An Open Letter to Wizards of the Coast

Earlier this evening, RPGNow pulled all of their Wizards of the Coast product, at WotC’s request. This includes the ability for people who had already purchased PDFs to download them. Paizo will be removing them tonight at midnight.

Their stated reason is an attempt to fight piracy. This is at best misguided.

Piracy is. It will always be. Every form of media can be pirated, and anything which can be pirated will be pirated. It’s not really even a matter of when; for the most part, pirated versions of movies, books, songs and games will be available as soon if not sooner than their legitimate commercial counterparts.

There is nothing you can do to stop piracy. There is nothing anyone can do to stop piracy. Many have tried, all have failed. Many will still try, and they, too, will fail. The problem is, people expect to be able to consume their media. If media can be consumed, the consumer must be able to access it. If the consumer can access it, then it can be copied. Maybe not easily, maybe only by people with specialized skills and software, but it only takes one. Once one unencumbered copy has been made, it can and will be quickly propagated throughout the internet.

Removing your PDFs from RPGNow and other retailers will have one effect, and only one effect: it will now be impossible for people to legally acquire PDFs of your material. Anyone who would have purchased your PDFs will now have two options: pirate them (in which case you get no money) or don’t get them at all (in which case you get no money and the “user base” for your game suffers as well). Neither of those help WotC at all.

As for the pirates? They’ll just go and download the PDFs, same as always.

Wizards of the Coast, please take back this terrible decision. You are hurting yourselves and you are hurting your customers, but you are not even providing so much as a minor inconvenience to pirates. This policy will be completely invisible for them, except perhaps their PDFs will be a few megabytes larger because they’re scanned and OCRed.

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27 Responses to “An Open Letter to Wizards of the Coast”

  1. Agree

  2. Amen.

  3. After the murder of DnD called 4.0, This move does not surprise me at all. WOTC lost me as a customer a long time ago. This just hammers the point home, why I do not like that company.

  4. @leapetra: While you’re entitled to your own opinion, please don’t make this about editions.

  5. As I said above I agree that removing the PDF’s as a means of controlling piracy fails to deliver any punishment to the pirates. It punishes the distribution companies that sold the PDFs and it punishes the legitimate customers who bought products in this format.

    I suspect there are other issues at play here. Though don’t suspect I have a clear idea what they are.

    If WotC are concerned about piracy as a broad issue then other electronic files will be pulled from the market, such as Dungeon and Dragon articles. As a DDI subscriber I pay for electronic copy from WotC and if there is a real fear we are sharing that copy with other non paying consumers then surely wizards will pull the rest of their electronic product line.

  6. Yeah, I don’t understand why you guys say this is a bad things. First of all, let me preface this by saying that neither I, nor any of my gamer friends, have ever legitimately purchased a PDF. No matter how awesome the PDF is put together, I never feel I get my moneys worth with just a digital copy. So all of my/our PDF’s are pirated.

    If the PDFs weren’t on the internet in the first place it wouldn’t make me not buy or play their product, it would just make me have to buy the books sooner (as, even if I have the PDF, I generally tend to prefer a hard copy of the book).

    Until PDFs (or a similar media format) have better piracy and copyright control they aren’t good to use as part of your business practice. Plain and simple. Now if they could find a way to link those downloaded books to your DnD Insider account or something similar to that, I think it would reduce piracy by a lot while still providing the information to their fans.

    The fact remains, removing the current PDFs won’t stop those PDFs from being pirated as they’re already on the internet and circulating, but choosing not to put future products online in PDF form will stop the majority of piracy on those products. It takes a lot of effort to scan, and scan jobs usually look mediocre at best (but usually pretty terrible). For me its either an official PDF (of which it’s pirated) or the books. Now that the official PDFs are gone, guess I have no option but the books. This means more money and faster money for WotC. I have a feeling that’s a similar mindset to many other gamers as well.

    All things considered, it’s a very smart move for WotC. I don’t understand why you guys don’t see this.

  7. If anything it will make pirated WoTC torrents even more organized. We`ll see larger rings of enthusiasts banding together to ensure timely and quality releases.

    Czar’s last blog post..DnD with The Wife == 92% a DISASTER!

  8. Meanwhile, Paizo continues to make quality Internet-savvy decisions like releasing a new license for sharing their products. Go Paizo. Wizards’ D&D products will go the way of the newspaper.

    (BTW Asmor, I think your site ate my comment yesterday.)

  9. @Dallas Dowdy: First, let me just say that if you are capable of buying the books and choose to download them instead of buying them, you should be ashamed.

    Second, online piracy did not suddenly spring up when WotC started selling PDFs. It will not stop now. Future books will be scanned and OCRed and will be of comparable quality to the official WotC releases. No one (including you, I suspect) who would have downloaded before will suddenly choose not to download.

    @Czar: Hardly. I’d be surprised if a tenth of a percent of people who download books have any involvement with their initial distribution.

  10. @Dallas Dowdy:
    It sounds to my ears like you’re under the impression that the source of pirated PDFs would disappear if legitimate PDF products were removed. This is a faulty assumption.

    The availability of pirated PDFs does not hinge on legitimate PDFs. Many pirated copies are in fact scanned from published print products.

    In the end, the only impact this will have on piracy is that (some) pirated products will become slightly lower in quality and be released slightly later.

    At any rate, if WotC believes that their bottom line is being seriously hurt by piracy, they are unfortunately mistaken. The fabricated link between piracy and “profit loss” is the big lie of the 21st century. :p But I understand that it must be difficult for sales people to let go these quixotic notions.

    Dallas, if I understood you correctly, you said that you have pirated PDFs but still end up buying the book. The people who want to buy a product will buy it. The people who don’t want to buy it, won’t buy it.

  11. I recently got invited to start playing D&D (4th of course) with some coworkers. I have play GURPS for years now, I figured I would give it a try and play with these guys.

    The game is way to expensive to ‘buy into’ for the casual player. Until I am regularly playing the game I am not going to spend the $120 for the three basic player titles.

    Some marketing problems pretty much force this piracy, just like audio piracy.

    1) write/edit all materials to be “optional but vital” for play. This means that if you play 4E, if one player has a martial book and wants to use it, the GM has to have it pretty much and other players would be a foolish not to. Since the player or players spent $40 on the book, the GM has a hard to saying know as $40 is a commanding sum to a lot of people.

    A lot of people in D&D have that ‘if its official is the rules’ (versus 3rd party or dragons)

    2) A lot of materials suck, are overly fluffy, or just basically bad. Made for GMs but contain small player sections and what have you. People feel scammed over and over again.

    3) Your previous books are worthless. This has a obviously impact on people.

    At a minimum I see WOTC and others not being able to complete erradicate this piracy problem, they should like the audio industry try and look at the product delivery as as well as the design and make it more reasonable for the players.

    I don’t by a audio album anymore just because I like a song that is on the radio, especially after being burned over and over with a disk full of b-sides and one song from the radio. Nor a greatest hits with one new song. Nore a live album with one song played on the radio over and over.

    Seems like the same issue.

  12. @hpvac: The vast majority of stuff that’s put out is primarily for DMs. As a player, really the only book you need is the PHB, and you don’t even need that. None of my players own it (I own two copies). There’s no reason at all for a player to have the Monster Manual or Dungeon Master’s Guide in this edition (in 3rd edition those were necessary for players; magic items were in the DMG and if you played a caster who summoned things you’d need the MM for their stats).

    Also, I’m not sure which currency you’re using (I’m guessing either Canadian or Australian dollars), but you can get the PHB for $23 from Amazon.

  13. I have to agree with you Asmor. Pulling PDFs will not stop piracy at all. I mean, honestly, the most popular copy of the PHB 1 online is the version that WotC themselves sent to the printers, complete with colour proofs in the half-inch extra margins!

    I also want to add that none of my players own books either! I have a copy of everything that I need, and they have the Character Builder for what they need. The fact that they didn’t need three books to play really helped me convert them to RPGs. In the end, WotC gets their 5$ a month, rather than a huge investment up front.

  14. Another issue – I hear that WotC have brought injunctions/lawsuits to bear against pirates. I don’t know about law and I need to read into the case more, but assuming the cases are being leveled at members of the fan base this seems highly unwise.

    Sueing your fans is bad PR

  15. [...] In the meantime, the company has asked some retailers to stop offering the digital books — drawing complaints from people who say they purchased the PDFs legitimately but now can’t download [...]

  16. D&D has always been pirated in its history. Be it the back-alley photocopies of 1e and 2e, the full-image scanned PDFs of 3.0, or the scan-OCR PDFs of the late 3.5 age.

    It won’t stop today. All they’re doing is alienating yet more customers who’d be willing to pay for a PDF for whatever reason (saving paper, portability, laptop gaming, lower costs, absence of local hobby shop…)

    From now on, it’ll be back to the Scan-OCR technique for the pirates, but that never stopped them, did it? Does WoTC really believe that the pirates will have gone soft after less than a year -buying- the PDFs before distributing them?

    I believe this is just a symptom of WoTC’s digital inaptitude. They’re at the same point as the music producers of 2000 AD; afraid of losing sales over a medium they never quite grasped. Failure after failure at attempting to go digital is only more proof of this fact.

    Didn’t they create a need for PDFs when they screwed up their integral-compendium concept? They promised they’d go digital; at least they started making PDFs. Now they’re back to square one without a surprise round.

  17. I doubt WOTC is doing this thinking that it will end piracy of their products, you’re wasting your time if you argue with WOTC that they cannot stop piracy. They know; because it’s obvious.
    Once no more legitimate copies exist it will be easy to determine if someone has a Pirated PDF version of a book, because all of them will be. Is there any benefit to that towards fighting piracy? Sure there is.
    Alienating customers? How many? There can’t be that much of a demand or this wouldn’t happen.
    Maybe it saves them more money to stop distributing the books online than it did selling them (and don’t just argue you doubt it if you don’t have actual numbers, you have no idea how much red tape and crap is sometimes is involved).

    - The price of a real book relatively fair when you compare to other hard covers (too say they are too expensive is to say that all books are or your being paid too little, they are different arguments).
    - Printing a PDF book on your own personal printer will cost you almost as much as buying the book (There are exceptions, we could argue them but instead I’ll just say there is a Quality vs Cost thing going on here.)
    -Only having a digital copy sucks. It’s not like a paperback novel that you read once. The books look nice in every way.
    -Previous books are still useful if you play previous versions, and if you’re of average intelligence you can salvage the good stuff and avoid buying new versions.

    A lot of effort goes into these books in the name of bringing this game to us. It costs money because that’s how the world works. A lot of people depend on money, not just you.
    WOTC can’t stop piracy but they can try new approaches and they can put an end to others if something doesn’t work for them. If you like the game, support them that’s all you can do. Don’t take this new move personal, if you really want a PDF version, make on or download one illegally, but buy the real copy. If everyone on here pays for the books, then this move doesn’t effect you.

  18. @chase dagger

    1. No one has complained that books are too expensive.

    2. Printing a PDF in black and white with no binding is almost as expensive as buying the book. Printing it out in color and getting a good binding and covers can be significantly more so. Generally speaking, if one buys a PDF they aren’t going to be printing it wholesale unless it’s fairly small.

    3. Only having a digital copy sucks for you. There are many people who prefer having digital to dead tree copies. I’m not one of them, but I know of them. Personally, I like having both. In my opinion, digital is vastly superior to dead tree in almost every way; the dead tree books only win out at the table where my laptop is dedicated to more important things and it would be awkward navigating a PDF on it.

    4. I have no idea what your point is about older books. If anything, you’ve just given a reason why there should be a readily available legal venue for procuring them.

    Piracy is a stated reason from WotC for this foolish move. Whether that’s true or not is debatable, but the fact remains that officially they have said they did this in part due to piracy.

    And finally, I’d just like to address one specific comment:

    If you like the game, support them that’s all you can do. [snip] If everyone on here pays for the books, then this move doesn’t effect you.

    Except that if you’re someone who is only interested in PDFs, no, you can’t do that anymore. In fact, supporting them is the one thing you can’t do, because it’s the one thing their actions prevent. And in that regard it most definitely does affect some people.

  19. @ Asmor

    1. hpavc complained about the price.
    2. You agree with me, that’s good.
    3. Are there many people though? Because if there was, wizards would just keep selling them. itunes is selling lots of digital copies of songs, even though piracy still exists, if this was the case for WOTC you wouldn’t see a change.
    I highly doubt there are many people who only want to buy digital copies of the books. Maybe there are a few people, but there are always a few exceptions.
    You prefer what I prefer, having both, who wouldn’t prefer having both? Both is obviously the best way to go.
    Digital is great for the same reason why digital everything is great, like I mentioned I want both digital and physical copies, I wish the books came with a free download. It just makes sense that sometimes it’s better to have a printed book, and sometimes it’s better to have a digital copy.
    This move by WOTC proves to me that more people prefer the physical books over the digital copies if they had to make a choice.
    4. hpavc complained they were useless.

    It sounds like you’ve missed the main point of my post. I’m saying it’s pointless for people to argue with WOTC that “WOTC can’t stop Piracy.” This is what the article is essentially about (before the posts even started.) WOTC only said they are doing it to fight piracy, and that can mean a whole range of things. I’m sure WOTC knows piracy will continue; everyone here should get that, it’s not like they live on another planet. To write articles, letters, posts, or whatever directed at WOTC saying you can’t stop piracy is a waste of your time. I hope to convince some people of this.

    Your final point: Ok; yes I suppose there are some people out there who would like pay money for a PDF and don’t want own a printed copy but like I keep saying doubt there are many. So for the few who do; If you really need the digital copy just make one, or download an illegal one (and do your best not to seed it, just leech.) We all agree that piracy won’t end so you’ll always have the option to download it. If you own the physical copies and illegal digital copies and just keep them for personal use, do you really think this is bad?
    That’s why I say this move doesn’t effect you, a person can always get a digital copy and you can always give WOTC money.

    One last thing: By the way you say dead trees it makes me think you see this as an environmental issue to some people. Perhaps so, but my advice to them is there are bigger fish to fry and other alternatives. And the topic is not about the environment.

  20. Sorry, I’d completely forgotten about the specifics of hpvac’s comment and for some reason it didn’t occur to me that you might also be replying to some of the comments. My bad.

    I use the term dead tree only because it’s common parlance. As I said, I like having the physical books, so clearly it’s not an environmental thing for me.

  21. Personally, I’ve always bought the books. Only, it’s so much more practical to carry around my notebook with the PDFs on it than my entire 80+ bookcase when I move around my everyday life.

  22. Thanks Asmor. :)

    I’d just like to tell wizards:

    Don’t try and take legal action on guys and gals like me who download PDF versions from torrent sites but also buy the very same books. If the PDF torrents were not available I’d be scanning my own books for my own personal use (the torrents are just easier).

    I pay you because I respect you and I enjoy your products.
    I can’t help but take advantage of the convenience digital copies provide. I assure you; I use these digital copies to be more efficient and add value to my games not to share them with the world.

    No matter what happens with the books; you can still make lots of money on props: The dungeon tiles, and miniatures are a good idea. You’ve made some good changes recently with the miniatures (let us buy the characters and monsters we want [with a smaller surprise factor since that is still fun]). You’ve made smart changes like the Dungeon Delve book that uses the official tiles for the dungeons. This is the kind of thinking that rewards both you and the fans.

    Maybe you could make a D&D card (like a points card) every time I buy a product give me some points. Let me use the points as a discount on new products.

    Come up with new and innovated ways to help my game, and I will open my wallet over and over again.

    Sorry for all the long rants everyone, I’m done now.

  23. Beautifully put, Chase, really.

  24. Извините, как можно добавить свой материал на сайт?

  25. I am not a huge fan of 4th edition. I find many problems with the system, but having played it a little, I’ve decided its not the worst.
    That said, 4th is a system DESIGNED by be played with miniatures. I don’t think there is a single RPG out that requires minis as much as 4th. If WOTC was smart, they would utilize this and make a better market for minis.
    Personally I wish they offered more choices of pieces one could just buy instead of having to get a package of ramdom bits for far too much money.
    I’m a HUGE Hordes/Warmachine Player (put out by Privateer Press), at one CON i got talking with some of their people who said that they don’t mind so much the piracy of their books because as a tabletop game you can’t download a figure. I know I’ve spend 3 times as much on figures for Hordes than I would have for the books.

  26. Personally, I wish they’d sell the dungeon tiles online, since I run all my games online and have no means of scanning.

  27. I never bought any of the new wotc pdfs anyways; they were outrageously priced. I did buy one or two of the older (pre 3.0) books for the more reasonable price they were listed for. I also have bought a few 3rd party stuff because they were more reasonably priced. I think the wotc idea of charging almost paper price for an electronic book is the reason for this change in policy. They couldn’t sell anything at the price they were offering the pdfs at.

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