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For weeks now, we've been following the legal struggle between traditional RPG publisher, Palladium Books, and the up-and-coming MMO developer, Trion Worlds. The issue at hand? The rights to the title, "Rift" for a video game. I won't relive the whole saga here and now, but if you want to catch up, you can view all of the relevant posts about it here.
Today, we don't have a new development in the case, which is churning behind the scenes as we lead up to the September 10 court date. Instead, I wanted to talk a little bit about fan sentiment, and where we lovers of Palladium could potentially veer off into the realm of doing more harm than good. Recently I've seen it suggested around the Internet, in all its collective wisdom, that Palladium fans should boycott any and all products of Trion Worlds.
Not so fast, my friends. In my opinion, this is not the right course of action. Let's talk about it below the fold. Read on for more.
To begin with, let me be very plain on one count: you have every right to choose not to do business with Trion Worlds. In no way am I endorsing Trion's MMO, "Rift: Planes of Telera," or suggesting that you should support them. You're entitled to buy or not buy anything that you want, for any reason. If you don't like the font on the box art of a Trion game, then by all means, leave it on the shelf. Personally, I don't see myself playing any Trion games in the future, but I probably wouldn't in any case as I'm not big on MMOs.
What this posting about is an organized, publicized boycott by Palladium fans and supporters. Allow me to state my case against such an action, then I will gladly field any retort.
Boycott what, exactly?
So, Trion doesn't actually have any products on the market. This doesn't lessen their importance as a growing force in the computer gaming world, but it does somewhat diminish them as a target of financial retaliation.
Trion is funded by investors and a very sizable partnership with SyFy. The only product that they are currently pushing are the websites for the corporate body as well as its various in-development video games, but even boycotting those pages doesn't accomplish any sort of measurable strike against a perceived enemy. You can't even hurt them by impacting their web traffic numbers, since they don't sell ads on their sites.
Trion does do a great deal of online marketing by granting interviews to industry news sites and blogs, issuing press releases, publishing screen shots and test footage, etc. You could boycott the sites that carry such media, but ultimately that hurts people whose job is simply to bring you news and opinion about the gaming industry, and what does that accomplish? Nothing.
Whisper on a scream
I love Palladium, and as a freelance author, Palladium's well being is important to me, financially. Nobody, outside of the home offices in any case, wants Palladium to shake off this unfortunate episode and go on to prosper more than I do. However, for any sort of boycott to actually be effective, you have to have numbers on your side, and Palladium fans need to set emotion aside and understand the scope of things.
Trion's potential customer base is, what? A million people? It's at least a few hundred thousand subscribers. MMOs are big business, and Trion is a player in that big business, as evidenced by the $70 Million or so that Trion has collected in capital before they sold so much as a single copy of any game. How many people in that customer base are Palladium fans? How many are even tabletop role-players, at all?
For the last decade, at least, traditional tabletop role-playing has become a niche in the overall gaming market. Even at its peak it didn't dominate. Palladium is still important to the hobby in many ways, particularly Rifts. However, Rifts fans are not capable of breaking the back of Trion. That's not meant to be simply a negative or doomsaying outlook, but a fact of numbers. In order for a fan boycott of Trion Worlds to be successful, it must have the threat of negatively impacting Trion's bottom line in a measurable way, and it simply can't.
Again, you can choose how to spend your own money, and if Trion's use of the "Rift" title turns you off to the game, then by all means don't play for the game. You're well within your rights in that regard.
How we can help
Palladium has very, very loyal fans, and I'm proud to be one of them. I wouldn't be a gamer if it weren't for Palladium Books, much less an author and designer. While we throw our emotional support behind Palladium in the legal fight against Trion, let's not lose sight of the fact that we are fans. We're not Palladium's legal team. We're not the last hope in an epic fight against tyranny. We're gamers, and we support Palladium for all of the good times we've had playing TMNT, Heroes Unlimited, Beyond the Supernatural, Rifts, and a whole slew of other games.
The best way we can support Palladium is by practicing our love for these games and making some new memories. Dust off your copy of Ninjas and Superspies or go out and pick up Dead Reign. Start a game at your kitchen table or online. Palladium is doing everything that can be done in this legal fight. Let's try to get back to basics and support Palladium as fans.