Thursday, December 23, 2010

Unleashing the Lawyers of Yuletide Cheer!

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.


Michael S/Chgowiz said...

I've got a heaping spoonful of skepticism that WotC would sing "Kumbayah" with Paizo. They might not be bitter enemies personally, but these are corporations. Corporations would form alliances up front and trumpet it, not shift like so.

WotC's MO in the past has been to divorce themselves from the past and move to the future. Putting on my IT/Project Manager hat... The fact that the VT is agnostic probably speaks more about them rushing it to market than any openness on their behalf.

It's not in WotC's interest, in terms of volume, to go back. I think the site closing was more of a "cleanup of past stuff" than anything else. I don't think this signals a coming war on OGL games/retroclones, but I also don't think this is the sign of a thaw. It's simply a corporation doing business in the knee-jerk fashion that we know WotC for.

It's a nice thought, them re-releasing the PDFs, but I don't think it's going to happen.

Of course, what do I know... :)

Alex Schroeder said...

I still think that Dan Proctor has a point with D&D as a brand (instead of a product). If Dan's right, then it would make sense for them to release the old PDFs again.

John Matthew Stater said...

I believe WOTC is now selling some of their 4th edition books via POD at Lulu. Perhaps they could be moving to sell their 3rd edition books there as well? There's such a glut of those books on the market now, it is unlikely, but you never know.

trollsmyth said...

ChicagoWiz: Yeah, I got no special insight, either, and you're probably right about the rushing. Heck, I'm still not sure what each of those options does.

Alex: Yeah, complete agreement there. Hasbro seems more excited about the IP than the game itself. But really, what is the IP? The beholder? :/

Matt: Yeah, that saturation is why I don't expect them to really go on sale, but be part of the DDI bundle. But it would require a complete about-face, so this is probably mostly wishful thinking on my part. ;p

shyDM said...

I don't have any predictions regarding the virtual tools, but I will say that, on a slightly unrelated tangent, some of the Paizo guys and WotC guys do game together. In fact, I recall that just a few months ago Mike Mearls was posting about playing AD&D, and how Erik Mona was his Most Valuable Player.

5stonegames said...

Thats why the OGL was written as it was, to prevent them from doing this to Paizo.

D&D is not a brand per say, and at least the current model is about churn and "latest/newest/shiniest"

As I see this the lack of edition transition (so many people staying with 3.5/Pathfinder) and the bad economy has caught them by surprise. Heck even the OSR guys like us are a thorn ...

We just are not upgrading and at least in the case of my purely anecdotal experience, after trying 4e a significant number of people reject it.

Not a lot, not all, not a majority but enough ..

As the Hasbro end of WOTC is big dumb and corporate its far more likely they'll try to control what they can control and shut down things like Crystal Keep. C.F the legal PDF reaction....

C'nor (Outermost_Toe) said...

@ChicagoWiz: "Putting on my IT/Project Manager hat..."

As opposed to your profile picture hat, right?