The sort of disappointment that I pay good money for
As I hammer this post out, the Kickstarter campaign for the 20th Anniversary Mage tome is in its final hours. While I am looking forward to having this weighty book on my shelf, I wish I could say that I was happy about having pledged money to Onyx Path for the end product. At best, I’m in a state of perfect ambivalence.
I’ve already complained about many of the issues I have with Onyx Path. While I’m sure that their decision to partner with DriveThruRPG was bourne of their precarious status with CCP* and all the nonsense therein, none of the excuses make me any happier with the state of things. A good portion of this stated ambivalence comes with the understanding that the money that I’ve pledged is only going to come back to me at the point that I’ve already forgotten about why I wanted the book in the first place.
Onyx Path has become notorious about their inability to meet deadlines, to the point that they should be held up as a standard in why Kickstarters are not simply complicated pre-order mechanisms. So far, the worst offender has been the previous book in the 20th Anniversary World of Darkness Line, Werewolf, but that’s simply because everyone has likely given up on the vaporware that is Exalted 3rd Edition. (And when I manage to be able to write some words without frothing about this book, I will examine why it is possibly one of the biggest boondoggles available.)
Werewolf was blinding in its promises. The Kickstarter ran in October of 2012, with the presumptive delivery date scheduled for December. Yeah, it seemed unlikely at the time, but they’d been pretty prompt with the Vampire 20th that came out the year before. And they guaranteed that the book was all but finished at the time of the Kickstarter campaign, needing only to be printed and shipped. There was even a note in the Risks section that talks about how they wanted to promptly deliver the book to keep the backers from lynching them.
And … most of that was built on a foundation of either nonsensical optimism or outright lies.
The book ended up taking over a year to deliver in the first place, and there were massive problems with the delivery even then. From what I was able to glean from the Kickstarter updates, not only were packages ending up late or lost, but there were a lot of books that arrived damaged. But to be fair, shipping isn’t the main thrust of their business, so that comes off a bit like blaming the waitress for bad food. Everything that happened before that point, on the other hand… that rests squarely on the shoulders of Onyx Path.
Why exactly does a book that’s already got most of its art in place, all of the writing in place, and about half of the layout finished take fourteen months to arrive in the hands of its backers? Beats the hell out of me. It wasn’t as though the stretch goals added anything to the actual book itself. And the Hunters Hunted II Kickstarter which ran nearly four months later and offered 25,000 extra words as a Kickstarter goal was shipped in the same box as my Werewolf book.
What was particularly galling to many of the backers came in the form of cruel indifference. The Kickstarter for the Werewolf book sold it as being a ‘premium’ edition available only to those who pledged money. As it happened, the standard edition of the printed book was available through DriveThruRPG about eight months before the backers got their own copy from the Kickstarter. It didn’t have the leather cover, but that was about it. Essentially, if you wanted to have a physical book to game with, you were better off not pledging the money to the Kickstarter, since you didn’t have to wait as long and all you were out was the cover treatment. It might as well have been an X-Men comic from the mid-90’s, at this rate. You pay the extra money for the deluxe die-cut and foil treatment, but the guy who bought the normal non-collectable edition got all the same words. And it ain’t like these are likely to be worth any money in the long run, if we’re going to continue with the comics metaphor.
In the mean time, Onyx Path went ahead and started a new Kickstarter for the first supplement for W20, namely that of the Changing Breeds book. The Kickstarter ran in July of 2013, seemingly bourne aloft by the DriveThruRPG sales of the book they had yet to deliver to their backers. While the delivery estimations were a bit more modest in trying to claim a six month turnaround, they still assumed delivery before the W20 book actually delivered. To the credit of the backers, only about half the people that funded Werewolf 20th came out for the Changing Breeds book, and it netted less than a quarter of the returns that its predecessor managed.
But for whatever reason, the backers returned for the Mage 20th Anniversary Kickstarter. With ten hours remaining on the clock, they’re already edging towards twice the backers and twice the funding of Werewolf. I wish I could say that I was happy for them at being able to create a solid, wonderfully usable book for their audience, but it’s really hard to keep that kind of optimism afloat for more than a year.
Actually, the Kickstarter promises delivery in a year. Best check back with me in mid-2016, just to be safe.
* For those that are unfamiliar with White Wolf Publishing and their acquisition by CCP, here’s the basics. CCP, an Icelandic MMO developer known mainly for EVE Online, decided that they wanted to build a World of Darkness MMO to add to their stable. Rather than license it, they merged with White Wolf and shut down the RPG publishing division. Onyx Path was then formed by the guy who had served as White Wolf’s Creative Director, and they managed to get the licenses to publish RPG’s from the old properties. Confusing? Yeah. And in the meantime, the World of Darkness MMO is ‘delayed indefinitely’ due to EVE Online not making as much money as it should.
You would be right in asking why CCP had to go to such lengths to get hold of a property they’re probably never going to do anything with and destroying a perfectly viable RPG company in the process. And no answers are forthcoming.