Friday, June 19, 2009

Necromancer Games Update

Clark Peterson of Necromancer Games has posted an update to his company's forums, where he discusses the current state of the company and its plans, which do not include much, if any, print support for 4e, owing to various issues relating to the GSL:
Hey everyone.

I know its been a long time between updates for a lot of reasons and that can be frustrating. Sorry for that.

I'm still hopeful to do Pathfinder print products and perhaps a key 4E print product or two (a Tome 4E perhaps), but abiliity to product the 4E print stuff is proving to be difficult. Retailers are less than excited about 4E supplemental material. Distributors even less so. Print partners still less excited.

All you know my desire to support 4E and my many plans, some of which are even under way. Right now, the 4E PRINT plans dont look like they are going to happen.

I dont want this to turn into a "yeah Pathfinder, boo 4E" thread. Any such posts will be deleted. This is an update thread, not an edition wars thread.

Other than a key 4E product, such as a Tome 4E, I dont see Necro doing much in the way of print 4E products. That leaves us with the possibility of pdf products. That is not necessarily bad, but it would reflect a shift in our traditional product strategies and will require different analysis on how to go forward.

In large part this situation is due to the delay of an acceptable GSL. Not having one at launch created a huge slowdown of momentum as well as a retailer and distributor gap where distributors didnt have 3Ps plugged in to the product array for 4E. Now, having no 3P track record for 4E they are wary (and probably happy to have some of it go away). Had there been a GSL at launch I think we would have hit a few big products and gotten distributors on board for 3P products for 4E. But that didnt happen. Now I think we have a chasm we just cant cross with anything but a tiny selection of key 4E products, such as a Tome 4E. But that said, even the idea of a Tome 4E has been floated by those who matter and even for a product like that there is less than total enthusiasm.

All that said, we are exploring pdf and print on demand options.

It would be fair to say that I am frustrated by the path 4E and 3P support for 4E has taken and that we, essentially, had the ability taken from us to support 4E by the mishandling of the GSL. I say that while at the same time applauding Scott Rouse's tireless fight to get the GSL revised--which he did and did well. I just wish there were more people at Wizards who "got it" like Scott did and were on board. Its really too bad. 3E was truly a golden age of D&D, a revival of all that was great from the early years of the game. Its too bad that same feeling and fervor couldnt happen for 4E. Maybe I was naive to ever think it could, but I did think that.

All this means is likely no big 4E print products (maybe one or two at most) and perhaps only a few Pathfinder print products. We are still in contact with Paizo and have a good relationship there. We still have great connections for online and print on demand products and are working with OBS to achieve those things. Its just that our hoped for print lineup will likely not happen.

I know this means more waiting for all of you and I am sorry for that.

I hesitated to post this because some will say "Necro is folding." Thats not the case at all. We are just being forced by external factors to shift our product plans. I felt all of you were owed an update and an explanation about that.

Clark
Given that I have zero interest in 4e, this isn't a big blow to me, but I do find it interesting that Peterson, who's long been one of the biggest WotC boosters among third party publishers -- and still is -- is sufficiently unhappy with the GSL that he doesn't think his company would be able to support 4e. It's a pity he's not interested in any of the retro-clones, because Necromancer Games produced a number of truly awesome products in the 3e era, the most impressive no doubt being the Wilderlands of High Fantasy boxed set. I'd love to see products of similar quality and creativity published in support of games like Swords & Wizardry or Labyrinth Lord.

32 comments:

  1. Just more evidence that 4e is tanking. I'm very curious what Wizards will do with 4e. I think something will happen, what I have no idea, but it's just a matter of time. I really doubt we'll see a 5e, and I just can't imagine the D&D brand continuing on as a pencil and paper game, but who knows.

    In any case, there's blood in the water and now I think publishers are trying to figure out how to get the sales, and with reports from retailers that customers are buying up the old OOP stuff it's no wonder there is more of a commercial interest now in retro pnp games. It will be interesting to see what happens. I have my doubts that any one "new" brand could dominate; rather I think we'll see many many different brands and a fracturing of the market unlike anything that has come before. Of course, take that with a grain of salt because I fully admit this is my speculation, talking out of my butt.

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  2. Dan:
    "...it's no wonder there is more of a commercial interest now in retro pnp games."

    And it was just a few days ago that James gave us the news of a forthcoming commercial deal for (IIRC) S&W. Now this with Necromancer, and it's starting to look like a trend in favor of retro games.

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  3. Has the commodification of Dungeons & Dragons as a brand doomed it to one day be remembered as the secret origin of [your favorite retro-clone here]? Only time will tell.

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  4. Yeah, it does seem that it is emerging. Of course, we have no way of knowing how retro games will do once they are actually out there for any length of time. Labyrinth Lord was only in distro for 4 months, and it didn't do too bad (I went through Key 20, which promptly went out of business). I'm getting it back out there probably this fall, so we'll see what happens.

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  5. Dan, I'm pleased as punch that LL is heading back into distribution!

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  6. I'd love to see products of similar quality and creativity

    Some of are trying ;)

    As for Clark's comments I didn't read it so much as a problem with the GSL but as a problem with Wizard's marketing. He is perfectly willing to do 4e products under the current license but the marking fiasco in this area has left with no way to realize those plans.

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  7. Rob,

    I suspect you're right, but, in my opinion WotC's marketing of 4e and the GSL are two facets of the same ultimate strategy, one that ultimately marginalizes or outright shuts out a lot of third party support for the game.

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  8. I honestly don't buy any of the talk that "4e is tanking" there is no empirical evidence for it.

    That beign said, this is blow since I do really like Necromancer Games.
    Clark has said in the past, on the old OGL publishers mailing list, that he wouldn't touch OSRIC. That is too bad really, since it does seem like a good way to get his "1st Editon feel" philosophy out there.

    I wish him the best and hope its works out well for Necromancer Games.

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  9. Poor WOTC. The beancounters elected to move them from the winning to the losing side of the proprietary-vs.-open source model of distribution and licensing for the release of 4E. I'm still staggered by the sheer illogic of such a move. A classic instance of knee-jerk protectionism.

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  10. Retailers are less than excited about 4E supplemental material. Distributors even less so. Print partners still less excited.

    I thought this was the most significant part of the post. Retailers aren't interested in 4e supplemental material...

    How does that compare to what they ARE interested in?

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  11. I'm using the WoHF box set for my online Labyrinth Lord weekly chat game - they make a great match! :-)

    I'm not sure exactly why LL just works so well and feels so right. I tried Wilderlands with Castles & Crusades, and it never really 'took off' the way my LL games have, especially this current one. Something to do with the genius of both Tom Moldvay and Dan, I think.

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  12. I don't think 4e is tanking, exactly, though a poll of over a thousand people on ENW indicated very low 3e to 4e conversion by the player base there, around 40%. I GM at the London D&D Meetup, and 4e is popular, by far the most commonly played game - OTOH there is an unmet demand for other games, I think. People tend to run & play 4e because it's what's expected, though it's also a fun game in its own right and I will be trying my hand at running it next month - using a converted Nec 3e module, Vault of Larin Karr.

    One thing about 4e - buying the books seems pointless, when the DDI gives you everything much more practically, at a better price. I bought the DMG PHB & MM but I don't intend to buy anything else from WoTC now they've pulled pdf sales.

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  13. I'm not sure exactly why LL just works so well and feels so right.

    I think part of it is that LL is very faithful to its inspiration and, for many gamers of a certain vintage, Moldvay/Cook will always be the version of D&D with which they're most comfortable. Those two elements combine and what you get is an absolutely terrific game that, even though I am currently playing S&W quite happily, nevertheless has a strong appeal for me.

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  14. Couple of things:

    Dan, how much is LL going to be retailing for? This is still an unresolved issue for me on S&W.

    What interested me a lot was the connection between OBS and print on demand. What's that about? OBS does pdfs. (OBS being One Bookshelf, the owner of RPGNow, RPGDriveThru, etc). Maybe I misread, but it seemed like the montion of POD was connected with OBS.

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  15. I can't see any evidence of 4E tanking. I think Clark's decision is based more on the difficulty of getting product into to print and onto shelves.

    Its well known that Necro is a side project for both of its owners, not a full time job. The hoops that need to be jumped through to get back into the game may simply be too much for them. In the d20 heyday it was easy for them to get hooked up with White Wolf, Kenzer, etc and let them handle the headaches of printing and distributing, but there's just not that big a variety of companies out there looking to sponsor 4E product in any great capacity. Maybe Goodman or Mongoose.

    I'd welcome some osr-compatible versions of the first few necro modules, like Rappan Athuk, but I'm not expecting anything like that to happen.

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  16. Necromancer should focus on producing products compatible with S&W and LL! :)

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  17. JM said:

    "I suspect you're right, but, in my opinion WotC's marketing of 4e and the GSL are two facets of the same ultimate strategy, one that ultimately marginalizes or outright shuts out a lot of third party support for the game."

    I agree with you on this, and also would add that the DDI's proprietary nature freezes out 3pp's as well.

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  18. Matt said: "What interested me a lot was the connection between OBS and print on demand. What's that about? OBS does pdfs. (OBS being One Bookshelf, the owner of RPGNow, RPGDriveThru, etc). Maybe I misread, but it seemed like the montion of POD was connected with OBS."

    At one time, a few years back, RPGNow offered to print a publisher's products via Lulu (I believe it was through them--someone correct me if I'm wrong). I ordered a couple copies of something I wrote for Adamant using this feature and the print products turned out quite well. Whether that feature still exists I know not (although you'd think I would as an OBS publisher).

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  19. Sigh. Blogger swallowed my first well thought out comment.

    I find it really amazing that anyone thinks 4th ed is tanking! It's almost as amazing that Clark seem to believe WotC wants third party support!!

    Look at how they have handled it, from the beginning. First there was a stiff fee, which everyonebalked at! Then there was a licence which had limitations which was strongly indicating that they wanted to weed out the licensees which wasn't going to agree to be just extensions of the will of the Wizards.

    Did anyone still believed they really wanted, and embraced, third party support?

    Now look at how they have planned their products. PHB 1, 2, 3 etc? Where's the space for third party support? Modules is the only niche, and the one with the slimmest profit margins.

    Necromancer Games will have to jump on Pathfinder the hour it's published, or they might as well close shop.

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  20. Let's be perfectly honest with each other about this: 4th edition tanking would kill off this hobby. Sure, there would be all the clones and indie rpgs and whatever, but the largest publishers make the majority of their money pumping out "compatible" stuff for D&D, which means 4th edition. If Hasbro decides to can D&D, the hobby will go the way of the dodo, with the "old guard" slowly dying off. You cannot tell me that any of us has the remotest chance of bringing in enough new players should D&D cease to be published.

    That said, if instead Hasbro sees that all these "retro" versions of D&D have a large market that can be exploited, perhaps they will start publishing the old stuff again (yeah, right). I can only hope...but realistically, the market for rpgs is so small, they might just say f it.

    On a more positive note, I think LL should be the flagship product for the retro movement.

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  21. It's weird to me that no one can believe that 4e is tanking (I think some people just don't want to consider it). It's true we have no sales data, but I've heard now from more than one reliable source that it isn't doing well. Sure, it's probably selling way way more than any other RPG, but that could be peanuts to Hasbro. It's all relative. Remember Scott Rouse at one time reported that they spent over 1 million dollars to develop 4e!! Can you believe that? It boggles my mind. Set some obsessed nerd like me in front of a keyboard and I could crank that out in just a few months for cheap. If 4e isn't selling well in stores, and this is what's been reported by retailers, and distributors are not really interested, then yes 4e has tanked. I really do believe that WoTC pulling PDFs had more to do with trying to get brick n' mortar stores more interested in selling 4e than it had to do with piracy. For them, PDF sales were not even a drop in the bucket, and some move had to be made to try to explain why sales suck. Many retailers don't like PDF competition, so the math is pretty simple all things considered.

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  22. My prediction is that WoTC re-packages some of their older material. 'D&D Classic' or something like that. -That's my conspiracy theory of why the pulled the PDFs.

    I don't think 4E is tanking, but I am sure it's underwhelming WotC and Hasbro in particular. It was a bold move. It has an audience, but it is another beast entirely. I bet they'll plop something down right in our laps at some point.

    And then we will splinter again. Some will embrace D&D classic, some will resent the move. ...Storm's comin' pa.

    That's my take, anyway.

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  23. Sure 4th is not a total success. That was the clear as soon as Pathfinder was announced. Hasbro wanted more than what they are getting, but to say that means it's tanking is overstating it.

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  24. Remember Scott Rouse at one time reported that they spent over 1 million dollars to develop 4e!! Can you believe that? It boggles my mind.

    I can easily believe it.

    Assume each of the core books required about 3 people working on them for about a year total. That's 9 full-time people right there. Then you have Rouse, his assistant, execs, layout people, marketing people, artists etc. etc. It's easy to believe that 4e took about 20 person-years to get out the door, and even if you assume a low figure for salaries + benefits + other costs (ads, etc) that's a million dollars right there.

    DDI has probably kept a team of developers busy for a couple of years--there's another 1 or 2 million dollars there as well.

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  25. That said, if instead Hasbro sees that all these "retro" versions of D&D have a large market that can be exploited, perhaps they will start publishing the old stuff again (yeah, right). I can only hope...but realistically, the market for rpgs is so small, they might just say f it.

    I would be more inclined to believe that Hasbro will attempt to sue all the retroclones out of existence, despite the OGL or any other license.

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  26. Lots of good points in this thread.

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  27. I would be very surprised if 4e was "tanking". Underperforming, probably. Playing to a safe but smaller customer base, yes. Being slowly eroded by MMORPGs, almost certainly (although there is no fight here; WOW has already won, won, and won). Tanking is quite different. If it happens, it will happen after a long death spiral - 6-8 years from now, maybe; slow erosion and then a sudden and violent collapse.

    That said... I have posted it before and I will post it again; I believe there is a sort of cultural shift towards carefully tested, carefully vetted official products, while there is very little interest in 3rd party alternatives today. The scene, the spirit of roleplaying is different than the early 2000s, and those who think in early 2000s ways will fall by the wayside.

    4e, if anything, was successful at refocusing the brand towards a common play experience that supports and encourages an exclusive dedication... instead of a loose network of baseline rules, you have a network of digital content, regular support, the RPGA and so on, and if you want to enjoy the externalities, you'd better not stray too far from the formula. But if you are in, and you like that sort of thing, you will have a helluva lot of fun.

    Games Workshop did this to their miniature games, and they have a customer base that is
    1) rejuvenated every few years by shedding old fans and capturing new ones;
    2) independent of and even isolated from the rest of the miniatures hobby;
    3) engineered to provide a highly focused form of fun to the customer base;
    4) user friendly enough to allow new recruits but complicated enough to accommodate hardcore goobers.

    Good? Bad? These are not relevant categories. Profitable is a relevant category. (Although GW has suffered some losses as of late - and the culprits? Why, computer games!)

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  28. JM:
    "I think part of it is that LL is very faithful to its inspiration and, for many gamers of a certain vintage, Moldvay/Cook will always be the version of D&D with which they're most comfortable"

    Not in my case though - back in the day (ca 1985) I went straight from Fighting Fantasy to 1e AD&D. I never played Moldvay, though ca 1990 some family friends gave me a copy they'd found in a car book sale, it sat in my collection largely unread for 15 years. I first ran a Moldvay based PBEM ca 2005 or so, and found it an excellent system, and a wonderfully written book.

    So, my love of LL is not based on nostalgia at all. I don't even feel nostalgic for 1e really, though I refer to the MM & DMG a fair bit I have little desire to play the game per se. Especially when OSRIC is a much better presented version.

    I think Moldvay Basic, and now LL, just 'get it right'. Mentzer's BECM gets it right too, albeit with a different sort of atmosphere. A lot of it is that these systems/versions are so simple and well presented that the rules just fade into the background during play; ad hoc ruling is efortless and immersion is easy.

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  29. Dan:
    "It's weird to me that no one can believe that 4e is tanking"

    I can believe sales are below expectations and that conversion of existing players to 4e is much lower than desired. I do think 4e has brought in a large number of new players, though probably less than 3e did in its first year. And I expect it's making a profit, hence 'not tanking'.

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  31. I've been chuckling actually. Necromancer games has been Wizard's biggest cheerleader duirngthe 4e run up and GSL supporter, and the fact he really cant due to the GSL is ironically funny.

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  32. @Melan:

    4e, if anything, was successful at refocusing the brand towards a common play experience that supports and encourages an exclusive dedication... instead of a loose network of baseline rules, you have a network of digital content, regular support, the RPGA and so on, and if you want to enjoy the externalities, you'd better not stray too far from the formula. But if you are in, and you like that sort of thing, you will have a helluva lot of fun.

    Thank you! This is the most cogent thing I've read in response to this post. All of the talk about 4e tanking or not tanking is irrelevant, particularly in the absence of evidence and facts. Why would Clark be trying so hard to tie his company to a product that was tanking?

    Distributors and RPG publishers have frequently had a difficult relationship. Dig up one of the Ken Hite interviews from Paul Tevis's Have Games, Will Travel podcast, he goes to great lengths in explaining (and complaining about)this.

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