Tag Archives: hasbro

There’s No Escape From D&D Insider

It’s not often that D&D news makes its way into the mainstream media.  We had a bunch last year with the death of beloved curmudgeon E. Gary Gygax.  What’s next?

Well, in this case, Hasbro getting told off in the Consumerist about making it impossible to get out of D&D Insider.  Seems that it likes to get your credit card info and never let it go.

Luckily a brave blogger has figured out the right procedure to cancel and shared it.  If the java.lang.RuntimeExceptions don’t thwart you that is.

That’s corporate SOP; try to hook customers on your crap and don’t let them get out.  And the economy is making companies desperate to try this.  At work, many of our suppliers are trying to crank up their maintenance fees up to double the previous year’s in order to make up for down sales, hoping they have you over a barrel, with too much money already invested in to be able to jump ship.

But it’s not too late!  Those of you who’ve been decieved into thinking that 4e D&D is really Dungeons & Dragons but are slowly learning the horrible truth – escape now!  You can only be a couple hundred dollars into it so far.  Escape while you still can!

More Wizards Layoffs

Well, damn.  I wondered why my article on Wizards layoffs in August was suddenly getting hits, and it’s because there are more – a lot more.  Lisa Stevens of Paizo confirms on ENWorld that the layoffs include:

  • Randy Buehler (VP of digital gaming)
  • Andrew Finch (director of digital games)
  • Stacy Longstreet (senior art director)
  • Julia Martin (editor)
  • William Meyers (creative manager, digital design)
  • Dave Noonan (game designer)
  • Jennifer Paige (online community manager) (aka Solice)
  • Jennifer Powers (marketing)
  • Jonathan Tweet (game designer)

Shockingly big names!   And it sucks that it’s right before the holidays, but that’s all trying to make your year-end numbers look good.

So what does this mean for WotC strategy?  They just cut a lot of their digital guys.  Are they giving up?  Or just taking a huge setback?  Cutting down on 4e’ers isn’t unexpected – people are saying it’s not performing to expectation and heck, they cut people after the 3e launch too.

My personal favorite here is Tweet – IMO, too talented to be working on D&D, though I’m sure a regular paycheck and health benefits were saying otherwise.   Time for a new version of Over the Edge or Unknown Armies!!!  I’d love to see Tweet land with Pelgrane, Paizo, or even Hidden City Games if they are going to do more RPGs than just Donut or whatnot.  He did a lot with Atlas but they’ve about given up on RPGs.  Heck, apparently Mongoose is growing like crazy

Anyway, best of luck to all the newly jobless.

Wizards Layoffs

Well, sadly it was bound to happen.  It happened right after the 3e launch too.  Wizards announced an innocuously-worded “organizational alignment” the other day.  It turns out that a number of people have gotten the axe including Mike “Gamer Zero” Lescault and Linae Foster, D&D Licensing Manager. More to come I’m sure.  (P.S.  Scott Rouse says they’re still making headway on a GSL revision despite this.)

In other WotC news, I’m a little concerned that Wizards is being referred to by Hasbro as their “digital strategy.”  In the Hasbro Q2 2008 earnings call, they only mentioned Wizards thus: “During the quarter, we continued to invest in our digital strategy, including the Wizards of the Coast initiative and building our business with Electronics Arts.” Conspiracy theories about them looking to sunset traditional pen & paper D&D with an ‘electronic’ revenue stream may commence.

This is mildly complicated by Wizards’ Senior Manager of Technology PMO flipping out and murder-suiciding his wife. Sad, and with the recent closing of Gleemax too, seems like there’s a lot of flux at the moment.  Hasbro seems to be leaning on the digital angle heavy but will they be able to execute in this environment?

What does this all mean?  Jeez, I dunno, but I’m guessing chaos + turnover doesn’t bode well.

The Revolution Begins

The entire gaming industry was underwhelmed by the new D&D Fourth Edition Game System License (GSL), which is restrictive and frankly dangerous to the licensee, not to mention being a very disappointing step back from the open licensing push of the previous edition.

Paizo Publishing has already forked D&D in response, saying “poo on 4e” and going ahead with the 3.5e system, turning it into their new Pathfinder RPG. But now there’s a more meaningful strike back at Wizards’ ill-considered and backwards business practices – Kenzer & Co. is putting out a book for 4e (Kingdoms of Kalamar) without using the GSL at all. (Thanks to Lamentations of the Flame Princess for the news!)

A quick primer on intellectual property issues. There’s copyright and trademark concerns, but courts have held consistently that any kind of game rules – from baseball to Monopoly – may not be restricted via IP. This should mean that as long as you avoid direct text plagarism (copyright) and trade dress (trademark, though this gets harder as companies abuse the trademark laws to “own” simple words and concepts) you can make compatible programs just fine – this is how companies have made third party games and addons for game consoles, etc. (Though as you can see from history, some consoles have succeeded on blocking this more effectively than others.) (If you need more of a primer on the game industry’s licensing history, the OGL, GSL, etc. see my old post Open Gaming for Dummies.)

Unfortunately Hasbro (Wizards of the Coast’s corporate masters) has been aggressive in suing anyone who touches any of their properties, whether the use is legal or not – two good examples are the recent Scrabulous suit, and the RADGames Monopoly suit. And even before Hasbro was in the picture, TSR and then Wizards had a history of being litigious; TSR suing Mayfair for publishing AD&D 1e adventures is one example, as is the infamous Magic “tapping” lawsuit.

Note that Hasbro lost the RADGames suit and that company happily puts out award-winning add-on games for Monopoly, even saying “Monopoly” and terms like “Community Chest” which are trademarked! And the old Mayfair suit wasn’t decided on IP grounds but because Mayfair had entered into a specific contractual agreement with WotC that said they couldn’t do that. This is the reason gaming companies shouldn’t uptake the GSL – it is actually more restrictive than what your normal legal rights grant you, and by signing up you are giving up rights basically for a piece of paper saying “Wizards won’t sue us.”

In my opinion, this is pure extortion. But it’s effective. Most roleplaying game companies are small one or two person shops or just part-time gigs. Even a groundless suit from Hasbro would take more money than one of these entities has just to show up in court (in whatever shopped venue Hasbro chooses, most likely one of the infamous IP venues like the Eastern District of Texas) to contest it. So whenever this discussion came up in the recent GSL flap, there was a general air of fatalism and people saying snidely “why don’t you rest your own livelihood on some legal theory!?!” Because admittedly, figuring out the complex legal mess of trademark vs copyright vs rules vs contracts is a bit much for most freelance writer types, and there’s a huge risk of getting sued whether or not you do it right.

Well, it turns out that David Kenzer of Kenzer & Co, a major third party RPG publisher, creator of the Knights of the Dinner Table comic, the Hackmaster RPG, and the Kingdoms of Kalamar setting, is an IP lawyer “in real life.” So in defiance of the GSL and their “no 4e products may be sold until after Gen Con” rule, his company has put together the first third party D&D 4e supplement and is selling it at Gen Con. Apparently he’s confident in his ability to “do it right” and to thwart any ill-considered legal action from Wizards/Hasbro.

And I don’t think this is a bad bet. RADGames was two guys in a basement and they won. People like to say “Oh, the US legal system is about who can throw the most money at it” but in reality, the law wins out pretty reliably.

So I want to say “Yay!” to Kenzer & Company. By pretty much volunteering to be the test case for this they’re going to lead the entire hobby games industry into realizing their legal rights and not living in FUD of Wizards and their “licensing” any more.