High Programmer > Blog Archive > White Wolf to customers: We hate you
Friday, July 08, 2005

White Wolf to customers: We hate you

White Wolf has a knack for doing stupid things in public. "Hey, Net Punk" and the birth of Inphobia. Pimp: the Backhanding. Now they're apparently determined to send themselves into the death spiral that killed TSR.

Today's bit of clueless is the announcement that If you want to run their games and charge players; you need a license from White Wolf. I think not. With this short-sighted move White Wolf joins the RIAA and MPAA in treating their customers as something dangerous to be controlled.

Despite the introduction, this isn't a request. They insist that it's required.

The first problem is that they're missing the point. These are their customers. These customers spend their time and in many cases their money to run their games and encourage others to play (in the process typically creating more customers). Most of these people are just seeking to be reimbursed for the costs of photocopying, printing character sheets, making props, and renting locations. Some probably make enough money to occasionally order a pizza, but no one is making a living at it.

Second, they are admitting to wanting to meddle in individual games. "By using the existing Camarilla structure, White Wolf can ensure that each game is the best it can be." Does White Wolf really want to be involved in policing games? Do people running games really want White Wolf telling them how to run their games?

Finally, it's not entirely clear what grounds White Wolf has to insist upon this. White Wolf needs to put forth a specific legal reason that I can't charge money to play a game I'm running that happens to be based on their books. Their license needs to spell out what rights I'm getting that I didn't have before. They completely fail to do so.

Indeed, I don't think they know what grounds they do have. They dance around the issue. They hint that the commercial nature is what changes things. So what?

I'm not sure they have the foggiest idea what they're talking about. "Just as you can't buy a DVD and then charge money to others to see it, you can't buy one our games and then charge others to play it." That's a bad comparison. I'm not buying a copy of their game and charging others to look at it. However, this strange comparison suggests that they see a copyright claim.

Ultimately White Wolf are just being dicks. Even if they had some tortured claim, they don't need to have this license. Their only possible claim is one of copyright and there is no penalty for failing to stop infringement. They certainly can't be in it for the money; I'd be surprised if this added another ten grand to White Wolf's income. I hope they're not so desperate for money that they're willing to trade goodwill for a measly ten grand.

My guess? They're children with an overinflated sense of self-worth. They're like the 14-year-old girls who make you agree to terms of service before you can see their pixel dolls. They're the unknowns so afraid of having their art "stolen" that they disable right click in an ineffective attempt to stop them. They're like unknown comic artists complaining about people "stealing" their art. (For context, Penny Arcade is one of the biggest web comics around and is financially self sufficient. They're well qualified to point out that the guy writing them is a wanker.)

To see a similar example of White Wolf's over inflated sense of importance, check out the terms they claim all fan sites much follow. Some is valid (respecting their copyrights). But then there is something like this: "If you make a character from clan Gangrel, that is not your character and could never be used without our permission." That's right. White Wolf claims to own all of your characters. Simply because you write "Clan: Gangrel" at the top of a description of your character, it belongs to White Wolf and you apparently have no right to it. You can create a new power for a vampire, ("Technology Vampire: Has an innate connection to technology"), but if you call it an actual Discipline, White Wolf claims it. Yes, really.

Yup, trying to take credit (and legal rights) from others. Not that this is new for White Wolf.

(Someone will likely claim that White Wolf needs to protect their copyrights or they'll lose them. Sorry, you're confusing trademark law with copyright law.)

I have a distinct memory of another company that was so possessive, so selfish, so closed minded and fearful of their own customers. It was TSR in the early 1990s. That would be the TSR whose reputation was destroyed and was slowing being run into the ground. They never recovered. Indeed, the Dungeons & Dragons brand was almost destroyed. Wizards of the Coast helped revitalize the brand by doing something radical. Instead of treating customers as something to limit they opened the game up to others.

White Wolf, your short sighted possessiveness insults your very customers. You're pissing all over the established norms of the industry. Congratulations White Wolf, you're setting yourselves up for the same fall that TSR took.

(Originally posted to my LiveJournal blog because my main computer was down. All better now.)

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