Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Vampires and Trainwrecks

Near the end of November, discussion of a little known (as in, nobody seemed to know about them at all) "game company" called Dark Phoenix Publishing began to pop up on tabletop roleplaying game forums. The subjects of the games that this company purported to publish seemed very familiar - vampires, werewolves, mages, faeries, ghosts. A review of the vampire book, Vampire: Undeath, by yours truly confirmed that the system and concepts were extremely familiar and the product was a hot mess.  Sure, there are minor changes from White Wolf's system and the fluff isn't word for word, but you can't spit on the book without hitting a direct parallel between Vampire: Undeath and Vampire: the Masquerade.

Since then, the whole thing has turned into some kind of weird slow-motion trainwreck. It dips it's toes into the league of much larger trainwrecks, such as Paul Cristoforo/Ocean Marketing and The Oatmeal vs. Funnyjunk dispute, but never goes all in. The reason for this is Dark Phoenix Publishing's "CEO" and apparently the one-man-band behind the company, Mykal Lakim, has no personality. With other trainwrecks we had dudebro Cristoforo or Ramones-shirt clad, bad song-writing Charles Carreon. Mykal Lakim has condescension, but it's the whiny teenage angst of "You just don't get me!" He has the legal threats that are so characteristic of one of these trainwrecks, but never came close to following through and the threats faded into whimpers. Marketing and public relations? No spine there either. Mykal Lakim just isn't rising to the challenge set by previous trainwrecks.

Of course, it could be said that the trainwreck was over long before it started. Mykal Lakim apparently has been involved in the Indiana LARP community to some degree for a very long time. He has obvious and verifiable familiarity with White Wolf's offerings, despite protests that he hasn't paid attention to them since NWoD was released. Apparently NWoD upset him, as it did many others, and he decided to stop playing White Wolf games (again, as did many others). After that he seems to have gone off the rails. This is speculation, but it looks like Mykal Lakim thought White Wolf had "abandoned" the OWoD and it became fair game to start creating thinly veiled carbon copies of their properties. In essence, he pulled the same stunt that my kids do when they start playing with somebody else's toy the moment the other kid puts it down. "But you weren't playing with it anymore!" "I had to go to the bathroom!". Never mind that ceasing publication doesn't invalidate a company's copyrights, or that any number of OWoD books are available in PDF format, or that Onyx Path is actually publishing OWoD books (at least in the form of anniversary editions). Why they would keep their IP for OWoD alive isn't anyone's business, either. For his troubles, Mykal Lakim has been blocked from White Wolf's Facebook page and had his pages deleted from Wikipedia. His explanations of all of these events amount to nothing but double-downs and more bullshit.

It's these double-downs, and others, that really bring out Mykal Lakim's spinelessness. Dark Phoenix Publishing claims to have at least two dozen books in the pipeline, under a release schedule that even the biggest companies in the industry can't match (or at least, can't match and keep their fanbase). When told his claims of having 20 employees seem far-fetched, Mykal Lakim's response is "Also, why would over ten employees make us big? If other companies don't have that many people working for them that would explain quite a bit." Never mind the fact that any company of the scale Mykal Lakim claims Dark Phoenix Publishing is would be very well known by now. Dark Phoenix Publishing can't even get a distribution agreement with DriveThruRPG - solo game authors are able to at least get that much done. Everything has an excuse as well. The failure to get products on DriveThruRPG? It's due to "moral reasons." When it's pointed out his "artwork" was mostly lifted from other sources on the Internet without attribution, suddenly the pieces are placeholders (in products that are already being offered for sale or were available as demos ). When the horrendous editing and writing are brought up, it's because the books aren't done yet (again, on books people can buy). When the questions and criticisms get too uncomfortable, Mykal Lakim simply blocks the people asking the question, deflects it or ignores it.

Every time I've discussed this with people outside of a small group, the question seems to come up, "Why do you even care?" It's a valid one, too. Dark Phoenix Publishing doesn't really warrant a lot of attention, especially when there's Dishonored to be played and really great rpgs that need to be read. In the end, Mykal Lakim is a wannabe game designer without a single clue how the gaming industry works. He doesn't comprehend why people would compare his games to White Wolf games. He has no concept of how to write rules or put together a product. He can't communicate with customers who pose difficult questions without resorting to calling them "Trolls" or dismissing them completely. Anyone who defends White Wolf is automatically a shill or part of some conspiracy. He wants so hard to be in big leagues and the only way he can keep up the charade is to double down and shovel bullshit faster. The only people who take him seriously are those that buy the bullshit, at least until he finally missteps and gets smacked down by a team of crack White Wolf lawyers.  The entire situation screams that we just put it out of our misery and forget about it.

That is exactly what is happening, fortunately for Mykal Lakim who is probably breathing a sigh of relief. As people forget about him, he's free to rebuild his little bubble where he's an awesome game designer with radical ideas, shaking people up and scaring the big gaming industry. The "haters" and "Trolls" can be easily pushed off the page with irrelevant crap or memory holed. But ignoring Mykal Lakim means nothing changes for him. He's still ripping off White Wolf, he's still claiming he's not, and he's still selling crap. So even if Mykal Lakim and Dark Phoenix Publishing isn't something that I particularly want to continue writing about, at the very least I will keep the issue alive (if only by virtue of the fact that I wrote this post, even if it winds up being the only one on the subject).