Dungeon Contraband

Saturday, May 31st, 2008

With Wizards of the Coast due to release the latest version of Dungeons & Dragons on June 6, Klaus Kneale of Forbes discusses Dungeon Contraband:

There have been blog entries about game prototypes, excerpts from the books, interviews with developers and sample adventures. Fans have devoured every morsel. ENWorld.org, a Web site that has covered everything about the release since it was announced August last year, is logging 10 million visits a month.

And fans have been taking notes. Careful notes. Andrew White, a 31-year-old in Calgary, Canada, compiled every rule and statistic mentioned in those tidbits and published his own “4th Edition Pre-Release Rules Compilation” reference. White’s project turned into a massive engineering feat itself, going through 12 revisions involving 40 people, and consuming at least 150 hours of White’s life. He released an 86-page final version on Thursday. In his spare time, White is working on a doctoral degree in archeology.

Even worse for Hasbro, just before midnight Wednesday, scans of the books appeared online, too. They weren’t homebrewed rip-offs like the Chinese editions of Harry Potter — the muttering online is that they were stolen copies of the electronic printing proofs, grabbed when the manuscripts were sent to the printer in March. The clue: Some of the contraband pages have prepress design symbols and a notation that dates the files to 10 days before Wizards announced they had sent the final product off to the printer.

Wizards spokesperson Tolena Thorburn confirmed that the leaked online editions are real. “We are fairly confident that we’ve identified where the leak occurred, and are moving forward on handling it appropriately.” The fairly specific nature of the material no doubt left a clear trail to this particular rogue.

Despite the free copies circulating, fans are buzzing on the Web about their plans to buy the books anyway. The purloined copies have even won a few new customers for Wizards: some bloggers who feigned disinterest in the fourth edition now say that the illegal copies have convinced them to buy the new version.

And then there are the slipups. Buy.com shipped out a chunk of the books pre-release. No more than 100 (less than 10% of Buy.com’s total preorders for the books) shipped before the error was caught. But the lucky fans who got their copies early have been boasting about their treasure.

Buy.com’s vice president of marketing, Jeff Wisot, says his team is investigating whether there was a miscommunication over the publishing date. “The parties involved have been dealt with and there are consequences for breaking the street date,” wrote Scott Rouse, senior brand manager for Dungeons & Dragons, in an online forum.

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