Questioning Piracy, Part 5 – The New Business Model

(These series of articles involve quotes from posts on a forum website that distributed copyrighted material. With certain exceptions, names and website addresses have been withheld)

The dialogue on this forum was not just limited to me and “Nemesis”. Eventually, another game designer decided to voice his concern…

Actual Post
I am of Alea Publishing Group – for each of our products, we do have a small flash window to preview the quality of the product and I try to include (in a clear and precise manner) everything in the product description save for rules. Occasionally, I will provide sneak peeks on my twitter and Facebook web pages. Furthermore, there are reviews to help make up the mind of the consumer.

To be frank and realistic, not everyone that downloads the product from 4shared (or similar site) buys our product (and I understand that is your point), but with each illegal download it is taking money directly out of my pocket. I only get paid (like many indie 3rd party PDF publishers) when someone buys my product. My salary is directly tied into the purchase downloads I receive for my products.

As I have always said, I don’t mind sharing the products you’ve bought from us with your gaming group, but not to upload illegally. We have plenty of free products that we are more than willing to have you share.

I am a gamer and I enjoy creating products so others may enjoy, but when I see an illegal download of one of my products and it has been downloaded 4 times as much as I sell actual copies, especially after I have put in the time and energy editing the product, writing the product, the countless hours in page design and layout, and buying artwork out of my own pocket, it really makes me want to throw up my hands in the air and give up entirely. And what gets me, as a gamer, I don’t charge a lot for my eBooks, because I know what it is like to have a lot of money to just burn. But in the end, I am forced to raise prices to compensate with the loss so that I might just break even. And the ones who actually ends up losing are those that are willingly to spend their hard earned money to buy my product instead of steal it (and it is stealing) – you cannot guarantee anybody will delete the document after spending 5 minutes previewing it and to think this really happens is naive.

Luckily, my products are not viral in the illegal download scene. But, even one (because I lose a lot of money), forces me to stop on the next product I’m working on and write and jump through the legal hoops to get a site like 4shared to disable the links (and it is a pain in the ass – you just don’t click a few buttons, you have to show proof that you own the copyrighted material).

I would like one day to make a few dollars from what I do, but it’s like swimming against the current and illegal downloads only make it harder.

Until there is a solution to better protect the consumer and the producer, downloading illegally is stealing. Believe me, my only survival is repeat customers, like any other business, and if someone buys my product for the little amount I charge (oh, of course, RPGNow takes their 35% – betcha didn’t know that), does not like the product – then they will never buy from me again. It’s really not their loss, but mine, especially since they can review it on the product page for others to see). So, while there is a lot of crap out there, I strive to produce a quality of product on par with WotC.
Alea Publishing

These issues are complex. Justifications can be made on both sides, and we can all cite data backing our principles. This is not black and white. There is no good and evil. We have flawed, creative, and intelligent human beings on both sides of this issue, each advocating a system backed with practical data. It can also be, and has been on occasion, reduced to individuals preaching a belief system. You could almost find irony in those conflicting situations.

It is impossible to prove one market solution as being superior to another because both have found success in various circumstances. When Amethyst Evolution was released (sounding like a broken record), I did so under two price points, stating that the need to generate revenue resulted in the sale price being posted the same day as the retail. The higher price currently accounts for nearly half of my total sales, far more than I was expecting. The one flaw in this plan is that Amethyst has fallen several places on RPGNow’s top 100, though if you combine both entries, we might still be in the top ten. This means that a huge number of people, even given the option to pay less, will still pay more. The question is does that same situation occur when you reduce one price point to zero?

It’s still not as simple as that. For six years, I worked at Movie Gallery (I jumped ship before they folded), and I saw the decline in rentals. People admitted that they were downloading movies, well before the onset of Netflix. I mean this is Canada…Netflix still sucks here. People didn’t want to spend money they didn’t have to, though those that love movies still ended up buying them. Odd. Renting VHS tapes in the late 80s gave rise to people copying movies (we all did it), but no one was buying them. The film companies made their money in the theaters and rental companies made theirs’ with videos at home. Twenty years later, we had DVDs and the internet. The studios tried several massive campaigns to stop piracy but failed (remember those ads…notice how most have disappeared). Despite the availability of free movies online, Netflix and various movie channels are still enjoying considerable profit.

This brings me to The Man from Earth. Heard of it? Go look; it’s worth it. It’s a film with a budget equivalent to 0.5 seconds of Avatar. It was released in two theatres…two. And yet, despite this extremely limited release, it enjoys an 8/10 rating on IMDB from 43,000+ votes. Let me put that into perspective, Cowboys & Aliens only has just over 20,000 votes at 6.6/10 (at the time of this post; it has surely gone up since). Even if you take the most successful film from 2007 (the same year as Man from Earth), Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End, a film that made over a billion dollars, you get four times more votes and a 7/10 rating. How is this possible? Pirates opened in 2000 times more theatres. The answer was free online distribution. Initially, the producer of the film objected to the film’s appearance on bitorrent, but after discussing the issue with the massive swell of new fans which appeared, he reversed his argument and credited filesharing to the film’s success. They even put a donation button on their page ( so you can support them (I did, please do so). Why won’t studios do the same?

The first hurdle is with theater chains. They can’t allow people the option to cut them out of the process. Real3D is their ace in the hole (explaining why new 3D screens are being crammed into every theater in the world). The Man from Earth didn’t have that obligation. For big budget movies, they need theatrical revenue, and independent investigations have shown them that attacking pirate sites is still more economical than trusting people to pay for stuff they like. Think about it…would Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen be as successful if you had the option to not pay for it if it sucked?

The threshold of tolerance is based solely on product penetration.

What does that mean?

There was nothing that could be lost with The Man From Earth supporting bit torrent. How many people could be crammed into those two theaters? You would think this would be an argument in support of free sharing, but like I said, it’s not as easy as that. Everyone on the planet likes watching films. Pen & paper role playing is a novelty just above LARPing on the dweeb scale. We don’t have that luxury. As the president of Green Ronin once told me, if you add up all the people whose sole income is from pen & paper role playing games, more people have walked on the moon.

Often enough…it comes down to respect and sentiment. Everyone I know has said that WOTC’s choice to create the OGL with 3.0 back in 2000 was one of the wisest decisions in gaming. They unified an industry and resurrected a failing business model. Within months, there were people simply copying and pasting the OGL rules, swathing it in case wrap, selling less than the PHB, and calling it a game. There will always be people wanting to take advantage of a situation to their benefit. Some companies have no issues with it; some don’t want to be bothered; some would rather it not happen. There are arguments for every situation, and it simply comes down to respect.

Neil Gaiman said he supports people downloading his books for free. His good friend Harlan Ellison would ram a potato up your ass if you told him you did that to something he wrote. In the end, it really comes down to creator preference.

We designers hope people will support us. Releasing the full product is just something we are not prepared to do. Industry data simply doesn’t support it. We require revenue as that allows us to produce more product. If our books were distributed to the extent of Harry Potter, some of us may not be as bothered, but given the reality of it, we simply don’t have that luxury.

When Amethyst becomes a novel and I sell the film rights to Paramount for a couple million dollars…I won’t give a shit what you do with my RPG.

And if you think this is my final thought on the issue, you’d be wrong. Because, as I said, these articles are about shades of grey, and there may be a middle ground we can all settle on.


Chris Dias

Chris Tavares Dias is the literary equivalent of that crusty burnt cheese at the bottom of the fondue pot. Some people claim he looks like Mathew Perry. He would like that to be true. It's not. In 2010, Chris co-wrote and created Amethyst Foundations, a 4th Edition setting based on the previous version under 3.5. It has received critical acclaim for integrating science fiction into classical fantasy. In August of this year, Chris was last seen staring at a dead raven that had fallen beside his car. Two months later, his watch and notepad were found in the stomach of a basking shark that had washed ashore off the coast of Florida.

4 thoughts on “Questioning Piracy, Part 5 – The New Business Model

  • October 4, 2011 at 1:14 am

    One (two?) more post(s) to go in the series, Mr. Dias, and I await it (them?) with hope and curiosity.

  • October 4, 2011 at 4:54 pm

    Chris, your perspective on this issue has been fascinating. Yes, it’s a dauntingly complex problem (else we’d be closer to a solution). Part of it is because illegal downloaders don’t grasp the harm they do or the extent of the damage. When illegal downloads outnumber legal by a factor of 4, or 6, or 10, even a major publisher can’t turn its back. Many people are not aware of the outcome of WotC’s copyright suits from 2009 —


    • October 5, 2011 at 8:19 am

      Having read through the forum thread in question (I just so happened to join said forum a couple of weeks ago for reasons completely unrelated to this series of articles or the issues discussed therein), it seems that a lot of people who fall under the “illegal downloader” umbrella aren’t necessarily unaware of the damage they do.

      A lot of them just don’t care. The excuses given in counterargument to Chris and the other publishers in the thread ranged from logical fallacies to entitlement-minded sentiments that could be distilled into “I don’t really care if you’re losing money”.

      What it comes down to is the need for a business model that works for both sides. Creators need to be paid for the work they produce, and consumers need to feel like they’re not wasting money on a purchase. The fact that no one’s yet come up with a working business model that pleases both sides is a testament to how tricky the whole situation is.

      Part of the problem can actually be tied to Borders going bankrupt, now that I think about it. The average Borders bookstore had an entire section set aside for graphic novels. I can’t count the number of times I’d walk by (or through) the section and see people tripping over the legs of people who were sitting in the aisles, reading entire volumes of manga without paying for any of them.

      Same problem, different setting. I wonder sometimes if Borders could have avoided bankruptcy if they’d merely shrink-wrapped every graphic novel in order to enforce purchases, or if people would have simply “shopped” elsewhere in retribution.

      So yeah: tricky situation. I just hope that we can figure it out before it causes us to lose many talented creators who can’t afford to produce content anymore.

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