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!