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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
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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

6 Answers 6

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
    
Onyx Path publishing IS White Wolf. It was formed by one of the heads of White Wolf, and employs mostly former white-wolf staff. The difference between the two is mostly semantic. –  Strill Sep 26 at 12:33

@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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Their focus has not moved to MMOs. The World of Darkness MMO got cancelled for one. Check out forums.theonyxpath.com and you'll find that the developers are regularly active in the forums discussing the various gamelines with fans and soliciting feedback on mechanics changes and content for new releases. –  Strill Sep 26 at 12:35
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@Strill You're confusing two separate companies. WW still exists, was acquired by CCP, and CCP did move their focus to an MMO, which CCP later cancelled. Onyx Path is a separate company created after WW was bought, that licenses WoD properties from WW/CCP. –  SevenSidedDie Sep 26 at 18:02
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Onyx Path consists of the same people that used to work at white wolf. The difference between the two is only relevant from a legal perspective, not from a content perspective. –  Strill Sep 26 at 21:27

White Wolf is in fact alive and well. They are currently publishing under the banner of Onyx Path Publishing, a company formed by White Wolf Creative Director Rich Thomas. They've simply moved from brick and mortar to digital and print-on-demand format. They've even been doing regular kickstarter campaigns for high-quality deluxe versions of their new releases. From the looks of it, all of them have been very successful.

Their FAQ explains that because of a decline in traditional printing, they've moved towards digital and print-on-demand formats instead. This is not only cheaper for them, but also has benefits for consumers, and for their development process due to the flexibility of digital publishing. With print runs, they would have to guess how well the book would sell, and order a large number of copies. Any left over would simply go to waste. A large-scale print run is a very in-depth process that requires many people to coordinate well in advance. That means that books could get released before they were ready, in order to meet printing deadlines. Digital publishing is much easier to postpone, if need be.

Digital publishing is also good for the consumer. With digital publishing, all of their books can be available to anyone who wants them. With large-scale print runs, once a book print run was ordered, that was it. It was rare to see additional runs. That meant that people who wanted to buy the book later on would have a hard time. With print-on-demand, they can keep their entire catalog available indefinitely.

This is also another benefit for them, because having a full library of titles in stock gives them a regular stream of income, rather than the one-time lump-sum income they would get from brick & mortar publishing. This also allows them to stay more financially stable in-between releases.

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I struggle with the broader point of digital publishing being good for the consumer--that's highly debatable--, and I'm not sure how it's relevant. –  Hey I Can Chan Sep 26 at 12:53
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They're actually different companies: Onyx Path is a separate legal entity formed by an employee who left with the intention of resurrecting dead lines by buying or licensing the IP. They are a licensee of CCP properties, and own Scion and Trinity outright. OP is not an imprint of WW's, and is not the continuation of WW; WW is still wholly-owned part of CCP and has no employees, only assets. CCP also has the power to terminate the licensing relationship with OP, at which point the independence of the companies would become (sadly) much more apparent. –  SevenSidedDie Sep 26 at 17:54
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The move to PDF also has little to do with what's good or not for consumers, and had everything to do with avoiding the business expenses of print runs, warehousing, and fulfillment due to a lack of liquidity. Also, the founder and former CEO of WW founded DriveThruRPG, so they had a very close working relationship before CCP bought WW. –  SevenSidedDie Sep 26 at 18:08

WW's management changes, product line terminations and disagreeable changes, the change in market trends (Core purchasers either grew up or Stores closed Thanks to the Likes of Games Workshop & its legal teams, watched this myself in the city I currently reside) and the Company policy resulting in very Bad decisions; that if you weren't a Multi Billion dollar company don't bother even emailing about Licensing IP's for any project conceivable.

Going by the Google searches back in the day, WW Made bad decisions which cost them, duff print-runs resulting in bad reprographics as they pursued Cheap print options (They should have asked Amazon) External Hiring people over internal promoting was a bad idea, hiring people who were purely Economic Hit-men for Vulture capitalist's was a Bad Idea, restricting IP's to Corporate interests and either trying to or tub-thumping Suing people from Hollywood Script writers (See the Underworld movie franchise Fiasco; I know people who burnt their books as a result) who had been trying to sell scripts long before WW was a company publishing its first book, to some College Students who filmed their RPG game (Dramatic Arts Course work) one Halloween and put it on You Tube and gave WW Free Advertising (I was one of those guys who got a Cease and Desist)

All in all, perhaps it's vainglorious, but I hope others Learn the lesson in Business.

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If there is an informative answer here, it's unfortunately buried in ranting. Overall, it's hard to separate the fact from the opinion in this answer, which makes it not a useful answer to the question. On the up side, there is an edit button, so those things can be fixed if you're so inclined! –  SevenSidedDie 2 days ago

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