Friday, August 3, 2012

Licence to Kill . . . PDFs that is . . .

So much to talk about in the RPG realms this week . . .

I wanted to touch on the One Ring PDF issues, because I figured that if I commented on the topic before we had solid facts, I'd have a better chance at looking like an actual journalist and not just some random blogger that doesn't know anything . . . ahem.

Anyway, for those of you that don't know, The One Ring is the latest in the line of Tolkien licensed roleplaying games that have come out over the years.  A lot of the buzz that I've heard about the game is similar to the buzz I was hearing about the Marvel Heroic Roleplaying Game, and by that I mean that the game isn't an "Epic Fantasy" RPG that has the rights to use Tolkien's stuff as it's setting, but that the mechanics are much more designed to actually resolve things the way they would resolve in the books.

Now, I'll fully admit that I've veered much more towards "pulp" fantasy like Leiber and Howard in recent years, but I cannot deny that young me still loves overly convoluted epics that span a few hundred thousand years and involve convoluted stories about artifacts and good and evil and all of that jazz.

So I figured that at some point in time I would check out The One Ring and see if I liked it, and if I wanted to put in on the list of "Stuff I May Someday Run, No Really, I Mean It, I'll Try."  As is my custom these days, a lot of things that go on that list end up being purchased on PDF and put on my tablet, so that I can sneak a page here and there at lunch or before or after work or when I'm waiting on someone, since I can have every PDF I can think of waiting for me if I just remember my tablet.

On top of that, even if I end up with the physical book, I like having the PDF because, in my experience, I can find something a lot faster in most PDFs with a search than with an index and thumbing through the old fashioned way.

Now, for some unknown reason, Cubicle 7 has pulled sales of the PDF version of the rulebook.  As far as I know, no reason has been offered.  Smart money is on licensing issues, since Cubicle 7 recently confirmed they still have The One Ring products coming out in the future.  It's also a good bet because the Tolkien estate has some really wonky licensing agreements and breakdowns and what have you.

I don't think this is simply a matter of anti-logic, such as WOTC's decision to pull PDFs because people were distributing illegal PDFs, and thus it makes sense to deny legal PDFs to anyone willing to buy them.  This reminds me more of the issue that WOTC had way back in the days that they were still selling PDFs, but they couldn't offer PDFs of the Star Wars Saga books because of the Lucasfilm license they had.

As legend has it, a PDF was considered an "electronic game," and as such, WOTC would have had to have pursued a separate licensing agreement from Lucasarts, since that is the corporate arm that deals with "electronic games," essentially meaning WOTC would have had to pay twice for the license if they wanted to publish PDFs.

I could be wrong, but something tells me that there is similar licensing shenanigans afoot with this deal.

However, the long and the sort of it is that these days, I don't buy too many physical books without being able to buy the PDF, so unless something changes, I'm not putting The One Ring on any mythical lists of mythical gaming experiences.

It does make me wonder how much well publishers, but mainly property holders, comprehend the impact of portable devices on the publishing world.  However, I strongly suspect that a lot of property holders barely grasp what they are even licensing when they sign agreements for RPGs, especially when discussing entities like the Tolkien estate or Lucasfilm.

It's almost as bad as when legislators in their 80s that can't check their own e-mails decide to regulate the internet.

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