Tuesday, April 7, 2009

WOTC, and PDFs, and I Don't Care.....

By now everyone has heard the new of WOTC’s PDF Pull Program….and the screams and cries of rage coming from gamers worldwide. WOTC has pulled all PDF sales of current and OOP products, and are positioning to either sell them on their own site, or sell the company (also explains the recent announcement about seeking prosecution against some poor saps pirating the recently released PHB2).

My reaction was a big, fat…Meh. Tempest in a teapot, anyone?

I feel sorry for everyone purchasing a PDF expecting a certain amount of downloads (typically, five) through a service such as Drive Through RPG or RPGnow. But frankly, your beef should be with those companies and not WOTC…because obviously, they were promising something they had no control over. I don’t know the nuances enough to understand why WOTC only gave a day’s warning before pulling the PDFs, but I doubt the reason was to screw over the common man (no matter how important most of us think we are). Some kind of legal froo fraw is my guess….the same reason they are being less than forthcoming in the face of thousands of fans screaming for blood. I think it’s wrong to react too strongly to this, since I think we are seeing one of the first actions in some kind of pre-planned strategy, so save your ire for the eventual atom bomb to be dropped in the months to come....

Oh, and a did spare a few giggles for the indignant “I’m never buying from WOTC again!!!!” comments here and there. Please. WOTC doesn’t give a hoot, and besides they know you are lying anyway. People say all kinds of things in the heat of the moment (“No, really, I’ll call you tomorrow” being one of my unfortunate fallbacks in the past) that they have no intention of following through on….this being one of them. Unless you are an old schooler like myself or most reading these sorts of blogs (I haven’t bought anything from WOTC since 1999) you’ll be back in the fold as soon as the next kewl item gets released.

I’m going to go all out and say this move has little or nothing to do with actually piracy, but is all about cleaning up their house…..part of the same strategy as bringing Dragon and Dungeon magazines back in house (albeit in a ridiculous form) last year. Bringing the PDFs in house along with everything else, along with trying to shore up their copyrights and bottom line, can be seen as an interesting move…perhaps along the lines of getting their properties “fixed up” for marketing in a future sale.

The bottom line is that practically anything TSR ever published is still readily available for download with a minimum of effort. All the wailing and gnashing is for naught, and actually rather embarrassing if you want the truth.

That all being said, already there are a few winners and losers here:


Resellers. Despite what WOTC or anyone believes, many people will not illegally download and will gladly pay for the privilege to download OOP products such as 1E items. While PDFs will still be abundantly available (again, despite whatever WOTC is claiming), there does exist a segment of collectors and gamers that will simply move to once again buying hardcopies of modules and books. Although the genie is out of the bottle (PDFs have been available for many years) we could still see a modicum of interest in the print versions of old school classics and 3/3.5 items alike. Prices should rise.

RetroClones: Maybe not a flood, but perhaps a trickle of interest will grow in these products as old school rules sets (OD&D, Basic, 1E) are not readily available in PDF form for purchase. It’s up to the creators of said simulacrums to strike while the iron is hot and parlay their creation’s best aspects (free, nice easy to read layout and arrangement, virtual exact copies of the originals) into increased readership. Hopefully the easy availability of most of these will lead many old schoolers to use them instead of the real thing…not that I have anything against the real thing, but in the long run it might end up easier for gamers to use Swords and Wizardry than the original OD&D rules if the latter are unavailable online, and will definitely help spread the word to future gamers who will never pick up a white box set but would definitely flip through the awesomely

Old School Defiance: All the grognards and cynical old bastards like myself get a chance to lean back in our rockers and cackle maniacally at all the frantic outrage. “Told Ya So!” will ring out across the land….especially since 99% of us haven’t purchased anything from WOTC this century….


WOTC: Not in any monetary sense (a bunch of online bitch babies screaming they won’t buy their product anymore won’t impact the bottom line at all), honestly a company as big as WOTC/Hasbro only looks at the bottom line and PHB2 sold bunches. However, in the sense that those who were too young to experience the Lorraine Williams’ driven internet purges of the early 90s (when any page mentioning “Armor Class”, for example, got a cease and desist notice from T$R’s lawyers) or the 6-8 month “Great Silence” when fans were lied to about the sudden demise of TSR (right before being bought out by WOTC they quite paying their printer, all products including the magazines were halted, and no one at TSR said a word to anyone about why their subscriptions had suddenly stopped) don’t understand that WOTC never really was their “buddy”. The good will built up by the Open Gaming and other innovations was unceremoniously dumped out and a new generation of buyers/fans will be more wary of buying into whatever it is WOTC is now peddling. Welcome to the old schooler world, kiddies….

PDF Buyers: I myself have about 40 GB of PDFs on my computer for easy reference, and I find it quite a bit more convenient to go through these than dig through a mountain of boxes in the closets for that one issue of Dungeon or one basic module I need for a reference. I understand that most people don’t have this sort of library at their fingertips (mine took about a decade to accumulate) and for them I feel bad, especially if they paid for a service they now don’t have (eternal downloading of a PDF at an online service, for example). I’m not going to advise hunting up a bit torrent and downloading some ginormous file with every published TSR item on it, but….why not.

Old School Nostalgia: If you want a copy of the OD&D rules, or B1, or the Ruins of Undermountain boxed set, and you aren’t proficient enough to operate a bit torrent (or even understand what one is), or are dead set against any sort of illegal downloading, you are stuck with buying a copy off ebay or hoping someone you know with 40 Gigs of RPG stuff will burn you a CD copy. It’s not as easy as rolling over to an online store and charging 5 bucks to your account anymore to get a copy of whatever you wanted to

I keep getting the sense this is but the first move of what may become in interesting 2009 in regards to D&D, WOTC, Hasbro, RPGs in general, and their interaction with each other in particular. Sleep on the left side, keep your sword arm free...

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