Saturday, September 10, 2016

OBS' Offensive Content Policy - 1 Year Later (First in a series)

In late August of 2015, a product entitled Tournament of Rapists was noticed on DriveThruRPG/OBS. The title and publisher’s description drew immediate and harsh criticisms from across the blogosphere (including here at Tenkar’s Tavern - (WTF Were They Thinking? Tournament of Rapists (OGL), Aug 27, 2015), lead to at least one publisher pulling their materials from the site in protest (Exploding Rogue and DTRPG, Aug 30, 2015), and even drew harsh condemnation from such industry leaders as Erik Mona of Paizo while, in other circles, the product’s publisher received strong support. Within a few days of the beginning of the affair, the matter was abruptly resolved by the publisher voluntarily pulling the product and the introduction of a new content policy from OBS CEO Steve Wieck on September 1.

Rather than satisfying either side of the controversy, both groups expressed displeasure with the new policy and the solution that it presented. Publishers sometimes seen as controversial, such as James Raggi, expressed concern over the possible far-reaching impact this new policy may have on creativity and participation within the industry while heated discussions carried on at rpg.net, reddit, and other sites. In the end, the policy put in place offered no hard and fast guidelines for what would be deemed offensive or not, instead harkening back to the old adage “we’ll know it when we see it”. Community opinions on whether this system would be immediately abused in attacks against particular publishers or if it would be overly permissive were just as heated as the original discussions about Tournament of Rapists.

It has now been over a year since the policy was put into place and we at the Tavern decided to dig a little deeper. We spoke with Scott Holden, Manager of Promotions and Business Intelligence at OBS to see what impact the new offensive content policy has had at OBS.

TT: With an already existing "Adult" filter, is there any reason for OBS to have a content review system for matters other than copyright/trademark infringement?

SH: We believe so, yes. If you did a Venn diagram of adult content and offensive content, there would be overlap, but the two things are not synonymous.

TT:  The majority of the OBS review system as originally cited boils down to "We'll know it when we see it", in an attempt to avoid "bright line" rules. Is this still the case, or has the system become more rigidly structured?

SH: That is absolutely still the case. Each instance is handled individually, and we discuss it internally after we've all reviewed the titles thoroughly. Only once we've all chimed in and given our "vote" do we take any action. And to date, as the record shows, our policy leans toward acceptance and leniency.  

TT: Since the policy has been put into place have any products not been approved or been removed that fell afoul of "know it when we see it" after having been identified internally?

SH: Thus far we have only reviewed titles reported by customers, and per above, no RPG titles have been banned. (We have banned a few non-RPG titles.)

TT: To date, what is the feeling on the level of success of the review process?

SH: I think we're quite happy with it. Everyone on our staff who has chimed in on these titles has been very open-minded, even when they might have been personally offended or at least made uncomfortable by some of the material in question. And the results speak for themselves. From the customer side, very few people seem to have tried to abuse the system (and I think it's both interesting and telling that the couple who have done so almost certainly did it out of resentment for the system itself). The policy and the tools have been working pretty much as intended.

TT: Looking back to the Tournament of Rapists controversy that led to the policy being implemented, how would the new policy have caused OBS to have handled that matter differently?

SH: I think there would be little change. The title would have been reported at release; we would have suspended the title for thorough review and discussed it with the publisher.

Since the policy’s implementation, the number of products reported for review to OBS is about thirty. Among RPG products less than ten items have been reported as offensive. These products have been spread across seven publishers, five authors, and seven complainants. Of the reports filed, only one complaint was found by OBS to be abusive.

Interestingly, the only customer account to have reported multiple titles (three of them) did so as a revenge tactic against our temporary suspension of another title while it was pending review,” reported Holden.

Among non-RPG titles, six items have been reported as offensive, while the remaining products have been RPG products submitted over IP violations (whether intentional or unintentional). These numbers exclude “community products” (e.g. DM’s Guild) for which complaints tended towards IP reasons.

Further, between six and eight titles, all non-RPG, have been banned since the implementation of the policy. Five of those titles belong to a single publisher and were removed after the reporting of a single product lead to the removal of an entire product line.

To date, OBS in unaware of any publisher pulling their materials in protest of the Offensive Content Policy.

The results can be viewed in a number of ways. One could say that one third of products reported among RPGs are solely abusive complaints. One could say that the number of complaints is so small as to have no real effect on the industry. But the numbers don’t tell the full story of the impact of the policy, and in our next installments we will be questioning several publishers and authors on both sides of the issue, four of whom having had direct experience with the policy.

Bob Brinkman has been playing RPGs since the days of OD&D. Recently he has written for both the Goodman Games Fifth Edition Fantasy and DCC RPG lines and has completed a project for the Crossroads to Adventure books for GP Adventures. He co-hosts the monthly Sanctum Secorum podcast focusing on Appendix N in relation to DCC RPG.


  1. I am looking forward to this series of posts. I am a wait and see kind of guy, so I can't wait to see what, if anything, this OBS policy actually did.

  2. Great piece! Thanks for working on this. I'd love to see a complete list of the non-RPG titles that have been yanked and more details on what the furor in those products was all about, along with more details on the RPG titles that have brought complaints.

  3. Didn't someone pull all their material from OBS back in July after Hentacle got pulled?

  4. So, not at all surprisingly, there was no imminent threat of tons of naughty games flooding the respectable shelves of OBS. Nevertheless, a boilerplate policy was developed and implemented, because a few loud people created the illusion of a moral panic.

    There are some lessons there.

  5. “Interestingly, the only customer account to have reported multiple titles (three of them) did so as a revenge tactic against our temporary suspension of another title while it was pending review,” reported Holden.

    Im curious if they did anything to this person for abusing the system. It would seem no longer accepting their word on what is offensive or not would be the bare minimum.

  6. I already said this - but the point here is that, quite transparently, OBS is saying they'll pull what is offensive /in their opinion/ (and I can understand. Their store, their rules).
    OTOH, abusing their right of veto would be counterproductive to their own business. The more product they have to sell, the more percentages they cash.

  7. This is just an idea, but what if OBS created a site aimed at titles that might be "offensive"? Anyone could put their stuff on this new site, but it's understood that the content is most likely "offensive"? They could call it RPG Black List or something (OBS has my express permission to use this name, btw).

    Would that not satisfy everyone on both sides? The alternative is for someone to build a direct competitor to OBS, and I don't see that happening.


Tenkar's Tavern is supported by various affiliate programs, including Amazon, RPGNow,
and Humble Bundle as well as Patreon. Your patronage is appreciated and helps keep the
lights on and the taps flowing. Your Humble Bartender, Tenkar

Blogs of Inspiration & Erudition