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A common meme running around in my gaming table is that White Wolf is being terribly changed by piracy.

The thesis is: Too many people pirate, therefore WW is not profitable, therefore they are no longer creating new books.

Are they really publishing much less than they used to? Are sales really down? If so, to what extent might these be changes attributable to piracy?

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Piracy only rarely inhibits sales, and in a niche market like this probably doesn't effect them at all. Like with most media, most pirates would never have bought the books to begin with. It almost certainly translates into more sales. It certainly did in my own case. I downloaded the entire D&D 4E set of books as PDFs and since then have acquired about 25 books legitimately and subscribed to DDI. I wouldn't have taken the plunge otherwise. (also bought all of the dungeon tile sets and most of the map packs and several of the power card sets.) –  DampeS8N Jan 7 '13 at 17:47
@DampeS8N My case is similar. If I couldn't have found so much vampire info on the net I would never have bought a Vampire book. Plus, WW games are not more subject to piracy to the rest of companies, if those companies can still grow and publish new materials, piracy is not the problem. –  Flamma Jan 7 '13 at 18:42
I would have to say that my ability to sample a book is critical to my want to buy it. It's a good half hour drive to the nearest shop so I have to order online (where I can't preview) or waste a trip for something that might not be there. Plus I can't just drop $40 every time a book comes out and take the risk that it's bad. If I like something I try first, I make a point to buy the official release when I reasonably can. –  CatLord Jan 7 '13 at 18:50
I can't speak to WW specifically, but many Indie game developers have a interesting sort of mutualistic relationship with piracy - it cuts into sales certainly, but it vastly increases the exposure and potential interest in a system. I think this is honestly a more rational approach for developers - the value of a new player becoming invested in your system is worth more than the core rulebook he/she downloaded. After all this is a potential customer, and is all the more likely to actually purchase new content. –  BRZA Jan 7 '13 at 19:29
I almost always try the game in pdf form before I buy. If they have premade starter sets for free, all the better. So far I have done this with 3 different systems and haven't been dissapointed. –  Drew Jan 10 '13 at 10:11

4 Answers 4

They are publishing much less new World of Darkness than they used to during the old World of Darkness, but it's not necessarily piracy that is causing the change.

They are currently owned by CCP (the company behind Eve Online) and involved in creating the World of Darkness MMO. There has been an economic slowdown in the last 5-6 years, reducing the amount of disposable income available to customers. There were also complaints about the rate of releases in the old days (At least one book per mainline per month, with at least one book from a smaller line on top).

Their focus has moved away from print books to PDFs and Print on Demand. There are arguments which suggest that this would both increase and decrease piracy (and thus revenue). On one side, it's easier for people to buy stuff as soon as they find it. On the other, creating the PDF makes it easier for people to share. The balance of these two probably favours the increase in revenue.

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They are no longer publishing books as this is not part of CCP's business, White Wolf itself no longer exists as a full business entity. Publishing has moved to Onyx Path Publishing. I suspect the lack of publishing took some time for some people to realize and then take a licensing deal. –  xenoterracide Jul 9 at 15:41

@Okeefe has already mentioned Onyx Path Publishing, which is comprised of former WW employees and has the license to produce both oWoD and nWoD books. They've got a full release schedule coming up, including two brand-new games and revisions of World of Darkness and Vampire: The Requiem. It's not accurate to say that they're no longer producing new work.

I'd like to address the idea that piracy was the cause of the slowdown and eventual cessation of straight-up book publishing. That's not true. The primary reason why White Wolf (and CCP/na) got out of the business of putting books on shelves in stores is the broken nature of the hobby-games distribution system and the decline of brick-and-mortar bookstores and game stores. It made more financial sense to deliver product to the fans directly, and keep more of the money, than to involve middlemen who were increasingly no longer adding value to the process.

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To that point, see this EN World post: enworld.org/forum/… –  Erik Schmidt Jan 7 '13 at 19:45

That White Wolf stopped publishing has less to do with piracy and more to do with the fact that White Wolf's parent company, CCP, considers tabletop games and White Wolf to be legacy businesses with respect to MMOs.

Some new things are happening, though. They've embraced pdf sales and print on demand. There's a licensed company, Onyx Path Publishing, that's working on new White Wolf content.

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It's nothing to do with piracy. White Wolf's focus has moved to MMOs and is less on RPGs now (like at many companies, sadly). And they are doing less print publishing and more PDF - which is always going to be less successful regardless of piracy, given that the average gamer still buys books. If piracy was their big problem, you'd think they'd move to print and away from PDF! Not that either print or watermarking is any impediment at all to piracy (see: any torrent site).

Print has wider distribution, more people buy print; if you are publishing PDF only you can expect a fraction of the sales you would in print. PDF is a great alternate channel but more of the world is offline than we give it credit for nowadays.

To rebut common claims:

  1. "Publishers make better profit with PDF" is not true. Some may - but for example Posthuman Studios at their seminar last Gen Con was asked directly "is it better for you for me to buy your books in PDF or print" and the answer was "we actually get a higher margin off print." Eclipse Phase, $15 PDF $49.99 print. (Not coincidentally, there's a 70% difference between the two prices, a number often cited as how much the printing cost of a product is.) Evil Hat Games releases their numbers too and they also note they make more money per print copy.

  2. "Nowadays virtual sells as much as print" is also false. Looking around for publishers that are transparent with their numbers, Evil Hat reports that the two DFRPG corebooks in Q3 2012 sold 1112 physical and 282 PDF copies.

Now, for White Wolf having PDF sales makes sense especially for the "long tail" of their huge back catalogue, where they make recurring sales at practically zero incremental cost to themselves. But it does discourage more new product generation.

Chalking the reduced focus on RPGs up to piracy is the usual "talking without any data to back it up;" usually one requires proof of an unsupported assertion rather than having to gather proof it's false.

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+1. Dammit, that was going to be my answer. ^_~ –  Sardathrion Jan 8 '13 at 7:48
DFRPG also offered free PDF with preorder so some of those numbers are null. –  CatLord Jan 9 '13 at 5:45

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