few months after the release of the Master boxed set, I'd release the new AD&D Player's Handbook, it would have a couple more race options and a few more class options. This would probably be where I added an optional skill system, or expanded it if it was already in the game. This is the place to add 1/2 Elves, 1/2 Orcs and Gnomes as player races. I'm not fool enough to believe we can turn back the clock to limit Demi-Humans in either class or level, but I'd make specific mention as an optional rule that some specific campaign settings have specific rules regarding those things.
Probably concurrent with the release of the AD&D PH should be the Dungeon Master's Guide, and it should be a weighty tome filled with advice and tables and all manner of rules explanations and clarifications for the DM. Use the 1st edition AD&D DMG as a guide when designing it, every one since has been lacking. I hear the Pathfinder GM book is quite good though, so maybe you all should take a look at that too. Mostly it should reinforce for the DM that he is there to keep the game moving, if he can't find a rule or there is an argument about how a rule works, it is his job to be the final arbiter; to make the judgment. The DM is not against the players, but he isn't necessarily for them either.
From here you can have a fairly robust release schedule that will keep both the publisher and the consumers, us gamers, happy. For instance, every year we can release a new monster book, this can be done for a number of years just updating the already extant monsters in the D&D/AD&D canon from OD&D up through 4th Edition and including everything from the modules and BECMI/Cyclopedia. Updating classic modules for release in the new edition, you could do one of these a month and get years worth of sales. Battlesystem/Chainmail/Whatever-You-Want-To-Call-It the tactical miniature game will always have a market, particularly if it is integrated into the rules system as a method of handling large combats, and it will drive miniature sales; done properly this can be linked to a more mass scale combat system too and then you'll be able to sell army list books for different factions in different campaign worlds. Speaking of campaign worlds, you own a bunch of them and some of them are pretty damned popular, release a boxed set for each one of them. Run a column in Dragon magazine for your old TSR worlds. I think the ones with the biggest numbers of fans are Greyhawk, The Forgotten Realms and The Known World (Mystara), but that may be skewed by my OSR reading habits, re-release them in their classic forms with the new rules. Once those classic worlds are released, put out a hard cover book for them that will cover all the crunchy rules specifics of the campaign setting for people that really want to amp it up. Region books for campaign settings, like the D&D gazetteer series could keep you going for a while too. Race books could give us sub-races, racial classes, whatever. Class books that open up options for various classes and add prestige classes or sub-classes or kits or whatever you want to call them. Remember Players Option: Skills and Powers and Combat and Tactics? AD&D 2.5, something like that could add back in some of the crunchiness that 3rd & 4th edition fans want for their games, while leaving it optional for the rest of us. New books with more spells will always be welcomed too, so a spell compendium every so often would be cool I suppose, provided it didn't screw with the power curve. 2nd edition AD&D gave us all of those HR books too, now mostly they were not great, but the premise was good
Now what not to do, do not put a rule in a core book and then contradict it in a later release. That's why I said to make the entire system first. If you say that only Fighters can specialize with weapons, then don't let anyone else, even Fighter sub-classes do it, and don't give them an ability that mimics specialization with a different name. If you say in the core book that a Fighter can only specialize with one weapon, don't say in a later book that he can specialize under some circumstances with more than one. If you say that all of your martial classes are going to have their options covered in this one book, don't later release a book specifically for Rangers or Paladins. This applies, obviously, to every class and race. You should also keep to your production schedule for stuff, even if it doesn't look like it's going to sell well, you could always sell it as a PDF or print on demand, but people are going to be pissed if you said you were going to publish the "Kara-Tur Compendium" and you don't. Your word needs to be your bond if we are going to trust you again.
Follow this release schedule and between a monthly magazine, annual monster book releases, classic modules revamped for the new edition, new modules being written for the new edition, and presumably at least three campaign settings getting significant support through boxed sets, hardcover sourcebooks and gazetteers, the race and class books, historical sourcebooks, a possible line of army books for the associated miniature battle game, and more advanced player, and presumably, DM, option books I think that this could easily sustain profits through the entirety of the 5th edition D&D life cycle. Don't expect any love though if there's 5.5 in three years though of 6th edition is in less than a decade.