I am deeply concerned by this new Wheel of Time trading card game

Well if this press release didn't turn out to be a story and a half...

11 mins read

I know DDNet’s been relatively quiet this week. I’ve had a Dee Dee Zine to get ready, as well as an absolutely massive JRPG to review (you’ll see soon enough). However, I do have a “fun” little rant for you all to enjoy. One that I didn’t think I’d ever be pulling out again since the games industry seemed to have grown up and out of this fad. But no, here we go: Today a developer and publisher formally announced a Wheel of Time trading card game. Don’t let yourself get too excited, however, because it’s almost certain to be one of those blockchain and NFT deals, and the companies behind it have a history that is exactly what you’d expect from that space.

For some Godforsaken reason, a company called iwot Productions has the rights to Robert Jordan’s iconic fantasy literature series. Unfortunately, iwot Productions is… well, it’s a compromised company, to put that nicely.

To cut a very long story short, iwot Productions was originally Red Eagle Entertainment. The company acquired the rights to Wheel of Time back in 2004, and these rights were far reaching, encompassing film, TV, games, and other tie-in media. The production company did absolutely nothing with it. Not from want of trying, to be fair, but the plans that they had all seemed to fall through.

But then, just days before the rights to the property were about to revert back to the Jordan estate (Jordan himself having passed away at this point), the company miraculously released a “short film” of about 25 minutes, with absolutely zero fanfare (and yet starring Billy Zane in desperate need of an acting gig), at the literal stroke of midnight, which (surprise) almost no one watched. It’s just as well no one did because there are home movies that are better acted and have better production values. However, thanks to the legal system being so broken around IP rights, that meant that the now-called iwot Prodictions retained control of the license.

It was almost like the short film was made entirely to allow the company to hang on to those rights. But I would never officially claim such a thing, because Jordan’s widow, Harriet McDougal, did make that accusation and got according to this source, got sued for it.

Now with those rights firmly solidified, iwot has since been behind that woeful TV series (seriously one of the worst things I’ve ever seen). They also have the complete and total respect for Jordan and his work to produce an AI generator trained on the text from those books. Just in case this wasn’t abundantly obvious, that was sarcasm and it’s almost unbelievable just how disrespectful iwot is being to Wheel of Time and Jordan’s legacy than by creating something like that.

Which brings us to Cards of Eternity: The Wheel of Time. This is a newly-announced trading card game, produced by iwot Productions, and developed by a developer called Aether Games. Have you heard of Aether Games? No? Okay, let me fill you in on this one. Aether Games’ CEO is Jens Peeters. His bio on the Aether Games website tells us that “at only 15 years old, he was the highest rated player in World of Warcraft,” so you know he’s a serious businessman and consummate professional.

Anyhow. Aether Games has one title to its name so far: Aether. Aether is a blockchain/NFT-powered game. It’s got a mint page on its Website with a whole bunch of nonsense that does my migraines no favours just by looking at it.

And yet, despite all these red flags – things you would think that fans should know about before making the decision to invest their time and money into the thing – you would know none of the backstory if you didn’t look up any of the players involved in this game’s production. The press release announcement, which is three pages long, has not a single reference to NFTs or blockchain, beyond the following sentence buried right down in the bottom company boilerplates (which no one reads): “Following the successful introduction of Aether’s trading card platform, the team is excited to embrace The Wheel of Time universe.” That makes it pretty clear that this card game will sit on the same platform, and therefore be powered by both NFTs and blockchain.

There is also zero mention of the nature of the engine on the Cards of Eternity website so far. One would assume they they’re going to have to eventually if they’re going to get people to do all that minting, but for now there’s a clear effort to deceive people about the heritage that has gone into this game.

Or perhaps there won’t be any minting. Perhaps this is an innovative and bold step forward for NFTs and blockchain gaming, and it will be monetised in another way. There is a hint of that in the press release:

“An integrated AI guide will add a truly personal touch. Using the One Power technology recently announced by iwot productions and D1srupt1ve, players will be able to unlock and interact with sentient characters and creatures, adding a captivating RPG-like dimension to the gameplay experience,” the press release states. “The One Power provides a foundation for endless, immersive storytelling possibilities and will be a game-changer for the trading card genre. Players will be able to experience AI gameplay for free, but extended use and access to the full suite of features will require a One Power subscription.”

… Yep. That’s right. This game is coming loaded with the very same insult to Jordan’s memory and literature that iwot spat into the world when it created that generative AI. And they’re going to charge you for the joy of having their butchering of Jordan’s world and creations to throw endless amounts of content at you.

I’m sure this will all come as no surprise, but there’s also no hint that the Jordan estate approves of any of this. The press release might be twice as long as standard, but there is not a single quote from the estate in there.

Look, I know that AI, NFTs and blockchain production attracts a certain kind of libertarian mindset. People that have no respect for anyone or anything, but a sense of entitlement to it all. They want something, so they take it. They’re truly wonderful people. But even by their standards, this whole sorry story comes across as more than a little egregious. And if it’s not already abundantly clear that I’ve just described the iwot Production people (and very likely the Aether Games people) with total accuracy, let me wrap things up here by sharing with you a blog post by the great man, Robert Jordan, himself. He wrote this a month before he died:

“I hear things now and then floating out in the air. For instance, I hear that word was floating about ComicsCon in San Diego that I am displeased with Red Eagle. Too true. Too very true. In a few more months that last contract they have with anyone on God’s green earth that so much as mentions my name will come to an end and we can see what happens after that. You see, among other things they forgot an old dictum of LBJ back when he was just a Congressman from Texas, when he famously, or infamously, said “Don’t spit in the soup. boys. We all have to eat.” Worse, Red Eagle though they could tell me they spit in the soup, or pee in it, if they wanted to and there wasn’t anything I could do to stop them.”

So, there you go. Know that if you decide to play this Wheel of Time game, then, in a very best-case scenario you are supporting people that the author found offensive enough on his deathbed to make public complaints about, and that his estate has had a hostile relationship with ever since. The kind of people that take, use, and abuse with no respect for the material to their profit, and in this case has caused a history of causing material harm to the legacies of one of fantasy’s greatest and most beloved authors.

There is no reason, whatsoever, to believe that this game will be different. If you can still give it a go and then sleep with that, then good for you. For my part I’m glad I looked into this before I was tempted to play it.

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Matt S. is the Editor-in-Chief and Publisher of DDNet. He's been writing about games for over 20 years, including a book, but is perhaps best-known for being the high priest of the Church of Hatsune Miku.

  • I will say this: I had never heard of these books, and thanks to this post that you wrote out of frustration, I tracked down an audiobook of the first one. So, there’s that.

  • The only Jordan book I read was a Conan one and it was rather mediocre. Still it sucks for the fans.
    Also it reminds me how the movie rights holder for Dick Tracy is releasing some terrible movies with the character every so often just to keep the copyright.

    • Ooooh, that explains so much about Dick Tracy. What a pity :-/

      I do recommend giving Wheel of Time a spin, even despite the Conan book. It’s his own thing with that series, and it’s genuinely good and enjoyable fantasy lit.

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