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Wizards of the Coast Stops Selling PDF RPGs

Posted on April 6, 2009 by Matt-M-McElroy

Posted on the front page of

Wizards of the Coast has instructed us to suspend all sales and downloads of Wizards of the Coast titles. Unfortunately, this includes offering download access to previously purchased Wizards of the Coast titles. We are in discussions with Wizards about their decision to change their approach to digital sales of their titles and will post more information as we have it. If you would like to let Wizards know your opinion on offering D&D titles for download, we suggest the D&D Message Boards found here.

This…did not go over well with folks who regularly purchase pdf versions of Dungeons & Dragons from these websites. There was no press release from WotC, no advance warning, not one word for hours. Speculation on various forums including RPGnet, ENWorld and other sites continued for some time.

Then “WotC_Trevor” at Wizards Community posted:

Hey all. I wanted to step in and add shine a mote of light on the subject.

Unfortunately, due to recent findings of illegal copying and online distribution (piracy) of our products, Wizards of the Coast has decided to cease the sales of online PDFs. We are exploring other options for digitial distribution of our content and as soon as we have any more information I’ll get it to you.

Not much of an explanation and really, really lousy customer service. One of the great things about buying pdf editions of the books was DTRPG offered up to 5 downloads of purchased material. So, if your hard-drive failed or you got a new computer you could legally download a backup copy of the book. Now, all of the people who had legally purchased pdf editions of these books are unable to download the books they paid for. Again, the reaction from fans was not pleasant and this certainly did not earn WotC any goodwill from these customers.

Suddenly a new press release appeared on the Wizards Press Page:

Wizards of the Coast LLC today filed three lawsuits in US District Court for the Western District of Washington against eight individuals, including named defendants located in the United States, Poland and the Philippines, for copyright infringement of its recently-released Dungeons & Dragons® Player’s Handbook 2. The lawsuits allege that the defendants illegally distributed the Player’s Handbook 2 via free file-sharing websites and that these illicit uploads resulted in a substantial number of lost sales and lost revenue to Wizards of the Coast.

So, apparently these folks did enough damage to WotC sales revenue that they are willing to permanently shut down all revenue from legitimate pdf sales from now on. Does that seem a little odd to anyone else or is it just me?

Having pdf editions of the books available legally on DTRPG and other legit sites offered customers a way to give WotC money for these products. Now, that money will go elsewhere, either to other RPG products or video games or wherever, it certainly won’t be going to Wizards of the Coast.

Pirated copies of the books will still be available, if not increased. People want digital editions of these books. They are handy to have on the laptop (much easier to carry than a stack of hardcover books), they are often searchable and occasionally have other features. Pirates are going to continue to torrent the content, if they have to scan them in, so what? They will do so. The only folks who won’t be able to get digital versions of the books are those who want to buy them legally.

Thoughts? Comments?

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32 Responses to “Wizards of the Coast Stops Selling PDF RPGs”

  1. David Hill says:

    Clearly, the perceived damage has to be high. If it’s a business decision, made by the business side of things, the perceived benefit has to outweigh the costs.

    I imagine they’ll make amends for the legal downloads people still have remaining, for instance the DTRPG stuff.

    When 4e was released prior to printing, and when PHB2 was released prior to its appearance in stores, I can’t really blame them for not wanting digital copies out there.

    Scans are very, very different from traditional digital copies. For one, they’re harder for computers to run. Another, they’re far more difficult to search on. I won’t touch a scanned PDF, but I actually rather like the nice, clean, bookmarked, tabbed, and linked ones like White Wolf has been releasing lately.

    If they’re trying for a new business model, let’s wait and see. If I had to put down my money on their new endeavor, I would imagine it’d have something to do with their subscription service, just like the character maker and the two magazines.

    -David Hill

  2. Monica says:

    I think one of the things that stands out in my mind, is that this type of action seems pretty extreme. E-books are “increasing” in popularity, so it’s a little puzzling why all e-books would be taken down with no notice. If they were going with their own storefront, I could perhaps see why they might want to sever ties with other places of business.

    Regardless, I hope that WoTC reconsiders their actions if it’s truly the case that they’re basing this decision on illegal downloads. I deal with music copyright on a daily basis, and from what I’ve seen — when there isn’t a market for something that people want, people will create one regardless.

  3. Preston says:

    So on one hand you’ve got e-book sales up 173% over the same month last year ( ), and on the other you’ve got WoTC pulling e-books from retailers. I think this is a decision that WotC will come to regret, and in retrospect will be another stumble in a chain of missteps.

  4. Jeff Preston says:

    Paraphrased quote:

    “Inconvenience to Pirates= Negligible.
    Inconvenience to legitimate PDF buyers= Huge.”

  5. David Hill says:

    If it’s a business decision, often it’s better to sever ties with no prior notice. It’s just like firing someone. You don’t give them notice, because the point between when you’d give notice and when you actually sever the relationship is likely to be a rougher time than if the relationship didn’t exist at all during that window.

  6. David Hill says:

    I doubt it’s a decision to completely eliminate ebooks altogether. It’s probably a dramatic change in business models for online sales.

  7. Monica says:

    I completely disagree, David. Word-of-mouth advertising is very powerful, especially in today’s internet age. If this event happened five years ago, I might have a different opinion, but not with the way the internet works.

  8. Chuck says:

    Moreover, it’s amazing that WotC isn’t learning the lesson from… well, nearly any other company that punches its customers in the mouth to save themselves the “piracy hassle.”

    Spore’s deadly reviews on Amazon, anyone?

    The RIAA helping to kill the record industry instead of giving it wings?

    Adapt or die. Too many companies are backward-looking, not forward-looking.

    Plus, the RPG industry isn’t exactly a stable one. This might cause a cruel tremor. Could mean good things for other publishers, sure; but it could also cause unintended aftershocks.

    We’ll see.

    — Chuck

  9. This seems like trying to put the genie back into the bottle to me.

    Assuming that they aren’t ending their digital offerings completely, they’re likely to come out with some horribly DRM-laden monstrosity that treats their legitimate customers like criminals, much like the schemes that the online music retailers are finally dropping.

    I have to wonder how much of the perceived damage due to lost sales is actually due to lost sales, how much is due to the product simply not being what people want, and how much is due to the relatively enormous cost of getting started with D&D 4e?

  10. Jeff Preston says:

    I think that THAT is a far more reasonable answer.

    In this economy in order to publish a product and sell it for what WotC sells it for…it needs to be stellar, or else people will skip it.

    Everyone is struggling for that last few $ of disposable income in this industry, and of course people like to think their own published content is solid gold. Often big publishers, heck any publisher for that matter, listens to their own internal support more than the fans/ target audience etc…and that is deadly.

    I think WotC is listening to internal devs and bean counters and thinking they are producing what people want…and that may not be the case.

    Pulling the PDFs seems like a knee-jerk reaction to their less-than stellar sales: pointing a finger at “piracy” instead of taking a long hard look at themselves and what they are putting out there as a product.

  11. Billzilla says:

    >I have to wonder how much of the perceived damage due to lost sales is actually due to lost sales, how much is due to the product simply not being what people want, and how much is due to the relatively enormous cost of getting started with D&D 4e?<

    Touche, and well said. I too can’t help but wonder if the Corporate Dorks at WotC are theorizing that the lower-than-expected sales across the board on 4E are due to the (perceived) flood of pirated copies rather than a less than stellar product. I think they haven’t really listened to their customers since Hasbro took over.


  12. Preston says:

    That very may well be, David. However, it isn’t coming across as a long-planned, strategic business move. It’s coming across as a knee-jerk reaction by someone in legal or the higher echelons who doesn’t appreciate the ramifications of the decision. So either it’s a massive PR failure to communicate a simple, planned initiative that will benefit both the customers and WotC, or it’s a strategic business failure.

  13. Preston says:

    Anything is possible, but for what it’s worth I’ve only heard glowing reviews for PHB-2. Of course, that’s not to say that sales may not be where WotC hoped they’d be, but that’s information to which we’ll likely never be privy.

  14. Spikey says:

    “When 4e was released prior to printing, and when PHB2 was released prior to its appearance in stores, I can’t really blame them for not wanting digital copies out there.”

    The press statement seems to say that it is illegally distributed copies of the legally purchased E books that they are bothered with, so it won’t be that they were released earlier than WotC planned. They, after all, released the PDF’s that have been shared and so they set the release date.

    In addition to the knee jerk nature of the reaction and the loss of cash from PDF sales themselevs, they have missed the point that illegal shared PDF’s often lead tot he purchase of the hard copy item itself. PDF’s are a tool (often an easier way to transport books) and often do not replace ownership of the physical book which most of us still prefer.

    Illegal downloading and sharing rarely replaces purchases because most people who want it will buy it, and those who download it usually wouldn’t have bothered spending money on it if they could not get it free.

    The elimination of illegal sharing is impossible and so better to offer more reasons (subscription updates, access to other content and tools) to encourage peopel to spend the money on the real object than to try and turn back the tide with a paper dishcloth.

  15. GamerChick says:

    It does seem to me to be yet another short-sighted business decision from WotC. As a purchaser of digital copies of most of my gaming stuff I’m disappointed, but not surprised.

  16. Silveressa says:

    Right, I paid for the pdf’s and received 5 downloads, that now are invalid with no offer of refund or reparations?

    I guess that means if I somehow lose my PAID FOR pdf books of wotc products I will be resorting to piracy to replace them.

    Thanks WOTC for encouraging people everywhere to look into piracy to replace legally paid for products! (and likely find other wotc products to pirate freely they would have otherwise paid drive-thru-rpg or another site for a legal copy of.)

    Their sad attempt to stop piracy of their books has only made them even more of a hot pirating product especially to those who never before explored piracy of pdfs will now be looking into it. (Can we say profit loss?)

  17. David Hill says:

    Although their press release doesn’t really say that they’re completely eliminating online sales forever. It sounds like they’re pulling them until they can execute something that they feel will curb those problems. Ala subscription service.

  18. David Hill says:

    Word of mouth advertising that they’re pulling a product?

    Honestly, what do you think the response would be, if WotC said, “We’re pulling our stuff from DTRPG in a month?” Do you think the internet still wouldn’t be full of people advocating boycotts?

  19. David Hill says:

    Now, your 173%, that’s not really reflecting RPG books, and certainly not a reflection of WotC sales. We’re talking something relative to the Kindle’s sales, which actually has very little to do with RPG books, if I’m not mistaken? I don’t personally have a Kindle, but a friend of mine with one tells me he cannot use RPG book downloads on it. It’s discouraged him from buying them, in fact.

  20. Alana Abbott says:

    I vaguely wonder if they’re intending to sell pdfs only via D&D Insider. When they were first talking about 4e at DDXP — what, two years ago now? — they were very pro-e-book release, and were talking of all sorts of ways to combine print and pdf purchases. I can’t see them abandoning the initiative completely, which makes this whole move perplexing.

  21. Bear says:

    What can I say. Started playing D&D back in 1978. Use to own a hobby shop. Wizards stopped providing product that people wanted to pay for. I quit playing the game after 2nd edition and the wizards wanting to do a 3rd Edition.
    It became a $ issue, and the people have spoken.

  22. Megan says:

    While I prefer PDF over dead-tree when writing (flipping screens is far more convenient than juggling book & keyboard) and when going out to play; my real concern is archival. OK, so Wizards are concerned about sales of 4e so decide to stop selling it electronically… but what about earlier editions? I only ever bought rulebooks for AD&D and wrote all my worlds and adventures, but have thoroughly enjoyed visiting many fascinating places once the PDFs became available. Most of those books just aren’t available even if you haunt 2ndhand stores/eBay or cost more than you’d want to pay.

  23. Tom Pigeon says:

    Just wild speculation on my part, but this may be an early effort by WOTC to start up their own pdf sales site. With the popularity of pdf rpgs, I wondered why WOTC would allow third parties to sell their products when they could do it themselves, and probably better.

    When the print version of Dragon got axed and they upped their digital content, I thought maybe that was the first move toward a pdf store. Maybe this is the next.

    Again, just speculation.

  24. Henwy says:

    One thing is interesting about this if you look at the lawsuit. Looks like they’ve been coding and watermarking the files which is how they were able to trace it down to exactly who it was whose file was copied. I’ve heard of the RIAA thinking about similar techs but they abandoned it as being too clunky. Looks like it works better for digital books.

  25. MADelineWoe says:

    I think it is a smart move. There are too many users out there getting internet things freely and the creators get nothing. How many people are using programs like WinRAR and not paying for it…after the evaluation period? You put things out there for free…and no one donates and music is less than a buck a song and dvd movies a buck a rental. Nice and cheap, but the people who put their souls into the creating are screwed. Pirates are really active in scanning entire works and putting them on the Inet for free. That is a big punch in the gut to the artists!
    It’s like pigeon poop on a statue…

  26. MHaige says:

    A lot of interesting points made. WotC has an obligation to itself to protect it’s business interest. Artists are not being robbed for the work they have done, they got paid. The actual knock-on effect is loss of future commissions. If you don’t believe me, check out any Dragon Magazine PDF from Paizo, it’s missing “What’s New” due to licensing restrictions.

    The pulling of prior edition PDFs that they no longer sell, hence no longer make $$$ from, for the stated reasons makes no sense. It’s a business decision designed to put blinders on the customer. They are limiting loyal D&D customers to 4E only and believe the customers will flock to it.

    Seven months on, I own 4E for one single reason, Paizo was offering a discount on a single future order. Using that discount I saved over $200 on 3E items and Dragon PDFs after the cost of 4E. The only other one I bought was FR out of curiosity. I have not played it, I don’t intend on playing any time soon. I still have several thousand dollars worth of 3E to enjoy and share with my family.

    So instead of upgrading, I’m following the Pathfinder route (subscription are wonderful). I’ve downloaded the free Dungeon and Dragon PDFs from Wizards, but I’m not paying for site access. For new and fresh content, there is Kobold Quarterly and a slew of free material that people are sharing on the internet. (I guess I’m one of those who “pirates” free stuff, and gives creators who give free stuff away a punch in the stomach.)

    As for what I own, I have a scanner and Acrobat. Will I release it? No. For the things lost when my basement flooded, they’re gone for good. I have no intention of repurchasing the books, and WotC killed my only hope of replacing it with a PDF.

  27. Slayer says:

    wow WOTC is messing up once again. OMG blame the pirates, I know several people who downloaded illegally rpg books and then after they found that they liked the book they went out and bought it and deleted the pdf. Im not condoning illegal downloads. But WOTC should take note from Blizzard “Mess with the fans and you start dying”

  28. TJ says:

    I don’t care at all. I have not purchased a D&D product since 3.5 started and probably never will again. My group still plays Advanced with variant aspects of 3.5 thrown in. They are so busy trying to make money they forgot how to play the game. The hell with them. Within 10 years D&d will either no longer be made, or be made again as Advanced version was with some minor changes from 3.5 by someone other than WOTC/HASBRO….Thank the Gods…Its about time it went back to peeps with gamers interests at heart…Instead of every penny gamers don’t tend to have…

  29. Joe says:

    Well im not sure about RPGs and such, however I am a fan of some of the novels WotC owns the rights to. I got online yesterday after reading “Homeland” by Salvatore to attept to purchase the other two books. Now keep in mind that im in the militry and deployed to a location where there are no stores and the mail system has more gnomes then the dryer. So I tried to purchase these book just to find out I can’t at all. So now I have read part of a story that I cant finish and just for that I will never read or purchase from WotC again.

  30. MrTT says:

    Every book ever published by WOTC is available to pirates in PDF format… The vast majority of those from pirates scanning them.

    The only thing WOTC does by stopping the sale of PDFs is ICNREASE piracy.

    People want a product, PDF versions. People will either buy or pirate them. WOTC stupidly removes buy as an option leaving pirate as the only option for people.

  31. Svartalf says:

    Once more wotc demonstrates that they have respect for one thing, and one thing only, the Holy Bottom Line… and none for their customer base.

    Of course, leaving a market potential untapped and wholly in the hands of subterranean economy is a sound business stance.

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