Monday, February 9, 2009

Near-Criminal Misuse of IP

Let's say you were a gaming company. Through circumstances borne both of design and happenstance, you now own nearly all of the wargaming intellectual property created during the 1970's and 1980's. You also own the rights to the three most popular role-playing games created during the same period. You also happen to own the rights to some of the most well-loved intellectual property in terms of setting. So what do you do with this treasure trove?

If you're Wizards of the Coast, you sit on it, consigning it to an oubliette whence it will never, ever emerge except in .pdf format (and rarely even then), for the few poor saps who even remember such products existed, let alone have actually ever owned the originals. Whatever you do, you don't promote it, for fear that the zero-sum game which is the gaming industry might actually find dollars which would have been spent on the Players Handbook III, or whatever, are spent on something that doesn't figure into a cost-benefit analysis of resource allocation for 2008.

And let us not forget that there is precedent for WotC giving licenses for these properties. They gave Kenzer the license for the AD&D rules (the circumstances behind which are irrelevant), and, having discovered that there was actually a market for such a product, yanked the license as soon as they were legally able. Presumably, they figured that HackMaster was some sort of threat to their own market share. Which, frankly, strikes me as ridiculous. Was anyone actually saying to themselves, "Well, I've got HackMaster now, so I don't think I'll buy the D&D Player's Handbook, because my gaming budget is so tight."? Maybe a handful, but I think the vast majority would have the reverse reaction. Gamers are collectors as well, and such figures into our buying habits.

Seeing the sales of HackMaster should have been a clarion call for WotC to re-release AD&D themselves in some format. But, no.

Setting aside for the moment the question of the AD&D rules, the entire library of both SPI and Avalon Hill is held tight in WotC's clutches. And what are they doing with it? Abso-frigging-lutely nothing. We are not seeing new editions of Invasion America, or Next War, or Dune, or Tactics II (!), or Afrika Korps, or even Barbarian Kings. When WotC acquired TSR and Avalon Hill, all those titles were part of wha they bought. Yet they haven't done a damn thing with them! Except Diplomacy, which I think they figure is some sort of cash cow. I wonder how that's working out for them.

Quite frankly, if I had a little bit of money, I would buy the SPI and AH libraries from WotC. In the course of reprinting such excellent games as Agincourt, Creature that Ate Sheboygan, and Gettysburg, I would feel out some of the new board game designers, and some of the old ones from the glory days, and start issuing new titles to bolster the old standbys. I believe that "print on demand" technology has come to the point where if I want a copy of War of the Ring, I should be able to click a button and get one in a week or three. I really believe there is a market... maybe not as large as the 4E market, but there nonetheless... that wants this sort of material. We gamers from the '70's are now in our 40's, and we have a lottt of disposable income. But nobody'll listen to me.

You just wait 'till I win the lottery...