1. Flattering as it might be to assume that the old school renaissance has had any effect on WotC's bottom line, I rather suspect that Mr Mearls's paean to D&D unity is in fact directed more towards fans of Paizo's Pathfinder, who, even by conservative estimates, are a sizable number of gamers who are no longer WotC customers. If any group of gamers' dissatisfaction with D&D IV has had a noticeable impact on WotC, it's the 3.0/3.5 holdouts who've now sworn their allegiance to Pathfinder rather than people like me, who abandoned WotC before 4e was even announced. Granted, I am assuming a business motive for the column and perhaps that's cynical of me, but it seems the most logical explanation for the current head honcho of D&D making a public plea for D&D fans to recognize "that there are far more things that tie us together than tear us apart."
2. Ultimately, any appeal for "unity" is meaningless without a show of good faith above and beyond platitudes. If WotC is serious about trying to win back fans of previous editions of D&D, then it'd be nice if they did something to demonstrate that seriousness. A good first step would be making legal PDFs of out of print material again available for purchase. I don't expect that to happen, of course, but, if it did, it'd go some way toward alleviating the skepticism this column elicits in me.
As I said, my interpretation of the column is deeply colored by cynicism. Corporations rarely admit mistakes, preferring instead to leverage brand loyalty to paper over their missteps. That's what I see here. Mearls's suggestion that "Whether you play the original game published in 1974, AD&D in any of its forms, 3rd Edition and its descendents, or 4th Edition, at the end of the day you’re playing D&D" is an appeal to loyalty to a venerable brand without (as yet anyway) any reason for those of us who've abandoned the brand to return to it. Mearls himself even admits that
D&D is the moments in the game, the interplay within a gaming group, the memories formed that last forever. It’s intensely personal. It’s your experience as a group, the stories that you and your friends share to this day. No specific rule, no random opinion, no game concept from an R&D designer, no change to the game’s mechanics can alter that.Once you've admitted that, what can WotC possibly offer those of us who got off their train years ago (or never got on in the first place)?