This news is a few days old, but as OC’s Senior Licensing Analyst (I will kidneypunch anyone who takes that seriously), I should weigh in. D&D brand manager Scott Rouse has confirmed at ENworld that the D20 System phenomenon as we know it (by which I mean the D20 System Trademark License) will be a thing of the past as of D&D 4E. There will be the OGL and there will be Wizards’ own official D&D projects, and that will be it. To be perfectly clear, this won’t take away any options as far as what mechanics third-party designers have access to (4E will have a System Reference Document that is available under the OGL, just like 3E, so far as I know), nor will it impact existing products with the D20 logo… I think. I’ll have to reread the D20 STL, but it may even remain legal for publishers to keep putting the D20 label on 3E material. (Also, in case it isn’t obvious, I am not a lawyer.)
So how does this change the landscape for third-party publishers in the 4E era? As a poster in the ENworld thread notes, there will be no easy way for third parties to quickly and clearly identify their products as D&D-compatible. This will have no real effect on the cognoscenti, who know to look for codewords like “world’s most popular fantasy RPG,” which leaves the mass market – people who go to Barnes and Noble and such – and those two dozen or so independent retailers who still care about being able to move third-party D&D supplements to non-initiates. Those markets just got virtually impossible for indie publishers, excepting the three or four biggest fish. Of course, given the hardships of distribution if you aren’t the size of Green Ronin or Mongoose, these markets and most others were already virtually closed to you.
I look forward to seeing what happens with this. In essence, publishers are being kicked out of the nest: maybe a few will fly with the OGL the way a few of us hoped back at the very beginning. Maybe original independent systems will start coming back as a mainstream-RPGs factor. Hell, maybe Evil Hat will make a FATE System Trademark License and everyone will jump on that, I dunno. But it’s the definitive end for the D20 market as we know it, as opposed to the actual end, which was a while back for most meaningful senses of the word.