OgreCave

More OGL follies in the run-up to D&D 4th Edition

January 8th, 2008: Mike Sugarbaker says...
More OGL follies in the run-up to D&D 4th Edition

WotC is apparently so jumpy at the prospect of anyone making a D&D4e-compatible product that doesn’t meet their standards that they aren’t settling for the lack of an actual D20 license (which will go a long way to restricting the audience for third-party products to gamers in the know) – they’re charging a $5,000 cover charge for access to 4e rules before D&D 4’s street date. I guess that’s not unreasonable for advance copies of the crown jewels, really, and it’s worth remembering that before 3e was released, nobody got jerk for any price. So, while this news will likely rankle many folks, there isn’t much of a reason to be rankled. What bothers me is A) this sort of stuff is taking the place of a steady flow of competent preview marketing on WotC’s part, and B) stuff like this, from the bottom of the FAQ: “We are making the OGL stronger by better defining it. We’re rolling certain elements that used to be in the d20 license into the OGL, things like community standards and other tangible elements of the d20 license.” Uh huh. Whatever you think of that, it’s a recipe for further atomization of D&D designs and dilution of the brand. I almost wish they’d cancel the 4e SRD release altogether and just sell $5,000 licenses. Why keep taking half measures?

26 Comments »

26 comments

  1. Dave T. Game says:

    I read the announcement on ENWorld, and thought, “Here comes Mike’s reaction in 3…2…1…”

    I’m not sure I agree that this is taking the place of competent preview marketing. Granted, it’s lacking, but OGL discussions seem like they’re done in an entirely different department. Plus the clock was really ticking on an announcement: 3rd party publishers were chomping at the bit to know if they’d be able to release books at GenCon.

  2. Dai Oni says:

    Heh. FWIW, it will be free by June 2006, anyway. I guess they want serious publishers with proof of business license to help promote 4e in the first few months, without the debacle of early 3e third-party products, like that Foundation d20 superhero role playing game.

  3. Dai Oni says:

    Correction: June 2008

  4. Mike Sugarbaker says:

    Well, none of us are privy to how they’re assigning their resources. It may be that OGL concerns and product marketing are in positions to fight each other for time and money, and it may not.

    Hmm… June 6th seems like it might allow enough time before Gen Con to prepare something at least on the order of Death in Freeport or Four Days To Kill (was that the title?).

  5. Dai Oni says:

    Sorry, another correction: January 2009.

  6. Dai Oni says:

    There seems to be more questions answered and posted on EN World.

    Looks to be more of a d20 License and less of an Open Gaming License.

  7. Chris says:

    I don’t feel like making a big diatribe out of this but: this is an asinine move by wotc, following up on the heinous marketing of the project. That’s fine…leaves me more budget to buy more indy games for the store…

  8. misuba says:

    Chris: 1) I’d be interested to hear a bit of the diatribe if and when you feel like it, and 2) you totally have to register 2d6fett.com.

  9. misuba says:

    Holy crap on the big fiery altar of a demon with jewels for eyes, Dai: you’re right. The 4th Edition SRD doesn’t come out for six months after the release of the core books! I totally missed that.

  10. Dai Oni says:

    Like I said, they only want serious publishers, in order to minimize the flood of mediocre products, in the first few months of pushing 4e’s debut. Personally, it’s the risk you take for making OGL, to provide opportunities for both serious as well as aspiring designers.

    Then again, the new OGL is not going to be like the existing OGLs.

  11. The “Designer’s Club” of professional companies that pay $5,000 will get the three copies each of the pre-publication PHB, DMG, and MM and the SRD, which (in the case of the 4E SRD) does not actually contain rules, but merely the guide to which rules you can use. WotC apparently will provide additional copies if a publisher has more than three designers. Note that the SRD does not contain ANY rules, merely the guide to WHICH rules and elements are Open and which are Closed, and apparently, somehow, guidelines to what WotC really means by certain rules and how they can be used.

    Confused? Yeah, me too… it sounds like there will be even MORE confusion to what is really Open and what is Closed as people try to cross-reference the three books with the SRD “guidelines”…

    So anyway, members of the Designer’s Club will be able to release their products on August 1, 2008, just in time for Gen Con.

    Everyone else will be able to get a copy of the SRD on June 6, 2008… but remember, the SRD does not contain any rules, merely the guidelines for how to use the rules in the books, which will be available (apparently) the day the SRD releases. However, those who get the SRD for free will NOT be able to publish anything before January 1, 2009, which gives the Designer’s Club a five month head start. This is, as mentioned, an attempt to keep a ton of crap from piling on retailers in the first several months; the $5,000 and WotC approval to get into the exclusive Designer’s Club being a gatekeeper of quality.

    However… one thing that WotC has not counted on, as far as it seems, is the online fanbase, who will not wait until January 1, 2009 to start putting their own 4E D&D projects online for FREE. Now, I suppose WotC is hoping to capture most of that on Gleemax, or DI, or whatever it is these days, but still, the combination of a few choice companies getting a head start on all other publishers PLUS every online D&D fan posting his own stuff for FREE is sure to kill most further publishing efforts in 4E OGL.

    Not to mention that a lot of fans will be posting their 4E stuff online almost two MONTHS before any of the Designer’s Club members will be able to release product #1! Is WotC going to turn into TSR and swat down every fan website that puts up 4E stuff before January 1, 2009? Is such even remotely possible?

    We shall see…

  12. misuba says:

    Actually it sounds to me like what they are calling the new SRD, the thing that’s coming out in June that is, is itself a guide to what is open and closed. So there will hopefully be less confusion about that, but in the meantime, we’ll have everyone confused as to why the SRD doesn’t have any rules in it yet.

    As for the fan content/Gleemax question, if it’s not for commercial sale and doesn’t come in huge chunks, I don’t think it really enters into the discussion. Especially not if it’s on Gleemax and therefore feeding WotC’s bottom line by other means. I mean, I don’t know exactly what their answer will be for fan content but I’d be shocked if they didn’t have a good one.

    Nicole Lindroos of GR has an incisive post on why the $5K is a worse investment than waiting six months.

  13. Lee Valentine says:

    They must be really changing the OGL for version 2.0. They must be introducing some new kind of open content definition otherwise people could take the new OGC, move back the original OGL 1.0, and ignore the time delays. I’m expecting something like “Licensed content: licensed content is stuff available for use under OGL 2.0, but is not, in any way, open game content as defined under OGL 1.0. The publisher of licensed content will provide you a date which you personally may begin usage of licensed content, and you may not publish the licensed content before that date.” In other words, they seem to be effectively erasing all connection to OGL 1.0 for all new WotC products. Depending on how this is written up, it may limit how much people can reuse each other’s content, and may cause a wave of more people going “closed source” instead of “open source” with their game materials, which is bad for the industry, in my opinion, but potentially good for WotC.

  14. Lee Valentine says:

    Mike writes: “why keep taking half measures?” Because they KNOW fans will release compatible material that reproduce rules whether they want them to or not, and they probably don’t want to go back to the days where fans hated TSR and replaced the S with a $ every time they wrote the initials. They’ll also be guaranteeing a stream of PDF support materials as well with the OGL 2.0, while if they charged $5,000, then most PDF publishers will give it a miss. I know that you (Mike) and Chris wouldn’t be exactly heartbroken if all the d20 PDFs burst into flames, but some of us do use PDF products, and so it’s a concern for us.

    I personally do not see how in the hell they plan on keeping people from reverse engineering 4th edition from 3.5 and getting it released under OGL 1.0. Their mechanics aren’t patented, and a whole lot of the stuff is probably going to be similar enough that the 3.5 OGC (particularly the Modern d20) will be usable to form a basis from which to create 4th edition compatible materials.

    I think that they are going to end up firing off a lot more cease & desist letters and be threatening more legal action this time around than under OGL 1.0. They’ll have to, or people will try to port everything to the earlier OGL.

  15. misuba says:

    >”they probably don’t want to go back to the days where fans hated TSR and replaced the S with a $ every time they wrote the initials.”

    You mean they left those days at some point?

    Anyway, if it’s your opinion that WotC sees PDFs as valuable to have in the world, I certainly can’t prove you wrong, but I am puzzled. Since they’re invisible to the casual mass-market buyer, why delay them by six months? To give Gleemax a clear path (to ruin)? Or are they just collateral damage?

  16. Dai Oni says:

    “I personally do not see how in the hell they plan on keeping people from reverse engineering 4th edition from 3.5 and getting it released under OGL 1.0. Their mechanics aren’t patented, and a whole lot of the stuff is probably going to be similar enough that the 3.5 OGC (particularly the Modern d20) will be usable to form a basis from which to create 4th edition compatible materials.”Lee Valentine

    They can’t. All they can do is watch if you copied their words from their books. Concept cannot be copyrighted. Words can.

    Many stuff are borrowed from previous rules — mainly they can be derived from both the SRD and Modern SRD. You just have to be creatively savvy — and not look inside WotC’s books — to replicate 4e rules.

    As I said before, the new OGL is not going to be like the old OGL, and it was hinted when WotC chose to expire the d20 System Trademark License, and roll it into the new OGL version. Even worse, you don’t have an option. To use the new OGL means you must make it compatible with the 4e Player’s Handbook.

  17. Lee Valentine says:

    Mike, I don’t know what to say about PDFs. WotC clearly sees a development path there, as that’s their intended publication for Dragon/Dungeon/Gleemax. I don’t know if they are trying to gain a competitive edge in the PDF arena, or if they have just decided to limit the field to the big players so that the market isn’t filled with stuff from any John Doe.

    PDFs are not invisible to the people who publish them and get decent sales. Mongoose, for example, reports a good revenue stream from their PDFs, even the high ticket price ones, for example.

    WotC has, just recently, flooded RPGNOW with tons of their 3.0 and 3.5 edition titles to scrape together the last big of that edition’s revenues before it becomes chaff.

  18. Bob Slaughter says:

    James M said:
    “Everyone else will be able to get a copy of the SRD on June 6, 2008… but remember, the SRD does not contain any rules, merely the guidelines for how to use the rules in the books, which will be available (apparently) the day the SRD releases. However, those who get the SRD for free will NOT be able to publish anything before January 1, 2009, [snip]

    However… one thing that WotC has not counted on, as far as it seems, is the online fanbase, who will not wait until January 1, 2009 to start putting their own 4E D&D projects online for FREE.”

    Um, last time I checked, “putting project online” WAS “published”, free or not. And I suspect WotC would be willing to file Cease and Desist orders to have it pulled. Suing for damages from free products would be pointless, but shutting down webistes wouldn’t be.

    Oh, and that would suck about as bad as Vogon poetry.

  19. Dave says:

    “WotC has, just recently, flooded RPGNOW with tons of their 3.0 and 3.5 edition titles to scrape together the last big of that edition’s revenues before it becomes chaff.”

    And yet, did not release the Rules Compendium in PDF, a book that makes perfect sense to buy in PDF right now.

  20. PoC says:

    “They can’t. All they can do is watch if you copied their words from their books. Concept cannot be copyrighted. Words can” Dai Oni

    Hmmm, IIRC. WotC didn’t seem too precious about lifting the Call of Cthulhu Sanity Mechanic for Unearthed Arcana.

    It does appear that D&D 4th edition will have more of an online (not totally, just more), so maybe they actually will have big fly swatters for unsanctioned online releases. I wonder what the implications will be for ENWorld with both this and Gleemax/DDI?

  21. Dai Oni says:

    “And yet, did not release the Rules Compendium in PDF, a book that makes perfect sense to buy in PDF right now.”Dave

    It will. The print was just released late last year. Give it time.

  22. Dai Oni says:

    “Hmmm, IIRC. WotC didn’t seem too precious about lifting the Call of Cthulhu Sanity Mechanic for Unearthed Arcana.”PoC

    If you’re referring to the Call of Cthulhu d20 written by Monte Cook and John Tyne, it seems they have every right, sans anything specifically related to CoC intellectual properties (owned by Chaosium, not the Public Domain Lovecraft’s works).

    The same goes for lifting the VP/WP health system mechanics from their Star Wars d20 rulebooks.

  23. AndrewJ says:

    “They can’t. All they can do is watch if you copied their words from their books. Concept cannot be copyrighted. Words can” Dai Oni

    I think you are truly mistaken. You can get around many concepts by rewriting them and not using exact words. But attempting to make a system that does essentially the exact same thing, the same way, but using different words is still Copyright infringement and violates the OGL. Example, changing Experience point awards to role playing point awards is a violation of the OGL.

    Regardless compatible content has been around a long long time. It is easier to ignore the OGL and do what I said above and leave any reference to compatabilty off of a document and claim it as a generic roleplaying supplement. Does it hurt not to have the OGL or D20 stamp on your product…yeap. But it also gives you a bit more freedom. I expect anyone trying to make a living at publishing OGL product has the $5000.00 investment needed. The rest of us can simply publish something generic and update it once the SRD and OGL are free in 2009.

    WOTC opened a huge market with the OGL as many writers realized dreams of being published if only in PDF format. It also gave many settings the ability to prosper because of it. Before OGL D&D was the 800lb gorilla, it still is. However there are many more genre’s, campaign settings, and adventures than existed from the entire period that dirst and second edition existed. The new changes are not going to stop writers. Worlds that nearly died like 7th sea got new life from the OGL and are now just not going to die. The market for RPG material is not lucrative for all but a few….but it is large thanks to PDF, places like RPGNOW and WOTC.
    So less worry and more stuff for me to play with please.( I myself suck at writing new material and LOVE all the options made available.)

  24. Dai Oni says:

    “I think you are truly mistaken. You can get around many concepts by rewriting them and not using exact words. But attempting to make a system that does essentially the exact same thing, the same way, but using different words is still Copyright infringement and violates the OGL. Example, changing Experience point awards to role playing point awards is a violation of the OGL.” —AndrewJ

    Actually, that would be a violation of the d20 System Trademark License. If you want to introduce a new experience award system, a modified concept of the existing version, you’ll need to express it in your own words, under the OGLv1, not the d20STL.

    Having a compatibility label or not is up to the publisher or designer, just like having third-party companies to make [fashion fad] accessories for Apple iPod, even automakers are designing their cars’ interior around that famous MP3 player. (Blech!) Or trying to get NFL and Patriot licensing to make Patriots/Super Bowl gears. It’s all about business.

  25. Dai Oni says:

    OBTW, they’re not calling the new license OGL. It’s Game System License (GSL).

    I have a sinking feeling that what is legally defined as Open Game Content (or OGC) in the current OGLv1 will have a different legal term in the new GSL. If that is true, then by that technicality we can’t use 4e “open” material with OGLv1 and vice versa (can’t use 3e OGC with GSL).

    Pray that I’m wrong.

  26. Baron says:

    Well, personally I wish WoTC would cancel the OGL all together, I am sickened by the flood of books that came out with that OGL/d20STL with 3.0, I want less books and PDF crap out than ever before. It all just convilutes and distorts everything, let DnD be DnD and you go make a game and publish it under your own rules systems, why use d20 for everything, its nutts.

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