10 Questions With Eddy Webb and Rich Thomas From White Wolf

I’m lucky.  Today I got to interview Eddy Webb, Senior Developer and Rich Thomas the Creative Director for White Wolf/CCP Transmedia.  Thanks for agreeing to do this interview, guys.   

As a long-time fan of the World of Darkness I’m really excited for the release of Vampire the Masquerade 20th Anniversary Edition, or V20 as I’ll refer to it for the rest of the interview.  What would you say was the number one reason for doing V20? 

Rich Thomas: We really wanted to celebrate the 20th anniversary with something really beautiful, and in a way that would not just be celebrating the game WW made, but the games created by all the fans. People’s lives were changed by Vampire, and we wanted to give those fans something that spoke to them about the amazing ride we’ve all been on.

Eddy Webb: Absolutely. We really wanted to make something for the community to celebrate this milestone. In fact, the top of the credits page has a dedication to the various communities that kept the game alive all this time.

Were you surprised at the fan reaction and/or demand for V20?  Was the demand more intense than you had initially thought it was going to be?

EW: It really was. I mean, we certainly went into the project thinking it was going to be bigger than some folks thought it would be – the distribution chain quoted us a number they thought they would be able to sell of V20, and we doubled that in the end. But the sheer PASSION of the response after all this time – that was surprisingly intense.

RT: Intense, gratifying, wonderful, invigorating passion. Being able to get direct feedback, stories of how the game changed people’s lives, relationships and marriages that came from playing VtM- these conversations were all so much more immediate than was possible during much of the time we were making the game.

I’ve noticed that there’s been some confusion among the fan base as far as the distribution method for V20, that it was only going to be available for distribution as a physical book and only available at the Grand Masquerade or for those that pre-ordered the book through White Wolf webpage.  As I understand it, that’s not necessarily the case.  Care to elaborate on what distribution channels are being used to get V20 out to the public at large?

RT: The original intention was that this was going to be available directly for fans to order through our WW store via the pre-order process. Part of the confusion was some awkwardly written announcements that made it sound like it was only available at Grand Masquerade- the GM edition was only available there, but that wasn’t how it read. That was completely our screw-up and caused a lot of confusion. Once we started hearing from fans who couldn’t afford the deluxe price (and later we heard from fans who only just heard about V20 at all), we decided that PDF and PoD versions would give those folks a chance to have it too.

EW: Exactly right. We wanted to make sure that those fans that bought the book sight unseen got a special, luxurious copy of the book, but pretty early on we decided that we wanted to do a more persistent version that later fans could acquire. However, between a lot of crunch to get the book out on time and some technical problems in our website in communicating things, we weren’t able to really talk about the new options until GenCon.

And I understand that we can also look forward to new Classic World of Darkness sourcebooks, the ability to order older books, as well as a Werewolf 20th Anniversary Edition and perhaps even, one can hope, a Mage 20th Anniversary Edition?  Any plans yet for Wraith 20 or Changeling 20, or is that still undecided?  What distribution channels are you looking into for these products?

EW: Anything beyond Werewolf 20th (W20) is undecided. We were happy with the response to V20, kicked some numbers around, and decided that W20 made sense for us to do. If we’re in the same place next year and Mage 20th makes sense, we’ll consider that, as well as other potential projects. We’re playing everything year to year, constantly reassessing what makes sense for us as a company and for the fanbase as a whole.

RT: Right now, we have no intention of using the traditional distributor/retailer or chain store channels. WW books- both new products and backlist- are available via our publishing partner DriveThruRPG. We’re hoping to do a deluxe version of WtA 20thbut that’s as far as our plans have reached.

I’ve noticed a unfortnate trend among local retailers.  Because there weren’t many products coming out to brick and mortar stores since the release of Geist, I’ve actually encountered at least two retaillers that have reduced the shelf space for White Wolf products tremendously and have practically told their customers that you guys were getting out of the RPG business.  Anything you’d like to say about that, just to clear up any confusion?

RT: I guess that’s natural from their point of view. We aren’t putting books into their stores, so it seems to them that we’re out. Well, we’re not. We’re publishing new products for cWoD, for nWoD, and for Exalted, with our new model of PDF/PoD, and we’re creating at a pace and with quality standards that make sense for us and aren’t the grinding “publishing treadmill” of the 90’s.

EW: It’s also indicative of how the lines of communication have eroded over time. For years we’ve communicated primarily to distributors and advertising outlets, and that filters down to the fans. Now we’re moving towards more direct-to-fan communication because we’ve found problems with these previous modes of getting the word out. It does mean, however, that those who aren’t aware of how to talk to us now assume that we’re silent because we aren’t making products anymore.

So…about Scion second edition…..:-)

EW: Since we’re been talking about our new direction, it seems like everyone has a list of wish list books, including more or updated Scion books. I wish we could do them all, but the reality is that when you have over 20 game lines and you’re making most of them available again through print-on-demand, we’ll never be able to do all of the books everyone wishes we would. We’re constantly looking at what there’s strong demand for and how that intersects with our resources and capabilities, so nothing’s impossible.

RT: Who knows? We’ve got a lot of possible projects, but Scion deserves some love too.

Is there anything you can tell us about the Onyx Path?  What little information I’ve seen amounts to basically the .pdf released fo the GenCon slideshow.  Any little tidbits you can share?

RT: Besides presenting older projects like the Mage Convention books, I think where the Onyx Path might lead is very much going to be dictated by what response we get from the fans with the V20 Companion, Children of the Revolution, and Hunters Hunted 2. In the same way that the Open Dev process for V20 gave us such an amazing series of dialogues with the fans and inspired the Onyx Path releases this year, the Open Dev with the new projects will take us towards other projects we haven’t imagined yet or will confirm a few we already have in mind.

EW: One of the things that’s been strange since GenCon is that up to now, we’ve announced things once they were well underway. With V20, we’ve moved to talking about things well in advance of any concrete plans. When we announced Mummy, for example, at GenCon, all I had was two-thirds of a title, a PowerPoint slide, and a four-page document of notes at home (which quickly became obsolete anyhow). The community is still used to us having all the answers and holding back information instead of being out there very early and the answering being “We honestly don’t know yet.”

How do you feel that the rise of digital publishing and online distribution has transformed the RPG market, both for publishers and for fans?  Do you think we’re going to see a time when brick and mortar stores carrying RPG or comic products is going to go the way of the dinosaur?

EW: I wish that weren’t the case, but when big-box bookstores carrying more mainstream products are folding, it’s hard to believe that more niche retail stores are going to buck that trend. Certainly some owners have done some very smart things to keep going, but I think the trends away from brick-and-mortar stores aren’t exclusive to the RPG industry – certainly music stores have been struggling since the iPod.

RT: Absolutely. The brick-and-mortar stores are going to have to evolve as well, I think. On a bigger picture level, the barrier to entry has dropped further for folks who want to create RPGs and get them to market. There’s a huge shift that’s empowered by the rise of ePublishing and our little niche of the overall publishing biz is changing as well.

Do you believe that there is one perfect RPG system?

RT: On a playing level, I think there are systems that combine with setting to really connect with how you internally imagine your characters- so they’re perfect for you. On a game design level- absolutely not. On a business level:  any versions of the Storyteller and Storytelling Systems!

EW: I believe each person has a personal perfect system,  because everyone has different needs from such a game. Sometimes, you have to write that perfect game for yourself, though. That’s how I got started….

Do you get a chance to actually play RPGs and, if so, what are you currently playing?

EW: I play in a biweekly D&D 4e game, I play two Masquerade LARPs a month, and I’m currently in a monthly Dark Ages: Vampire game. I’m also getting ready to start up a game at the office of a new RPG I wrote for fun.

RT: When I’m in ATL, I play a D&D4th game DM’d by Ethan Skemp. I’m in a couple of other D&D games down there including an old school version called Pagan Lands by Justin Achilli, and from home  I’m Skype-ing into a game based on the Scarred Lands DM’d by Scott Holden. Surprisingly, I’m in two V20 games at the Grand Masquerade, which will be very cool as I haven’t played a full session of tabletop Masquerade since the original playtesting in 1991.

Pretty much every gamer has their favorite snacks and drinks during game night.  What are yours?

RT: A six pack of Coke Zero or Diet Cherry Vanilla Doctor Pepper. I get so caught up in the game that I’m not even aware of what I’m eating, so I try and keep the bags of chips away or really quickly it’s an empty bag.

EW: Actually, I’m pretty agnostic, and lately (like Rich) I’ve been trying to stay away from the snacks as I watch my weight. Getting older makes it harder to go on soda and chip binges, sadly.

RT: Of course, a scotch near the end doesn’t hurt the diet. J

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