Friday, October 27, 2006

Patronage - Egotism or the Public Good?

So I was a proud contributor to Wolfgang Bauer's first Open Design Project, "Steam & Brass." I haven't played D&D in years now, but I do my best to stay up on the latest news in the gaming community. As a student of copyright and IP alternatives, when I came across Wolfgang's proposal to craft an adventure/sourcebook/etc. selected by a handful of paying patrons, who would also get to critique the product as it was drafted and provide guidance in regards to it final form, I was intrigued. In researching topics for a law school paper I had briefly touched on the idea of returning to a patronage model as an alternative to our stressed copyright system. Thus getting to participate in the execution of such a model - though admittedly on a much smaller scale - was enough to prompt my Paypal payment. Receiving an exclusive module, written by an industry veteran, that credits me was just an added bonus. Or so I thought.

As the first project must have been something of a success, Wolfgang has embarked on a second, which I have once again contributed to. This time, the response has been much greater. Whether it be a greater awareness of the project by the "press" element of the industry, chatter on forums or envious group members who have been eyeing their DM's copy of Steam & Brass, Wolfgang has received a greater response than he did at this time in the first project. Apparently, several of these new patrons, having missed out on S&B, have inquired about the possibility of buying that module. This obviously poses something of a dilemma for Wolfgang. Obviously, the potential for new sources of profit are extremely enticing. However, this project was launched to test the viability of a patronage model, which by its very definition assumes financial support, either in full or enough to prompt iniative, up front. The alternative, creating a product with the hopes that people will buy it after completion is essentially the traditional commercial model.

In what I felt was a very classy move, Wolfgang posed this dilemma to us, the initial patrons. While my first thought was to echo what many others have said - the more people able to get their hands on the work and thereby foster future works is a good thing - I've since begun to rethink that stance. Academically, as noted above, allowing latecomers to purchase the product deviates from the concept of a true patronage model. Of course, while this was an experiment on Wolfgang's part, I recognize that this is a source of income for him and academic implications are probably a distant second, or non-existant, concern.

My second, and less lofty, reason for questioning distribution stems from the slight twinge of irritation I feel when considering distribution to late-comers. As I noted above, having an exclusive product was originally only an added bonus. The possibility of having that exclusivity diluted, no matter by how little, irks me. I realize this is an irrational and selfish response, and I'd like to stress that I'm normally a very community-oriented individual. However, this response really isn't all that suprising when one considers the intent behind historic patronage systems. The wealthy benefactors of the arts didn't commission works for distribution to the public, but to own something unique. The inclusion of these works in museums where all could behold them was a later development. Sure there were privately funded works for the "public good" - one merely need look at the frescoes adorning any a number of European cathedral walls - but these were just as much a marketing tool for the family name than anything else.

While I found supporting this experiment rewarding, at the end of the day it is the possession of something unique that vindicates my decision to be a patron. Sure, the product is of outstandingly high quality, but the reality is that I could only hope for such a result when I first made payment. I was taken with Wolfgang's vision, shared that vision, and decided to take a risk - even if nominal - to see it through. Allowing latecomers to benefit from the gamble of early investors seems somewhat wrong.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Just Don't Do It

Forgot something I wanted to mention in that last post. Girls/ladies, what the hell are you doing this fall? This style of spandex tight leggings or sloppy sweat pants tucked into obscenely large, often gaudily fur-trimmed, boots is hideous. Compounding the affront is the fact that it appears to be the de facto uniform here in Ann Arbor. I can only hope that this abomination of style hasn't appeared along the banks of the ol' Red Cedar.

Speaking of which, how about that game last weekend? 38 unanswered points?! Largest come-back win in D1A history?! Frickin' beautiful. Of course, we never should have gotten that far behind against Northwestern in the first place, but watching Drew run that hurry-up offense was liking watching a skilled conductor. If I could recommend anything to Dave Baldwin, it would be to go no-huddle from play one. Go Green!

Ornery and Proud of It!

Yesterday's edition of the Michigan Daily - the University of Michigan's excuse for a daily rag - contained what I can only guess was supposed to be the heartwarming story of a life-long, San Fancisco-based, Tigers fan who was joyous to find his favorite team in the World Series during his tenure as a Michigan undergrad. I can understand his emotions. It's been 22 years and a new stadium since we've seen our boys of summer in the fall classic. Detroit has fallen on economic woes that we thought were only characteristic of our extended relatives up in Flint and it's good to have at least one community-binding positive to cheer for. The Steelers arguably achieved their cult-like status in Pittsburgh under similar circumstances.

But what bothered me about this article was the perspective from which it was written. A fan from San Francisco? I mean, I'm sure they exist, but the Tigers aren't exactly the Yankees. Or the Cowboys. Or the Lakers. Or Notre Dame. Or any other team that has made a profession out of marketing themselves as "America's Team." And Detroiters like it that way. The infotainment, entertainment and pseudo-legitimate news sources of our nation have used Detroit as the easy joke for years now and, under such a barrage, Detroiters have stopped hating each other long enough to circle the wagons. We hate bandwagon fans. We love that you dismiss our city's gems when casually disparaging it as a dump. And we want you to root for the other team, no matter who they are, so we can stand even more defiantly proud when the Tigers take it all.

Oh, and to my non-existant readers, sorry for the disappearance. I'm back, with a whole new bag of rants.