Ignite Slides from PepCon

I was at the InDesignSecretsLive Print and ePublishing 2011 conference last week, and did a five minute Ignite speech talking about my publishing philosophy, Posthuman Studios, and Eclipse Phase. Regular readers of my blog will be familiar with many of those principles, but I have a sexy slideshow available for download.

I wrote way too much text for a five minute speech, but I had fun and got a lot of nice reactions to it from a crowd of people largely unfamiliar with roleplaying games and their particular publishing niche.

If you were at PepCon and want to chat about the things I said or toss ideas around, there are a ton of ways to get in contact with me!

Piracy “Doesn’t Matter”

I’ve said that “piracy doesn’t matter” several times, and people like to argue with me about that. Of course, it’s a phrase said for effect. Piracy matters, but: publishers can do little to influence piracy. Giant conglomerates like the RIAA, MPAA, and BSA are incapable of stamping out commercial and non-commercial piracy. Does such an organization exist for publishers? I don’t know, and I don’t care.

(As usual, when I say piracy, I mean non-commercial duplication of content without paying for it. Commercial piracy is a whole different ball of wax that is harmful, but not something that I personally encounter in my industry.)

Piracy doesn’t matter because we can’t stop it, and we can’t control it. If you can’t control it, it’s a waste of time to worry about—so I worry about the things I can control and influence:

  • Improving my books so people want to buy them.
  • Building titles in formats that people actually use.
  • Marketing and distributing my works to new venues.
  • Empowering existing fans so they want to and can more effectively share the love.
  • Continued business practices focused on respect for our markets, partners, and customers.
  • Not vilifying pirates; no use making enemies out of people that might become or are already customers. (You would be surprised how many people comment on torrent sites using handles that they use on other sites … including the publisher’s own site.)

And that’s just off the top of my head, big-picture things. Plenty to work on, productively, with actual measurable results; and an ongoing learning process towards producing and selling Better Stuff. Stuff that matters.

Creative Commons: (Part of) Why We Give Our Games Away

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.

Further Piracy Thoughts

Here’s a few more bullet points from the Things I Think About Piracy department, as a followup to ICv2, Gaming Book Piracy, Quality of News. Most of this addresses “media” piracy; software piracy is a whole different kettle of fish, I think, as you can profit from using pirated software.

  • I don’t think piracy is a compliment. You like my stuff enough to use it, but not enough to pay for it? Ugh, that’s kind of crummy middle-of-the-road like, isn’t it?
  • I don’t think that anything you do with a file or physical media you’ve bought should be considered piracy or illegal unless you actually duplicate it for or make available copies to someone else. Make a half-dozen backups. Copy and paste the text into your own custom version of the file. Print out a copy that can be handed around the gaming table, and when that copy gets beaten up and ripped, shred it and print another copy. Rip that DVD to your hard drive and copy it to your iPod. Photocopy the book and paste all the pages onto your wall in some bizarre wallpaper homage to Shadowrun, Second Edition.
  • I try not to support DRM or other sort of restrictive publishing schemes, either as a publisher or a consumer. I’m afraid it’s not completely unavoidable—after all, commercial DVDs have DRM on them, and I’m not about to stop buying DVDs. And within the last year, I’ve accidentally bought a DRMed ebook or two, but I try to avoid it. As a publisher, I do not believe that restrictions that can impair paying customers are the right thing to do. That said, sometimes publishing partners, licensors, etc, demand or impose DRM; you can’t always blame the creator for it.
  • I think that piracy that is personal—giving some music or a copied DVD to a friend, for example—is far more acceptable than putting the exact same thing online to be downloaded by total strangers. When I share things, I want to share it with people who are going to help enrich my experience! (I still loan books that I enjoy to my friends, too. Fancy that!)
  • I think the library is an awesome place to get books, audiobooks, DVDs,and CDs that you don’t own. Enjoyed it? Maybe you should buy a copy. Didn’t like it? Hopefully the next person that takes it out does! Some libraries are even lending out ebooks and other modern formats, now!

ICv2, Gaming Book Piracy, Quality of News

ICv2 is one of the last sites that report on the hobby gaming industry in a general way. By general, I mean they don’t have a specific focus—they don’t cover just indie games, or just CCGs, etc.

This week, ICv2 published the following article:
Change Roiling Book Business
. The second part of this article talks about the Espresso Book Machine—an awesome print on demand [In the literal sense, not the “short run printing service” sense] machine that for only $100,000 + consumables can print softcover books in less than 4 minutes. This piece of machinery could have a positive impact on publishing, bringing backlist and rare titles back into print in bookstores and educational facilities.

The first part of the article is about ebook piracy, and it is entirely sourced from Randall Stross’ October 3rd article on NYTimes.com: Will Books Be Napsterized?

I am not going to talk about piracy yet. I am going to say one simple thing: when discussing piracy as it relates to the game industry, taking all your source material from one article which is not related to the game industry, and not adding any additional material that directly relates to the game industry [Such as, for example, talking to some publishers as to how they feel about the article and piracy trends] is lazy reporting. It’s even lazier when said article is the top article on ICv2 that day.

Briefly, to talk about Stross’ article: Yes, ebook piracy is going to increase as more devices are capable of electronically reading ebooks—and that means one thing for me in my publisher hat: there are also more reasons for people to buy ebooks. In the end, I care about how many units I can sell and how many dollars I can make, not how many copies are pirated. 10,000 sales and 100,000 pirated units is still better than 9,000 sales and 50,000 pirated units. There are exceptions to this (especially in the software/service market), but in the book/ebook publishing market, I think it’s pretty clear.

(Tangent: In Stross’ article, he also claims that the RIAA has said inflation-adjusted sales of music have dropped by more than 50% in the last 10 years, even accounting for digital sales. He doesn’t link to any proof of this RIAA claim—not even info directly from the RIAA. I googled a bit but couldn’t find a direct quote that backs that up, although I did find this page on the RIAA site, which links to a PDF that shows numbers that do not indicate a 50% drop, although the article doesn’t list the methodology or if it it’s adjusted for inflation.)

So now we’ll talk piracy a bit. When I say piracy, I mean “duplicating something you don’t own the rights to copy for noncommercial use;” I’m not speaking about people duplicating and selling commercially available products. And let’s remember that I am talking for myself—not anyone that employs me. I am not one of those creators that thinks piracy is some horrible awful thing. Rather, I think piracy is completely natural. We all want something for nothing, or for as little as possible, and we all like to share the things we like with people we like. I reckon there are very few people reading this who can say that they have never pirated anything. Before we had such easy digital copying solutions, we just had to work a bit harder to do it!

I also think there are situations where something may technically be piracy, but isn’t going to harm anyone. I’ll “‘fess up” with a personal example: I’m a professional wrestling fan. There is a great deal of wrestling material from the 70s and 80s that is not available in any commercial manner, but exists because fans at the time taped it from television or some of the people “rescued” the master tapes from the TV studio. I’d buy some of this stuff in a heartbeat if it was made commercially available, but even though World Wrestling Entertainment owns some of this material, it’s rarely available, especially as it was originally broadcast. So I don’t think I’m doing them harm by buying or trading for wrestling bootlegs … WWE, I assure you, if you ever release a Best of Stampede Wrestling box set, I am there.

There are books about wrestling, too. I buy those, too. I’m sure I could steal them, but when a book is $12 on Amazon, how much time do I want to spend looking for a pirated version, when I can have a nice version that I can read in my bathroom in the mail in only a week or so? (If that timeframe seems long, I’m in Canada and I mostly order from Amazon.com, not the Amazon.ca subsite. Better selection, and I prefer the American packaging on DVDs to the Canadian packaging, generally.) As a publisher, I have many conflicting opinions of Amazon. As a reader and a TV watcher and a player-of-games, I love Amazon; it does a notable good for me by providing a service that is easy enough to make it worth my money.

But I’m not going to sit here and deny that piracy does and can have an effect on the sales of new, modern media. That effect, however, isn’t always negative. Piracy can serve as a vector to introduce new people to a game, TV show, band, etc. And contrary to some opinions, many people introduced to something via piracy don’t just sit around and pirate it forever, as long as the product is worth buying. I know I sure don’t. I’ve had TV shows recommended to me, and before I’ve finished watching the first downloaded episode I’ve already ordered it online. Without piracy, I wouldn’t have even known these shows existed, or would have been otherwise ignorant about them. Is there a better way to learn if you like something than by actually seeing/reading/playing it?

Do you play a RPG regularly? And by that, I mean—do you play it more than once a month? Then you should be buying the stuff you use for it. If your character uses a bunch of the optional rules from Street Magic to kick magical butt, then you should own your own copy of Street Magic. I don’t see a good excuse not to. Whip out the “I’m a poor college kid.” line, and I’m just going to laugh: play the game without the cool stuff from Street Magic, then! Oh, is the game less fun without it? Then it’s worth owning! The same is true if you played a video game all the way through or read a book and learned from it.

If you regularly use a game, watch a movie, watch a TV series, read a book; and that media is available for sale from a legit source, you should buy it. If you loan your copies or make copies for friends, you should encourage them to buy it, too. If you regularly consume only pirated versions of media you enjoy, you don’t have the right to complain if that media takes a turn you don’t like, if their production schedule changes for the negative (fewer books, fewer episodes per season, etc), or is cancelled outright.

And, if you’re a pirate and haven’t actually gone out and bought a DVD lately, or a game, or a piece of software, let me tell you something else—the feeling of buying something you like that you could have pirated is pretty goddamned good.