DriveThruRPG Stuff

A lot of people have written a lot of words about what went down with DriveThruRPG recently. (Of particular note are Jessica Price and Tracy Hurley‘s pieces about it.) To recap, the publisher of the Black Tokyo line of hentai d20 supplements released a scenario called “Tournament of Rapists,” and many people quite naturally objected to it being on a site for elfgames. It didn’t help that it got released without the “Adult” tag, and with the Pathfinder tag, putting it in front of a lot of people who probably would’ve missed it otherwise. OBS took their time to work out what they wanted to do about the situation, but they finally did bring out a full blog post, outlining a new “Offensive Content Policy” that they would be implementing. Where companies like Amazon and Apple can afford to employ a staff of people who approve product submissions to their online storefronts, DTRPG is too small for that, so up until now they’ve had an approval process for publishers, but not for products per se. Their plan is to implement a reporting feature, and reports will in turn go to the senior staff for review. If they decide a product is a problem they’ll suspend it and work with the publisher, but otherwise it will not be affected by reports. Spamming a title you don’t like won’t do anything other than annoy the DTRPG guys, and won’t get anything automatically removed.

Over the past few months I’ve been working as a content moderator at a big tech company. My manager takes free speech very seriously, and we often have to stop and discuss things to figure out where the dividing line is based on our moderation policies, which themselves have gotten some revisions even in the short time I’ve been there. Which is a roundabout way of saying that I’m well aware that figuring this stuff out isn’t easy, and sometimes it can be agonizingly hard. On a purely legal level, OBS can allow or disallow whatever products they want, but obviously we want to talk about what’s morally right for them to do. In my view a company in their position–where they own a huge portion of a market–has an obligation to find the happy middle between permissiveness and responsibility. There’s a point at which even people who are relatively pro-censorship would find pulling products unfair and immoral (hypothetically, imagine them disallowing a product that satirized DTRPG), but also a point where something pushes boundaries to the point where we can legitimately make a case that it’s harmful and something they don’t want to be associated with.

Part of the problem with this current kerfuffle is that it came about because of something really extreme, which is why a lot of people found OBS’ delays in addressing it so galling. There are going to be times when you’re faced with really difficult edge cases that require calm, careful judgment, but regardless of where you stand on the issue, “Tournament of Rapists” isn’t the kind of thing that should require all that much deliberation one way or the other. Instead this is really more about what’s going to happen in the future, whenever something legitimately difficult to judge comes along, and at the very least they’re going to have something in place, even if it ultimately comes down to Steve Wieck and company eyeballing the product in question. Regardless, it is a point in their favor that they’ve at least been transparent about it. Larger companies have sometimes just disappeared violating content from their stores, sometimes even without giving the creator any notification at all, whereas OBS has now had products removed a grand total of two times (the other one being a card game based on A Certain Hashtag That We Will Not Name), with extensive explanations and discussion each time. (Though hopefully in the future we won’t have basically every single medium of RPG discussion clogged with stuff about it every time it comes up.)

Some publishers have taken this as a reason to outright stop selling through DTRPG. For me personally I think that although there are definitely aspects of this that don’t speak well of the company, for now it’s not enough so as to make me want to stop doing business with them. When I weigh things overall, I find that they’re still a well-meaning company that does in fact provide a good service for all concerned. They have a massive customer base (relatively speaking), helpful and responsive publisher support, good POD options, and an excellent array of backend tools going for them.

With all that said, what I do intend to do differently is to try out some other sales venues. While there’s a lot to like about OBS, I don’t think it’s good to pin too much of an entire medium on one site. Some people won’t want to go through DTRPG for one reason or another, sometimes the site will just plain be down, and I might find myself changing my mind about sticking with them in the future. Fortunately (on account of having been planning to sell through Amazon/CreateSpace from the start) I didn’t sign up as an OBS-exclusive publisher (the major benefit of doing so is a slightly higher royalty rate), since it turns out that if you want to switch to being non-exclusive they require six months notice (though that doesn’t sound terribly enforceable beyond their ability to kick you off of their own sites).

Figuring out which services are going to actually be worth using is a bit tricky though. Not unlike Steam, a lot of people find DTRPG appealing for its virtue of having their RPG PDF library all available in one place, and certainly being able to grab another copy of a PDF you paid for is a nice and even vital feature. I don’t want to spread across too many sites, partly just because I have enough different titles that the work involved starts to really add up, and partly because at a certain point it likely becomes an annoyance to customers. I have already started selling through Indie Press Revolution, but they already know me through Star Line Publishing, so not everyone is going to be able to have their products waltz onto IPR’s shelves. Sites like Gumroad and Payhip seem to be pretty easy to use and have the benefit of giving most if not all of the money from sales to publishers, but they’re very much built around you driving traffic to them rather than having a customer base that comes there to discover things. A few people have suggested itch.io, but as it stands now it’s first and foremost a site for independent video games, and although there are some tabletop games on there, they’re hard to find even if you set out to find them.

So… that’s where we are with that.

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