April 7th, 2009


How to alienate customers and insult people

Or, Hasbro / Wizards of the Coast / TSR doesn't have a customer feedback email address listed on their website.

I trust that I won't be surprising you if I mention that I've played some Dungeons & Dragons in my lifetime. And that I'm of a nostalgic bent, which has led me to pick up some old copies of out-of-print game books. Not that I was in any particular hurry to pull out my D12s and attack a gelatinous cube while around my parents' kitchen table with my friends and some delivered pizza.

I assure you, I just like reading them. For the articles, as it were.

In the past few years, there have been a handful of websites that have sold PDFs of out-of-print titles, which I considered to be a little bit questionable, but so very convenient to scratch that particular itch.

Last night, or rather, this morning, about half past midnight, I got an email from one of these sites telling me that they'd stop selling PDFs from Wizards of the Coast as of 11:59 PDT on April 6th. I checked my computer's clock as I read that, and I checked the header - the mail hadn't been delayed, it was sent after the deadline. That seems a little sketchy, but I suspect that the e-commerce site in question was doing what it had to do based on WotC's directions.

I wrote up a cranky response email, but decided that replying to the middle man wasn't helpful.

I have since gone to wizards.com and tried to find a customer feedback email address, to register my enthusiasm for being told about their decisions on how to replace the service they shut down. Perhaps WotC would have their own in-house distribution of PDFs, generated from source material, and therefore a higher quality. I'd pay a premium for that.

Sadly, I could not find any customer feedback address on their site, though I did find an invitation to sign a terms of use agreement and post on their fora.

A little more investigation and it seems that WotC's decision might not have been motivated by the imminent launch of a new service of their own, but because they wanted to stop piracy.

I can certainly sympathize with the desire to collect a fair price for a good, but when a digital work exists, one can be sure that it will be pirated by some people. Shutting down the avenues for legitimate commerce in the good doesn't seem like it's an effective strategy for changing the behavior of those that weren't paying for the good to begin with. Indeed, I suspect that there will be some people who were willing to pay a small amount of money for the good when it was legitimately available, and now will find piracy to be the next best option.

As a corporation, Hasbro is within its rights to control the publication of its intellectual property, of course. And Hasbro owns Wizards of the Coast, and Wizards of the Coast acquired TSR, so that means that Hasbro controls the printing decisions of Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson's works from 30 years ago. That's the way it is. If they don't want to re-issue these works, that's their business decision. If they don't want other distributors to sell these works, they're legally empowered to shut down the sale. If they wanted to restrict the sale of books starting with 'P' to prime-numbered Tuesdays in months without a 'Y', they could do that, too. This, of course, resonates with my earlier gripes about DVDs coming in and out of circulation, and I am still not impressed with movie studios pulling classic films from NetFlix (the latest: "Gone With the Wind" is no longer available).

So, if you've got a copy of Eldritch Wizardry [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eldritch_Wizardry] that you'd like to unload, let me know.


One of my least favorite things is a web page that says "email us", when it really only offers you a form to fill out.

I've got a selection of email clients, all of which I find preferable to your web form. If you suggest that I can email you, give me an email address, and I can do the rest. If you're not giving me an email address, perhaps you could reword your page. "Type your comments here!" or "This is a form that will accept 200 characters worth of your ideas!"