Friday, June 25, 2010

What Palladium Should Be Doing Today



It's been a legal-intensive week for me. I've spent the greater portion of it serving on a jury, hearing a very difficult and complicated criminal case. One side effect of being so occupied is that I haven't been here on the blog quite so much, meaning that I have not been able to comment on the latest in what started out as Palladium Books vs. Trion Worlds, but is now actually the other way around since Trion filed its lawsuit in California last week.

To briefly recap, the whole fuss is about whether or not Palladium Books, publisher of the traditional "pen and paper" Rifts RPG, has a valid and applicable trademark over the term "Rift" as the title of a "massive multiplayer online" RPG. There are various shades and nuances of the case, but that's what it comes down to, more or less. If you want all of the facts, I'll refer you over to livingdice.com, where Trask has done an excellent job tracking the story. For more information and for my thoughts on the issue as a Rifts RPG author, you can view those posts here.

Today we sit together at our electronic table to talk about what Palladium should be doing in the months leading up to its newly-assigned court date of September 10, 2010. I don't mean what it should be doing in terms of legal preparations or filing motions or conducting lawyering in general, but what Palladium should do to as a game-producing company as it awaits its day in court. I've spent some time thinking it over, and here is what I've come up with. Read on for more.



Make money

I raise this point first because it permeates the entire issue, and everything else that I will mention as I throw my various ideas against the wall. Cash is very important. Trion has a lot of it. Palladium Books has very little. While Palladium is obligated to protect its trademarks or risk losing them, that fight is for nothing if it bankrupts Palladium in the process. Whatever Palladium does in the next few months, it had better generate as much income as possible.

Publish the easy ones

In the six weeks or so from the time the legal actions first went underway, Palladium has produced ZERO books. This is a company that writes books as its only actual product, Rifts-branded pocket calculators, holiday art prints, and "deals in the works" all aside. At least half of the hard work has been done already, as there are many completed manuscripts sitting in the Palladium offices waiting for some attention.

Editing is a long and painstaking process, for sure. Some of the manuscripts in the pipe are certainly going to be hard to work up, need extensive rewrites, or might not even be fit for publication. However, Palladium has perhaps a dozen such manuscripts from which to choose, many of which are from experienced, competent writers with a vast Palladium history and great track record. Regardless of what the release schedule says, these are the books that must see the light of day first. Why? Because they can be churned out the fastest. This is now a volume game. Besides, I don't think that now is the time to start stressing over release schedules.

In interest of full disclosure, one of these said books is my manuscript for Chaos Earth: First Responders. This book is relatively short, its contents have been generally reviewed by Palladium, and I took care of many time-eating editorial aspects, myself; you have no idea how long it takes to put metric conversions into a sourcebook, but they're all in there. My book isn't the only one, however. There are others that can be cranked out more easily than others.

Robotech, anyone?

Palladium is paying good money for the use of the Robotech license; exactly how much money, I have no clue, but even if it were a $100 gift card to Arby's, it's still something that was acquired and utilized brilliantly for a brief period. However, when was the last Robotech book published? The Masters Saga came out in March of 2009, meaning that we're now well over a year without a release on this license. That wouldn't necessarily be the end of the world, but there is a manuscript for UEEF Marines lurking about the office, waiting for the caring touch of a red pen and, ultimately, the printer.

Producing a Robotech book, particularly by fan-favorite former Palladium author, Jason Marker, would definitely give sales a boost, as it services an existing audience with good source material. Hopefully, it would spark a few extra copies of the core RPG and other sourcebooks to come off the shelves as well. Robotech is a niche, to be sure, and it won't bring Palladium back from the brink on its own, but it certainly couldn't hurt.

Marker is at Origins this weekend, by the way, and I've heard it's kinda slow there this year. Stop by and play in his WWII All Flesh Must Be Eaten game or his Cold War Mutants and Masterminds session, and tell him that he needs to blog more because mine is sooooo much better. Let's make it a contest, at least!

Bring on the developers

Much of Trion's case against Palladium is that, while Palladium holds the Rifts video game trademark, it has fallen out of use (or was invalid to begin with) and is therefore forfeit. Palladium has many times over had developers interested in doing a Rifts video game of some sort, even beyond the disappointing Promise of Power for the Nokia N-Gage. Now is the time to throw the doors open and let the scavengers of the video game development world have at the Rifts license.

Nobody wants to see the fine name of Rifts muddied by inferior products, but this could very well be Palladium's only chance to establish itself as a legitimate player in the video game realm. Developers are sure to be cautious about getting involved with a Rifts deal with the Trion legal actions underway, so the days of fans dreaming about a deal with Bioware or Blizzard or some top-notch outfit have to be ended. It seems prudent to me that Palladium would allow anyone that could get a game into development quickly to get the license to do so, and cheap.

There are signs of a positive step in this direction, as Palladium has announced that it's in some talks to have another party develop games for Facebook or various mobile platforms, such as the iPhone. It's not sexy, but it's something. I certainly hope that Palladium works that out.

And other stuff

I'm sure I've missed some things, which I'll be happy to discuss if you'll bring them up. Whatever they decide to do, I certainly hope it works out. After all, what would the world be like without Rifts? The real Rifts, I mean.

7 comments:

Citizen Lazlo said...

I think you hit all the nails square on the head.

Rosh Vagari said...

I think you hit the nail on the head for what Palladium should have been doing for the past ten years.

Jmacq1 said...

As a Palladium fan, this is pretty worrisome to me. It really sounds like Trion could effectively destroy Palladium by forcing them to spend all their capital in court costs, stripping them of their trademark for video games (which derails a significant portion of future plans), and once that happens, and they're suddenly unable to publish books (due to not having the money to do so) how long before Trion swoops in and declares their print trademarks to be invalid because they're not publishing anything?

Kevin may well have bitten off more than he can chew...or received some very poor advice from whatever lawyer(s) he's consulting with.

Then again, if he'd left well enough alone it's possible that when they DID try to make a "Rifts" video game Trion would have come along and sued them into the ground anyway.

Those that have the gold truly make the rules.

Jason Richards said...

--how long before Trion swoops in and declares their print trademarks to be invalid because they're not publishing anything?--

From my very rudimentary understanding of the case, I don't think that this is a danger. While Trion has certainly been aggressive, I don't think I would classify their actions as "nasty." The venom with which they speak about Palladium and its products seem to me to simply be a case of "that's how it is."

And, more to the point, Trion's claims against Palladium's Rifts trademark for video games is based on the fact that 1) they say it was obtained fraudulently, and 2) even if it is a legit trademark, it has never been substantially used and is therefore forfeit. Those things are certainly not true for a Rifts trademark for books, comics, and game manuals.

Helmsman said...

One thing I wish Palladium would do is publish a new system. Even Rifts Ultimate Edition is still using the 20-something year-old basic system with very few changes from the original. Modern RPG's have made some significant advancements in system design over the years, and while I think there are elements of Palladium's system that would serve some of these new games and certainly more games should adopt the easy-to-read literary style. But rules-wise the system has no nuance as-far-as skill use goes.

Honestly, I have some appreciation that Palladium hasn't chosen to go like so many other companies and revise their game every 5 years to exploit their fans pocketbooks, but at this point a great deal of their fans are crying for it. They could even switch up the setting some too. Rifts was inspired by a lot of great cultural icons, but there have been tech and pop culture conventions that have come up since. An offshoot of the setting that explored some of these would be cool.

Steve Dubya said...

I remember that the question came up on the Palladium boards as to what would happen to the company if Kevin got hit by a bus or something, and the response was that there was a plan to keep things going. This might be time to implement this plan.

Having multiple books in production/release will drive sales, which means more income. Even if only one other person was able to work in parallel for getting items released, this would double the output. Obviously the person who would fit best into such a slot would be Wayne, so perhaps the Rifter would need to be scaled back to a semiannual to allow for this.

This would also allow for Kevin to focus on the legal/business aspects of the company without having to concurrently worry about the missed release date du jour.

Unless something like this gets done, I see MAYBE two books released by the time the lawsuit hits the courts, which will only slow things down further. As September is apparently a historically slow month as it is, not to mention the fact that it would likely be around the timeframe for the X-mas grab bag sales to once again kick off, this would be further adverse pressure on the schedule.

Steve Dubya said...

And now knowing that Kevin is ALSO going to have to deal with the knowledge that his father's cancer has returned (and dealing with the emotional possibilities from that), it would seem even more imperative that he not be the sole one that can "clear books for takeoff."

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