Dan over at "Sword and Board" reports that WotC has sent a cease-and-desist order to Crystal Keep. For years that site had blatantly copyrighted material posted for download, being a sort of mostly-up-front version of those sketchy Russian torrent sites so famous in gaming circles.
Most see this as WotC getting tough about defending their IP. I’m not so sure that’s necessarily what’s going on. As Ghostofmarx pointed out, WotC’s virtual table appears to be system-agnostic. Yes, I know WotC has been strongly anti-pdfs in the past. And yes, I know this flies in the face of all that the intranetz holds to be true about business (in spite of evidence that 3e with OGL has sold much better than 4e without it), but I think this may be the opening moves in attempts by WotC to get a piece of Paizo’s action.
The Pathfinder RPG did commit some pretty serious tweaking on 3.5, but they claim it’s still backwards compatible with at least that version of 3e, and I haven’t seen a lot that leads me to think otherwise. Which means all the customers WotC “lost” when they didn’t migrate up to 4e are playing a game that’s compatible with large numbers of books WotC could still sell them. No, reprints are almost certainly not going to happen, but pdfs could.
That could be a win-win for both WotC and Paizo. The truth is, it’s not really competition; by this point, the 3e/Pathfinder folks aren’t likely to migrate back to WotC for anything less than 5e (and probably not even then) and the 4e folks most likely to go back to 3e probably already have done so. And, quite frankly, there’s no reason someone couldn’t play both. :p
So, WotC releases a their virtual tabletop as the flagship of a revamped D&D Insider, and to sweeten the pot even more for those holdouts firmly in the Pathfinder camp, they’ll offer pdf versions of 3.5 material to subscribers. Now WotC has folks who never bought the 4e books paying monthly subscription fees for their digital initiative.
And now Paizo is getting support from the biggest gorilla in the jungle. People have a new way to play Pathfinder even when they can’t get face-to-face, there’s old-but-cool exciting material to incorporate into their games, and more excitement and buzz about their work.
Keep in mind that just about everyone at Paizo got their start working at WotC. The people involved here are not bitter rivals, but old friends, colleagues, and creative partners. Hell, I wouldn’t be surprised to hear that they game together on their off hours, hang out at the same bars and clubs, even attend the same Christmas parties. The assumption of bitter rivalry just doesn’t appear to hold up to the reality of how this industry works. DDI goodies for Pathfinder can bring new subscribers, and Pathfinder goodies (tile sets, monster tokens, etc) for the virtual tabletop will make that product more fun for everybody. If this is, in fact, where things are heading, it could be a big coup for both sides.