Near-Criminal Misuse of IP

Let’s say you were a gaming company. Through circumstances borne both of design and happenstance, you now own nearly all of the wargaming intellectual property created during the 1970’s and 1980’s. You also own the rights to the three most popular role-playing games created during the same period. You also happen to own the rights to some of the most well-loved intellectual property in terms of setting. So what do you do with this treasure trove?

If you’re Wizards of the Coast, you sit on it, consigning it to an oubliette whence it will never, ever emerge except in .pdf format (and rarely even then), for the few poor saps who even remember such products existed, let alone have actually ever owned the originals. Whatever you do, you don’t promote it, for fear that the zero-sum game which is the gaming industry might actually find dollars which would have been spent on the Players Handbook III, or whatever, are spent on something that doesn’t figure into a cost-benefit analysis of resource allocation for 2008.

And let us not forget that there is precedent for WotC giving licenses for these properties. They gave Kenzer the license for the AD&D rules (the circumstances behind which are irrelevant), and, having discovered that there was actually a market for such a product, yanked the license as soon as they were legally able. Presumably, they figured that HackMaster was some sort of threat to their own market share. Which, frankly, strikes me as ridiculous. Was anyone actually saying to themselves, “Well, I’ve got HackMaster now, so I don’t think I’ll buy the D&D Player’s Handbook, because my gaming budget is so tight.”? Maybe a handful, but I think the vast majority would have the reverse reaction. Gamers are collectors as well, and such figures into our buying habits.

Seeing the sales of HackMaster should have been a clarion call for WotC to re-release AD&D themselves in some format. But, no.

Setting aside for the moment the question of the AD&D rules, the entire library of both SPI and Avalon Hill is held tight in WotC’s clutches. And what are they doing with it? Abso-frigging-lutely nothing. We are not seeing new editions of Invasion America, or Next War, or Dune, or Tactics II (!), or Afrika Korps, or even Barbarian Kings. When WotC acquired TSR and Avalon Hill, all those titles were part of wha they bought. Yet they haven’t done a damn thing with them! Except Diplomacy, which I think they figure is some sort of cash cow. I wonder how that’s working out for them.

Quite frankly, if I had a little bit of money, I would buy the SPI and AH libraries from WotC. In the course of reprinting such excellent games as Agincourt, Creature that Ate Sheboygan, and Gettysburg, I would feel out some of the new board game designers, and some of the old ones from the glory days, and start issuing new titles to bolster the old standbys. I believe that “print on demand” technology has come to the point where if I want a copy of War of the Ring, I should be able to click a button and get one in a week or three. I really believe there is a market… maybe not as large as the 4E market, but there nonetheless… that wants this sort of material. We gamers from the ’70’s are now in our 40’s, and we have a lottt of disposable income. But nobody’ll listen to me.

You just wait ’till I win the lottery…

Written by 

Wargamer and RPG'er since the 1970's, author of Adventures Dark and Deep, Castle of the Mad Archmage, and other things, and proprietor of the Greyhawk Grognard blog.

15 thoughts on “Near-Criminal Misuse of IP

  1. A firm yet polite no to my request to use the Board map of Outdoor Survival led to me proposing and creating Points of Light.

    Despite the politeness of everyone helping me get to the right person. I felt a bit annoyed at the response. My thought was “Exactly what you are doing with this and how I (or anyone) could ever be a threat?”

  2. WotC has Dune? That’s why it’s out of print? Curse them! I’ve played it once — in high school, actually, and not at lunch or anything either, a teacher had a copy and taught a class on game design — and I’d dearly love to get my hands on a copy. But no. Apparently not. Might cut into sales of Risk or something.

    There’s something really wrong with that company.

  3. Dune isn’t Hasbro’s fault- the Herbert estate is being prickly with the license. They let the game rights lapse, and Fantasy Flight is going to republish the game without the Dune theme to it.

    The others are varying degrees of Hasbro/other issues too.

  4. Oh, that’s good, then. (Except for the license bit, but I suppose they have their reasons.) That was a bit of an over-reaction on my part, but it’s been bugging me for a while.

  5. When I was preparing Supplement V: CARCOSA for publication, I considering asking WotC for permission to use Erol Otus's Cthulhu Mythos art (from the AD&D Deities & Demigods Cyclopedia) in CARCOSA.

    I'm glad I didn't bother, in light of Rob's story about not being allowed to use the Outdoor Survival board map.

  6. Ardwulf is correct– my bad. The SPI titles are indeed owned by Decision Games (although I must say they only have a miniscule sampling of the hundreds of former SPI titles available). However, that leaves the question of the Avalon Hill titles still germane; as far as I can tell, Wizards is only publishing a handful of the old AH line, and has licensed off a few others.

    Plus, and this is something I alluded to in my original post, but didn’t follow up on, they are letting my beloved Greyhawk lie fallow. Come to think of it, that might be the best thing for it, lest they screw it up even further by producing new 4E products for it.

  7. Plus, and this is something I alluded to in my original post, but didn’t follow up on, they are letting my beloved Greyhawk lie fallow. Come to think of it, that might be the best thing for it, lest they screw it up even further by producing new 4E products for it.

    Was going to say, do you really want the “minds” at WOTC futzing with Greyhawk?

    After seeing what they did to Forgotten Realms, I’ve pretty much sworn off the coastal wizards. And I don’t even like the Forgotten Realms.

  8. I mostly agree with your commentary. One notable exception to this is that Hasbro has allowed MMP some rights to publish AH games, and I am specifically thinking of ASL. I think they also can publish material for Panzerblitz.

  9. Damn companies for doing cost benefit analysis on their potential products.

    Or, rather, damn them for _not_ letting someone else take a crack at turning their “not worth the effort” IP into something that fans can enjoy. Damn them.

  10. I had a fondness for two Avalon Hill products — Circus Maximus and Gladiator. Both were fun to play when you just had a night to kill (er, no pun intended). I have no idea if either are being produced by another company now but they definitely filled a niche.

  11. Interesting – especially in oight of the fact that back in the day, TSR were considered the bad guys for doing essentially the same thing: when they acquired SPI, "real" gamers (including myself) despaired; they reissues some that had been TSRized (=not as good as the original) and got gigged in the magazines for a bit when it became known that they were trademarking such words as 'NAZI' – and actually trying to keep other game companies from using such words in their games…

    I'd love to see a bunch of the old AH/SPI & etc titles back out.

  12. Though the SPI wargames were sold off, I’m pretty sure that WotC is still squatting their RPGs. My understanding was that several people have inquired about DragonQuest and told that it’s not for sale. It’s frustrating as hell, as I would love to see that game re-released.

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