So, today Wizards of the Coast announced that one of their books - Mordenkainen's Magnificient Emporium - was no longer going to be cancelled, and around the world gamers went "Wheeeee!". Then, they announced that it would only be available from hobby and gaming stores, and would not be sold by larger retailers - and around the world gamers went "What? The? Fuck?"
I can see what Wizards are trying to do here, I really do, and I can see that their motives are honourable; namely to inject some life into flagging hobby retailers by giving them something unique. The problem is, it's a deeply deeply flawed plan, and here is, in my opinion, exactly why...
Stores Already Have Unique Wizards Products: D&D Encounters is an ongoing, and as far as I can tell, successful program where game stores get, for free, D&D adventures, which folks lucky enough to be able to attend get to play and keep. This is free swag, and is likely a bigger draw than any rulebook. If that isn't getting folks into the store and buying, then nothing will.
Not Everyone Lives Near a Hobby or Gaming Store: I don't have a friendly local game store (FLGS) anymore thanks to the recession and the interwebs. When I did, I was a weekly visitor to all three of them, and they got more than a fair share of my cash as I browsed and bought. I now rely on Amazon for my D&D books (and now and then IGUK, or Games Lore). If for some reason the latter two retailers are not deigned to be of the right criteria, my chances of owning a legitimate copy of this book become zero - unless I want to buy a massively overpriced copy from Ebay or get one shipped in from America.
You Are Punishing The Dwindling Number of Supporters You Have Left: Okay, D&D is far from finished, but it is no longer the powerhouse it was. Pathfinder is supposedly equalling or in some areas exceeding D&D sales, and it has been noted that during the Free RPG days, has been chosen in preference to the D&D modules. I loved 3.5 and spent frightening amounts of cash on the books (I still use them for reference in my 4e games), but I love 4th Edition, and this feels like a kick in the balls by Wizards, when my only crime has to be a loyal fucking customer through the thick and more frequent thin of their production. I would never return to 3.5 or Pathfinder simply because the idea of wading through the minutiae of each monster and PC is enough to give me hives. But I am getting pissed off by being punished by Wizards for sticking with them.
You Give Pirates and Would Be Pirates A "Justification" For Making Illegal Copies: Note I put Justification in parenthesis, as clearly there is never a legitimate reason for pirating anything. However, by doing this, I can almost feel the multitude of folks saying "Fine then Wizards, fuck you! If you won't let me buy your products I'll get a fucking free .pdf off a file sharing site" - and to be honest, I can't say I entirely blame them. Wizards of the Coast have taken numerous idiotic steps to protect their intellectual property. I'm NOT saying that it's idiotic to protect your IP, but I am saying that the steps taken have, if anything, encouraged piracy rather than stopped it. By restricting legitimate access to a title, the chances of folks seeking out a free (though not necessarily virus free) copy through file sharing is massively increased.
It seems folks at Wizards just don't "get" how things work today, and definitely 100% don't get their customers. I want D&D 4e to go from strength to strength, but seriously, with Wizards making dick move after dick move, and seeming determined to plough down a route that many gamers simply do not want, I wonder how much time it really has left - and I wonder, if D&D is still owned by Wizards and Hasbro, if I could trust them enough to buy another edition from them...