White Wolf Fansite Guidelines Are Annoying

Well, Wizards is never going to get off their lawyered up asses to release a new GSL, let alone a fansite policy.   But White Wolf has a new one!

I don’t usually play WW games myself.  It’s not a fault of the games usually.  I feel like the people out there that play White Wolf fall into three categories – the gothy goth ‘take it real seriously’ pagan types (not my crowd), the teenagers in Dr. Seuss ‘Cat in the Hat’ hats (definitely not my crowd), and the normal gamers that play WW games like they’re D&D, all about the combat no roleplay (pointless, there’s better wargames).  I’d like the opportunity to do some WW gaming with normal-but-deep-RP people.

But while researching my article on RPG site Web traffic, I went to look at the WW site to see if I could figure out why their traffic has dropped off 54% in 3 months.  Not sure this is the answer, but I came across their new fan site guidelines (the “Dark Pack”). They try to make them reasonable, but the resultant list of rules is a mess that will inhibit fansites substantially.

They do a good job of separating the carrot from the stick.  If you do the things at the top of the page, you get to be listed in the Dark Pack links on their site, which is a good incentive-based approach.  Unfortunately, this section is just “use this standard Dark Pack logo and link.”

Then once you get into the “restrictions for all sites” section it gets a lot harder.

1.  No revenue of any sort – including no ads or Google Adwords – they specify that even your hoster can’t put ads or AdWords on your pages.  That’s a problem.   Sure, it’s WW’s “right” to be the only one making money of their content but it’s problematic when many fansites have gone over to hosted blogs or free-for-ads Web hosts.  Even LiveJournal is now inserting ads into their Basic accounts.  This effectively excludes lots of people who rely on free Web hosting or blogs of one stripe or another.

2.  They make the IMO fairly daring statement that all your characters belong to them.  No, really – “Please keep in mind that anything that is based on, derived or taken from our works is still owned by us. For instance, if you make a character from clan Gangrel, remember that is not your character and could never be used without our permission.”  I’m not sure that’s legally true; the derivative work concept doesn’t apply to game rules.  (I have a fair understanding of copyright, trademark, copyrightability of game rules, etc., don’t get into the usual net-pedantry in the comments please.)

3. You have to put a lot of WW legalese on your home page.  It seems like all these RPG publishers have such a high opinion of themselves that they assume all use would be by a site that’s completely and fanatically dedicated to them.  In reality, most sites are now like this one.  I’d have to put 20 company disclaimers on my home page if I mention any one of their games in any post.  In fact, as I use a free WordPress account, I can’t actually change my theme, so it’s not even possible unless I start paying for an account – an expense I can’t offset by AdWords according to them.

4.  Some of the restrictions seem fine but turn into a PITA over time.  Like you can only use 1500 WW-trademarked words on your site.  “In other words, don’t go overboard and use all of the terminology from our products.”  Sounds reasonable, until you realize that WW isn’t one of these here today, gone tomorrow companies – someone running a WW-oriented site could well be posting about various of their games for decades, through many different games and versions of those games.   Depending on their POV on how many of their words are trademarked (a lot, if they can think of 1500 of them) it seems to me that simple session summaries and product reviews could run afoul of this limitation in short order.  And Heaven forbid a site that allows other users to post comments or blog posts, do you  have to police whether they used a “new word” or not?  This actively discourages collaboration or multiple people coming together to make one fansite, like dungeonmaster.com does for D&D.  Let alone more “newfangled” tech like RSS and syndication.

In general, whoever came up with these guidelines lives in the early ’90s, where a Web site was small, static, hand-crafted, and the work of one person.  They’re just not tenable today.

For all those who are going to post saying “but it’s their RIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIGHT!”  Sure it is (at least the parts that are supported by law, which some of the clauses may not be).  But companies have the right to do any number of  dumb, counterproductive things, and after a reading I think these fit into that category.

So in closing – “Gangrel.”  Suck it WW!


20 responses to “White Wolf Fansite Guidelines Are Annoying

  1. I’m of the opinion that should WotC ever publish their fan site policy and that my content goes against it, I’ll probably ignore it until I get a cease and desist.

    I’m willing to post a permanent webpage with all the legalese (à la OGL) but that’s about the extent of it.

    Peace out!

    We’ll see…

  2. I’m with Chatty. I’ll keep posting what I’m posting and let it be until someone decides to legally smack me.

    I read the WW guidelines, and frankly I thought they were stupid myself. The “no ad revenue” thing was one of the worst, since they’re saying you have to pay out of pocket unless you set up to received donations. That’s going to limit the number of fan sites considerably IMHO.

    Luckily, you can post WW stuff on your site without following the guidelines so long as you don’t violate copyright laws in the process…at least as I understand it.

  3. What I find even worse is how some people on the WW boards just don’t see the problem because of assumptions they make that aren’t in the written text.

    I hope what they say really is true and that changes will be made…

  4. @Tom – the way those are written, the ad revenue clause and all that is inside the part that says it’s mandatory for all sites to be legal, not part of the very short “what you have to do to be Dark Pack” clause. Of course, when it comes down to it, all you have to do is not violate copyright (and trademark, and other) law – a company can give you more rights but not less, unless you sign a contract to that effect (GSL, anyone?).

  5. That was actually what I was saying. So long as you don’t violate copyrights, you don’t have to jump through anyone’s hoops.

    Of course, not violating copyrights and other laws can get kind of tricky.

    I’ll keep doing what I’m doing and if they say to stop, I’ll stop. Of course, I won’t stop quietly

  6. I’m glad I don’t play or support a lot of White Wolf or D&D.

  7. @Paul – and there’s others, Palladium is infamous for their anti-fan site policies. And just because someone hasn’t come out with a policy doesn’t mean you’re safe; it’s quite hard to not run afoul of copyright/trademark (or just them being bigger than you if they complain to your ISP/host).

    Companies need to learn that their IP, if closed up in a box, does not get them anything. You want to protect it insofar as other people might threaten your real revenue – “don’t print my whole rulebook online,” or “don’t copy our trade dress wholesale on your site,” fine. But especially in this market – you’re all fringe. Every time someone mentions your product or IP you should thank God that they did and are doing their part to keep you in revenue. You definitely want attribution, but beyond that cool off!

  8. I agree; the fansite restrictions are ridiculous. You can’t even put up a decent free-host game-wiki without worrying that they’re going to come around and send whatever their analogue to the spooky lawyers is.

    Once you put out a world that people can exist in, people are going to try to exist in that world. It’s that simple. All they’re doing is alienating their fans, and that’s going to result in a steady drift away.

    “Not your character” indeed. Yeesh.

  9. I also agree, what a crock all these agreements are becoming.

    If some of these companies and products want to remain in the hobby RPG domain they need to take a good hard look at what part of their IP needs to be secured and what part needs to be left to “run free” as part of providing what people who play the hobby expect to be available.

    If an RPG won’t let me make and publish (free or for sale) characters, adventures or other fan based material that is not a blantant rip-off of their work then their product is no longer part of the RPG hobby and shouldn’t promote itself as such.

    When WW start paying royalties for the use of words like Vampire and WotC do the same for words like Orc, then I might be more considerate of their rights to restrict me using their material.

  10. Two comments, both about WW and neither about their guidelines:

    1) I’m neither gothy goth nor pagan (I’m more of a goth-positive Discordian), but when I ran/played WW games, I was more concerned with the mood and feel of whatever kind of horror that game represented. As an armchair psychologist, I just assumed that anyone who wanted to play a 1990s era WW game wanted to suffer in some manner, and I tailored my psychodramas accordingly.

    2) I’m of the firm belief (though with no supporting facts) that WW shot itself in the foot when they killed WoD 1.0 and replaced it with 2.0, and has been on a downward spiral of pretension and decreasing relevance ever since.

  11. @Erin – I do have to say, I was puzzled by the reboot. I own a number of the older games (heck, I’m a credited playtester in Wraith: The Great War) and when they started coming out with everything again I thought, “huh?” I understand they kinda worked their metaplot into a corner, and I understand that comics and anime are all about the restarting-same-story-with-same-general-setup thing, but meh. The McWoD seemed to me to be the ultimate in the step towards making WoD into a D&D clone. I mean, in islolation a monstery D&D game isn’t bad, but it does seem like quote a debasement of the general principles of the WoD.

  12. I am of the opinion that I would never agree to any frillin’ fansite rules. Once you place that crap on your page, then you may be legally binding yourself to those rules.

    This would probably end you up in more hot water if you were doing something the corporate ass clowns didn’t like, because then they might try to say you were breaking some sort of contract agreement, instead of trying to pursue a more general IP law case.

    Just look at the old TSR vs. Mayfair case on how binding yourself to a license can screw you.

    I think a lot of it is bullshit meant to scare people. The problem is people do not know the differences between the different IPs. Trademarks are not Copyrights which are not Patents which are not Trade Secrets…

    But if you would like to know what some company has trademarked, I suggest you go to the official US Patent and Trademark Office site and do a search

    Note that this will only provide federally registered trademarks. Entities can still register with their local state.

    Also, for those wanting to know what the official stance the US Copyright Office has on copyrights and game rules, you should read this flyer. I keep it permanently linked on my own blog.

    It is an interesting topic because everyone has a lot of fluff (setting, personalities, fiction) which is protected by copyright tied into their game rules which isn’t protected by copyright. So the question lies in where to draw the line.

    Sorry for the comment book and possible net-pedantry.

  13. I always liked Mage: The Ascension. The reason was simple: there was hope. Your characters could, at least in theory, struggle and overcome and ultimately find that it had all been worthwhile. That wasn’t really the case in, for instance, Vampire.

    Haven’t really looked at WoD since the reboot, although the new Hunter tempts me.

  14. Think I’m going to write a Fun Site Policy. It’ll go something like this:

    If it’s fun, I’ll write about it. If it isn’t, I won’t.

    Lawyers? Burn ’em in hell, I say.

  15. @madbrew – that’s definitely frequently the best position. Like the GSL gives you exactly one right the law doesn’t; to use the 4e logo. To get that, you’re agreeing to loads of other restrictions. Companies just use FUD to make people think otherwise. And it is “easier.”

    Now, though copyright is pretty easy to figure out on this front, the brave world of trademarks is less so. The intent of trademark is to prevent someone else from publishing a game and saying “they’re Kindred that are part of the Gangrel clan!” Unfortunately it’s been taken to the extent of “if you have a product logo on your T-shirt it has to get blurred out on TV unless they get permission to show it,” which like most about IP law is a bastardized corruption of its original goals.

    @Scott – I also like Hunter, but again I think it’s a symbol of the new “make it into a normal wargamey RPG” direction they’re going. Plus, that’s what Buffy is for.

  16. I’m slightly afraid of what White Wolf might do to me for all the times I have quoted their books, given them bad reviews, called them pedophiles, and for my recent statting of Chuck Wendig as a Wushu character with “Making Annoying Games 4” as a combat trait. I fear they might break down my door and waterboard me.

    I’m also slightly apprehensive on what Wizard’s fansite policy might be, because I’m putting a lot of work into a homebrew D&D 4e campaign setting that BARELY manages to fit into the GSL. I’m hoping it’s like the 3e license where they don’t care, and let things like Farland slide.

    Anyway, very informative article, really gives me more reasons to bash White Wolf indiscriminately for the laughs of it.

  17. It’s funny how, in spite of things like this, people still liken Wizards of the Coast to a great big soulless corporate monster, while White Wolf is the thinking man’s company that can do no wrong and there’s only a problem with their games if you somehow squint hard, hold the book upside-down, and are a mathophilic number-crunching twink of a ROLLplayer.

  18. @Andrew – Don’t worry, I pledge that this blog will continue to rip anyone a new a-hole who deserves it, regardless of their industry status! 🙂

  19. Pingback: Paizo’s New Pathfinder License and Fansite Policy Examined « Geek Related

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