In the Aftermath of the Wizard’s Letter
What else can I say? The letter posted two weeks ago took a life of its own. I was hoping it would have an impact, but I had no idea it would do this.
Let me explain, or as Montoya would say, let me sum up. On February 28th, I decided to reach out publicly to Wizards of the Coast to offer suggestions to improve their relationship with their GSL 3rd party companies. Without going into too many details, I’ll enforce certain ideological points the letter hit upon. The first dealt with WOTC’s relationship with 3rd party companies and the fact that the community is divided on what that relationship is. Accusations abound that WOTC created the GSL as a handout to prevent an uprising, while others considered it a restrained, but conscious business decision to protect WOTC’s franchise while still offering its rules to outside publishers. Still others consider it an aggressive maneuver to destroy said competition. Assumptions followed claiming WOTC considered 3rd party companies annoying tolerances best pushed under the bed. This despite WOTC listing 3rd party companies on their website under the title “Partnerships”, indicating something more valued.
Fast-forward a week later, the letter on Living Dice had received no comments and little attention…until a news posting on EnWorld on Monday. Three comments followed, a link on thread on EnWorld, but the letter seemed fated for obscurity. That was March 5th. Upon my return from work on March 6, the responses on Living Dice had increased to twelve and the thread on EnWorld had exploded to 135 posts over nine pages with over 2,000 views. By the end of the week, those numbers would triple. Unfortunately the dialogue appeared more concerned over the conflict between which was the better system, Pathfinder or D&D. I have to take personal responsibility for that, as I had stated that some 3rd party companies were enjoying increased sales under the Paizo banner over the Wizards’ one. That statement was easily misunderstood as a declaration that Paizo was selling better, a statement I neither made nor could back up with any accurate data.
Overall, the responses were extremely supportive, though many provisionally. Some comments held hope that WOTC could actually adopt these proposals, though convinced the letter would fall on deaf ears for reasons as varied as grains of sand. The negative comments appeared divided into two camps, those that considered the letter the ramblings of a whiner complaining that WOTC doesn’t do his work for him and those using the letter to extol the virtues of Paizo’s community policy. The latter I will deal with later. As for the accusations of whining, beyond the ill-mannered tone of such accusations, I realize now I could not have hoped to have posted that letter without such comments being made, despite their ignorance. If the policies and business practices I suggest are so pitiable, then why does Paizo follow that same model (more on that later)? These comments also appeared isolated to certain regions. On EnWorld, although initially present, they quickly vanished in the swell of Paizo vs. WOTC rhetoric. On WOTC’s official forum, three threads discussed the matter without a single negative remark towards the spirit of the letter. I have seen at least one extensive negative thread continue on two other sites, revealing how certain people congregate to certain sites.
The conflict between which was the better system eventually dragged Morrus (owner/operator of EnWorld) to defend his company practices along with praising the advantages of writing for 4th Edition. Humorously, he repeated a comment I had made in jest to a podcast interview some months back concerning the lack of products in the 3rd party 4e landscape being in our favor (given the absence of competition).
There were comments made about my opinions towards Pathfinder, based mostly on assumption. I stated I have my preference, which is true, but it is in no way based on the quality of the product. I have never played or read Pathfinder. My group made a decision; gamers can be stubborn that way. They won’t even touch Essentials despite me wanting to. Pathfinder was released a year after DEM had signed the dotted line on the GSL. Because of the limitations with the license at that time, there was no point in attempting a dialogue with Paizo, as there was no way we could adapt Amethyst to 3.75 without breaking our license agreement with WOTC. However, my initial opinion was that an Amethyst-Pathfinder adaptation would not succeed given the deluge of 3rd Edition products available.
Little did I know the irony of this situation. In actuality, as I alluded to earlier, the proposals I was hoping WOTC would adopt were the same Paizo follows as gospel. Pure coincidence. What does that say about the practicality or effectiveness of that business model? If the concepts I suggest are so totally alien to a successful business, why is it that Wizards’ biggest competition in the RPG market follows those very same practices? Regardless, the letter was made not as a vent but also not as a heartfelt attempt to garner a response for Wizards, as I agree with many people in that WOTC is unlikely to respond. But sometimes you have to make a statement despite the futility of it. The fact that it generated this considerable reaction does indicate a lot of pent up frustration felt by players and publishers alike. With a definite presence of knee-jerk reactionaries and armchair quarterbackers, it’s unlikely that WOTC would be willing to sift through the conflict to see the legitimate concerns their fans and 3rd party companies have. If by some grace of sorcery Wizards does respond, and does implement some of the suggestions offered, I imagine the fanatical naysayers would not be the first to apologize.
The conclusion of this tale takes an interesting twist. I was in fact contacted by a major publisher involved in this entire episode. It wasn’t Wizards of the Coast that contacted me; it was Paizo, specifically Vic Wertz, its technical director. With little stake in the situation, watching silently from the sidelines, Vic decided to wave a flipper of friendship from welcoming shores, inviting me to dip a toe in water of Pathfinder. After Morrus discussed the difficulty with converting his 4E products to Pathfinder, he suddenly announced a Pathfinder adaptation to ZEITGEIST. The revised GSL issued in 2009 does open 3rd party companies to develop properties outside of the GSL, even single products released under two rules (a fact I confirmed with Goodman Games). This permits simultaneous releases of both Amethyst 4E and Amethyst 3.75. Alas, as I have mentioned, I have no experience with Pathfinder (though extensive with 3.5), so there is considerable research to be done.
IF such a project were to move forward (which it actually is—I bought Pathfinder last week), it would be an expansion of the line, not a shift (as two books are still due for Amethyst 4E this year). It would also be an adaptation from the 4E Foundations book, not the 2008 Amethyst D20 release. Too much has changed in the setting in the intervening years and I’ve gotten to be a much better writer (I didn’t even have an editor for the old book). This is not an official announcement; I’ll make that up for later.
It’s an interesting footnote to the story. By this posting, I still have not received a word from WOTC. I am grateful at all the positive feedback received.
Apparently I have a 500 page rulebook to read…