On an industry mailing list I subscribe to, a few days ago, someone pointed out a site that contained pirated PDFs of thousands of gaming books. I sent off a flip comment:

Damnit. Eclipse Phase stuff, which can be legally shared, isn’t there. I wonder if I can just upload it… 😉

Someone sent me an off-list message questioning whether EP could be legally shared. I said yes, absolutely, and they asked:

[Are you] shooting [yourselves] in the proverbial foot by basically giving away their materials. If it’s free and legal to do so why would anybody buy the materials?

Here’s my replies to that email, edited only slightly to combine a couple emails into one to tie together some subject a bit better:

Well, we sure haven’t shot ourselves in the foot so far. First print run sold out in only a few months, second print run is roughly about half gone (haven’t seen September numbers yet), and our first two print supplements were both 1/4 sold on pre-orders alone.

Our PDF sales have also been exceptionally strong; partially due to the low price point (1500+ sales of the core PDF at $15 — exact numbers impossible to know due to our divorce from Catalyst) and partially because of the Creative Commons licensing. People can check out the game, whether that be from our free Quick-Start Rules, downloading from a torrent (we seeded it ourselves to some bittorrent trackers), or by being given it from a friend. If they know they like it, $15 a low price for a full PDF RPG, and while RPG print prices have crept up to where $50 is a very normal price for a 400-page full-color book, nobody needs to buy it “sight unseen” now.

Our ad-hoc research shows that almost every EP gaming group has multiple copies of the print rulebook and multiple copies of the PDF at the table.

People are good. They want to support the things they like and they want to be treated as individuals and be respected. Creative Commons licensing allows us to do that; we’re giving them gaming material and allowing them to use in the way that gamers naturally want to use it. It allows fans to support us without worries of legal hassles, and it’s given us alternate revenue streams — like the Hack Packs, where we charge a few bucks extra for access to high-res artwork and InDesign files of our material.

Another great factor for Creative Commons and Eclipse Phase is the themes of EP and the spirit of CC collide rather nicely. Hackers and info-junkies and copyleftists also tend to be interested in sci-fi and transhumanism!

And, of course, no publishing company can successfully fight piracy. The RIAA hasn’t, the MPAA hasn’t. Piracy is going to happen unless we say “nope, you can’t pirate our stuff, cuz we’ll just let you give it out!” — and that makes the file-sharers like us and buy from us. I don’t think pirates are evil and immoral people. I know many people who pirate many things and these people also buy many things. They just tend to buy only things they already like. So, of course, giving away your material will only work if your material is good quality!

I’d much rather have someone read our game for free and not like it than buy our game and not like it. In the first case, they’re only out their time. In the second case, they’re out time and money and are more likely to resent us and/or not buy any other games we may release.

Furthermore, Creative Commons isn’t just about “downloading for free;” it’s about giving fans permission to hack our content and distribute those hacks. Permission to do the things that gamers naturally do, without fear of lawsuits or complex legalese or requiring our approval. Our fans have built and distributed complex character generation spreadsheets, customized GM Screens, converted our books into ePub/mobi format, and all sorts of neat things. When they do things like this, that gives us guidance as to what we should be doing: because fans aren’t just saying they want something, they’re putting their time where their mouth is … a strong indication that they and other fans would be willing to pay for those things if we produced them.

And in the end, if licensing our material Creative Commons is not financially successful: it’s the right thing to do, socially. We have to build the future we want to live in. Giant corporations locking up intellectual property is dangerous to society and culture.

Our next RPG will be Creative Commons-licensed as well.