Saturday, July 18, 2009

The Real Problem with "Kids These Days"

Noisms has some interesting things to say about selling RPGs to kids today, commenting on some points Trollsmyth made on the same topic in a post on Mishlergate. They're both largely right, I think. I got into D&D with 3e when I was in middle school, but I was a kid who'd wanted to play D&D, and D&D specifically, since 4th grade. That's not usual. The group I play with at college is almost entirely composed of people who hadn't played RPGs at all before I met them, because even though they're all Grade-A RPGer material, they either never realized what RPGs actually are, or got intimidated out of trying them on their own. The industry doesn't reach a lot of potential players.

But that's partly reasonable of the industry. Though most of the people I knew in high school were perfectly able to spend the money to buy RPG books, most of them didn't. Why? Sometimes, it was because they'd rather spend that money on computer games or manga, both of which are much more expensive hobbies than RPGs if you're into them on the level that these people were.

But mostly, it was because they didn't see anything wrong with downloading PDFs illegally rather than buying books, and why spend $30 on something you could get for free? I can't generalize outside of the people I personally knew in high school (and know in college) but most of them didn't see PDFs as valuable. Either they didn't understand the work that went into them, or they didn't care. Likewise, they didn't understand the work that goes into distributing and marketing a product, so even if they did recognize that they were ripping someone off by downloading a PDF (or an mp3 file, or a movie, or a video game . . .) without paying for it, they just figured the main person they were hurting was "the company," which wasn't doing anything useful or properly compensating the artists to begin with.

So I can understand why a company wouldn't be interested in marketing their stuff to teenagers.

On the other hand, I won't deny that there's plenty of foot-shooting going on. The big issue is that companies are still making games for boys. But that's another post entirely.

(And note that, for the most part, I think my generation has a lot more good qualities than it's critics give us credit for. We vote, for one, and we've got pretty impressive volunteering and service numbers. But, for whatever reason, a lot of us do have this one obnoxious blind spot.)


  1. Actually, it fits perfectly with your inclination for volunteer service. If you really care about something, you do it for free. Someone who wants money from you is more interested in the money than what the money is buying. It's short-sighted, but understandable, especially if you've lived a sheltered life where food just appeared in the fridge and money in your pocket as if by magic, and not through your own efforts to put it there. The fact that time = money, like the roundness of the world, isn't something that's immediately obvious unless you've personally experienced it, or really spent some time thinking about it.

    And I'd say most people still are willing to pay for something they want, even if they have the chance to steal it for free. But maybe that's just me being naive?

  2. I hope so. And I hope that once these people I know grow up and start working and so on, they'll stop downloading stuff because they can and pretending that it makes them revolutionaries. But on the other hand . . . a big part of the issue, the reason they treat digital stuff differently from actual, physical objects, is that they don't seem to perceive that there's an actual person behind the stuff that they're downloading. Just abstract "artists" and "corporations." So who knows?

  3. It's the two-edged sword of the Information Age. Yes, the world is smaller and so much can be had electronically, and yet we don't equate value with things that aren't material.

    And perhaps they aren't of value, at least not in the same way. Perhaps we do need a paradigm shift in how intellectual property (music, film, literature, rpgs) get marketed.

    But the idea that fuels the paradigm shift will probably be coming from someone in YOUR generation Oddysey. Ha! Your picture reminds me of how I looked in college (except I don't wear glasses, my hair was longer, and I had a goatee...aah, Seattle). There is both a lot of underestimation and a lot of overestimation of the 20-somethings going on by the Powers-That-Be. It's difficult to get a real grasp of 'em when what gets held up for scrutiny is "young Hollywood."

    Heh...I could comment for a LONG time on this subject. I'm just glad you're sharing your brain.
    : )

  4. I think part of it is the fact (and I say this having made a living off of writing software) that they are right.

    If you don't intend (or not able) to buy something, and you download an illegal copy, you aren't stealing.

    In fact, downloading illegally is never stealing, its copywrite infringement.

    You are not costing someone money when you download an illegal copy of their work. You are causing "opportunity costs" how much that is related to how likely you would be to buy. A homeless person who downloads an illegal copy of an Mp3 at the local library and listens to it for instance, has not caused any loss of any kind to the artist. The opportunity for the artist with that "customer" was $0 if he didn't download and $0 if he did. No loss.

    Now if that same homeless person got a job, got cleaned up and had a bunch of disposable income, the equation changes. Now if he doesn't download illegally its $5 and he does its $0. Thats a cost.

    There are of course opportunity benefits. This is a reason alot of brand leaders (microsoft windows, adobe photoshop) make it real easy to pirate as a wink wink nudge nudge.

    The money is never to be made from poor teenagers and college students who can't afford windows or photoshop and would otherwise make do with Linux and GIMP. The opportunity lost if these people acquire illegal copies is nigh 0. The cost is only when companies have illegal copies (which is unlikely)

    Why do they make it easy to pirate? Because if the new generation of workers train themselves in say windows, that means employers want to make sure they have copies of windows rather than paying to train the new hires in Linux (training costing more than the lisence).

    If the new generation of workers spends their college years being proficient in linux, its a hard sell for Microsoft to convince a company to pay for windows and then pay to train all of their staff rather than using a free product the staff are already proficient in.

    Many software companies (specifically with programs like Winzip) make a good deal of income simply by making sure companies that use their utilities programs have valid lisences on all their thousands of machines.

    Its better to lose sales as the market leader than to have no lost sales as a market straggler.

    What does this mean for RPGs? For game systems it can be better to lose the pdf sales of some material if you manage to get at least some money out of the "customer"

    If the player buys a PHB to use with the hundreds of modules he's downloaded without paying for I come out in the lead. He was never going to buy all those modules, and there is no way he was going to buy a PHB without all that content to make it mandatory.

    I just got blood for a stone. I have $40 in my pocket I wouldn't have if I made sure that it was impossible to download anything. More than that since I would have had to pay for better DRM etc.

    Western society is waaay to entrenched with the concept of "Standardized Pricing" on a consumer level. Haggling can be a more profitable method.

    A bit of a rant I know, but I hate when the concept that just because something takes effort means it has value, or that that value is set.

    Something is worth what you can get someone else to pay for it. And it should be variable based upon what you can get from each individual customer while still showing a profit.

  5. It's human nature. We have laws so people behave, if they break them then there are consequences.

    The chances of getting caught downloading are beyond astronomical, so the laws do not matter. Since there are no consequences, downloading will continue forever. Speaking out about the immorality will only fall on deaf ears, so save your breath.

    Right or wrong, downloading is here to stay. The world will have to adjust to it. How? I can't tell you.

  6. JB: Tell me about it. :P People are still catching up to the idea that teenagers these days actually care about stuff. Crazy stuff, maybe, but they do care.

    There does need to be a shift, since the older way of doing things no longer works, but the fact that people need to be paid for stuff that they make, or they're going to stop making it, isn't going to go away. That's the big thing that irritates me, is how many people my age don't seem to realize that.

    Zzarchov: I'm not going to go out and condemn all piracy, everywhere, forever, for the exact reasons you state. It's got costs and benefits. But it still ticks me off when people download stuff and then justify it by talking about evil corporations.

    Tom: Actually, illegal downloading has at least one pretty tangible consequence: if enough people download without paying for something, then the people making it will stop making it. I'm worried that we're moving into a world that makes it even more ridiculously difficult to make a living off of making cool things for people.

  7. Zzarchov: You're right, but that doesn't stop illegal downloading and illegal uploading being morally wrong. It may have benefits for the companies concerned, directly or indirectly, but that doesn't absolve the guilt of the downloader/uploader.

    (For this same reason the criminal justice system in all countries would prosecute somebody who tracked down and murdered a serial killer. The murder of the serial killer benefits society but it is still a murder.)

    You can look at this from a natural law perspective (i.e. illegal downloading qua illegal downloading is intrinsically wrong regardless of fringe benefits) or from the more pragmatic standpoint that even if there are fringe benefits associated with a crime, the decriminalisation of it opens a can of worms with potentially irresolvable consequences. This is the current state of play in fact; criminal justice systems around the world are not prepared to decriminalise piracy because of legitimate concerns about the consequences, even if they are willing to turn a blind eye to its going on.

    In my opinion, irrespective of possible benefits for the industry. the illegal downloading of pdfs is not something that should be encouraged from a moral or legal standpoint. In fact I would argue that 99% of people who download illegally know it is morally wrong instinctively, but are just good at suppressing that instinct.

    The fact that the moral argument currently seems to be being lost, doesn't mean that it shouldn't be made and pursued more vigorously.

  8. "Illegal downloading" actually has positive ramifications. The people who play the game popularize it, evangelize it, and spread it to people who never would've heard about it ... including people who want to spend money on it. And when the downloaders themselves have more disposable income, they run out and buy all the minis and collector's edition sets.

    Think about it. How many DVD boxed sets did you buy after watching the series on TV? How many books did you get after reading them at the library? Especially if you're a bibliophile. Just look at the Baen Free Library -- they're giving some of their books away, because they know it'll make all of their books more popular.

    People do these things. We just can't charge for pdfs that can be copied for free, anymore. We have to give them something that can't be copied, instead. Like tangible objects, or even just goodwill / brand loyalty. I know Paizo's got a lot of supporters these days ...

  9. noisms: It's kind of cool when someone comes along and say something that I wanted to say, but couldn't articulate properly, so thanks.

    feathertail: See, it's that kind of talk that triggered this post. I won't argue with the idea that we are moving in a new direction with media; that's pretty clear. At some point, probably some point soon, a lot of the stuff that people would normally download is going to be available free, and media producers will charge for other things -- the webcomic model, basically. But what I don't get is how you go from there to "it's okay to take stuff that people aren't giving away for free."

  10. Feathertail: TV shows are paid for through advertising, subscription or taxation. TV companies don't produce TV series for free in the hope that it will get people to buy DVDs. They produce the initial TV series for cash and hope that they will make more cash off DVD sales.

    Libraries are usually heavily subsidised by the government, i.e. taxation, and their books are paid for. They aren't a scheme set up by publishers to give free samples of their work in the hope that people will buy them. They're a tool of education for the poor.

    Neither of these are at all like illegal downloading, and demonstrate that to give something away for free at the point of consumption (a TV show or libary book) there needs to be large injections of cash at the outset. RPGs don't operate on such a model and thus can't afford to give everything away free at the point of consumption; they need lots of sales.

    Now, I'll grant you that it may be a viable business model for WotC to give away game supplements for free (legally) in the belief that it will encourage people to buy non-downloadables (minis). But that has nothing to do with the rights and wrongs of illegal downloading, which as I said in the comment above might have some fringe benefits for the industry (though I remain to be convinced), but said fringe benefits are irrelevant to whether it should be decriminalised or viewed as morally right.

  11. Intellectual property "theft" is by no means a new problem. Its form has simply changed. It was apparently a huge problem with early printed music and stories, which has shifted to an electronic focus.

    There is a problem with wholesale condemnation of intellectual property theft - sometimes the ownership rights in intellectual property are debatable. Particularly in music, there are those of us that can reproduce a song after a hearing or two. So - if I sing a song, or reproduce the melody - and I get paid for my work, I am violating copyright.

    Yet the human mind is made to soak up and reproduce information, and in many cases we cannot even remember where the information came from.

    I understand that creativity should be rewarded (and for the most part I try to do so) but intellectual property has vastly expanded in the last 50 years and possibly without justification.

    Finally, a personal example - I have purchased about 6 copies of a CD called "Affairs of the Heart" with music by composer Marjan Mozetich. Most of these have been given away in order to introduce others to his marvelous beautiful music. However, I no longer feel guilt at sending a clip of his music to friends, and suggesting that THEY buy the album...

  12. There is a problem with wholesale condemnation of intellectual property theft - sometimes the ownership rights in intellectual property are debatable. Particularly in music, there are those of us that can reproduce a song after a hearing or two. So - if I sing a song, or reproduce the melody - and I get paid for my work, I am violating copyright.

    The ownership isn't really debatable with music - in fact it's crystal clear. If you are reproducing a song of which you are not the copyright holder you have to pay the copyright holder royalties, which most venues will do on behalf of the performer. There are agencies that deal with that sort of thing.

    Of course these issues have been around for a long time, but that doesn't affect the morality of it. Murder, theft and rape have been around for a long time too. Similarly, whether IP has expanded or not is irrelevant to the morality of violating copyright.

  13. @ noisms

    The issue is though that "illegal" downloading is not intrinsically wrong. In many countries it is also not legally wrong. The fact of the matter is that not giving someone money if you don't take something from the isn't morally wrong. It may be annoying, but illegal downloading is akin to sitting and listening to a busker play his guitar but not throwing change in his guitar case.

    Illegal uploading is another issue. In that case you are specifically causing someone to lose out on sales. Even though you are not gaining from it, its akin morally to vandalization.

    This is why illegal uploading is always illegal. You also get into the issue of 'is this illegal?'

    Media has warnings and notices that specifically tell you the penalties for illegal copying and that this media is not legal for copying. If the uploader removes those warnings (or relabels say music or a pdf as shareware) then while the uploader has 100% violated copyright in a malicious manner, the downloader is scot free. After all, if you were sent a link to a free RPG would you refuse to download it incase the uploader isn't the owner?

    Now this may spell the doom of the RPG industry (as gamers are notoriously unhappy with subscription fees for server hosted content, at least until they boot up WoW)

    But I counter what? Industries are not notoriously user friendly. The software industry for example can be pretty cut throat with both employees and customers.

    All the interviews with TSR staff in its heyday indicate the place blew chunks to work for. It was a grueling job that caused people to jump ship to computer games. Now that video games are a massive industry I know a lot of people who leave the field who fought hard to get inside it.

    That leaves us with a hobby business. Contrary to popular belief hobby businesses can support a handful of talented people, but even if they don't the hobbies themselves support themselves pretty damn well on volunteers.

    A lot of software writers who didn't like the software industry put in volunteer hours and created a crudload of free and open source products we use. Spyware checkers, anti-virus, games , Operating systems, you name it.

    So if the RPG industry we really care?

  14. Zzarchov: Do we really care, you ask? Why, I do believe Trollsmyth has answered that very question:

  15. @ Oddysey: Just a quick follow-up: over a LOT of wine and into the wee hours of the night last night, I defended your generation to my neighbor whose at least 10-15 years older than me. Hey, we've got educate these folks one person at a time!

    He's a good guy with an open mind so he grokked it, but you "kids" need to keep up the intellectual discourse and keep taking the high road when ya' can. You'll get your due respect (probably about the same time you start to lose your hair).
    : )

  16. @noisms: No, the legality of it is crystal clear. The morality of it is NOT. There are plenty of laws that one can violate without having a moral problem. I will cite: office basketball pools, seatbelt laws, underage drinking (without driving), any law relating to consensual sexual behavior, etc. If I have somehow learned music and reproduce it (by singing, for example) but am not aware that I have "stolen" it - I am breaking a law. As I pointed out, the human mind is designed to mimic behavior or patterns it encounters. It is not at all clear that I am morally wrong to do so.

    And the fact that IP has expanded is irrelevant to the morality of violating copyright, yes, but the fact that IP has to expand suggests that there is disagreement about the morality of copyright.

  17. Here's an idea: why criminalise potential customers?

    Sell the PDF for a fraction of the price of the paper version for as many have remarked (latest being Chgowiz) or do the smart thing and provide a copy free with a paper copy.

    Let's be honest. You've probably made the PDF in less time and with less outlay than you did getting your opus published. If people want to print a PDF copy then that's their expense (and bless them for doing so).

    The battle is not for money it's for hearts and minds - once you get community, you get outlay.

    Can it really be that hard?