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Old November 11th, 2008, 08:02 PM

Since this topic seems to be coming up on a recurring basis, I figured I would take the time to try and provide a little background on this issue. The reality is that we've been striving for more than a decade to work out an equitable license with GW to write official data files for their games. If you're interested in the history behind all this, read on for a recap of the past 11 years as it pertains to AB data files and why volunteers are writing them.

When AB was first prototyped back in 1997, it was designed exclusively as a tool for Warhammer Fantasy. That's simply because WHFB was the game I regularly played at the time. After seeing the prototype in action at local Cons, a few prominent GW players were emphatic that AB should be turned into an actual product. So I contacted GW and they expressed interest. I flew to the UK twice to meet with GW's senior staff about the project and everything looked like a go to publish AB as a GW product.

As development of AB 1.0 neared completion, nothing had been actually signed with GW, and it became apparent that the terms we originally discussed were no longer satisfactory to GW. I'd worked on multiple projects with companies like Electronic Arts, so I was well-versed in what the industry standards were for both compensation and allocation of responsibilities when software products are developed by outside studios. Unfortunately, GW believed that the industry standards weren't appropriate and insisted on a structure that I considered to be less than equitable. So I was left with either taking what they offered or figuring out a different strategy.

I broke off discussions with GW and set about revising the AB release plan. After consulting with legal counsel, I concluded that I could safely publish the engine without any data files. As long as the product was "generic" and designed to work for a range of game systems, and as long as the data files for individual game system were not included, AB would be safe from any legal concerns. In order for Lone Wolf to develop or sell data files, a license from the game company is required. However, if all of the intellectual property of each game company resided in the data files, and those data files were not developed or sold by Lone Wolf, no license was required. AB would work a lot like Excel, with AB providing a generalized tool and the data files being comparable to spreadsheets.

Since I'd been doing software development for many years and learned from some of the best, AB had already been built around a data-driven engine. This made it easy to separate the data files from the actual product. The trick would be in making it possible for users to create and share those data files. I needed to formalize things better and document how the data formats worked so that users could write the data files for AB. I also needed to extend the engine for use with other miniatures game systems that were available. After a couple months of extra work, AB V1.0 was ready to go.

Once AB was officially released, GW immediately adopted an adversarial stance towards AB, threatening litigation and other actions. Given the way that AB was released, though, there was nothing GW could do. By having the data files decoupled from the product and entirely fan-created, AB was unassailable. More importantly, AB became an invaluable tool for a wide range of game systems as a result of its generic nature.

A year or two later, after AB had established itself as a solid product, GW decided internally that they needed their own product that did what AB did. GW retained a consultant to assess the costs and look at the various options available. He came to the conclusion that licensing AB for use by GW was the most sensible option and championed the idea internally at GW. Sadly, after months of discussions, the idea of licensing AB was ultimately shot down by GW's execs, and GW set about developing their first attempt at replacing AB.

I was already at work on AB 2.0, which raised the bar significantly over AB 1.x. Fortunately, when GW's Interactive Army List was finally released, it was unable to compete with AB. The success of AB earned further ire from GW's executive ranks, who maintained their adversarial stance towards AB. Among GW's creative staff, though, AB quietly and steadily became the tool of choice.

The "cold war" between GW and Lone Wolf persisted for a few years. During that time, key GW design staff volunteered that they all used AB in-house and thought that a formal licensing arrangement would be good for everyone. We finally got AB 3.0 out the door at the end of 2004. Meanwhile, GW came out with a new and improved IAL product. The new IAL met with a poor reception, as AB had already established itself as the de facto tool for miniatures games.

A few members of the GW design staff privately suggested to us that the failure of the second IAL release had resulted in a philosophical shift at GW. Apparently, the general attitude of the GW execs had become open to discussing a license for AB again. So we approached GW about the possibility. The overall process was extremely slow and required the GW licensing person to work carefully around some of the negativity that lingered towards AB. It seemed that progress was being made and that something would ultimately be worked out. Then the licensing person left GW and a new person took over, requiring us to essentially start over from the beginning again. We soldiered on, but we were unable to regain any serious traction with the new licensing person. After *three years* of ongoing discussions, GW finally made the decision this year that they were no longer interested and broke off talks.

Assuming we were to secure a formal license with GW, our plan was to quickly follow suit with all the other miniatures companies. Since they all generally view AB as a valuable tool for their games, we figured that it would be relatively easy to secure licenses with everyone else once GW was onboard. However, without the support of GW, it really doesn't make a lot of sense to secure those licenses. Overseeing development of all the data files in-house would be a lot of work that would entail significant cost. Since the GW data files are both the most popular and most complex, the greatest benefit would be gained by managing those data files with in-house oversight and control. Lacking the ability to officially do GW files, the perceived added value to users would not be sufficient to justify the additional product cost increases needed to pay for all the data file development. So we concluded that it was better to keep the price point unchanged and keep all the data files fan-created.

That pretty much sums up why Lone Wolf doesn't do any of the data files for miniatures games. We'd very much like to, and we've invested significant time and energy towards being able to do so. In fact, we started out with that goal in 1997 and have been striving to achieve that goal with GW for 11 years now. Alas, it's been to no avail. What I'd love more than anything is to work directly with the fans creating the data files for all the various games and pay them for their efforts. They could then put in more time and get compensated for their work, plus we could do better testing before release. We could also get pre-release information from the publishers so that data files are available when the products hit the street, instead of having development merely get *started* when each release comes out. It would be a win for everyone.

Sadly, GW has decided that it doesn't share that vision, which leaves us all with fan-created files that are developed on a purely volunteer basis. Volunteers mean we don't get to complain when the data files aren't completed as quickly as we'd like. These guys are doing a bang-up job on a very difficult task. We should all be thankful that they are investing all that time and energy for the rest of us to benefit from, without any compensation other than knowing they did a great job. I know that I sure appreciate their efforts and wish that I could actually do something for them as a "thank you", but our hands are tied. If we did anything material for the volunteers, GW could claim that we're actually compensating them for their efforts, which would open everything up to legal recourse from GW. So all we can do here at Lone Wolf is express our thanks and keep hoping that someday we can work out something official with GW.

Thanks for listening....
rob is offline   #1 Reply With Quote
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Old November 13th, 2008, 04:44 AM

I just wanted to give a thanks back to you and Colen for being clear here to everyone in explaining the whole issue. I knew most of this information, but I didn't realize this went all the way back to 97.

Thanks again for creating such a great gaming resource such as Army Builder.

The only "hobby" GW is interested in is lining their pockets with your money.
jlong05 is offline   #2 Reply With Quote
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Old November 15th, 2008, 04:33 AM
Rob it may be a good idea to sticky this
Taubay is offline   #3 Reply With Quote
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Old December 31st, 2008, 10:37 AM
not trying to be rude...but if this is the issue you should probably stop making WHF an option at all with army builder. if I had known this was the case...I NEVER would have purchased this rather expensive product that doesnt get updated to do what I paid for it to do.
gabrionus is offline   #4 Reply With Quote
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Old December 31st, 2008, 12:06 PM
But it's not really an option until YOU download the Data Files.

As for the price if you look at what GW is/was charging for their software (and all the issues it has) AB is a steal.
gilvagor is offline   #5 Reply With Quote
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Old December 31st, 2008, 07:17 PM
It does exactly what it says. There are datafiles available that allow you to produce an armylist. Where does it guarantee up to date datafiles within X months of the release of a new army book? You've got exactly what was advertised and what you paid for. If you want to blame somebody, blame GW. It seems like they're the ones to blame.
Ghaz is offline   #6 Reply With Quote

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