Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Are Out of Print D&D Products Abandonware?

Over at Chgowiz's old guy RPG site he is asking if he can keep moving forward with his Ultima RPG project without EA coming down on him in a legal fashion. The interesting thing is that Ultima has been considered Abandonware for several years now. EA does not seem to kick up a fuss about games that really don't play into the profit margin, and this is pretty much the definition of Abandonware:
Abandonware refers to computer software that
is no longer sold or supported, or whose copyright ownership may
be unclear for various reasons. While the term has been applied largely to
older games, other classes of software are sometimes described as such.

So the recent actions of Wizards of the Coast creates a situation very similar to Abandonware. They are no longer supporting those games and they no longer make a profit off of them (though they easily could). Ryan Dancy (whose brand manager energy and foresight made 3.x a very successful game) makes the following point in the comments over at RPG Pundits Blog:

PDF? Causes endless problems with hardcopy partners creating pressure on
sales team they could really do without, and revenues are so small as to be
non-strategic. Cut it.

The revenues from the PDFs of old titles are probably considered non-strategic and thus we may never see them again. However, googleing D&D torrent will show that they are all over the internet, abandoned never again to make significant income for the copyright holder. Abandonware.


Michael S/Chgowiz said...

The whole issue of trademarks (as D&D is still technically a trademark, from what I understand, owned by WotC) and IP is really unclear.

I know that's why the OGL gave a lot of freedom with regards to D&D, which is why although one could consider the older versions abandonware, it's also an actively guarded trademark and things get murky. I don't know that just because WotC hasn't released new material for 1E makes 1E separate, in IP/trademark, from 4E.

I'm not a lawyer so I have no clue. I just don't need EA lawyers base-camping on me.

I'm about 99% sure I'm going to do this as fan material, based on Swords/Wizardry Whitebox. I think the worse that could happen, with a freely available/no cost item, I would only get a C&D.

If I were trying to repackage 1E D&D (trademarked) without the OGL because I thought it abandonware? That just makes me shudder. :D

Kevin Mac said...

I play a lot of older Playstation and XBOX games (I buy everything used, years after they are released), and I have never heard the term "Abandonware."

I likes having illumination laid on me.

I hope you keep going at it, Chgowiz, and risk that C&D. Or Lord English showing up at your door in a Ren Faire outfit with his broadsword out.

Michael S/Chgowiz said...

I hope you keep going at it, Chgowiz, and risk that C&D. Or Lord English showing up at your door in a Ren Faire outfit with his broadsword out. It might be worth doing it just for that possibility. I'd so Youtube that.

thekelvingreen said...

Brunomac, you have to look a bit further back than the PS1 for your abandonware, and consoles are not usually a fertile source. If you have a look around the 8-bit or 16-bit computer games, you'll find more.

JimLotFP said...

Abandonware may be a practical concept, but I do not believe it is in any way a legal concept. All these companies could clamp down if they cared to. I guess a lawyer would clear that up quick.

What I do know is that a Cease and Desist notice is not an indication that you've done anything wrong or infringed on any intellectual property, it just means somebody wants you to think you have and wants you to go away. It doesn't automatically mean a lawsuit is coming if you ignore it.

But it might.

JimLotFP said...

(and I just noticed this is three months old. :P)

Steamtunnel said...

Thanks for bringing it back up Jim! I have a followup on this but posting has been a bit slow lately.

Anonymous said...

no, those products are not abandonware. abandonware normally is software that is not supported anymore. but as long as wotc (or anyone) is in active business and are still holding and defending the trademarks to those old products one can simply not call this stuff abandonware.they always might try to sell those products again. (the software part in my opinion being ANY support to any related rule system they are producing right now... windows 3.1 doesn't become abandonware just because nobody uses it anymore, microsoft still uses the name and concept to bring out new products...)
now, the problem with abandonware is that it really is no legal principle, the idea came about because of the situation software is in: it technically is written word (the sourcecode) so it is under the same restrictions copyrightwise as other written works are. the problem with that is: software that is not supported, or which even is written for systems which are out of date and not in use anymore, still is under copyright. nobody will care to publish that anymore even if this software is of some other value (like it being the very first game of THAT special genre....).
One cannot actually extend that to printed products, no matter how nice that would be. The rights still are somewhere, and they still might be able to put those products out in some way (as, as far as I know, wotc just did until very recently when they closed their pdf store...)
basically d&d products are books. and books can't be abandonware.

and in any case, abandonware is just a term for "they won't sue us because nobody is going to make money with that game anyway", while the same with old d&d products would be: "they will sue us because"

Anonymous said...

Yeah this is less about "abandonware" and more about IP duration. Intellectual property laws like copyright are supposed to provide a balance between short and long. A short copyright means the creator has little incentive to create, since he will lose ownership of his work soon after making it, and he won't be able to make money on it. A long copyright means the work never enters the public domain, which means society fails to benefit from it as a creative seed. This holds true for all kinds of intellectual property.

So we should have a balance: not too long, not too short. But instead, we have a very long copyright duration that favors creators and shuts out the rest of society. Every time the copyright duration for Mickey Mouse is about to come up, Disney corp lobbies to extend copyrights. Every time they succeed, and because of that it's possible that nothing made after Mickey will ever fall out of copyright.