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Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Reposting an Email - DriveThruRPG's New Content Policy (and some comments from myself)

I finally saw this email when I rolled outa bed this morning. What Matt McElroy details is far from a perfect solution to the past weekend's drama. I don't think there IS a perfect solution to address products like Tournament of Rapists (which judging from the title and the description that was included with the product posting, I'm beginning to think the author's intent was very much a "Troll" release - he just got WAY more reaction than expected.) Status quo wasn't going to work for OBS's business model so we knew change was coming. I suspect the content policy and the policing of it will change as OBS get's a handle on things.

Now, for all this talk of censorship I see being thrown around - OneBookShelf has the right to publish or not publish as it see's fit. I really don't see a problem with them refusing to distribute a product that they find to be offensive. Do I think their solution to the issue that is detailed below is going to work? I suspect there will be abuse of the system. I expect the system will change over time in response to such abuse. And I really hope Stewart remembers to stay away from social media in times of crisis.
At DriveThruRPG, we trust publishers to upload and activate their own
new releases without anyone at DriveThru reviewing the product before
it goes public. Because this system worked so well for the past 14
years, we had no need to create an "offensive content guideline.” To
avoid anything approaching censorship, we simply adhered to an
unwritten policy of not banning any RPG product. 
There is, however, a growing problem. Sometimes, RPG creators design
content that goes beyond disturbing. For example, we recently — and
rightly — received criticism for selling an RPG supplement called
"Tournament of Rapists" for four days on our marketplace. 
In hindsight, we realize that we should have suspended that product
from sale immediately, pending further internal review and discussion
with the publisher. For a variety of reasons, we relied on our
standing policy of not banning RPG titles, even in the face of a
product so offensive that the policy was inadequate. We understand
that we were wrong to do so. 
A New Policy 
It is time to change the approach we have used on DriveThru. Our prior
stance, that "censorship is unacceptable," was tantamount to shirking
our responsibility. As market leaders, we are in a position that
requires us to be leaders also in keeping the RPG hobby inclusive and
safe. 
We do not believe there is any set of bright-line rules that
adequately define what content is offensive, so going forward, our
offensive content policy will simply be as follows: We'll know it when
we see it. 
We will tend to err toward including content, even where it challenges
readers and deals with sensitive issues, as long as it does so
maturely and not gratuitously. Any product in which racial violence,
rape, torture, or a similar subject is a treated as a central feature
will be subjected to careful scrutiny. 
We will also code customer-facing options that allow customers to
report potentially offensive content to us. If a reported product
seems questionable, we will suspend it from sale, pending a full
internal review of its content. 
We appreciate all of our customers and publishers, who have been
patient with us while we examined our policies and processes. Thank
you for giving us the benefit of the doubt; like you, we are human
beings trying to do the best thing. Like everyone, we sometimes make
mistakes along the way. We will strive to learn from those mistakes. 
For more information, please see our CEO Steve Wieck's post on our blog here:
http://oneblogshelf.blogspot.com/2015/09/offensive-content-policy.html

17 comments:

  1. I totally agree with people who own companies can run them the way they want to (to a degree), and conversely the consumers can choose to shop or not shop from specific vendors. I think the real problem here, that I really haven't seen but one other person address (including, myself, until now), is the apparent monopoly on the online .pdf and pay-to-print market that OBS became by pretty much allowing anybody to sell whatever just as long as they got a piece of the pie. My concerns about this OBS situation is twofold: 1)how a small group can get online and raise ruckus to force business' to their views; and 2) concerns that were raised by J.Raggi about LotFP prodcuts in particular, as an example. In my opinion, OBS has been perceived as the Librium where all writings can be stored/bought. However, they are not, they're a business. 8')

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  2. The mountainous mole hill has been created and leveled with a nuclear weapon. People who were outraged over this ridiculous and over the top Tournament of Rapists book (read it, you'll see how ludacris it is) now are going to see a flood of books be banned from DTRPG because someone, some where, will get offended by something and the book gets flagged and removed and then the author must fight to get it reposted.

    I hope that authors continue to post provocative and bizarre content (look at chtulutech or Eclipse Phase both dip heavily into adult themes) that pushes the boundaries of normalcy so that we as a consumer have many more options and not limited to the status quo.

    Worse comes to worse other PDF brokers will begin selling this content and we have a new competitor. I'm equally fine with that. Hell, I hope D20PFSRD starts selling Otherverse books just because.

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    1. Except the policy clearly states it doesn't work that way. Read the policy, if a product is flagged somebody looks at it and if they see something questionable then they remove it for review. There is a human step in there and judging by the few folks I know who work for OBS they probably aren't going to put somebody who will dump anything that gets a flag.

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    2. Their posted policy makes clear that the report button will automatically suspend a product until an OBS staffer can examine it. It's not just a flag, it's a heckler's veto until some poor wretch of a staffer can read the book. And it will be used exactly as miserably as you would expect such a thing to be used on the Internet.

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    3. "We will also code customer-facing options that allow customers to
      report potentially offensive content to us. If a reported product
      seems questionable, we will suspend it from sale, pending a full
      internal review of its content. "

      If a product seems questionable is the key part there. Which means somebody has to give it a quick look. Then if it's something like 'Rapist Guide to Halfing Women' they will likely pull it for a full review.

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  3. Looking at the crazy amount of fuss over ToR I once again I see evidence of people with insufficient strife in their lives. My life is complicated. I game (tabletop, board and computer) to get away from the difficulties in my life. I don't need to run a ToR in my D&D campaign, nor does it strike me as a good premise for a fun game to play. So I ignore it so I can spend my limited free time seeking out enjoyable things. I normally wouldn't bother to post a response to such a dust up, but it seems that the dust up has the potential to reach out of the world of foolishness and interfere with my acquisition of products to supplement my D&D and other RPG interests. That sucks. I wish folks without problems in their lives would hit themselves in the head with hammers and leave the rest of us alone.

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  4. I know police are usually very concerned about civil liberties and freedom of expression, but the guy says in his opening that "If we were to ban an RPG product, the de facto result is very much like censorship." Indeed offensiveness was the only criteria used here, not divulging state secrets or recipes on how to make ANFO bombs. Note that you can order racist hate literature (eg. Mein Kampf) and the Anarchist's Cookbook off of everyone's favorite online store, and somehow no-one's organized a campaign to 'shut them down' either.

    Books are allowed to be whatever they are. I don't know why RPG books aren't. Are we admitting that they're for children only?

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    1. You must always ALWAYS THINK OF THE CHILDREN(tm). Or else you are an evil rapist nazi racist psychopath.

      That's what social media tells me anyway

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  5. The issue I see is that anyone who is offended by a specific person...can report any of their products as offensive...which pulls the product from sale. I'm thinking of any SJW vs a few choice targets. This is dangerous territory.

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    1. Except that it doesn't. Read the policy, if a product is flagged somebody looks at it and if they see something questionable then they remove it for review. There is a human step in there and judging by the few folks I know who work for OBS they probably aren't going to put somebody who will dump anything that gets a flag.

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  6. They already sell adult material on another part of their site. Are they going to go after Lamentations of the Flame Princess? If not, this is mere posturing. I will trust a store owner to divide between adult material and that which is suited for the general public. Other than that, people should be free to buy what they want. Puritans can shut the Hell up! I trust no one to censor for me. If I don't like it, I won't buy it.

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  7. Well, there is "censorship," and then there is the "successful business model." Even Amazon and eBay don't allow ANYTHING to be sold. Some stuff that some may find offensive, true, but the truly bad stuff gets pulled. I can see DTRPG/OBS morphing into a similar model. Hell, it worked for the big guys, why not...

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  9. A lot of people are worried about the buyers abusing a new report function, and that's fair. I do think it's a good idea to look at the other side of the equation (the sellers) as well. As it stands, a no-talent hack can throw together a piece of shit, deliberately give it an offensive title, and try to make some sales off of a thoroughly manufactured controversy. I consider that kind of tactic to be abusing the system as much as anything buyers could do. I'm not sure that anything can be done about it though.

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  10. Given this is the second time in 12 months for this expect more. Also, expect the definition of offensive after the once over to depend very heavily on:

    1. Who is offended...
    2. At whom.

    If Fred Hicks is offended it isn't going to matter if your game is "Kittens are Cute". If you're offending by "The Pimp, the Protester, and the Po-Po" (http://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/95579/ROLF-The-Pimp-the-Protester-and-the-PoPo) you'll be SoL because it was up there the same time Evil Hat got GamerGate the game banded.

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    1. Wow. Such grand company my little ROLF! supplement got mentioned in! (And yes; it was available and on sale for some two years before the #GG card game went on sale, if memory serves.)

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    2. Although... I think that one may have actually been designed by L.L. Hundal rather than me. I didn't meant to take credit for her work...

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