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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: 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?

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