wotc-logo Found via my friend Alexander “Zamiel” Williams’s LiveJournal: it seems that Paizo’s loss of PDF sale rights is not due to any disagreement with Wizards of the Coast’s new on-line sale policies after all. In a move that could charitably be described as “puzzling,” Wizards of the Coast has decided to stop selling PDFs on-line entirely, citing piracy concerns.

This makes just about as much sense as J.K. Rowling’s famous piracy-driven refusal to authorize any electronic editions of her Harry Potter novels. In both cases, the “pirated” copies circulating on-line come not from authorized versions, but from people scanning in the dead-tree book. The Wizards PDFs are watermarked with the names of their purchasers, and only a terminally dumb person would put such self-incriminating documents on the pirate networks.

In Zamiel’s LiveJournal entry, he points out that a number of independently-published role-playing games have started putting blurbs in their books asking people who obtain copies illicitly to send them some money or buy a legitimate copy if they like it.

I approve of that. It treats criminals like customers. People do as they’re believed to, very often. Treat a customer like a thief and he’ll take off your table with a disgruntled hiss until he can steal you blind. Treat a thief like a customer and they’ll buy as much as they can afford to. For life.

Meanwhile, Wizards of the Coast has also filed suit for copyright infringement against 8 people in the United States, Poland, and the Philippines for allegedly uploading its new Player’s Handbook 2 onto peer-to-peer networks. Hopefully that works out better for Wizards than the music industry’s lawsuits have for them.

Some believe that PDF sales account for as much as 20% of total RPG sales, and Wizards was one of the biggest sellers of that market segment. That’s a lot of money for Wizards to leave on the table. But Wizards is not necessarily entirely abandoning it. According to the ICV2 article:

WotC is apparently not ruling out digital delivery of its products using a different format or model. “We are exploring other options for digital distribution of our content,” the spokesperson said.

Which undoubtedly means DRM. Good luck with that, too, Wizards; you’ll never keep gamers down on the DRM farm after they’ve seen the bright lights of unencrypted PDF. They’ll say, “Forget that” and download an illicit, scanned-from-dead-tree PDF version, and Wizards won’t see a penny.