The result of the recent WotC good-bombshell is going to be far-reaching. Anyone who doesn't know what I mean by the bombshell, it's the announcement that all of the TSR catalog will eventually be released in electronic format. While there are a couple of questions about this (what's meant by electronic format being the main one), it is a dramatic return to an earlier, more open approach in terms of keeping WotC intellectual property available for people to use, rather than keeping it squirreled away.
There's no question that this is a great boon to old school gamers, no matter what mistakes they make in terms of format, timing, or other details of the roll-out itself.
I have already had a couple of people contact me with the question about whether I think this will cause the decline, or even the fall, of the retro-clones. I think it will ultimately cause a massive change to the way retro-clones interact with the gaming community, and I think it's a change that some people will, indeed, see as a decline. I also think the result will be that more people actually put copies of some retro-clone onto the gaming table and use it in actual play. In other words I think there is going to be a quantitative increase, but there will also be a qualitative change that many people will see as negative.
Here is what I think is going to happen, and where we are right now.
The retro-clones are about to disappear, each into a community that also includes the pdfs of the original games, and for the first time we are going to see a relatively tolerant relationship develop between those who are playing with the original rulebooks and those who are playing using the retro-clone versions.
This sounds very Pollyanna-ish, especially since the same situation (legal pdfs, legal retro-clones) has existed in the past without any real joining-up of the original-vs-clone players of the same game. Why would the fact that this is WotC bringing us back to an earlier structure of what's available have any different result from the last time we were there?
In particular this changes the role of the Swords & Wizardry Kickstarter midstream. All of a sudden what's happening is more (or less) than the marketing of a rulebook and monster book. It's about building a community that can use both S&W and OD&D now that both are available. If I'd know about this in advance, the Kickstarter would probably have been organized in a different fashion (although I don't know what that would have been, off the top of my head). As it is, I think it works well -- by accident I beat myself to the punch in terms of having a re-boot of Swords & Wizardry going right at the moment that WotC did this. On the downside, it means that there is some real thinking to be done about the role of Swords & Wizardry -- and that thinking has to be done in realtime, on the fly.
Stay tuned -- some interesting times are starting. (or restarting)