Wizards of the Coast, please reconsider your PDF policy!

wotc In April 2009 Wizards of the Coast stopped all sales of PDFs. The reasons are still not 100% clear but there was always some talk about piracy. Almost two years later there are still no legal PDF products you can buy from WotC. I doubt I have to point out that piracy is still strong.

But I don’t want to talk about piracy today. Recently there were several posts about WotC’s SF roleplaying game Alternity here on Stargazer’s World. The comments on these two articles show that people still hold this game in high regard and quite a few people regret not having picked it up while it was still in print. If it were available as PDF on sites like DriveThruRPG, I am pretty sure WotC could still make some money off of it. But the way it is now, only second-hand book sellers make the profits now.

It would be so much easier if I could go over to DriveThruRPG and get a PDF copy of Alternity, one of the old D&D books or whatever suits my fancy there. With the new POD service even books which have been out of print for decades could find their way back into the hands of today’s gamers.

The way  I see it, it would a win-win situation. Wizards could make some money off some of their older products with minimal effort and we gamers could easily get our hands on legal copies of out-of-print products. If Alternity for example was available as a legal PDF I would definitely buy it even though I already own it in print. In this day and age with tablet computers and smartphones in almost every home, PDFs are getting more and more popular. Why WotC ignores this whole market is beyond me.

The costs and effort involved in bringing old products back into the hands are minimal. In most cases they should still have the PDFs, in other cases they could scan the originals and use some OCR software to create proper PDFs. I am sure a lot of fans would even offer to help with this for free. If WotC doesn’t want to run its own download store, they can easily go back to OneBookShelf’s sites.

If anyone from Wizards of the Coast reads this, please talk with the people responsible and try to convince them to bring the PDFs back. And if it’s at all possible make Alternity available as well. 🙂

Michael Wolf is a German games designer and enthusiast best known for his English language role-playing games blog, Stargazer's World, and for creating the free rules-light medieval fantasy adventure game Warrior, Rogue & Mage. He has also worked as an English translator on the German-language Dungeonslayers role-playing game and was part of its editorial team. In addition to his work on Warrior, Rogue & Mage and Dungeonslayers, he has created several self-published games and also performed layout services and published other independent role-playing games such as A Wanderer's Romance, Badass, and the Wyrm System derivative Resolute, Adventurer & Genius, all released through his imprint Stargazer Games. Professionally, he works as a video technician and information technologies specialist. Stargazer's World was started by Michael in August 2008.

23 thoughts on “Wizards of the Coast, please reconsider your PDF policy!”

  1. I still maintain that "piracy" is the new "terrorism". You can justify any action so long as you say you're doing it to fight "pirates".

    1. Yeah, some people even tried to construct some connection between "piracy" and terrorist funding. That was the silliest thing I ever heard.

  2. I would not mind them having a steam like app through which you can buy and view their role playing manuals. It will allow the online books to get automatically updated as changes in rules occur. The could even add a code in their hardcover books for us to activate on this app and then get the online one as well.

  3. All the points you make are valid to the point of obviousness. Yes these old out of print books could be a source for much needed revenue, yes when consumers are given the choice between a (free) low quality scan and a well made (reasonably priced) digital copy, they will tend to choose the latter. The policies put in place by WOTC regarding this don't seem to make sense because, well they don't make sense. This is a company that has grown larger than it's market. Every year new independent developers pop up from all over to take a nibble out of the big guy's food source and so the portions keep diminishing. So what do they do? They hunker down and hope brand recognition and market saturation will lead them through. "Innovative" ideas are unwelcome in this mindset, no matter how much sense they make.

    1. Unfortunately this is a company that has gotten down on it's knees for it's corporate overlord, Hasbro. I'd almost guarantee that if Hasbro wasn't in the picture, we would have easy affordable access to all WOTC/TSR products (at least those they have confirmed ownership of)

  4. Actual, modern-day pirates that take people hostage are definitely in bed with terrorists. People illegally downloading copyrighted material are merely thieves. WotC still has a right to do what they can to protect their copyright and Hasbro has their eye on the bottom-line. Most of the people in the OSR won’t buy material from WotC anyway, even if they started producing legacy product in support of older editions of the game. Legacy PDFs would be fantastic, but from what I can tell, the D&D team at WotC is stretched pretty thin as it is. Their current online product, the character builder, is unimpressive at best, and I don’t have high hopes for the forthcoming Monster Builder. I haven’t seen the online virtual table top yet.

    I would love to see legacy PDFs up on the WotC site as part of the DDI subscription, though. That would definitely boost the value of my subscription in an instant.

  5. There's two reasons why I think Wizards decided to pull their PDFs. The first reason was because the old product was competing with a then-fledgling 4e line. The second was because PDF sales were also likely seen as competing with the print sales of 4e, which could result in book stores returning unsold product, and costing Wizards / Hasbro some cash. I believe the piracy argument was concocted as an excuse to pull the PDFs from the market to try and save face on both fronts. Ultimately, though, it's not a sustainable strategy, since print sales are already flagging, and PDFs are a great alternative in tough economic times for those gamers who are a little strapped for cash.

  6. They pulled the pdfs because they were being pirated, it is as simple as that. People like to read more into to such things, such as WotC trying to "keep down the little guy" or "its all part of some master plan to bone the consumer" etc, but the fact is they lost a lot of money to piracy when 4E launched and thereafter. If you followed some of the court cases after the fact they lost over $500,000 from the piracy. I will contend that while piracy still continues it does so less, at the very least it has become harder for piracy. WotC no longer spends resources providing the pdfs for the pirates to use.
    Should they release some legacy stuff on pdf? Yes, it would be a fast way to generate cash without a lot of production cost. I suspect they are going to do something of the sort within the next year, but other than intuition I have no facts to back that up.
    As for Alternity, I do not believe it was ever a pdf. Therefore they would have to assign production money to making it a pdf. Would they get their investment back? Maybe. Would they get their investment back and on top of that the money they could have made using those resources to produce something new? That I doubt.

    1. What I can't understand is why WotC is making such a big fuss over it when every other RPG publisher has to deal with the same issues. Paizo for example sells their Pathfinder PDFs for the low-price of $10 and even with piracy they haven't been whining about it like WotC did. And don't get me started on that losses from piracy argument. You can't prove that a person who pirated a product would have ever bought it. They basically just pull these numbers from places where the sun doesn't shine.

    2. Bringing back all the PDFs that were in sale two years back would be a good start. And other companies have been able to release old products in PDF form with the help of their fans. ICE for example did this a couple of years back, so why can't WotC do the same. I am sure a lot of people would work for free if they got a little something out of it.

    3. "They pulled the pdfs because they were being pirated, it is as simple as that."

      But pulling the already available legacy PDFs was clearly not a rational decision, even if you accept the premise that pulling the PDFs for new material was the right move.

      1. It's not significantly harder to pirate anything at all either. In fact it takes more technological know-how to dewatermark a commercial PDF than it does just to scan the hard copy.

        There are hand-scanned PDFs of every post-PDF Meltdown book that WOTC has released. You can find them just by googling the name of the book and "torrent" and they're not so huge that you'll be torrenting them forever. All you need to know is to download a torrent app and how to click blue links and bam. WOTC hasn't solved anything this way. Piracy is a reality and many companies are taking steps to reward paying customers rather than punishing everybody in kind.
        My recent post The Divine Defender VIII

  7. Well, since they are phasing out print books anyway, I think we'll see a return of the pdfs eventually. All that needs to happen is for the D&D team to realize that I'm not choosing between a 4e product and the Moldvay books. Sell me the Creature Catalog or forgo my $$. They will begin offering the pdfs again when they realize they need to increase revenue and the pdfs are already ready to go. (Actually, I'd be even more interested in a PoD release I could order thru Lulu or whatever.)

  8. With the new OBS POD option and the option to get PDF + Print through them, WoTC really should put the out of print stuff up. I don't buy the downloading hurts sales argument, but fine don't put your current stock online, but there is no argument for not putting out of print items up as you aren't selling them so there are only two options: file sharing or used books. With POD and PDF no books should ever be out of print.

  9. I really still don't get their policy here. Take me for example. I'am a computer person – I work at the PC, play, read etc. I don't want to buy paper books at all. I don't buy fiction or any manuals this way. I have my laptop and e-book reader, thank you very much. Besides I have to pay some 30 dollars to have physical books delivered to me. So yes I pay for DDi sub and, I admit, download pirated pdfs. So I mostly play WotC stuff, but my money goes to small indie publishers, which do sell pdfs.
    Fighting piracy? WotC, that's called encouraging it in my book.
    In short – give me back the way to take my money to you, WotC.

  10. Look at Pinnacle. Savage Worlds comes in PDF format, and snatched that up as a seperate purchase when I ordered the latest version of SWEX at their store because it was easy and affordable and I know I'd get the latest edition for my tablet. I'm an adult, and don't have the time or the patience or the lack of moral fiber to screw around with bit torrents of RPGs. The way I see it, if you make it easier than free to get your products, then you will find your profit. Ignore the kids looking for torrents, they were never your market in the first place.

    Also I love @Telur 's idea of a "Steam for PDF's" service — but for God's sake, it shouldn't be offered with heavy handed DRM or in a proprietary format or device. Again, charge me for it, but make it open, easy to get, and easy to transport, and easy use – (password protected PDF is the answer there). The company that figures that out will rule the RPG publishing industry of the future.

      1. I wouldn't have bought the SWEX pdf if that was the case. I have a marvelous PDF reader for my (Android) Galaxy Tablet that I now use for most of my Savage Worlds books. And if possible, over time, I usually buy both the print and PDF versions of stuff I am going to use on game night.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.