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The issue of the buy-in

January 9th, 2008 (12:34 pm)

current mood: conflicted

Phil Reed hits the nail on the head regarding the WotC $5000 Developer Kit Buy-in:

In my mind, the fee isn't the problem. In fact, I think that there should be a fee to use the D&D name and a special, new, trademarked logo.

The problem is that after a few months there is no fee.
This dynamic (how the pay-to-play-devs and the free-devs are going to interact, the ramifications of each choice) is the thing that I keep going back to as I've been thinking over what WotC's 4E plan means in the short and long terms. Robin Laws and others have pointed out that assigning a cost for early buy-in is WotC's attempt to lessen the potential bubble effect of another wave of third-party support products for D&D, which I think is true. I agree that some sort of management was necessary. Others have worried aloud if this won't just slightly delay rather than prevent another "deluge of crap" we saw after the mass embrace of the previous Open Game Licensing deal.

Yesterday I opined ...[T]he OGL goes free this summer and it will be a good six months before those would-be publishers can release their products. During that time, the rules will be actually, really final (unlike the state they're in now, where WotC admits that they expect they'll be "tweaked" right up to mid- to late-March). WotC's core books will have been out for half a year and the first third-party (open content) books almost as long. During that time, people opting for the free license will have the chance to judge the marketplace (Does 4E launch big or is it a flop? Are people excited to switch? How have the products released by the "early adopters" who paid to play been received?).

All of that is way more information than those who are buying in early have. The Phase Two companies will have had just as long (if not slightly longer) to learn the new rules before their on sale date opens up, plus all the benefits of any errata that's discovered and content/experiences from other publishers to draw on. In theory, this staggered plan could actually result in better releases come January 09. It's vastly superior to the plan that would have allowed the users of the free license to sell product starting September 1. June to September is not enough time to learn rules, put together quality products and get it on shelves! The September 1 open date would have virtually guaranteed the "flood of crap" that happened with early D20 and that many people fear for 4E.

There'll still be junk hitting the market either way but I vastly prefer this schedule to the one that was proposed during yesterday's conference call.

The question for me isn't whether or not D&D is "worth" $5,000. It absolutely is. The question I keep coming back to is whether a few short months of advanced access and a starting-gun time table that practically necessitates companies paying to buy in do everything they can to press their "advantage" before the clock runs out, whether that is worth $5,000. Is it an opportunity or a sucker's game? If the money issue was set, pay or not, in or out, all the variables about the playing field leveled, the question of where 4E and the OGL fit into our plans would be completely different.


(Deleted comment)
Posted by: Andrew Hackard (hackard)
Posted at: January 9th, 2008 09:37 pm (UTC)

I have no way of knowing if the things I want to release are even possible under a new system, and I won't know until I've financially committed? Not smart.

That would be my biggest worry as well. A company that's going to pay the fee already should have an idea what their fall and winter 2008 releases are going to be. If the rules or the licence don't support those ideas, that's a lot of planning that has to be scrapped, and I don't know if there's time to gin up a whole new slate of releases in time to meet the August ship date.

(Deleted comment)
Posted by: Bryant (bryant)
Posted at: January 9th, 2008 10:33 pm (UTC)

This. If you know you're doing settings or adventures, your odds are great. If you're thinking of class books or race books, the ground is somewhat shakier, although it's a bet I'd personally make. Books which change rules are a bad bet, IMHO.

Posted by: Nikchick (iamnikchick)
Posted at: January 9th, 2008 10:40 pm (UTC)

Yep. Freeport, having been our flagship setting from the launch of 3E on, is of course foremost in my mind, especially as we have a pretty new stat-less hardcover setting book. Ahem. :)

Posted by: Daniel M. Perez (highmoonmedia)
Posted at: January 10th, 2008 04:57 am (UTC)

especially as we have a pretty new stat-less hardcover setting book. Ahem. :)

New Freeport book: Best 'Told You So, In Your Face!' Moment at Gen Con.
Honestly, it was the most brilliant move, proven more and more as days go by.

Posted by: Adam (adamjury)
Posted at: January 9th, 2008 09:37 pm (UTC)

One of the real dangers for advanced access is for companies who plan on releasing 3 or 4 products for 4e in 2008 -- if any of them slip into January/February, they'll be stuck in the expected glut of "public" 4e products, and I have a feeling that distributors and stores will be stocking light on those, initially, and even established companies will hurt those months as the buying dollars are diluted.

This situation simply has too many variables.

Posted by: Krimson Gray (kosmic)
Posted at: January 9th, 2008 10:29 pm (UTC)

From a player's perspective, it would be nice to see solid setting for 4e. My faith in Wizards is dwindling, particularly with the MMO direction 4e seems to be taking, and I am left wondering if the Realms and Eberron aren't going to be reduced to a series of dungeons connected by roads. It would be nice to see Freeport upfront and available as a fleshed out campaign setting, not to mention that its history with 3e. Its a name people know, and I presume 4e is one of the reasons the Pirate's Guide to Freeport is crunch free with optional plugin books.

Wizards is taking a gamble on 4e as it is. The similarity with 3e is that it seems to be focusing on creating a new base of players, which seem to be a renewable resource every ten years or so. I think Chris Pramas mentioned one of the stipulations was that Wizards needs to convince the lion's share of their customer base to switch over, and I'm not seeing their marketing strategy here.

What I'm seeing is a company that wants to sell minis wrapped in a WoW veneer to a "as yet to be determined" demographic. Who are they going to sell it to? 3e players (and to a lesser extent, old timers who played 2e and 1e) aren't relishing replacing all their books yet again, and most are certainly not interested in buying minis that come in random packages. CCG players have a choice between playing a collectible card game or playing a collectible minis game which requires $90 worth of books. And MMO players have a choice between a really slow World of Warcraft comprised of 3 books and a learning curve, or simply playing WoW. It seems their most viable option is to try and bring in new gamers or recent 3e players who haven't invested enough in 3/3.5e to be jaded about buying new books.

So yeah, its a gamble for third parties who are riding on the fact that Wizards is going to have a strong response. The main thing that third parties may have for them is the fact that strong supplements are going to attract people to them. Certainly I may have bought the Pirate's Guide because I must have anything vaguely M+M and True20 related, but once I read through it I realized that I must run a game in Freeport.

If anything, I think customers come to see Green Ronin as a quality company which puts out quality products. Even if 4e is an ok game, I'm pretty sure GR can make it better.

Posted by: Bryant (bryant)
Posted at: January 9th, 2008 10:32 pm (UTC)

I think the mindshare that Green Ronin and Necromancer earned from being early to the 3E party will carry over to the 4E party. If it was a new game, being early might matter more, but y'all have the reputation of being smart with the system and the reputation for quality product.

But! It's not my business, so that advice is worth what you paid for it.

(Deleted comment)
Posted by: Andrew Hackard (hackard)
Posted at: January 10th, 2008 12:07 am (UTC)

No brass dragons?!? 4E sucks!! ;-)

Posted by: josephbrowning (josephbrowning)
Posted at: January 10th, 2008 02:18 am (UTC)

"which may not be possible."

Until we see the license you're right in that we don't know if it's possible to fill the gaps. I'm wondering if something like "No other open material may be used in conjunction with 4e open material" will be in the license. Such a thing would force forward migration and prevent "old fluff, new rules" products.

We'll have to see.

joe b.

Posted by: Angus Abranson (angusabranson)
Posted at: January 9th, 2008 11:42 pm (UTC)

Personally I think they should have given the companies that put up the 5k a full year exclusive - I reckon that would have made the decision easier for a number of companies, even if some of them waited until June to see the rules and the reception before signing up.

As it is 5k for a five month window which you have to start soliciting some of the distributors product info in about six weeks time for your August releases (the earliest time to release 4E material) makes matters very tricky.

Posted by: wordwill (wordwill)
Posted at: January 9th, 2008 11:50 pm (UTC)

I have to wonder if we're confusing the effects of 4E being new with the effects of third-party products being new. What I mean is, hasn't the audience learned to sniff out of the garbage? Aren't we already pretty experienced at telling the difference between truffles and fungus?

My gut says that game stores and shoppers will remember how to be gunshy from before, and won't go taking so many chances on strange, new companies. Will game stores really be stocking their shelves under a collector's philosophy, or will they be buying only those products from trusted producers? (This, of course, discounting all those in the book trade who won't be buying jack, since none of it got solicited in October.)

The only way the glut becomes a major problem is if the game actually brings in enough new players who go fumbling through the third-party crowd without knowing anything. Is that likely to happen? Otherwise, won't a surplus of Complete Redundant Guides to Elves Are Awesome-type books be mitigated by the fact that people will only pay attention to the ones from a few distinct publishers?

Posted by: Ross Winn (ross_winn)
Posted at: January 10th, 2008 01:43 pm (UTC)

nice summation.

Posted by: irishmamacat (irishmamacat)
Posted at: January 10th, 2008 03:35 pm (UTC)

From my perspective, I don't think the 5K is worth it, especially with the reactions I'm seeing from gamers in my area. Most of them are saying they just don't have the money for a new edition of D&D, or, if they do, they plan on only buying what they need (and not replacing their Realms / Eb books). I'm thinking that also includes any 3rd party books. I think it's worth holding onto that 5K, and watching what happens.

Personally, I'm not buying 4E. I don't have the money, period, and I already invested in True 20. I'm just waiting for the three class books for that, then I'll evaluate. But WotC lost me with the total reissue, and all the adventures they keep pumping out.

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