Wizards of the Coast’s Latest Dick Move

Wanted to buy a PDF of any Wizards of the Coast/TSR product ever?  TOO LATE!!!

It started with an email I got from Paizo:

Date: Mon, 6 Apr 2009 19:28:09 -0700 (PDT)

Dear XXXXXX,

Wizards of the Coast has notified us that we may no longer sell or distribute their PDF products. Accordingly, after April 6 at 11:59 PM Pacific time, Wizards of the Coast PDFs will no longer be available for purchase on paizo.com; after noon on April 7, you will no longer be able to download Wizards of the Coast PDFs that you have already purchased, so please make sure you have downloaded all purchased PDFs by that time.

We thank you for your patronage of paizo.com. Please check out our other downloads at paizo.com/store/downloads.

Sincerely yours,
The Paizo Customer Service Team

But it turns out it’s not just Wizards hating on Paizo, it’s everywhere.  They pulled all their product from DriveThruRPG etc. as well.  With LESS THAN ONE DAY OF NOTICE to download even things you’d already bought.

Read the threads on RPG.net and ENWorld for more.

Wizards chimed in on this with a:

“Hey all. I wanted to step in and shine a mote of light on the subject. First off, this cesation of PDF sales has absolutely nothing to do with the Internet Sales Policy. I know it’s the 6th of April and I can definitely see how the two would appear linked, but the truth is, this is a completely seperate matter.

Unfortunately, due to recent findings of illegal copying and online distribution (piracy) of our products, Wizards of the Coast has decided to cease the sales of online PDFs. We are exploring other options for digitial distribution of our content and as soon as we have any more information I’ll get it to you.”

He’s referring to the new Wizards Internet  Sales Policy they announced today.  Yes, these moves are unrelated.  Surrrrrrrre they are.

So in other words, there are naughty pirates out there!  Don’t sell PDFs!  At the same time, WotC has announced they are suing eight individuals for infringement based on torrenting the PHB2.  You don’t bother announcing stuff like that unless you are trying a “My penis is so big” offensive against the evil forces of teh Intarwebs.

Well you know what?  Fuck you, Wizards.  May I direct everyone who is interested to The Pirate Bay, where the D&D 4e PHB2 is available.  (Not that I’d personally download any of that 4e crap.)

Are they really serious?  What does removing all your PDFs from legitimate outlets do except encourage people to pirate it?  And pulling this with such short notice undermines faith in the entire PDF market – re-downloadability is one of the selling points.

Paizo’s running a “PDF Love” sale on their stuff to try to make it up to their customers (use promo code “PDFLove” for 35% off!).  Of course this sudden yank screws all the companies who were reselling their stuff.  But since when did Wizards give one little damn about any of their supposed parters in the RPG industry?

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20 responses to “Wizards of the Coast’s Latest Dick Move

  1. WOTC doesn’t have any partners int he RPG, they think all they see is theirs.

  2. I’ve been compiling a list of of pdf bargains from companies in the wake of this over at my site. A good time to pick up some stuff.

  3. Yeah. My gaming group was just about to take a Pathfinder break and do an Alternity campaign, and not everyone had the books so there would have been some PDF buyin’. Now – either we’ll just pirate them or go back to Pathfinder. Smooth move! Selling PDFs of OOP stuff is free money.

  4. I contrast their move against that of several other small (2 men in a garage) game publishers who ultimately owe their entire existence to a combination of PDF distribution and enthusiastic cultivation of a web fanbase. Rogue Games (Thousand Suns, Colonial Gothic) and Greg Stolze (Reign and its fellow travelers) spring to mind.

    At one time, the gaming industry was divided into “TSR, and Everyone Else”. Wizards is doing its best to demonstrate that this statement is still true: they are the only folks in the hobby gaming market with real exposure to the larger corporate world and its attendant fears of loss of control of intellectual property. Everyone else (who, in fairness, are often not publishing games as their sole source of support) doubtless have their own concerns over PDF piracy, but are in a position where they almost have to regard it as “free” advertising, simply because their effective market penetration is so low.

  5. As a followup to my last comment, I’ve found that a lot of Wizards’ recent maneuvers make a lot more sense if
    they’re viewed through the lenses of fear and paranoia. The lack of warning before terminating PDF sales makes me
    think that this was a decision reached after a boardroom meeting characterized by equal parts screaming and weeping.

    One interesting thing I picked up out of the Internet Sales Policy is the implied intent by Wizards to limit (kill?) sales of their physical products across the web. I find this fascinating but understandable. The retail side of the hobby games industry has been suffering for years, and the ability of web retailers to undercut brick-and-mortar game stores’ prices has long been taken as one of the reasons. Wizards is plainly concerned about this, as they need to be able to continually recruit new blood into the hobby and clearly feel that they’re in a poor position to do this over the web alone: they neethe gaming stores and the activities
    they support in a way that lots of other
    tiny game publishers do not.

    I think they’re trying to take defensive action using tactics that only they have access to.

    One really interesting question: in my experience, I’ve found that Amazon is the web retailer of web retailers, often providing the sort of discounts on Wizards’ stuff that penny-ante operators can only dream of and that physical stores can’t touch. If Wizards is really trying to suppress online sales of their products they’ll need to cut
    off Amazon. Will they have the cojones to do it? And if they do, will that be tantamount to slitting their own throats? Amazon has a market cap approximately ten times that of Hasbro ($32 billion vs. $3.5 billion) and is probably perfectly willing to serve up restraint-of-trade lawsuits against Wizards if they start setting unreasonable requirements for access to their product lines. I guess we’ll find out soon enough, but in the meantime Amazon is selling PHB2 at a 36% discount off cover price, sales rank of #216 in books…

  6. @BRT – really good analysis. And yeah, as I read their new Internet Sales Policy – it HAS to apply to Amazon too, right? For those not keeping totally up with this, it says that now to sell WotC PRINT products over the Internet, you have to have a brick & mortar store and demands that you send in photos.

  7. I’ve held a grudge against WotC ever since the whole “4e doesn’t exist” thing they pulled just before announcing 4e. Seeing how they can do things like this with little to no regard for others just makes them less appealing to me.
    I like my 4e, but don’t think I will be buying anymore books. I was on the fence before, but I suspect I will be a Pathfinder player from here on out.
    I think it is also about time to break out my Palladium Fantasy or maybe even get some wear and tear on my new World of Chronos book.

  8. It may seem noble to beef up support for the brick and mortar stores, which I applaud, but to yank products from established retail partners like that is wrong. As stated earlier, it was a dick move.
    The least they could have done was give several weeks or even months warning. No matter your intentions you don’t do business like that.
    Besides the move may seem noble, but it is completely self serving. If it would boost their sales they would cut the throats of every brick and mortar shop in the country.

  9. Surely they would be able to insist that Amazon sell their books for retail. Many publishers’ products don’t have that sort of huge discount.

  10. @Joseph – My recollection is that antitrust laws forbid manufacturers from mandating retailer prices (hence MSRP = “suggested retail price”), but there are a fair number of legal alternate ways for a manufacturer to dictate pricing policy to retailers. Changing the discount rate they’re willing to offer for large sales volume is one way – if the manufacturer never offers more than 20% off MSRP at the distributor level, that’ll have an impact upon what a retailer can charge.

    Requiring specific conditions of a retailer is also possible – look at Harley Davidson and the wringer they’ve put their dealers through in the past. However, there is clearly a limit and I’ll bet that this isn’t a good political season for companies to start testing the boundaries of antitrust laws…

  11. It is a brick & mortar defense. Too little and to late. They may have been one of the last, but do they think they are the only Industry that Internet sales has yanked the carpet out from under, this last decade?

    At one time, I would have rushed to their defense, however they deleted a post of mine on their forums a short while back. It was a defensive post. The forum mod attacked me for trying to help them with their marketing strategy, and I flamed him, for flaming me… and was censored for it.

    By insulting and humiliating a loyal D&D customer, they lost my business. I also happen to have two young children. I’ll be steering them clear of WotC as well (and their friends too, if I can).

    I will also continue to buy games, and gaming books, from 3rd parties for top dollar, as they are worth it. Pdf’s? Good, but mostly not worth buying if any kind of dead tree version is available, and not worth stealing either.

  12. There’s a good analysis by Ryan Dancey in the comments under RPGPundit’s post on this. (Heh, I see the Pundit has labelled this a “dick move” too.)

  13. To call this a dick move is an insult to penises everywhere.

    You’ve clearly seen my take on the matter, Myx, but let me direct you to a line of reasoning I hadn’t thought of, yet makes perfect sense in hindsight.

    I haven’t yet decided if I agree with his analysis or not, but it’s compelling regardless.

  14. Argh, stupid HTML and I can’t edit my comment. Myx, can you fix my broken tag there?

  15. @Erin – fixed! And I think that’s probably about right. They are going from the same faulty assumption that “everyone HAS to buy from us! No one would ever want anything other than our official D&D!” It all “makes sense” in that context.

    Same deal with the restrictions for online print sales. One of my gaming groups asks, “Would they really cut out Amazon?” Well, if their mindset is that people will be compelled to buy their stuff no matter how many channels they shut down, then it makes a demented kind of sense.

  16. If they cut out Amazon, they slit their throats in the same action. It’s a bonehead move in general, but in this recession-economy, I wouldn’t gamble on the staying power of *any* brick and mortar outlet.

    The other option, of course, is that they contrive a DRM system through their own servers. Given WotC’s track record with web initiatives, I find this both sadly plausible and doomed to utter failure.

  17. The 4e rules floating about out there are quite clearly printer’s proofs, so how WotC think they came about as the result of people legally buying them online then illegally distributing them, I have no idea.

    Also, it makes no sense to bury oe, 1e and2e stuff if it’s 4e that’s being pirated.

    Also, it makes no sense to effectively make this stuff available only through piracy if the reason behind it is to combat piracy.

    It’s fairly likely that they’ve pulled this stuff so that they can sell it themselves, but given how cack-handed the rest of their online stuff has been of late, I don’t expect to see a working online store any time soon. Also, as some other publishers have pointed out, WotC likely have a better deal selling through another online store, when someone else is paying the Paypal fees, the server fees, etc.

    There may also be legal issues. Amazon’s also been mentioned as technically being in violation of their internet sales policy. It’ll be interesting to see them chase that. Further, there are questions over previously-sold pdfs; if the stores were selling them with the understanding that they’d be available for download in perpetuity, then pulling them may put either the stores or WotC in legal trouble.

    It’s just all a mess, and none of it makes sense on any level. Whatever they’re doing and whyever they’ve done it, they’ve cocked it up.

  18. RPGNow is working to be able to allow those who bought WotC PDFs to get one last download. See Steve Wieck’s post here.

  19. And it’s been slashdotted!

    I’m on vacation in Amish country till mid next week. If WotC pulls any more boners in the meantime, I rely on all of you to crush them…

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