Who really needs D&D 5e?
I fear for 5e. Many of the people who loved 4e, me included, are concerned right now. I think it may just further fracture the base. The 3.5 and legacy players have got on fine without 4e so why do they need 5e? Us 4e players have tons of material and a game we broadly enjoy so why do we need 5e?
In my opinion, the only people who really need 5e are WOTC. Every D&D player I know or know of is happy playing the version of D&D that they enjoy the most now. They really do not need a new edition, especially another new edition that is likely to be fairly incompatible with everything that has been published before. WOTC’s D&D “division” seems to exist by selling new editions of D&D to more or less the same set of players every few years. They mine their player base for all the money than can get selling core rules and supplements and then when sales wane too much, they redesign the game in a way that is incompatible-enough with previous editions so they can basically sell the same books rewritten for the new rules to their player base again.
Unfortunately, the number of people making the switch to the latest (and supposedly greatest, at least to people doing the marketing for WOTC) seems to decline with each new edition. When TSR published the D&D, this did not really matter much as all of their (many) editions were pretty much compatible enough with each other that adventures and campaign settings published for their current edition could easily be used with any of the other editions TSR had published. Conversion was generally simple enough that most DMs could convert say, a D&D Basic game adventure to AD&D 2e rules (or vice versa) in their heads as they were using the module in play. There was no need for hours of conversion work before the “foreign edition” module could be used, they could just run the module. Therefore, even players not using the current edition often would still buy setting and adventures published for the current edition. WOTC, however, seems to do their best to make each edition very different from all previous editions, so they really need almost every D&D player to adopt the new edition the instant it comes out as people playing older editions are unlikely to buy any of the adventures and settings from the new edition to use with their older editions — so they cease to make any money at all from those playing older editions.
The WOTC edition treadmill is not helping the hobby and probably isn’t doing anything for WOTC’s long-term bottom line, either. Unfortunately, American businesses seem unable to do anything that will help them long-term unless it also boosts their stock value right now, so I don’t see WOTC getting off this spiral of diminishing sales the edition treadmill creates as it does boost sales short term every time they release a new edition.
In summary, who do I think needs D&D 5e? Outside of WOTC, practically no one really needs it. Heck, outside of WOTC, practically no one really needed 4e or 3.5 either.