Publishing

Tabletop Games Piracy in 2018

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It felt for a few years like few people cared about piracy in tabletop games. Everyone had their feelings about it, and nothing was changing. But in the last few months, I’ve felt a rising tide of people caring about it again: new RPG publishers asking if piracy was a problem and how to stop it, and more notably, a rising number of card and board games being counterfeited and sold.

Counterfeited Board & Card Games

I stand against the counterfeiting and sale of creative projects: whether they be games, artwork turned into print on demand merchandise, etc. Counterfeiting not only defrauds the original creator of profit, but the buyer may get a substandard product and they feel that they have supported the creator by buying it—they too have been defrauded. This includes not only the end customer, but any distributor or store who may unintentionally buy a counterfeit and not be able to sell it, or who may sell it and then face a reputation hit if the counterfeit is then discovered.

Drop-shipping and Amazon’s byzantine store have made distribution of counterfeit board and card games more common, and unfortunately, it is largely up to the customer to be aware of counterfeits and stores that are known to traffic in them. ICv2 conducted an interview with Asmodee about this topic in early 2018:

Christian Petersen: There are, I think, four or five extremely difficult problems caused by counterfeiting.

One is the lost sales themselves. A customer is interested in buying one of our products, but buys a counterfeit copy instead, a lost sale. That sucks, that’s a problem, it deprives companies, designers and legit retailers of that money.

Number two is the effect that it has on the brands. These counterfeit products are being sold at impossible prices; the legit market simply can’t replicate the price of Chinese-made counterfeit goods selling directly from, for example, an FBA (Fulfilled by Amazon) store in the U.S. It just doesn’t work, and it devalues…

From an enlightened self interest perspective, a customer should buy originals not counterfeits because it encourages publishers to release expansions and sequels, and of course, money that publishers have to spend investigating counterfeits and developing techniques to fight them is money not spent making games.

Pirated Roleplaying Games

Over the years, I have spent a fair amount of time and effort talking about the piracy of RPGs. I’ve said before that piracy “doesn’t matter” and publishers should spend their time and attention on doing things to support their games and make new games instead of chasing after pirates.

I believe that creators and publishers should know and understand the varied reasons that people pirate—even if they don’t believe those reasons are valid—and work towards giving people less reason to pirate within their field. The goal isn’t to eliminate piracy completely (unobtainable, corporations with much greater budgets than any RPG publisher keep trying and failing), but to encourage people who aren’t habitual pirates to purchase instead of pirate.

Why do People Pirate?

The main reasons for piracy are: Price, Evaluation, Format Availability, Regional Availability. Some secondary reasons are Habit/Hobby and Grudges. I’ve followed explanations of each reason with how Posthuman Studios, the publisher I co-own and co-operate, deals with each issue.

Price: Roleplaying Games are Well-Priced

This argument is as old as the roleplaying game itself: people want everything to cost less, but the roleplaying game offers a lot of value as long as it is played.

It is difficult to generalize about the price of RPGs, especially in digital form, because there is such a breadth to the market: everything from labor-of-love titles produced entirely by an individual to those created by dozens of contributors and published by companies like Fantasy Flight Games and Games Workshop. Prices are also influenced by the age of the title: many released in the 80s or 90s have digital prices based on a percentage their original print price, so they can be extreme bargains. Fred Hicks of Evil Hat Productions wrote a few years ago that the market value of the content in a RPG product is roughly 1/3rd of the print MSRP, assuming the MSRP is of a print product sold through distribution and not Print on Demand. (Disclaimer: I’ve done work with Fred and Evil Hat, like the Designers & Dragons series and the Atomic Robo Roleplaying Game!)

Atomic Robo RPG

Prices for newly-released RPG PDFs have been on the rise in the last few years. After we released Eclipse Phase for only $15 in 2009, that helped prove that lower prices can help titles can sell enough units to make up for the reduced price, and other publishers followed, lowering their prices or releasing new titles at lower prices. A few years later the price for a new roleplaying game in PDF seemed to stabilize at $20, but from 2016 on $25 and $30 became more common price points for core rulebooks. A notable example of a $30 PDF is Exalted Third Edition, which after a Kickstarter that grossed almost $700,000, stayed in the DriveThruRPG Top 10 list for roughly a year after digital release, even though the Kickstarter campaign delivered over 3,500 copies of the PDF that are not counted as part of the Top 10 list!

In some ways, that pricing brings PDF publishing full circle to the era when DriveThruRPG opened, when publishers routinely priced their PDFs at 50% of the print cover price, as typical new RPG core books are hitting $60 in 2017 and I expect to see them priced up to $75 by 2019.

Looking at the percentages, though, PDF titles have risen in price more rapidly than print books in the last five years, and there is bound to be some price resistance. Expect to see more publishers release cut-down “Player’s Guide” books at lower price points (such as the Numenera Player’s Guide from Monte Cook Games) to entice price conscious customers.

Posthuman’s Take: We started out with extremely low prices in 2009 and re-adjusted our prices upwards in 2014. We continue to offer free introductory books and will offer a low cost Player’s Guide for Eclipse Phase Second Edition. All of our Eclipse Phase books are licensed under a Creative Commons license so people can freely share them if they wish. We have participated in the Bundle of Holding and do other sales and promotions.

Evaluation: What’s a Good Sample?

Some people say that they pirate things before buying them to determine if they want to buy them. I think this is one of the more compelling reasons for piracy, especially when dealing with expensive software: Does this software do what it says? Does it work well on my computer? Does it actually make my workflow better? Most software developers combat this with demo versions of their software, using various schemes (time-limited trials, watermarked output files, etc) to give people a full taste of the software without compromising their ability to get paid. Subscription software also fights piracy, partially by locking customers in, and partially by offering lower monthly payments instead of large lump sums to make it more palatable.

That reason falls apart when dealing with more consumable items, though: some of us will read a novel once (borrow from a friend, take it out from the library) and then buy a copy down the road for ourselves, or as a gift. The same can be true for music or movies. But in general, I don’t think that piracy of fiction/music/movies leads to short-term sales. In the long term: someone may pirate a TV show and then buy the Blu-ray version a few years down the road, or someone who pirates an album may then attend concerts and buy merchandise—paying for the items that they cannot easily pirate.

Again, this is a situation that roleplaying games can compete with introductory books, ranging from free Quick-Start Rules to cut-down Player’s Guides, and of course copious free previews of core titles. Publishers, don’t just include the first 5 pages of your book—include important skeleton pages (credits, table of contents) and then include sample pages that show the breadth of a book. Preview each section, each type of unique content in a book. If your book has Adventure Hooks, Maps, and Non-Player Characters as the core three elements, a preview should include all of them!

Posthuman’s Take: All of our Eclipse Phase books are licensed under a Creative Commons license so people can reading entire book if they wish, and we offer generous (typically 20 page) previews for other books. (Re-)building better previews for backstock is something we could improve on—we often release short previews on our blog that aren’t linked to from DriveThruRPG, and we could add custom previews on DriveThruRPG instead of the automagically generated ones.

Format Availability: Roleplaying Games are (mostly) Published in Open Formats

The majority of tabletop RPGs are published in portable document format (PDF), with ePub/Mobi comprising a slim portion of the market. Many games that have System Reference Documents or other open source components are widely disseminated via wikis, as well.

Few major publishers use onerous DRM. Many still watermark their digital files, which I personally consider unfriendly towards the customer and ineffective against fighting piracy. Fewer still lock down their files in any way—preventing printing or copying and pasting, for example.

I would encourage people not to buy digital files from sellers that lock them down in ways that lower the utility of the file: for example, not being able to copy text from it, or not being able to extract pages or images. Publishers that do this sort of things: why? Don’t stop your paying customers for doing things with their book that can make their game-playing easier and more fun!

A few publishers still don’t sell in open electronic formats, the most notable of those being Wizards of the Coast who has not released Dungeons & Dragons Fifth Edition in PDF, even though they have robust offerings of their back catalog in both PDF and print on demand. Their digital tools for Fifth Edition, D&D Beyond, tie your purchases to a specific account. Also notable is Fantasy Flight’s Star Wars RPG series, none of which are published digitally as their license doesn’t allow it. Both D&D Fifth Edition and Star Wars are available via pirates with scanners—not releasing digital versions does not insulate popular titles from piracy.

Posthuman’s Take: All our PDF releases are fully-open—no watermarks, no restrictions, and taking proper advantage of PDFs features with cross-references, hyperlinks, and Acrobat layers. We’ve released some fiction and setting content in ePub/Kindle format (ePub obviously being more open than Kindle!) and will release Eclipse Phase Second Edition on a free wiki. We also release Hack Packs that contain CC-licensed artwork and other goodies for dedicated players, virtual tabletop players, etc.

ATimeofEclipse

Regional Availability: Roleplaying Games are (mostly) Published Without (intentional) Region Restrictions

More than any other type or format of entertainment, Roleplaying Games have few to any region restrictions: while fiction ebooks are sometimes still at the mercy of international publishers and thus locked out of purchase in some regions, the roleplaying biz simply doesn’t work that way.

While theoretically some foreign-language contracts don’t allow licensees to sell translated works outside of a particular geographic region, I have never seen or heard of them being enforced with regards to digital gaming books.

So that means that worldwide, you can buy gaming ebooks unrestricted by the publisher. However, a frequent critique is that ebook sites—and Kickstarter!—don’t make it easy for international buyers who don’t have access to a credit card. This stumbling block may promote international piracy.

Posthuman’s Take: We don’t restrict availability of any digital products based on region.

Secondary Reasons: Habits/Hobby

“He who dies with the most toys wins”—some just like to pirate to have a huge collection of books/movies/software/whatever. I don’t think these pirates are to be concerned about as in many cases they don’t actually consume many of the things they pirate—they just enjoy having large (and probably meticulously organized!) hard drives full of stuff.
These pirates may or may not also buy electronic things. They may buy them but like the convenience of downloading, for example, a torrent file that contains an entire game line.

Posthuman’s Take: Anyone archiving and distributing archives of all Eclipse Phase books is legally in the clear as long as they adhere to the Creative Commons license. During our Kickstarter campaigns we sell USB collections of all our electronic items, and we also offer bundle discounts for people acquiring or completing a whole collection on DriveThruRPG.

Secondary Reason: Grudges

Some people pirate because they like a product but they dislike the creator(s) or publisher. Some of these grudges may be well-founded and some may not, but it really doesn’t matter—these people probably won’t ever turn into a customer (or turn back into a customer) and it’s not productive to spend your time dealing with them.

Posthuman’s Take: You can’t do anything about this. We’d rather not take money from someone who doesn’t like us, but we can’t stop them from getting and playing our games.

Conclusion

Looking at the above, at this point in time, I feel there are few justifiable reasons to pirate roleplaying games in 2018. I would encourage players of roleplaying games to purchase them, and furthermore, if you think that a company publishes in a way that justifies piracy to you: don’t support them at all. Don’t pirate their game. Don’t play their game. Don’t grow their player network. Buy and play something else, so your money and time goes towards a publisher that you can fully support, those publishers can grow, and you can feel good about who you’re supporting!

5ive on Friday: Kickstarter Warning Signs

Every Friday, a list of five things: 5ive on Friday. Quickly bashed out, designed to start not finish conversations. 95% of these will be inspired by the week’s social media conversations.

Kickstarter Warning Signs

None of these warning signs may be a dealbreaker by themselves, but if a project ticks off more than a couple, I’d consider not pledging even if I was otherwise interested. Some of these are a little specific to publishing, but could easily be transferred to other types of projects.

In no particular order:

  1. The creator is an individual and has not backed other Kickstarters. There are exceptions to this—perhaps they created a new account to simplify running the campaign—but in general, I think actively backing other Kickstarter campaigns is one of the best ways to research how other Kickstarter projects work, and I think creators should be active consumers within the ecosystem they want to work in. If you’ve created a new profile for some reason, you may want to link to your older profile to show the projects you’ve backed.
  2. The creator is an individual, has never published anything before, and is trying to publish a large or “dream” project. I always recommend that someone new to publishing create a few small books, non-crowdfunded, to learn the publishing ropes with a little less pressure. Even if it’s as simple as having released a couple of $0.99 3-page supplements.
  3. Project details are sketchy: they do not include estimated page counts, binding type, paper/trim size, or whether the book is in color or not. The second half of the “elevator” pitch for a Kickstarter should include this information.
  4. Backer level prices are too low, especially for printed projects. This shows that there’s usually some misunderstanding about how much it costs to produce and ship a book. I saw a recent project that claimed that DriveThruRPG doesn’t charge upfront money to print books, but that they take it out of royalties. This is true in the sense that you can pay for printing projects with royalties you accrued from previous sales, but DriveThruRPG won’t front you the money. In a similar vein, if the backer levels and add-ons are weighed down by tons of options—t-shirts, buttons, pins, and other tchotchke—that can indicate a campaign that will sag under the weight of many minor fulfillment items.
  5. The sell text / back cover copy / project updates indicates that the creator is not in touch with the current marketplace. They may not be aware of other similar products, believe that their project fills a niche that has already been filled, engage in awkward smack-talk about other products or creators, or make grandiose claims. A little bit of bravado is expected in sales text, and there is room for a Kickstarter project to approach the market differently—but usually, for such an approach to work, you have to know “the rules” and how the market works in order to successfully subvert it.

InDesign PDF Export Preset for Digital Publishing

A million years ago, I cooked up an InDesign PDF Export Preset to handle exporting PDFs that worked well on the then-brand-new iPad while maintaining relatively small file sizes.

I still use that preset basically every day, having published dozens of books with it. You can download it here.

Adobe has instructions for loading PDF presets.

A few notes:

  • This preset turns all the Layers in your InDesign document into Acrobat layers; so users can hide backgrounds, art boxes, etc. (depending on how you use Layers in InDesign, of course.) You can untick this if you don’t want layered documents.
  • “Embed Page Thumbnails” is disabled because the thumbnails that InDesign creates are lower quality than the ones than Acrobat creates on the fly the first time it loads a PDF.
  • You can safely change the PPI and Image Quality in the Compression tab.
  • If your document includes spot colors, you probably should go to Output -> Ink Manager and tick “All Spots to Process.” (I almost never use spots, so this advice may be inadequate for your needs.)
  • There are no security settings set, because I want my customers to be able to hack the documents they buy, and PDF security is trivially cracked.

If you have any comments or questions, drop me a line!

Executing at Gen Con and Other Conventions

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As we are only a week away from Gen Con as I write this, I want to touch on one aspect of convention planning that made a big difference in stress levels and accuracy: the Execution Document.

“Damn Adam, what happened to calling something a ‘Plan’? That’s harsh!”

And that’s the point. The execution document is blunt, because it’s vital stuff that needs to get done, and it needs to get done in a timely manner. Forgetting or delaying items on it may inconvenience other people (your staff, your volunteers, etc.) and they may have adverse effects on your business (having to spend more money because you missed an early re-booking deadline, for example.)

In brief, I’m going to cover the important parts of the Execution Document, and then provide you a sample one, which is a mishmash of our Execution Document from 2014 and 2015 Gen Con.

Start Early and End Late

The document must include necessary items that occur before the convention “” such as taking money out of the bank and depositing it afterwards. By including those items, you create logical starting and stopping steps, and each item should prompt further questions that are answered in the document (such a question might be “At the end of each day, who takes the money?” By knowing who deposits it in the bank at the end of the convention, we can work backwards to the answers and make sure they are included in the document.

However, I do not include things like ordering convention displays, business cards, etc “” you can choose to do this if you like, but as I’m the only person at our business that does that kind of thing currently, it would just bog down the document for everyone else.

Location, Time, and Person

Every event in the Execution Document must have a specific location tagged to it, a specific time for it to happen, and have a person assigned to it. It’s possible to do this by creating a list of things that must happen in a certain location, but that list also must be broken down by time frames.

I am less strict about locations/times that pre-convention activities must be carried out (it doesn’t matter where we print the booth schedule, for example), but even those items should have two out of three fulfilled.

One person is The Show Manager: the boss.

Names and Numbers

The phone numbers or other contact info for anyone mentioned in the document should be included in it.

The Binder

The binder contains all sorts of documentation you may need at the show: receipts, booth maps, planograms, as well as sheets to record books that are given out as comp copies, inventory reports, all that sort of stuff.

Explicitness

The more people that will be referring to the document and the less familiar they are with your inner workings, the more explicit your instructions need to be. Remember that some things aren’t always obvious (for example, it’s usually the convention center that handles electricity-related requests, but a different outlet often deals with furniture rentals!).

Include contact numbers and the location of vendors you may need to deal with in the document.

Explicit instructions and information also help prevent mistakes: if the booth guide says that you’re expecting three packages to be shipped to your hotel, it means that someone probably won’t walk away with only two packages after being assigned “collect all our shipments from the hotel.”

Bonus true story: We had a pallet of books shipped to our hotel one year. In their haste to pick up their books, another publisher managed to snag our pallet and the hotel let them sign off with it! Thankfully it was a publisher who knew us and recognized the problem as soon as they got to their booth and started inventory. So they delivered the boxes to our booth, even before we arrived! But if they had known exactly how many pallets to pick up this would have not happened.

Include Travel Plans

Including travel plans keeps you aware of how many people you have around to do specific tasks, and how to organize those tasks.

Print the Document and Mark It Up

The show manager should have a printed copy of the document with them at all times, and they should physically mark off each item as it is completed. People assigned tasks on-the-fly should report back to the show manager when they have done so, and get another task.

Sample Execution Document

Here is a sample execution document: Sample Execution Document

Good luck with your convention setups, and I’ll see you at Gen Con!

The History, Current State of OGL Publishing, Pathfinder, and “d20”

March 2016 Update: Some notable things have changed since this article was first published, and an updated version is forthcoming!

This article is funded on behalf of my generous Patreon Supporters. Please visit Patreon and support my work.

There are varying reward tiers depending on your support level and the type of supporter you are (gamer, publisher, etc.)


The History, Current State of OGL Publishing, Pathfinder, and “d20”

The Open Gaming License and d20 System Trademark License were first released in 2000. Since then, other trademark/compatibility licenses for other systems and games have been created, and the use of other open licenses has proliferated.

The Open Gaming License still remains popular (while the d20 System Trademark License was retired in 2008), however most OGL material published in recent years (2010-) is geared towards being support material for the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game under the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Compatibility License.

This article explains the history behind these various licenses, along with some guideline for how they can be used in publishing.

Definitions

Open Game Content: Material that is specifically licensed under the Open Game License, created by Wizards of the Coast.

Product Identity: Material included in a book that includes Open Game Content that is specifically defined by the publisher as not being OGC.

Third Party Publisher: A publisher creating material that is designed to be compatible with another publisher’s game; most commonly used to refer to d20 System- or Pathfinder-compatible product.

Which was the First d20-licensed book?

Freeport Trilogy

(The Freeport Trilogy, a later compilation of the Freeport Adventures)

Green Ronin’s Death in Freeport,  Atlas Games’ Three Days to Kill and Necromancer’s Games’ PDF The Wizard’s Amulet hit the ground on the same Gen Con weekend as Wizards of the Coast’s Dungeons and Dragons Player’s Handbook did in 2000.

Three Days to Kill was locally available at The Source Comic and Games in the Twin Cities, Minnesota in the week before Gen Con.

What’s an SRD?

SRD refers to System Reference Document: often a Rich Text or HTML document that only includes Open Game Licensed material, designed to be used by a publisher as a starting point of reference or a manuscript. By using vetted System Reference Documents, publishers could help ensure that they were only OGL material.

Wizards of the Coast released multiple System Reference Documents (For 3.0 and 3.5, and d20 Modern), as did Guardians of Order (Anime d20). 

Paizo maintains a SRD for Pathfinder called the Pathfinder Reference Document, and there is a SRD maintained by the public at at http://www.d20pfsrd.com/ which also contains some material from 3rd Party Pathfinder publishers.

It has always been recommended that if you wish to produce material based on Open Game Licensed material, that you only refer to SRDs whenever possible, as opposed to mining material from printed books.

The Open Gaming License

The first thing to understand about the Open Gaming License is it is not designed specifically for any one gaming system. Anyone can write material and place it under the Open Gaming License. However, most commonly the OGL has been used to re-use material placed under it by Wizards of the Coast: the 3.0 and 3.5 SRD, and the d20 Modern SRD.

As far as content licenses go, the Open Gaming License is incredibly simple (it’s shorter than this article!). It allows you to re-use and modify material that has been placed under it, and also allows you to intermingle that Open Game Content (OGC) with closed content, which is described as Product Identity. This allows you to, for example, use monsters from the SRD in an adventure, with you declaring that the “flavour text” descriptions of the other characters, events, and locations in the adventure are your Product Identity.

One of the conditions in the OGL (Section 7) does not allow you to use anyone else’s Product Identity. Be aware that simply using the name of a Wizards of the Coast-published spell or monster that is not included in the System Reference Document may cause you to run afoul of this clause. This includes using that Product Identity “as an indication as to compatibility”—which means you cannot (without obtaining permission otherwise) indicate that your product is compatible with Dungeons & Dragons, Pathfinder, or any other game title, trademark, etc. The full list of what is considered by default to be Product Identity is listed under section 1 of the OGL.

Beyond not including material that you cannot include under the OGL in your product, the most important legal aspect of publishing something that includes OGC is Section 6 and Section 10, which stipulates that you must include a copy of the Open Game License in your product, and you must correctly add to and update the Copyright Notice portion of the license to include the Copyright Notice from any Open Game Content that you used in your product, and also append your own Copyright Notice to it. This section is numbered as Section 15 and often referred to as such.

In order to prevent problems, you should keep careful track of when you sourced OGC, and where you sourced it from, and save their Copyright Notice / Section 15 verbiage so you can include them in your own product.

Of course, the OGL has further clauses to it: you need to read and understand the entire thing before using it. If you find portions of it difficult to understand, I suggest you look for similar projects and see how they handled things, and if you need clarification after that, try to speak to the creators of those projects.

If you are attempting to re-use something that you believe may be Open Game Content but aren’t sure if it is, or if it’s Product Identity, ask the publisher of that project. Assuming that something is Product Identity is always safest.

The Open Gaming License is irrevocable: if you place content under that license, it is perpetually under it.

The full text of the Open Gaming License: http://www.wizards.com/d20/files/OGLv1.0a.rtf

The d20 System Trademark License

The d20 STL allowed publishers, if they adhered to more stringent rules, to place a d20 System logo on their book, and also to advertise compatibility with Dungeons and Dragons Third Edition, d20 Modern, and a few other Wizards of the Coast titles.

As the d20 System Trademark License is no longer available for use, the details of those restrictions and benefits are essentially irrelevant at this point.

D20 logo1

d20 STL Revocation

In June 2008, Wizards ceased allowing publishers to use the d20 System Trademark License. Publishers with print books were granted a six-month period to sell off remaining physical stock, and six months to remove any electronic books from the marketplace, or modify them to be OGL-compatible.

Some publishers re-branded their books, creating a handful of new logos/brands to identify them as OGL and former d20 titles—but none of those new brands obtained widespread traction. As of early 2015, many d20-licensed books still exist in PDF form with minimal or no modifications to their branding or content.

Game System License (D&D Fourth Edition)

The GSL was announced in August 2007, launched in June 2008 and revised in February 2009. It was not widely adopted  by third party publishers with many—including d20 stalwart Green Ronin Publishing rejecting it for being too limiting and too focused on serving Wizard’s of the Coasts needs.

With D&D Fourth Edition’s relatively short lifespan and lack of third party products, the GSL’s legacy isn’t in what it created directly, but what it created indirectly: Pathfinder.

Pathfinder

If you are interested in the history of Pathfinder and Paizo, I recommend reading Paizo’s 10th Anniversary Retrospective, available here: http://paizo.com/paizo/blog/tags/paizo/auntieLisasStoryHour—it goes into great detail on the company’s history.

Pathfinder RPG cover

For those who want to publish material that is compatible with Pathfinder, you can do so in two ways:

Use the OGL

Pathfinder material is published under the Open Gaming License, as it is derived from the 3.0/3.5 SRD (amongst a few other sources). You can use the Pathfinder SRD to create derived and compatible works as long as you follow the Open Gaming License. However, this does not give you the right to use the Pathfinder name or any other trademarks (as they are Product Identity).

Paizo Inc. Pathfinder® Roleplaying Game Compatibility License

PZOCOMPATIBILITYE 500

This license allows you to use the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Compatibility Logo on your product, and to indicate compatibility with Pathfinder and  refer to specific Pathfinder books. You are still required to use the OGL if you include any OGL content, and obey all of its clauses regarding Product Identity, Section 15, etc.

Paizo requires you to submit an application for the Compatability license, including a description of the products you intend to make.

Beyond that, the following page outlines the major facets of the license: how you can refer to Pathfinder and different Pathfinder titles, how you may and may not display the logo, etc: http://paizo.com/pathfinderRPG/compatibility

Paizo also maintains a Frequently Asked Questions list: http://paizo.com/pathfinderRPG/compatibility/faq

Old School Movement / Retroclones

An unexpected result of the Open Gaming License was the resurgence in availability of material that was compatible with prior versions of D&D. Multiple publications used the Open Game Content in the SRD to essentially recreate older editions of D&D and several of those rules sets have been further supported with original adventures and other content—essentially creating one (or more?) ecosystems that harken back to the style of rules and source material of the late 70s and early 80s!

Other OGL Material

Cover 500px1

(13th Age, from Pelgrane Publishing and Fire Opal Media, by Rob Heinsoo & Jonathan Tweet)

Notable fantasy material licensed under the OGL, beyond Pathfinder, includes 13th Age from Pelgrane Publishing and Fire Opal Media. It has a Compatibility License: http://pelgranepress.com/site/?p=14447

Mutants and Masterminds from Green Ronin publishing is one of the longest running complete OGL games, having spanned three editions. It has a compatibility license, Super Powered by M&M: http://mutantsandmasterminds.com/licensing-mutants-masterminds/


1185854 469878409786551 1400406744 n

(Mutants & Masterminds from Green Ronin Publishing, by Steve Kenson. One of the true survivors of the OGL era.)

Spycraft from Crafty Games has a compatibility license, Powered by Spycraft: http://www.crafty-games.com/licensing/spycraft

The Open Gaming License has been applied to other games and gaming material beyond the “d20-derived” style of gaming born from Dungeons & Dragons Third Edition. This includes Traveller from Mongoose Publishing, the GUMSHOE System by Pelgrane Press, Fate from Evil Hat Productions (which is also available under a Creative Commons license), and Fudge from Grey Ghost Games. Fudge is notable in that it was first published under a license of the author/publisher’s own devising, and years later was placed under the Open Gaming License—which allowed Evil Hat Productions to truly move forward with the Fate gaming system which was originally derived from Fudge.

Of further note is the Open D6 system, from West End Games. The D6 system first appeared in the Ghostbusters RPG and was later used in the first licensed Star Wars RPG. Decades later the system was released under the Open Gaming License as OpenD6, after a second incarnation of West End Games failed to capture the market with their revamped series of D6-based books.


Fatecoresystem

(Fate Core, from Evil Hat Productions, is available under both OGL and Creative Commons licenses.)

Licenses other than the OGL

Roleplaying games and sourcebooks have also been published under various Creative Commons licenses, but not all of them allow commercial re-use.

A few other licenses, such as the GNU Free Documentation License, have been used on occasion, and some games—such as Fudge, before it was licensed under the Opening Game License—had their own licenses designed to be used by one game only.

Trademark licenses without Open Licenses

There are also a number of games that allow you to publish compatible material with a compatibility logo, but that do not have any open licensed content for you to re-use, or any requirements that your material be open-licensed. This includes Pinnacle’s Savage Worlds: https://www.peginc.com/licensing/

and the Hero System from Hero Games.

Creating Open Content in 2015 and Beyond

If you have the freedom to choose a license for all-new material, I suggest that the following considerations are the most important:

  • Is the license appropriate for the type of material you are going to publish? The Open Gaming License was specifically designed for the text of a gaming book. Creative Commons licensed are aimed at mixed-media works: text + art + design, but you can use a CC license to only license part of a work—such as all the text or all the art or “all of chapters 15, 16, and 17” while not touching the remainder of the work.
  • Does using the license grow the audience for your material—does it give you access to a community of fans?
  • Does the license make your material available to use to others in ways that you find acceptable?
  • If you have bought or licensed work from others to appear in your material (artwork, writing, etc), does the contract you bought/licensed it under allow you to republish the material under an open license? Most publishers buy material from authors and artists under Work For Hire contracts, and thus the publisher owns the copyright and get choose to re-license the work under any open license they choose. Ethically, people creating work that you publish should be aware that you plan on open-licensing it, too!
  • The following are my personal suggestions for how to license material. Please read and consider the licenses carefully; what is right for one person/organization may not be right for others. What is right for one project may not be right for your next project, either!

    —If you want to create material for a game or setting that uses a specific license, use it.

    —If you want to create a new game, not dependant on material already under one of the existing open licenses, use one of the Creative Commons Licenses. These licenses don’t have the d20/fantasy/D&D implications that the OGL tends to have, and can allow for no commercial re-use, no derivatives, etc.

    —If you want to create a new game, not dependant on material already under one of the existing open licenses, but with plenty of open-licensed material available to be used with it or converted to be used with it, use the OGL.

    —If you want to create fantasy material with the widest possible commercial audience, produce material under the Pathfinder Compatibility License.

    —If you want to create fantasy material with some degree of built in audience, but want the least restrictive license possible, use the OGL.

    Publishing your own SRD

    If you are releasing a lot of open licensed content, you should consider releasing it in a System Reference Document style. While originally publishers such as Wizards of the Coast and Guardians of Order released SRDs in the universal Rich Text Format, most are now released as web pages—usually using wiki software so they can be edited and amended by the community. Some SRDs are created and maintained entirely by the fan community.

    Releasing a SRD will encourage people to use your material for their own works, as it will make it even more clear which material is available to be re-used.


    Special Thanks

    Thanks to the backers of my Patreon project for helping fund this article, including, but not limited to: Brian Allred, Tara Brannigan, Jeff Eaton, Eleanor Holmes, Andrew Kenrick, Adam Tinworth, Lester Ward, Evil Hat Productions, and Melior Via.

    In particular, thanks to John Dunn, Ryan Macklin, Craig Maloney, and Lester Ward for feedback on the initial draft of this article.

    Special thanks to Jason Jensen for editing and access to his extensive collection of d20 titles.

Recent & Future Releases

I’ve been buried under a log jam of production work for the past several months, and my lumberjack class skill of +4 (+2 when I wear that sweet lumberjacky shirt) has finally worked parts of the jam loose!

First off is The Devotees, a new adventure for Eclipse Phase. It’s available in both print and PDF.

PS21810 The Devotees 400px

We also just reprinted Gatecrashing, the Eclipse Phase core rulebook is at the printers for a fourth(!) printing, and our first card game, Shinobi Clans, is also at the printers. Our next release, Zone Stalkers, is imminent.

Outside of Posthuman Studios is the Atomic Robo Roleplaying Game, from Evil Hat Productions. It’s an action-science romp, powered by the Fate rules. I worked with an awesome team including Mike Olson and Jeremy Keller for this title, and it’s a great game and a gorgeous book. Pre-ordering the print book gets you the PDF copy immediately.

Robo Cover 400px

Beyond Atomic Robo, I’m working on the Designers & Dragons book series for Evil Hat. An extensive preview of the Designers & Dragons: The ’70s has been released, going over TSR’s history in detail.

And I’ve been diving into Accursed by Melior Via, as I have a one-sheet adventure to write for them!

As this logjam continues to get unjammed, please stay clear of rolling and falling logs. And by logs, I mean games!

“Fairness,” book prices, electronic book prices

(This was originally a Tumblr post, but my blog is a better long-term archive for it. Minor edits since I first posted it to Tumblr.)

People often say that electronic versions of books should cost less than the print versions due to production costs being lower.

This is a simplistic statement that is flawed on several levels:

#1: Not all books are published in both print and electronic format now, so electronic-only format books have to bear the entire burden of earning out, whereas a book published in print and electronically amortizes many of the expenses across two releases. Some books would not exist in electronic format at all (at their current quality level) if print versions did not help pay for the content. Electronic-only books need the ability to earn-out on all expenses.

#2: The production vs. content (writing, editing, art, graphic design, indexing, etc.) costs of books vary wildly, depending on the type of book, the publisher, the printing method and quantity, etc. Unless you have inside information or reliable experience, you can’t look at a book and tell how much it cost to make and where that money was spent. Even if you can make that estimation, you almost certainly have no idea how back-end contracts are structured and how people are being paid. Some publishers and authors are more transparent about this than others, but information learned in one field may be completely useless in another.

Furthermore, some say that authors and creators shouldn’t earn more on electronic copies than they would selling a print copy. So, for example, if it cost $2 to print/ship/etc a book that sold for $10, and the author also makes $2 on each sale (all of these numbers are completely made up for the purposes of a simple example), then the ebook version should sell for $8 and the author should continue to make $2. All the savings should be passed to the customer; no profits for the creator should be added.

The issue with the above is there is nothing that has defined the author’s $2 as a “fair” royalty beyond what the business has dictated in the past. The publishing business is changing, authors have more control, and often more responsibilities: if you can afford the $10 book to begin with, a situation that pays the author more is not going to hurt you. And it may well benefit you, because if the author is making twice as much on that book, they can probably afford to spend more time writing and have a higher quality of life, which is going to lead to better and more consistent work.

Beyond that: the argument that “ebooks aren’t as good as print” is rooted in emotion and history, but as time passes it’s becoming more and more obvious that in some cases, and especially in some genres and book styles, electronic books offer more utility and convenience to the reader. Should the creators not be rewarded for that?

The counter argument to that is that some of the features of electronic books — searching, bookmarks, etc. — are “inherent to the format” and thus the creators shouldn’t be benefit. The same people will also extoll the virtues of print books that are also inherent to the format, and the authors and creators end up benefitting from that! So it’s a wash; all formats have inherent flaws and bonuses.

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