WotC Does it Again!

Well, just as you thought things might have quieted down and Wizards of the Coast didn’t have anything really left to royally screw up, they manage to find a new area to fail in.

In order to combat PDF piracy, they are pulling PDFs of their products from sale online, from websites such as RPG Now, DriveThruRPG and Paizo.com. No prior notice, effective immediately. I think you have until noon today, some American time zone, to download from Paizo, while the other two are gone already. (via RPGCentric, James Mishler, #rpg.net, and pretty much the entire RPG blogosphere)

Yes! You read that right! To prevent illegal downloads of their books, they are making it impossible to download them legally! Brilliant logic, there. Even if the intricacies of pirate economics eluded them, they should be able to grasp the incredible stupidity of that chain of thought.

Additionally, the ones that end up in circulation are usually not from the webstores. Those are watermarked. Stupid to distribute illegally something with your name and e-mail address on it. No, the illegal downloads are primarily either leaks from the printing house or some kook’s own scans.

Well, that’s true for the 3E and 4E stuff that I’ve seen, at least. The old edition stuff doesn’t have watermarks, because they’re the ones that were scanned back in the 3E days to be distributed by SVGames – and they’re already out there. I believe it was Rick Falkvinge of Piratpartiet who compared trying to prevent piracy after the fact to trying to stuff toothpaste back in the tube. Can’t be done and you’ll just end up making a mess of yourself.

So, this is pretty much the standard anti-piracy measure. Not only does it do jack to actually deter piracy, its effect will be the complete opposite, since there is no longer even the option of buying a legal PDF. It’s much easier to justify an illegal download when there is no alternative available. The only ones who get hosed by this are honest customers and webstores.

While it is possible that they really are too thick to understand basic concepts such as these, it’s also possible that this is just posturing for whoever is higher up in the food chain – that is, some Hasbro exec. I could speculate about the sales of 4E or the effects of the economic downturn on WotC finances, but while I could construct a lovely conspiracy theory, the evidence is circumstantial. Besides, as the Hanlon’s Razor goes: “Never attribute to malice that which can be adequately explained by stupidity”.

However, according to WotC’s Trevor Kidd, all is not lost. The PDFs might come back at some point, maybe:  “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.”

That’s a long and clunky sentence. Here, I’ll abbreviate it for you: “DRM“.

And we all know how well that works. I still have some old free PDF books from DriveThruRPG on my hard drive that I can’t open anymore because I switched computers. It is also heartwarming to know that it’s WotC, of all companies, working on an electronic solution for something. With e-Tools, the DDI screwups, and the general user hostility of their website, forums, and Cretaceous-Era webchat, their resume of failure in this area is nothing short of impressive. They’re the Ed Wood of electronic applications, except not as likeable.

I pretty much stopped buying WotC stuff a year ago, with the exception of Paul S. Kemp novels and secondhand books. They keep making me feel better and better about that decision.

9 thoughts on “WotC Does it Again!

  1. You sir, have certainly made me laugh. I could really care less about the recent she-bang with Wizard of the Coast’s products but I certainly agree with the points being made.

    And in case someone scrolled down here by random chance I just want to leave a message for our youth:

    DRM is bloody STUPID, and it’s screwing with NO ONE ELSE than the people actually legally acquiring stuff.


  2. Loved your commentary. Laughed out loud. When I got my email from Paizo this afternoon I thought, “this can’t be good.”

    Given that 4e seems to have been motivated by finding a way for WotC to capture all the revenue “lost” to third parties in 3e, it doesn’t surprise me much.

    Too bad they didn’t recognize the thriving 3e community as just that: a community. Share the wealth and everyone prospers. Hoarding will lead to the collapse of the DnD brand (just as greed collapsed the economy.)

  3. Pingback:   Wizards Yanks all PDF Products, Sues Copyright Infringers by Purple Pawn

  4. Here’s the thing:

    Watermarked PDFs can be stripped of their watermarks. I’m not going to go into the details of the process involved, but I know with 100% certainity that it can be done, because I know people who do it.

    Before WotC started to sell their PDFs in various webstores, workprints were already leaking out of the printers: while I have hard copies of nearly every damn book, I also have these PDFs around myself, and the reason why I know they’re workprints rather than sold PDFs is because they have sheet cutting instructions and print color charts still attached to the pages.

    And even having only a book for sale will not slow down piracy (remarkably so): all it takes is a scanner and OCR software to turn a book into a text-selectable tome. This is a process which will delay the appearance of a book for a day, or two, tops; less if the enthused pirates cooperate and make it a group effort.

    “But wait, aren’t those OCR softwares expensive?” To which I will look at you really slowly, and shake my head. “A pirate worth his or her salt is not going to PAY for one, you know?”

    As a last final extreme measure, all it takes is either Open Office or Adobe InDesign and then they’ll just re-layout the book after it has been OCR’ed, and no one is none the wiser that it is not an official PDF, save for a rogue typo or unchecked word that comes out funny.

    DDI content is already out and about: Dragon, Dungeon, and, here comes the hilarious part, character generator which is supposed to be online only and work for those with a subscription. Well, it does work a-OK offline and without a problem for anyone without a subscription.

    So if WotC plans to start selling their own stuff (with or without DRM, with or without watermarking), I will say this: it is a pretty dream that they’d be able to find a way to secure their product in a way that a pirate isn’t able to break. If someone is able to view it, they will eventually be able to share it without any info whatsoever attached to it.

    This is a case of “one company” versus “now-offended and determined, large pirate community out there with the technological knowhow well-ahead of usual corporate curve”.

    Just think about it: who is the target audience of D&D (and RPGs in general)? Nerds. Geeks. Who are strangely effective and determined when their sensibilities are offended; they’re known to work with mania comparable to worst cases of OCD (and some HAVE that kind of disorder) until the “product” is out there.

    I’m saying all this as someone who has seen how it works, and how it worked in 3.0/3.5 era.

  5. When did they become so corporate dumb 😦

    They should have offered .PDF versions of all older edition stuff for free as goodwill at 4E’s release.

    Oh well, I loked nirvana despite kurt koBLAM, and I still love D&D despite the idiots trying to undermine it.

  6. That’s what the folks who put out the Witchcraft UniSystem game do, Donny. When they release a new edition/printing of the Witchcraft corebook for sale, they put the previous one up on their website for free.

  7. Great post!

    The change in license in 4e made me look elsewhere for a gaming system.

    I bet they are attributing that kind of customer loss to piracy.

  8. Sadly I’m still interested in the Star Wars SAGA system. Otherwise I would wash my hands completely of WotC.

    But this is another typically stupid move put forth by corporate suits.

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