We need an alternative to DriveThruRPG

If you are closely following what’s happening in the RPG scene, you have probably heard about the kerfuffle about a product called “Tournament of Rape” which was sold at DriveThruRPG for a few days before being removed. At first OneBookShelf (the company behind DriveThruRPG and RPGNow) tried to talk down the problem, before they took action. And there’s now a new policy in place which shall prevent issues like that in the future.

BUT this policy might create more problems than it solves. At first OBS will be reactive not proactive. The publisher still decides what to upload and the uploads will not be screened by OBS. Customers of the site can flag content they deem offensive and then OBS is taking steps. When the site update goes live, a press of a button is all it needs to flag a product. Sounds reasonable, doesn’t it?

Alas there is number of people who think they have the wisdom to decide what is good for the rest of us and take steps to enforce their world view. And the internet gives them the power to enlist countless people to their cause, a lot of which are not even remotely interested in our hobby. Under the new policy, flagged products are immediately suspended from the store. Which means, if someone doesn’t like your work, he or she can easily flag you on a Friday to make sure your weekend sales are gone. Poof. Can this be misused? Yes. Will it be? You betcha!

All this would be not that bad if there were alternatives to OBS’ sites. But alas they basically have a monopoly on the sale of digital RPG products at the moment. This makes it the perfect target for the kind of bullies mentioned earlier. Don’t get me wrong. I agree with the removal of “Tournament of Rape” from DriveThruRPG. But I also fear that a system as the one OBS now put in place can easily be misused. It would be better if OBS screened products themselves to decide if it’s within what they seem appropriate for their store.

That’s why I am hoping for an alternative to the OBS monopoly. We need at least a couple major marketplaces for digital RPG products which may or may not cater to different target audiences. Perhaps one for family-friendly material, another for more adult-themed products. But the current situation is problematic. Publishers are now basically at the whim of OBS which might be easily bullied into action by certain parts of the hobby (and beyond).

Update: I have read a couple of good arguments and changed my mind. At least regarding the reasons why OBS should remove a product. If they think it’s not fitting for their store, they should remove it. But not when some people feel offended. Some people may be offended by something like “Carebears – The RPG”. Is that a valid reason to remove it from the store? I have my doubts. Noone is forced to buy stuff they don’t like.

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.

20 thoughts on “We need an alternative to DriveThruRPG”

  1. I could see them not screening content up front… but also not letting a group of non-employees block the content.

    1) let the publisher upload and distribute immediately
    2) let the public flag it if they find it offensive
    3) the more flags it gets, the higher the priority the issue becomes
    4) the OBS staff reviews items in the order of how many flags it has gotten (most flags down to least).
    5) users who are shown to be flagging a lot of acceptable/non-offensive content get their “flagging” rights revoked (or their vote begins to count less and less the more items they flag, unless the OBS staff says their votes are consistent with OBS content policies).

    I could go into detail about a method I think would work, and would make it less likely that a horde of attackers could have a significant impact … but I think that’s drifting off the point. My point is: I think there’s a way to make it work, as long as you don’t give too much power to the non-staff reviewers … and the non-staff reviewers have their flags get reviews by the staff.

    ok, I’m in a mood, so I’m going to go into detail:
    any user has 100 points. Every time they “flag” something, the flag score of the product goes up by the amount of their current point score. And then their score goes down by one (so their first vote is worth 100 points, their second vote is worth 99, the their vote is worth 98, etc.). When a product gets more than (1000?) points, it gets put into the queue for the staff to review it for “take down”. The queue is ordered with highest number of points first. If the staff aggress that this item was against the OBS terms of acceptable content and removes the content, then the users who voted for it get their 1 point back. If the staff doesn’t agree, the users have each permanently lost their 1 point. And perhaps the staff can say “the complaints were wrong, but it was a close call, so we’ll let them have their points back anyway” — the complainers meant well and were being honest, not abusive, they just were wrong.

    So, worst case, a user goes on a flagging spree and gets 1 product 10% of the way to being reviewed by the staff… and votes on 99 other things, each one being even less than 10% closer to the review threshold. And if they’re all malicious flags instead of legitimate flags, that user can’t vote anymore. Ever.

    Initially, yes, there might be a LOT of submissions that the staff has to wade through. And some of the darker-hat “social activists” will just keep turning over accounts (so they’ll want something other than an email address to legitimize accounts… some services want a credit card for that purpose, even if you only ever pay via paypal). But for the most part, they’ll see that it’s a diminishing return. It could take as many as 1000 dummy accounts just to get the product on the “please review this” list. And that doesn’t even guarantee it will get removed.

    Meanwhile, if you’ve got a legitimately bad product, it only takes 10 people (of the group who never, or rarely, flag products — and whose flags are always legitimate) to get it on the “review this” list. And if a LOT of people are offended by it, the higher vote rate might get it to skyrocket to the top of the “review this” list.

    So, users set their own reputation by only voting for things that are actually offensive. Users who abusively flag things will give a little bit of a push, until they wear our their reputation. As things settle in, the staff will know which things really need attention by how many votes they’ve gotten (and how many of those votes were from reliable users).

    They could start with just 10 points if they want reputations to wear out quickly. Or more points… and they can set the threshold to a value that makes more sense. And over time they can even raise people’s points if they find the initial allotment was too small (if they started out with 10 pts, and they think it should have been 20 … just give everyone 10 more points; if they start out with 100 points, and find that it should have been 50 … take 50 points away from everyone). Same with adjusting the threshold for “review this”.

    I think that’s the system I’d use.

  2. (in fact, I’d probably start out lower than 100 points; like 20. easier to give everyone more points later if you find it was too few; and I’d set the initial “review this” threshold to 5 or 10 times the number of points a single user starts out with).

  3. Interesting idea. But I guess my main issue with the new policy is not that products can be flagged to review, but they are suspended before review. That means the system empowers people to remove products from the marketplace (at least temporary). Even if OBS sets things rights later, the harm is done.

    1. I agree. I definitely think it’s a mistake to have the users be able to directly make the decision to take things down (and have the staff fix it later if it was wrong). The users shouldn’t get that much power.

  4. This is some north korean thought police bullshit right here.

    >>Don’t get me wrong. I agree with the removal of “Tournament of Rape” from DriveThruRPG.

    Then you are part of the problem.

    Satanic panic all over again.

  5. Censorship in any form isn’t a solution. Parts of society can be offended by absolutely ANYTHING and abuse any system of “voting”. To get a glimpse just look at the political systems.

    Also, Its the internet, and there are 10x the number of “people” who will be offended at the mundane, the fantastical, the absurd, and the obscene, because they “know it when they see it”, all crying “For the children!, If not who will protect the children!”

    You know what, fuck’em. I was 7 when i played d&d for the first time, and those devils and demons didn’t affect me in the slightest way in the negative, nor did seeing those bewbs in the various books and modules. I turned out alright as did a lot of us, and many of people found inspiration and creativity in various endeavors and materials over the years that some would have censored.

    Alas, Just like board games, GI Joe, Master of the Universe, and video games, if kids aren’t allowed to do they stuff they want to, they are most likely already doing it over at the friends house with a “cool dad/mom”. However, if you’ve showed them, hey i trust your decisions but here is why i don’t want you to do this, (and its sound reasoning not just some religious bullshit), but if you do so please tell me and you won’t be punished, this attitude is far better off than “thou shalt because I said so!”.

    Now I can’t say what the “Tournament of Rape” module was/is because it was banned! So there is no way to evaluate it for good or ill. It could be just that a tournament of sexual rape was created, which is a horrible, horrible idea, and with possible negative reviews nevermore than a handfull was sold and the author die penniless.


    It could have been the name of the town where the tournament was held, in the county of Rape named after the seed that produces the light oil the region is known for, and that there is a blight on the land that needs lifting before the big tournament! But we’ll never know…

    OR it could have been some jackass just seeking to “push the boundaries” of an online community with a salacious title to get a reaction, notoriety, and exposure out of it. I mean we’re talking about it aren’t we. Also I bet there is more than one person reading this and going “I now need to buy this to see what the module was all about!”

    Its called the streisand effect. “The Streisand effect is the phenomenon whereby an attempt to hide, remove, or censor a piece of information has the unintended consequence of publicizing the information more widely, usually facilitated by the Internet.”

    To be honest its best to keep the monsters out in the open and tabs on them then cast to the shadows where the real danger lurks when you least expect it.


  6. It’s not censorship for a private entity (OBS) to decide not to carry a product. There’s nothing that keeps the author from providing that same product through an alternate venue.

    Further, freedom of the press (and/or freedom of speech) do not obligate anyone to provide you with a venue, a press, or a distribution point. No one, including OBS, is obligated to distribute any private publication, for any reason. Even if they’re the only distributor available, they’re still not obligated to do so. They have the right to set the terms of what they will and wont carry, and enact those terms.

    In order for it to be censorship, OBS would have to be preventing that work from being distributed or retained through ANY mechanism. And, frankly, they don’t have the power to do that. They also don’t have the power to make ownership and/or distribution of the work illegal. If nothing else, the author can print it out and hand it out on street corners. As long as they have that ability, they aren’t being censored. As long as OBS isn’t trying to prevent the author from distributing the work through other distributors, they aren’t engaging in censorship.

    Anyone who thinks OBS is engaging in censorship by deciding that “Tournament of Rape” isn’t consistent with what they wish to distribute … doesn’t know what censorship actually is. Which just makes the accusers look whiney and ignorant. That makes the accusers the problem, not OBS (and not stargazer).

  7. Johnkzin I don’t think you know what that word means… 😉

    Governments, private organizations and individuals may engage in censorship. You can self censorship even.

    Is this “total” censorship? Nope. Is it a form of it, yes. Is it legal, yup.

    Typically total censorship(and what your talking about) is where you get into the legality issues as well as trying to deny someone publishing elsewhere and typically is thought of when the government tries to restrict your speech or press against the government.

    It is no more complicated than someone saying, “Don’t let anyone read this book, or buy that magazine, or view that film, because I object to it!”

    So might want to hold off on name calling, and seek out the google, it is your…..friend.

    (+1 to wiz +1 to int 234 xp awarded to Johnkzin.)


    1. Sorry, but you’re wrong. Even when applied casually as you suggest, censorship is still about preventing knowledge and freedom of thought from spreading. Which still doesn’t apply here. Deciding not to participate in the spread of a given thing is not preventing it from spreading through other means.

      Otherwise, every bookstore would have to carry every book … which would have put them out of business long before online bookstores came along, because they couldn’t afford the warehousing fees for all of those books.

      OR you, yourself, would have to repeat everyone’s ideas … everyone’s ideas … whether you agreed with them or not, whether you found them to be interesting or not … lest you be censoring their ideas. You’d never have time to eat or sleep.

      Non-participation isn’t censorship. Censorship is making being sure others don’t/can’t participate either.

      Self censorship is absolute censorship, because if you aren’t going to spread your idea, it wont have any other venue for spreading.

  8. I agree that the policy they put in place goes too far, and creates and even greater problem… The idea Johnkzin suggests above would work! A market where you could get your books from.more vendors would be ideal. I am not sad the game was removed, the company is responding to the market, or at least the section that makes itself felt, and the creator can distribute it through other means. Just judging by the title and the description I resd, this is not a game I am remotely interested in reading to find out the context. I think rape is a subject matter that shouldn’t be made light of and dismissing genuine concerns of victims does a diservice to the hobby and how we are perceived.

  9. First, OBS has always been a reactive company. I remember earlier this year when they had to remove the Gamer Gate product from their shelf due to public outcry.
    I find the policy is a start which will hopefully be refined once it gets into production. I have issues with the fact it is one person at OBS who will make the final decision. I’d prefer a small group who reviews the products.
    I like the fact that the public will have a structured voice to point out possible problematic products. OBS is too small to notice every single product being published. A means to shine a light on those products is good.
    Yeah, it can be abused as currently written. Then again, the anarchic method which we have now is being abused too. There will be abuse in whichever method they use.
    I hope to see a rise for different PDF distributors. I think it will be good for the industry to have multiple options.

      1. Though, that does make me wonder how WH23 and Lulu deal with this topic. Or Amazon, or that open competitor to amazon’s ebook store (whose name escapes me, but they partnered with nook at one point)… or iBooks for that matter.

  10. Sorry Johnkzin, can’t be wrong when the simplest form of censorship is

    “Don’t let anyone read this book, or buy that magazine, or view that film, because I object to it!”

    censorship can be direct or indirect. period.

    Most “convenience stores” perform censorship, they censor by placing the nudie mags behind the counter and with plaques over the covers. Because you know to protect the young’ens eyes. 7-Eleven doesn’t do this anymore because they refused to sell them after pressure from religious groups. Yup, censored.

    I know it might be hard to understand that in the day of the digital age, that if its not on amazon it must not exists, mentality, but your bookstore analogy is flawed. Yes every bookstore can’t carry every book its a matter of physics for that issue, but where as you used to be able to go into a bookstore and order any book (in a free society that is) you know before the interwebs, and they were happy to order it for you.

    Now, If I go into a “christian bookstore” and ask to order say the Dungeon Masters Guide and the owner tells me “Sorry we don’t sell/can’t order that book” and I ask why? And the reply is our policy is not to sell/order those books because they are devil worshiping books or have the devil in them, then that IS censorship. Can i do anything about it? Nope. But they are limiting, by their own policy the dissemination of thoughts and ideas just because they don’t like it.

    What is happening with drive thru is that they were selling the game, they tried to “talk the issue down” when a minority of the populace objected to the title (and possible contents) cried “outrage!!! how dare you carry this product!” and when that didn’t work, changed the policy to say hey we’re not going to sell it because a group of our customers don’t want us to, threatened us with boycott’s etc… whatever and they removed the title, which is perfectly in their right to do so. However it still is a form of CENSORSHIP. Please do a google search and look at the various articles wikipedia and pbs areas regarding the subject and enlighten yourself. Just like freedom of the speech and freedom of the press have nuances about them in various situations so too does censorship. I’ll just leave this here… http://www.google.com Its not that hard to wrap your brain around this and not see it in a black/white situation, like many things grey areas abound…


    1. “can’t be wrong when the simplest form of censorship is

      ‘Don’t let anyone read this book, or buy that magazine, or view that film, because I object to it!'”

      Your statement serves my argument, not yours.

      OBS has NOT said “don’t let anyone read this book, buy this book, or view that book because we object to it”. If they had said that, it would be censorship. They did not say that.

      They have said “we don’t want to carry/sell that book [but you are free to distribute/obtain it through other venues].” That last part is key: they have made no move to restrict that information from being distributed through other means (electronic, physical, verbal, etc.). That’s not censorship, in any way shape nor form.

      If WH23 wants to carry it, you can get it there. If Lulu wants to carry it, you can get it there. If the author wants to put it up on their Google Docs or Dropbox account, you can get it there. OBS has made _NO_ attempt to block access to the book through those means. They have merely opted not to carry the book, as is their right. And it is not censorship because they have not blocked, nor attempted to block, those other venues.

      And I’m not going to continue this conversation. You clearly aren’t interested in actual conversation, just an attempt at lecturing with disinformation from the position of axe to grind.

  11. Just because you disagree with me doesn’t make you correct my friend. I still can’t believe you haven’t done a cursory review on the interwebs of the actual meaning and definition of Censorship. I mean dude, come on…

    Actually that statement serves my statement entirely, as was also the statement (which by the way if you look things up, not disinformation, but thanks for trying to impart dishonesty on my statements as non-factual.) that censorship by DIRECT or in this case INDIRECT means is still censorship.

    They were being forced/pressured by 3rd parties to no carry the product. This is INDIRECT CENSORSHIP. Its perfectly fine, I personally don’t agree with it, but that’s my opinion.

    If this wasn’t the case then there would be no story and they would still be selling the product. period. end of story.

    I’m sorry you think I have an axe to grind, I don’t, but after doing a cursory search even just casually and finding that censorship in its broadest/casual terms is exactly what has occured, and having been through through the whole “demon and devils” controversory in the 80s I tend to call it like i see it.

    If anyone should refuse the conversation continuing I think it would be me, considering the lack of wanting to expand your narrow view of things and somewhat “trollish” posts.

    But if that is the case, then fine, I’ll agree to disagree and consider the conversation between us closed.

    -dc facts ftw!

  12. I think this will be a very market driven issue. OBS makes it very easy for me to get the gaming products I want all in one place and pick them up later. If this policy starts making it difficult for me to get the gaming products I want then I’ll start looking in a different place. If enough people start looking for a different place then one of them will hopefully do something about it.

    On the other hand, if the policy ends up having minimal impact on my ability to get what I want then nothing is going to change.

    To my mind, the worst thing that can happen is something in the middle where I have to split my attention between two websites. I’m already annoyed enough that I have to split myself between Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon to get the movies I want to watch.

    1. Would you guys please stop using the word “alas”! There is “unforunately”, “however” and many, many more alternatives that don’t make you sound like you were born before the twentieth century. Thank you.

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