Tuesday, April 7, 2009

WoTC shuts down sales?

So, by now all of you have probably heard about WoTC's decision to shut down 3rd party PDF sales. There's a lot of speculation running around and a few hard facts to go by. To get up to speed check out Trollsmyth's blog on the issue, he did a good assessment of the situation:

Now, I hadn't thought of a few of the things he mentions and they are likely close to the mark--especially the lack of 4e sales and a desire to control PDF sales from their own site. But there may be another grander conspiracy afoot.

I've talked about this before on my site, and I trot it out again to explain a possibility of WoTC's possible motive for tighter control on PDF distribution.

Large scale commercialism requires that old editions/products be obsoleted entirely. This requires/forces the market to transition to 4e. My bet is not so much that they are worried about losing profits to middle men (they do that every time they distribute to stores) as they are losing customers to 3e when they could make them switch to 4e and buy all new products. This was an entirely anticipated with the release of 4e. Same thing happened to old 2e.

So are we talking about just 4e PDF's? are are we talking about all PDF's. I think its a moot point. We are talking about power and control. WoTC wants to to control its commercial distribution. I can't say that I blame it for that--it operates under a very specific big-business paradigm and it has the resources to stop grass roots movements. Much like Microsoft has done with its systems. Now yes, we are dealing with a direct act of piracy prosecutable in the courts. But if that was all they were concerned with they could have handled it through one small court case.

I tend to agree with Trollsmyth however, that this is an issue to circle the wagons and protect the product at all costs. They want to control the market. You can lament it all you want and jump up and down and scream about it but that's big business folks. You can;t really fault them for playing with the big boys.

The problem is that their traditional fans are not corporate schmoes. We tend to be independent thinkers and excessively creative and imaginative. (Can we be excessive in those things?) I beleive that people will largely respond negatively, but business as usual will be the order of the day after a few months.

Now, I'm not demonizing WoTC. Far from it. I'm assessing them on their own terms. Which is decidedly big-business in mentality. I'm also sure that they are being advised by a crack legal team whose sole purpose is to guarantee the products commercial safety and marketability. But the story is deeper than that.

An AOL group friend recently said:

"WOTC's back catalog is huge, what with almost every D&D product back to the old "white box" set having been available for PDF purchase through one of the businesses that I mentioned in my first post. Sometimes though, businesses don't make wise marketing decisions. As an example, I put forth the occasion when in the late 90's the Tolkien estate (DBA Saul Zaentz Enterprises) yanked Iron Crown Enterprises' distribution rights for the wildly popular Middle Earth Roleplaying (MERP) gaming line of products. They (the copyright owners) have never renewed ICE's license, and to this day threatens legal action against every fan site that tries to make the materials available in PDF form to home enthusiasts. I don't believe that the MERP gaming products were ever sold digitally; every MERP product (and I have perused a few) now available via file sharing sites has the look of a home scan job.It may make sense for WOTC to bring everything back through their own PDF store, but that's under the presumption that good business acumen and not a fear of piracy is motivating this recent action. Every gamer forum (e.g Gleemax, Giants in the Playground) that I have checked on about this development is buzzing frantically."

I’m telling you. It’s about power and control. Call me a conspiracy theorist—but it worries me. Hopefully they can’t pull use of the SRD under the OGL. According to online assessments WoTC is legally unable to revoke the OGL. But read on …

Because I still have a strong suspicion that they are trying to channel all D&D into 4e or nothing. I think the downloads of OD&D and other older supplements show a strong retro movement that WoTC could see as compromising business.

Even thinking about it is making me more worried. It could be a Microsoft monopoly all over again.

From WoTC’s FAQ on their 4e SRD/OGL:

“Q. Do I have to give up my right to publish 3.5 OGL products in order to publish 4e compatible products?
A. No. Publishers are free to print product lines under either the OGL or 4E GSL. We would love to see our industry colleagues convert their entire product offerings to 4E, as we are doing, but we do not expect or require entire companies to convert to the new edition.”

They say "We would _love_ to see it.” What does that imply? And if we don’t we’ll do all we can to force it?

The new GSL is a blatant attack upon the OGL in what I believe is an effort to control the gaming industry and its 4e products. They do not want 4e to be backwards compatible in a commercial market. I see no other reason to structure the GSL as they have done. So unable to revoke the OGL the 4e GSL prohibits 4e 3rd party products from being compatible under both licenses. This allows them control over their product and the industry. It also allows 3rd party industries to do their work for them. That is, if Paizo come out with good stuff for 4e WoTC benefits, because they are considered the official source. This backfired on them under the OGL since Paizo began doing a better job with a lot of products than WoTC did. They are trying to stem the tide. By controlling all old school material and controlling the industry under the new GSL they can ensure everyone buys WoTC and plays _their_ game.

The only solace I take is that they are overlooking the grass roots guys who turn to indies for support of their favorite version under the, hopefully, safe and secure OGL.