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A few weeks ago, I noticed that a group called The Onyx Path is now the officially licensed producer of tabletop RPG products owned by White Wolf. Of course, White Wolf was bought up by CCP, the Iceland-based publisher of the computer game Eve Online, a number of years ago.

It was clear from the start that CCP was only interested in acquiring White Wolf’s World of Darkness property, especially after White Wolf pretty much stopped publishing anything. Of course, in the time the World of Darkness MMO has been in development, the Iceland economy tanked and FunCom announced, developed, released and was disappointed by the performance of its MMO The Secret World. I’m sure Secret World will go to free-to-play and then shut down its servers for lack of interest before CCP gets around to launching a World of Darkness MMO. We’ll see how it goes.

Tabletop roleplaying games are a dying breed, of course, and have been for years. With the transfer of the World of Darkness license to Onyx Path, I think we can say that that property has entered the niche market of RPG publishing, which makes it a niche market in an already niche market.

The only “mainstream” RPG publisher that remains is Wizards of the Coast, and the only RPG it publishes is, of course, Dungeons and Dragons. After the debacle that was 4th edition, Wizards has made a concerted effort to reconnect with D&D’s core audience in the development and promotion of 5th edition, dubbed D&D Next.

It sounds like Wizards has done two things with D&D Next. First, they’ve adopted — or readopted — much of the philosophy behind the development of 3rd edition in that they’re presenting Next as a framework gamers use to create whatever game they want. It was a pretty successful strategy not just for Wizards, but for the RPG industry in general. The D20 license rejuvenated the tabletop roleplaying hobby for years until it was basically killed by Wizards in preparation for 4th edition, in which Wizards appeared to want to return to the restrictive and proprietary practices of TSR before it went belly up.

Second, it sounds like Wizards is taking a page out of Paizo’s playbook. Paizo, as you may know, publishes the remarkably successfully RPG Pathfinder, which is basically just Dungeons and Dragons 3.5 with some revisions (it’s sometimes called D&D 3.75). Paizo has, in the words of one online commenter, eaten Wizard’s lunch. It’s hard to get good sales numbers, but the impression I’ve gotten the past few years is that Pathfinder sells better than D&D 4.

Of course, Paizo is still a niche publisher in my view because they only have the one product line. Oh, sure, they have some other stuff, but their bread and butter is Pathfinder. So, sure. Wizards looks at what Paizo is doing and telling themselves, “That’s what we should do.” It’s not exactly Apple vs. Samsung, but still, there’s a certain incestuous quality to it.

Meanwhile, Onyx Path appears to be following the path of Mark Miller with Far Future. I would call Mark’s efforts not just a niche market, but also a nostalgia market, as the only thing he’s doing is republishing the various editions of Traveller and the other GDW properties to which he has the rights. Sure, he has been working on Traveller 5, and that may actually come out sometime soon, but his efforts at the moment appear to be just keeping the property alive. Onyx Path has more people, and they’re also going to be putting out original content, but it looks like a goodly portion of their catalog is going to be electronic reprints of classic White Wolf releases, primarily Old World of Darkness. So, nostalgia.

It may very well be that nostalgia is the only thing that keeps the tabletop RPG hobby going. Computer games are getting better at recreating a genuine-ish RPG experience, and you can play them without having to do geeky things like learning a bunch of rules and, you know, reading.

Ah, well. We’ll see how it goes.

2 thoughts on “Roll to save

  1. Hi! Just thought I’d clear up some misconceptions in your post.

    Of course, White Wolf was bought up by CCP, the Iceland-based publisher of the computer game Eve Online, a number of years ago.

    CCP and White Wolf merged. The confusion comes because the resulting company was also called CCP, but it was a merger, not a buyout.

    It was clear from the start that CCP was only interested in acquiring White Wolf’s World of Darkness property, especially after White Wolf pretty much stopped publishing anything.

    CCP wanted to make new MMO out of the World of Darkness. White Wolf wanted to make the World of Darkness into an MMO. It seemed like a good fit. Many CCP employees have been and continue to be fans of White Wolf stuff outside of potential MMO properties.

    White Wolf has continued to publish since that time. We never stopped. A combination of factors meant that our release schedule wasn’t as robust as we’d have preferred for a while, but we never stopped.

    With the transfer of the World of Darkness license to Onyx Path, I think we can say that that property has entered the niche market of RPG publishing, which makes it a niche market in an already niche market.

    How so? I don’t see how the transfer of a license changes anything.

    Onyx Path has more people, and they’re also going to be putting out original content, but it looks like a goodly portion of their catalog is going to be electronic reprints of classic White Wolf releases, primarily Old World of Darkness. So, nostalgia.

    I think you misunderstand what the Onyx Path is.

    Almost our entire back catalogue is available in PDF already, and the whole thing is slowly getting converted into print-on-demand format. That’s nothing new (this was happening long before Onyx Path existed), and it helps drive down costs on the secondary market (have you seen the price for books like Dark Ages: Fae on eBay?).

    However, converting old stuff to PoD is not the main thrust of our business. It’s a perk. We’re producing new material (not reprints) for the Classic World of Darkness, the current World of Darkness, and Exalted. We also acquired the full rights to Scion and the Trinity Universe, and will be publishing new material for them. We’re also publishing new creator-owned properties like Russell Bailey’s Cavaliers of Mars.

    Seriously, look at our release schedule for Aug 2012-Aug 2013. It’s one of the best I’ve seen for years. 34 new products, only one of which (the Book of Nod) really counts as a reprint.

    1. Hi, Ian. Thanks for the comments.

      CCP and White Wolf merged.

      Yes, that’s true from a business perspective. However, when two companies merge and the merged company is called the same thing as the larger of the two and the company pretty much stops doing what the smaller of the two merged companies did, I’m sure you can understand why it appears to those of us on the outside that the big fish ate the little fish.

      Yes, CCP continued to publish items after the merger under the White Wolf imprint, but a fraction of the schedule White Wolf published before the merger, and most of it as PDFs rather than physical books. This gave the appearance that CCP was just burning through White Wolf’s existing contracts. I’m not saying that’s true — I’m just saying that’s what it looks like.

      I consider the tabletop WoD license going to Onyx Path a nostalgia project mostly because it is a license. (If the White Wolf imprint isn’t going to publish World of Darkness and other White Wolf properties, what is it going to do?)

      The thing about a license, of course, is that the people doing the work don’t own the product. A license can be canceled. Where will Onyx Path be if CCP cancels the license? Where will WoD fans be?

      Sure, OP has Trinity and Scion, now, and new IP, like Cavaliers of Mars. That’s great — except neither Trinity nor Scion were all that successful. And most new RPG properties, even back when tabletop games were more popular, failed to catch on with more than a niche audience.

      OP’s schedule for the next year is impressive and ambitious — and completely dependent on how successful the company is in the short term. If the products it puts out this fall don’t sell we’ll enough, how many of the products on the schedule for next fall actually show up?

      Of course, OP does have an experienced crew that has been doing this sort of thing for a while now. And who would have expected the merger of White Wolf Magazine and Lion Rampant to work as well as it did? I know I was skeptical, and I really liked Ars Magica.

      Well, here’s to Onyx Path. May they overcome many obstacles and achieve much lasting success.

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