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Monday 15 December 2014

Is the Apocalypse Fast Approaching??

It just might be.  I'm pretty sure that one of the signs, recorded in ancient scrolls no doubt, is that an event would take place that the RPGPundit and Ron Edwards (founder of the Forge and inventor of bullshit RPG-theories like GNS) would agree upon.  I never believed it possible, but here we are.

Last week I reported to you all how OneBookShelf, the owners of both DrivethruRPG and RPGnow (which, put together into a single monopoly, are by far the largest and most important distributor of PDFs in the tabletop RPG hobby) have apparently caved to pressure of particular influence-groups and banned a product from their virtual shelves.

Over on G+, Ron Edwards had this to say about it:

"There is some bullshit here in the above posts: this constant talk of "well the Drivethrough RPG guy can stock what he wants." If that was all there was to it, then he ... uh, well, he did do that, in the first place. He did stock the game. So pulling it is a reversal. That's what matters.

I can see pulling it if the situation of the game itself changed or was revealed, like the author did something heinous or it turns out to cause cancer, or something. But nothing like that happened.

So we're either talking about someone who did X without really thinking about it, which means his policy or his mental situation at the moment was too foggy (possible but not edifying), or who did X on his own hook for his own reasons, and then it turns out someone else's reasons are stronger to him than his own are. All I see is a variant on the Reagan problem: he didn't mean it in the first place, which is kind of lame considering he's supposed to be running something; or he meant it, in which case caving and reversing it is sort of like not being the boss.

I don't see how the identity of the author, the content of the game, or any specifics of the alleged ethics/values disagreement are relevant. I don't see why they're brought up, why they matter, anything like that. Change all of this to opposite sides of the alleged controversy (Sweetness Smith publishes Story Game Love-Bunny, and Desborough complains to Drivethrough and it's pulled, I dunno). Change it to some completely different issue entirely. Doesn't matter.

Regarding the OBS lockdown on success, well, it seems the old days of Alliance have returned. The single thing I've championed all these years is creator ownership, and I don't mean ass about IP or legalities, I mean real ownership, the creator of the game is the boss of whatever business decisions happen with that game. This is all about why a vendor, a centralized buying-spot, distributorship, is always problematic. Maybe functional, maybe working OK for all parties for the moment, maybe not too bad ... but always, always prone to some kind of fucked-up breakdown because the creator of the game is no longer the boss. I always hated standard distributors and won't use them any more; the stores come direct to me now. I used IPR and Key20, and despite some good moments it always went south - sooner or later the other guy's policy is going to favor him and not you.

Is the Drivethrough guy in a Reagan situation? Yeah. And it renders all this business about "his decision" a complete waste of time. But my beef stands even if he did nothing of the kind. Drivethrough and anything like it is a bad thing in the first place. Desborough and every other author in there gave up his or her power in letting someone else call the shots about the availability of the game in the first place.

So it's the same shit, again. Truly own your work and that means owning its distribution too. If a distributor or equivalent doesn't work for you, meaning they do what you say when it comes to your game, then you just gave up your balls. This is what happens.

I don't think you have to hare off to a centralized chokepoint whose manager by definition does not put your priorities first, and call that the market, or the industry, or the place to be, or any of that. When you do, this is what happens. If collectively we publishers do have to (+Kasimir Urbanski 's point, if I'm reading right), then it's time to burn it down.

It's not a clash of values or subcultures or identities, all that is the piffle of the moment. This is about whether you truly own your fuckin' game."

Incredibly, I find myself in agreement with him.  Until now, the fact that OBS was the largest game in town (in essence, the only game in town, in the sense that if you're shut out of OBS, you stand to lose an enormous percentage of your PDF profitability) was not really a huge problem, because they seemed committed to being a neutral all-access content aggregator.

Now, with this decision, they can't claim that anymore.  And I think it is only a matter of time, having chosen to abandon their neutrality once, before they abandon it again, or are pressured/coerced into abandoning it now that a precedent for doing so has been set and can be used against them if they even try to claim neutrality in the future.

The next time, the pseudo-activist Swine who think of themselves as the natural rulers of the hobby (for its own good, they reason, as their self-styled 'socially conscious' illuminated state means they are obliged to decide for the vast 'unwashed masses' of regular gamers what the rest of us should even be allowed to see, lest our ignorant minds be tainted by material that they personally find offensive or people who they find 'controversial', the bulk of said controversy consisting of being people that ideologically oppose them and their claims), having had a taste of success, will move on to attack someone less marginalized, over objections that are less justifiable, and continue along this trend for as long as they can get away with it; ultimately just finding (and if unable to find it, just inventing it, because honesty means nothing to them) something/anything "offensive" about any RPG writer, publisher or game they don't like and demanding it be banned too.

The assholes who are claiming that this is all about the "free market" right of a business owner to "make his own decisions", in spite of making said claims in a totally mercenary and self-serving way and having never before expressed any similar concern or defense of the free-market system (only now it's suddenly become convenient to them to do so), in spite of the fact that had OBS ruled the other way they'd be shitting all over the idea of the free market and wistfully wishing for some way to take draconian and totalitarian control over the hobby, ultimately have a point of some kind.  This whole problem exists because they were able to pressure the one single quasi-monopoly of PDF-distribution in the RPG hobby into making a terrible call to censor a game these assholes don't like written by someone they don't like.  The choice to make that call is ultimately the choice of the business.
But here's the thing: the real capitalist system abhors monopoly.  In a real 'free market' there must be able competition.  This whole situation is ONLY a problem because while there were once two different PDF-aggregators there's now just one.  If, for example, DTRPG and RPGnow were still two different companies, the natural reaction to this situation would have been that those people unhappy with (say) DTRPG choosing to blacklist a product would have moved their business over to RPGnow.  The very existence of such competition would have caused OBS to think twice about such a boneheaded move in the first place; they only felt safe in censoring a product because they assume that as the only game in town, RPG publishers and RPG customers have no choice: they can either lump it and keep shopping and selling with OBS, or they can quit doing so and watch their business die or their buying options vanish.

So as insane as it seem to me to see myself typing these words, I have to say it.  The OBS situation is so fucked up that it has created the following impossible sentence: Ron Edwards is right.  This is absolutely a distribution problem at its core.

What I can hope, and what I can warn OBS, is that there's nothing inherent in their present situation to suggest that just because they've cornered most of the market now, they will automatically continue to do so in the future.  Keep catering to the whims of the Outrage Brigade, and it will be only a matter of time before someone else decides to put up a shop using your exact same business model, only without the censorship.  And the moment something viable like that emerges, the fact that you've created a situation where any publisher smaller than Evil Hat (and potentially even a few larger than Evil Hat) absolutely SHOULD feel worried about their financial security being in OBS' hands is a situation that will end up blowing up in your faces.  People will walk, as soon as there's a place where they can walk to in a financially viable way.


Currently Smoking: Ben Wade Rhodesian + Image Latakia


  1. The thing about free markets is that they naturally breed monopolies. See Time Warner + Comcast, or AT&T + T-Mobile, or United + US Air.

    Furthermore, the sort of pressure that Evil Hat put on OBS is exactly what the free market demands. Small companies obey the rules. Big companies write the rules.

    DTRPG may someday be usurped as the go-to online RPG retailer, but you can bet censorship won't be the reason. Note that Wal-Mart is the world's largest company by revenue, despite the fact that they sell censored books and movies.

    1. For capitalism to work effectively, however, monopoly-breaking is very important.

    2. Free markets don't breed monopolies. Rigged markets do. We all live with rigged markets, which is why monopolies occur.

  2. This was the dumbest move that OBS could had done. It woke people up and I mean people from both sides. I literally mean from both sides. This is the first time I agreed with Ron and yet ended up disagreeing with ZakS. Hell ZakS made himself look stupid and a hypocrite when he called James sexist with no evidence to back it up. The fact ZakS waved off this entire thing put me into disbelief.

    1. What fallout do you think there will be? Some OSR folks have written blog posts about it, but the community is small and insular. There was a bit of momentum on /r/KotakuInAction, but the post about this in /r/rpg got no traction.

      It's admirable that OBS went so long without screening content, but dropping this game was really their only option. The community found the material to be objectionable, to the point that it posed a risk to OBS's bottom line.

      Would you put your money out on the line for content like this? If so, do it. As it stands, nobody seems to care enough to realistically consider challenging OBS's monopoly. My guess is that this is because they realize that the bulk of users don't care about this issue, or were supportive of OBS's move.

    2. "The community found the material to be objectionable"? Sez you. Those are weasel words like "It's believed that" and "Some say."

    3. OBS's letter to publishers devotes a paragraph to community feedback.

      You can see the overwhelmingly negative response on Twitter here:

    4. So a dozen of the usual suspects is "overwhelming"? Pseudo-activists like to rally the troops to have the appearance of a mass-movement. It's what they do. And there's been considerable negative response to the banning all over G+, blogs and forums, much of it from people who have no truck with the gamergaters.

    5. The immediate response to that post on Twitter was overwhelmingly consistent. At this point, a few days on, nobody on Twitter seems to care about this any more. Maybe there's a bit of negative response here and there, but "considerable negative response ... all over G+, blogs and forums" is a pretty strong claim. I'm unconvinced.

      I'd bet that a month from now -- at the most -- nobody will remember this game, or OBS's choice to drop it. The only exceptions will be big publishers, who have now set a precedent for influencing OBS, and James Desborough, who will have sold more copies due to the controversy than he ever would have on DTRPG.

    6. Well sure, it's the internet. No one will care about this in a month who doesn't have a personal reason to care about it; but you can say that about just about anything on the internet.

      They'll care about it again in another 6 months or so, when they'll reference it in the next Outrage Brigade Outrage Scandal.

    7. The community as a whole did not decide on any thing. Some see banning the game as hypocritical and cowardly act by OBS. A few cheer on as the game got ban. Most don't care, or had not heard of the news because they don't go online to game.

      Now I don't care for Grim's game, but it is a slippery slope they created. Which company is next to get piss off and threaten OBS to do some censoring? Don't act like it won't happen because it will. Would it be another minor guy who just does it for the love, or will it be some indie game company that people care about? Will Onyx Path threaten OBS to take out Evil Hat? Unlikely and holy shit that would be karma. Still it is still possible now. That is what scares people.

  3. Seems like the time would be ripe for a competitor to OBS to arise. I'm pretty sure when OBS got started they ran it on a shoestring budget and threw something hastily together and then grew the thing. That can be done again, and I'm pretty sure there's plenty of people out there perfectly capable of putting up a new shop. I'd suggest they make a point of identifying their mission statement as "We intend to distribute RPGs without censorship. Ever. For any reason. Regardless of what anyone may say, or whether or not this or that faction complains. You have an RPG - we'll publish it. Our goal is to give you choice because we live in a free society and we intend to make sure it stays that way." -- or something to that effect.

  4. There are competitors next to OBS.
    It's not OBS fault that those basically suck and therefor get ignored by publishers and customers. It doesn't limit OBS to decide what they stock and which products they remove from their virtual shelfes.
    OBS going down because they banned one product is about as likely as Target (Australia) closing because they kicked GTA IV.

  5. It's Animal Farm The Roleplaying Game!

  6. Was it a public comment? Got a link for referring purposes and context?