Tuesday, September 1, 2015

RPGNow's Offensive "Offensive Content Policy"

RPGNow's take on censorship

OneBookShelf/RPGNow/DriveThruRPG can take a flying leap into a pool full of razor blades.
Here's the email I sent to some poor support personnel of theirs in response to their new policy, that allows random users to flag titles on their sites as "offensive", and get that title suspended from sale.

"I received a troubling email today, informing me that OneBookShelf companies will begin censoring products that are flagged as "offensive."

I want to go on record as a customer who will immediately delete my RPGNow and DriveThruRPG accounts the split second that a single title, ANY title, is censored in this way on your sites. Even if it's a product that I don't personally like. 

Quite frankly, it has always been easier, and free, for consumers to pirate copies of the titles sold on your sites. I maintain my accounts in order to financially reward the creators for their efforts. The moment that you turn against those creators, ignoring the First Amendment in favor of a few mewling crybabies, is the moment that you have lost my business forever. If they don't like the product, no one is forcing them to buy it. Why on earth should they be able to censor its existence on a marketplace?

I'm sure that I won't be the only person whose business you lose should you continue down this cowardly path."

Here's the post from OneBookShelf about their new policy. Their CEO, Steve Wieck, makes some fine points about people pushing the envelope. I don't care about any of those points. Censorship is censorship is censorship. You censor, you lose my business. Period.

MonkeyBlood Design made the brilliant comment: "Seriously, why not have an offensive flag as well as adult content. Job done, no arbitrary vetting, no capitulation." Which sounds like a happy compromise to me, but we'll see how things turn out.

So, guys, who wants to start up a competing digital content sales site that has no problem with "objectionable" content? Looks like we'd be getting a lot of business in the near future...


  1. The First Amendment only applies to (against) the government.

    1. And now that I think about it, I'm not sure this counts as censorship, either. The author is free to offer his product, unedited and uncensored, anywhere else. We can assume a right to free expression, but not a right to unfettered publishing. And as long as we're talking rights and freedoms, OBS's choice to enact this policy is also "freedom of speech" along with, I suppose, your right to stop shopping there. Everybody's free. Nobody's rights are infringed.

  2. And? A rose by any other name would still smell as *AdjectiveRedacted*.

  3. Yeah, this has no bearing on the First Amendment. And last time I went to Walmart I wasn't able to buy a car...because they choose not to sell them.

  4. Yeah, this has no bearing on the First Amendment. And last time I went to Walmart I wasn't able to buy a car...because they choose not to sell them.

  5. There very much needs to be an alternate PDF distributor for the vile drek of the industry. It's not remotely censorship; it's the right of any vendor to curate their product. If I owned a knick-knack shop at the beach, I'd absolutely be within my rights to say, "No, I don't want to carry your well-crafted statues of satyrs raping children. I understand you think its artistic, but I don't like the kind of customers who show up for that sort of thing, and it drives my other customers away."

  6. Yes, as others above have said: this is not censorship, it is a publisher picking and choosing among the books he is willing to publish based on their content. In this particular case, we have a publisher who already exercises quite a bit of content-based discretion in his choice of books to publish: for example, I believe they will only publish books that meet their standards for being "RPG" products.

    Anonymous above makes an apt analogy to the current situation: certain types of book may attract the sort of customer whom other customers tend to find off-putting. When I shop at the RPGNow shop, for example, I generally expect user reviews to reflect consumers with priorities roughly analogous to my own -- if the site were suddenly inundated with consumers whose priorities were starkly at odds with my own and whose reviews were premised, say, on the extent to which a given product conforms to a certain set of political or religious views of the reviewer, I would no longer be able to rely on the reviews and the store would be less appealing to me as a venue in which to compare and purchase products.

    In the words of The Dude: Walter, this isn't a First amendment thing.

  7. It's not a first amendment thing, but it is high hypocrisy and insulting to their customers. rpgs these days are only slightly outside the mainstream, but in the not too distant past they were attacked, banned, censored, and vilified.

    This is a hobby built on imagination and collaborative creation - if you want something guaranteed not to offend then you have the vast majority of popular mass media to keep you amused.

  8. I VERY much regret using the term "First Amendment" in the third paragraph of my email above, because that's all anyone seems to want to address. I hereby concede that I misused that terminology. I now return you to the actual issue, with semantic arguments pushed aside.

  9. Matthew Skail and Picador, no, the analogy of a physical shop is not an apt one. OBS isn't a brick & mortar store, and there's no skeevy-looking customer standing next to you when you shop there. As far as reviews go: In this age of social media, you can easily pay people and bots around the world a pittance to write positive reviews of your products, and "like"/"upvote" you on any site, so anyone making purchasing decisions based on user reviews falls under the category of "There's a sucker born every minute."

    What OBS DOES have is a great number of small press publishers, even those who have their own e-commerce sites and physical publishing businesses, who will take a huge financial loss without the sales at OBS. As has already been pointed out, Lulu and other digital media distributors don't specialize in RPG products. So, they don't get even remotely the same number of hits on their sites from people interested in our hobby. The largest of these publishers will be severely economically hindered in producing innovative, new products. The smaller publishers will simply die.

    As Jason Messer pointed out, this is all 100% legal. That does not make it 100% right.