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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.


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.

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