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.