TL;DR – by WotC’s own admission, the OGL revision plan that was leaked last week caused such fear and anger in the tabletop roleplaying community, “it’s clear from the reaction that we rolled a 1.” Gotta wonder if undermining the gaming population’s faith in the brand, and sending reactionary waves through the industry, was worth it.
A new edition of D&D was inevitable – as long as profits must be made, new books and revisions will come along every few years. Except, One D&D, the temporary title Wizards of the Coast has given the upcoming 6th Edition, sounds like it will be moving toward a subscription-based model, using D&D Beyond (ensuring its success is the entire reason WotC pulled all PDFs of their products from the internet a while back). Additionally, Hasbro, parent company of WotC, has decided the Dungeons and Dragons brand is undermonetized, and that seems to be the real source of trouble.
Last week, a new Open Game License – version 1.1, which Wizards has been working on to accompany One D&D – was leaked to Gizmodo. This new OGL has several troubling provisions third party publishers would be required to comply with in order to create One D&D products:
- Publishers making more than $50,000 in revenue would have to report it to Wizards, and those making more than $750,000 would be required to pay royalties – the amounts of 20%-25% were mentioned.
- Royalties on qualifying revenue would be 25%, unless funded through Kickstarter, where it would only incur a 20% royalty fee. Any other website, crowdfunding or otherwise, gets the 25% rate. (Gizmodo verified this with Jon Ritter, Director of Games at Kickstarter)
- The new license “only allows for creation of roleplaying games and supplements in printed media and static electronic file formats. It does not allow for anything else, including but not limited to things like videos, virtual tabletops or VTT campaigns, computer games, novels, apps, graphics novels, music, songs, dances, and pantomimes.” This would clear the way for WotC to take over the VTT scene – sorry, Foundry, Alchemy, Roll20, and all the creators that benefit from them. (Also… “pantomimes”?)
- WotC can apparently “modify or terminate this agreement for any reason whatsoever, provided We give thirty (30) days’ notice.” This would effectively stop a publisher from releasing OGL products. The license text also gives Wizards a “nonexclusive, perpetual, irrevocable, worldwide, sub-licensable, royalty-free license to use that content for any purpose.” So, by this logic, WotC could terminate your agreement, then take your product, put their logo on it, and publish it themselves – without paying you.
The OGL was originally designed by WotC in 2000, where Ryan Dancey, then a VP in charge of the D&D brand, hoped the OGL would take the support product load off WotC’s back. When Wizards acquired D&D, TSR (the original publisher of D&D) had been smothering and going bankrupt under the weight of all the products it was producing (among other issues). The hope was to encourage fans and other companies to create support products and build a larger community for the game – a task it succeeded in beyond anyone’s wildest dreams. (By the way, Dancey is still championing OGL 1.0a: As of this writing, Dancey has received over 11,000 signatures on a petition for WotC/Hasbro to publicly declare they will not revoke or impair the OGL 1.0a.)
Some parting thoughts:
This EFF article is making the rounds right now. It states the OGL is not necessary to publish D&D compatible books, and is just a list of rights to give up to WotC to avoid being sued.
For most users, accepting this license almost certainly means you have fewer rights to use elements of Dungeons and Dragons than you would otherwise. For example, absent this agreement, you have a legal right to create a work using noncopyrightable elements of D&D or making fair use of copyrightable elements and to say that that work is compatible with Dungeons and Dragons.
The primary benefit is that you know under what terms Wizards of the Coast will choose not to sue you, so you can avoid having to prove your fair use rights or engage in an expensive legal battle over copyrightability in court.
Many companies have reacted to WotC’s OGL 1.1 shenanigans by offering their own OGLs for their own games. Here’s just a few of them:
- The Open RPG Creative license (ORC) from WotC’s progeny/competition, Paizo (which other companies like Kobold Press, Chaosium, Goodman Games, Green Ronin, Legendary Games are signing onto)
- The Mörk Borg Third Party license, which has fueled an explosion of compatible products, is being mentioned regularly, though it was already in the wild
- Monte Cook Games’ Cypher System Open License
- The 2d20 World Builders’ Community Content Program (care of Modiphius Entertainment)
Reportedly, a flood of DnD Beyond users have canceled their subscriptions in protest, demanding a guarantee the OGL 1.0a will continue to be a “perpetual, worldwide, non-exclusive license”. Third party creators and influencers are driving this trend, and show no signs of backing down. Wizards has made a statement implying they have reconsidered, and only wanted the ability to protect against inappropriate use of their content (which they already had, but never mind). WotC also said the protestors will claim to have won, but that WotC also “won” by hearing from the fans – but until a final license is released, it’s anyone’s guess what those coastal wizards will do next.