Let’s have some more music for this one.
If you weren’t paying attention on Tuesday, you may have missed the news that Chaosium, publishers of the Runequest and Call of Cthulhu roleplaying games, had reached an agreement with John Wick Presents to acquire the 7th Sea line and fulfill the stymied 7th Sea and 7th Sea: Khitai kickstarters. Here is the press release Chaosium issued.
Quick recap: In November last year, John Wick announced that he had laid off all staff from JWP due to financial difficulties. The search had begun for a partner to help fulfill the obligations of the kickstarters. In the meantime, John was pursuing the goal of finishing the books himself. Much of the material had been written, but there were still outstanding debts to the writers and no money for purchasing art.
Naturally, many people are left to wonder how a company that raised nearly $2 million between two kickstarters could run aground. No answers have been forthcoming but most of us agree that, in hindsight, the kickstarters were too generous in what they offered for the price. Let’s face it, a one time investment of $40 got you the whole store in PDF format. That’s a pretty sweet deal no matter how you look at it.
Back to the present. I think it’s telling that the agreement between Chaosium and John Wick includes John Wick himself! Both as the creative director and lead writer of 7th Sea (which makes sense) and his contributions to the company’s other game lines. If you have followed John Wick for any time at all, you know that he has a deep seated love for the Call of Cthulhu and Pendragon game lines, and was a contributor to the Prince Valiant kickstarter. So in that sense, this seems like a match made in heaven.
I can only speculate in terms of the negotiations, but it makes sense that Wick, who bought the 7th Sea property from AEG (Wick was one of the co-creaters of the game during his tenure at that company), would want to maintain some control of the property he has clearly invested so much in. It also makes sense that Chaosium would want more than what would otherwise have been a tax write off at best, a charitable donation at worst, to get the game back on its feet. As a player, fan, and follower of the game, I think it’s safe to say that it has not set the RPG community on fire. On Chaosium’s part, I suspect that John Wick was the prize, moreso than the 7th Sea property. I could be wrong about that: before the November announcement, the game had a pretty deep lineup of unpublished material: including a LARP, a third novel, and four major sourcebooks, plus steady income from the Explorer’s Society Community Content program. None of that includes the Khitai line or 7th Sea 1889, which were also well into development by August (in fact, the core book had been originally slated for release that September).
The trick for Chaosium now is how to monetize the new property while still fulfilling the KS obligations. That’s where the marketing department kicks in. Say what you will about JWP, the marketing arm never felt very energetic. There was very little attempt, outside of a handful of Facebook posts to really galvanize and cultivate a community around the game. Because of the terms of the two KS, Chaosium needs to turn PDF obligations in to physical book SALES. They will also need to navigate the choppy waters of entitled backers if they seek to pivot from the established publication schedule.
While I think the majority of us fans would be pretty forgiving of this strategy, one only has to look at the KS comments section to find a few who would rather see the whole line go down in flames than not get everything they invested in two months ago. Such is the devil’s bargain that is kickstarter. John Wick once joked, “its as though the mob showed up with a bag of money and said, ‘ya bettah make a game, Wick.'” He may have been more prescient than he could have expected. To his credit, I’ve yet to him be anything but gracious to these backers, when he’s responded to them publicly at all.
Anyhow, I think the move will be a good one. JWP was always a small company built around two people: John Wick (the writer/idea guy) and Mark Diaz Truman (the money guy). 7th Sea turned it into something different, and maybe something it was never intended to be. It’s really hard to build a large company around a single property without some sort of zeitgeist (TSR, Wizards of the Coast, and White Wolf ALL come to mind). This merger brings 7th Sea under the umbrella of a company where it doesn’t have to be the main breadwinner, or count on a stable of small indie products to buttress it during lean times. Plus, it gives Chaosium something it doesn’t have (a narrative RPG line) that fits the overarching philosophy of its other properties (mythology and immersive stories).
What to watch for? Here’s my list:
- for Chaosium to break out of the KS release cycle, probably with small PDFs and monographs. Maybe with something bigger. (Hey guys! If you are listening. I still think a GM Companion is a good idea! Play Dirty: 7th Sea edition.)
- for a strong push for physical product.
- for a reorganization of the KS fulfillment timeline.
- more social media presence.
How will we know if Chaosium is serious:
- 7th Sea Khitai is given a 2020 GenCon release date.
- Chaosium announces a new game using the 7th Sea game system (something small and niche, maybe PDF only).
How will we know Chaosium has lost their damn minds:
- 7th Sea Khitai is give a 2019 GenCon release date.
- New edition of the game (2.5?) is announced.
- John Wick is announced to be the writer of a John Wick licensed RPG.
How will we know the ship is going down:
- 7th Sea 1889 is announced, but is going to use a different game system. (Either a BRP or Prince Valiant variant).
How much should you trust these lists? About as much as these people are paying me to post them.
Until next time!