Fixing the Mess

After Patreon announced a wildly unpopular change that caused fans to leave their platform in droves, they reversed course. Was it enough?

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Picture courtesy of Pixabay.

Not Just the Cool Kids​

We previously discussed how Patreon, focused on its largest creators, ended up making changes that harmed smaller but far more numerous creators, who lost their fans in droves. Fortunately, Patreon reversed course within a week. Their reversal gives some hope for what a path forward for the Open Game License might look like.

Jack Conte, CEO of Patron, took to Reddit for an Ask Me Anything (AMA) session. Jack took several tough questions head on, but Reddit member Yuuri might have summed it up best:
What can we do, together, as creators and staff at Patreon, to avoid this disheartening cycle of "we hear you, we're taking your feedback, we're listening" only to get a big pie shoved right in our faces? I have been eager to help and give feedback at every turn. I've seen the stuff Patreon is working on and am excited for changes (hello App). But times like this kill all hope and instead of working on my art, I am here pleading with Patreon on behalf of my peers who are not informed or have the time to speak out like this. Personally, I'd like to see creators of all sorts come together to on a panel that is in direct communication with Patreon, I need to know that when changes like this are even floated, there are advocates for us in the room explaining why and how these changes impact us. Not the just the top creators on Patreon, not just the big crossover artists with 10's of thousands of Twitter followers. Not just the cool kids. I want people with tried and true records of giving feedback and working with Patreon to get the call to make this $#!+ better and help avoid instances like this.
The reference to the "cool kids" was a nod to what Patreon had publicly acknowledged previously, that top 2 percent of Patreon's customers, known as Financially Successful Creators (FSCs), were a disproportionate focus on Patreon's efforts. As the blowback to Patreon's fee structure demonstrated, small creators mattered too.

Conte outlined his response, and grouped Patreon's efforts to improve into three broad categories: contrition, better listening, and better communicating.

Contrition​

In addition to reversing the change they announced, Conte apologized. He apologized on Patreon's blog. He apologized to the press. And he apologized in the Reddit AMA.
We’ve heard you loud and clear. We’re not going to rollout the changes to our payments system that we announced last week. We still have to fix the problems that those changes addressed, but we’re going to fix them in a different way, and we’re going to work with you to come up with the specifics, as we should have done the first time around. Many of you lost patrons, and you lost income. No apology will make up for that, but nevertheless, I’m sorry. It is our core belief that you should own the relationships with your fans. These are your businesses, and they are your fans. We recognize that we need to be better at involving you more deeply and earlier in these kinds of decisions and product changes. Additionally, we need to give you a more flexible product and platform to allow you to own the way you run your memberships. I know it will take a long time for us to earn back your trust. But we are utterly devoted to your success and to getting you sustainable, reliable income for being a creator. We will work harder than ever to build you tools, functionality, and income, and our team won’t rest until Patreon is making that happen.
Apologies can be tricky, because it requires authenticity and transparency. A general apology from a company's public relations department isn't sufficient. It requires a face to the company, a spokesperson in some authority, to make the appropriate apology. Conte has always been out in front of Patreon since it launched, and thus was a natural choice to make the apology. And whoever makes the apology needs a thick skin, because no matter what the apology actually contains, someone won't be happy with it.

Better Listening​

When Patreon made its change to its fee structure, they touted responses to Net Promoter Score (NPS) that were -50, along with quotes to go with it. Patreon was listening to somebody, but whoever they were didn't represent the majority of Patreon's customers. To that end, Conte promised a regular live hangout with creators and Patreon leadership, an audit and optimization of the process they used to gather feedback from our creators, and members of the leadership team committing to connecting with creators on Discord each month.

One of the startling aspects of the current Open Game License controversy is how much the new license seemed concerned about creators ... when for years, thousands of creators were largely on their own. If the current or future owners of Open Game Licenses plan to engage the community, they'll need to really engage them, not just with a new license, but a community that helps guide them so we don't find ourselves in this mess again. That means forums, live chats, and accessibility to leadership on a regular basis.

Better Communicating​

Patreon also hired a new Chief Product Officer who would focus on the "feedback loop with creators" along with a recurring creator newsletter from the product team about roadmap updates.

Similarly, any OGL initiative will need a steady rhythm of communication to keep creators in the loop. And it certainly means no Non-Disclosure Agreements, which were an attempt to intentionally separate out some creators from others.

What We Can Learn from Patreon's Mistake​

Patreon prides itself on being accessible to the general public, and that brand has paid dividends. Patreon's currency is in the success of its creators graduating to become FSCs capable of making a living off the platform alone. But that appeal is grounded in the possibility that you have to start somewhere, and anyone could become financially independent if they had enough patrons. It's the Thousand Fan Theory, and it takes a lot of work to get there.

Patreon survived its controversy, retrenched, and continues to grow. The platform and company is by no means perfect, but as of June 2021, Patreon had in excess of 6 million patrons nearly 200,000 creators, with the FSCs earning as much as $200,000 per year -- many of them tabletop gamers! Patreon is now valued at $4 billion.

Patreon served as a warning of how large companies built on the backs of small creators can lose sight of how important they are: as creators, as customers, and as fans. Losing one means losing all three, and that can be devastating in the long-term to an industry that prides itself on the free sharing of ideas. Patron learned the hard way what matters most: share your plans often and early, ask questions and listen to the response, and most of all be humble.

As the Open Game License (or lack thereof) spawns competitors and new ventures, it's good advice for anyone planning to earn the gaming community's goodwill.
 
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Michael Tresca

Michael Tresca


Blue

Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal
This is a great example of how a company changed course. I think WotC has a longer road back (if they want to try) because the changes to the OGL came across as intentionally harmful, as opposed to negligently harmful. This was intentionally going back on a 20+ year promise as opposed to just changing a fee structure without considering how it would affect everyone.

Still, this would be a good start. WotC responding soon, including walking it all back. A genuine appology, from someone high up the corporate ladder that we believe that could be the sponsor of this. And immediate revsal, which in this case would have to include launching a new OGL either exactly like 1.0a but with the "magic lawyer word" irrevocable, or working with the Open Gaming Foundation and 3PP community to make an even stronger OGL much like the GPLv2 it was based on was updated to GPLv3 in 2008.

Unfortunately, I think that with their recent software senior management and purchase of DnDBeyond, that a software strategy is strong with them and changing the OGL to make them exclusive players in that field is too big a part of it.

But still, they can start to regain trust, they just need to move soon and walk it all back.
 

talien

Community Supporter
Interesting but not super analogous. Patreon had little competition in that space while the TTRPG hobby has a lot of competition.
Patreon's mistake launched several competitors, including Kickstarter's Drip: Introducing the New Drip

Drip unfortunately stumbled: Kickstarter's Drip 'Reboot' Scrapped After Serious Business Model Issues Surface

In Patreon's case, the true competitors were just other ways to make money, like Kickstarter and Kofi. As we're seeing today, creators now see the OGL as so much of a risk that they're moving to other gaming agreements (or plan to, like ORC).
 

FormerLurker

Adventurer
Interesting but not super analogous. Patreon had little competition in that space while the TTRPG hobby has a lot of competition.
There are lots of other people making content in the TTRPG space, but D&D isn't really competing with any of them.

Pathfinder and World of Darkess were the only brands to ever outsell D&D, and the former likely only did so because as many people stopped buying RPG books altogether or stuck with their 3.5e books as moved to their game. And that was WW's entire mid-90s product line against the struggling TSR on the verge of bankruptcy after WotC started the TCG boom.

D&D is at its peak now. Nothing is close to it.
 


FormerLurker

Adventurer
Fixing the mess should be easy as WotC hasn't actually done anything yet.

It would be super easy for them to deny and just claim the leaked OGL was one of a few possible licenses they were working on, but not the one they plan to release. And then pass off the delayed response as them trying to get the actual OGL 2.0 out to reassure fans, and not wanting to rush it, but realizing it would not be in an acceptable release condition soon enough.
Effortless spin.

Especially as the vast majority of the fanbase probably doesn't actually use 3PP. The existence of the OGL doesn't affect most homegames.

It also doesn't help that so much of the response online doesn't really seem to understand the 1.0a OGL, let alone have really read the various leaked OGL 1.1 drafts. I've seen a lot of bad faith arguments online.
 

Two thoughts:

(1) That's a good apology. He actually said "I'm sorry", which many so-called apologies do not.

(2) NPS (Net Promoter Score) is complete bunk and it's not surprising that relying on it would lead a company in the wrong direction.
 

Bravesteel25

Baronet of Gaming
Fixing the mess should be easy as WotC hasn't actually done anything yet.

It would be super easy for them to deny and just claim the leaked OGL was one of a few possible licenses they were working on, but not the one they plan to release. And then pass off the delayed response as them trying to get the actual OGL 2.0 out to reassure fans, and not wanting to rush it, but realizing it would not be in an acceptable release condition soon enough.
Effortless spin.

Especially as the vast majority of the fanbase probably doesn't actually use 3PP. The existence of the OGL doesn't affect most homegames.

It also doesn't help that so much of the response online doesn't really seem to understand the 1.0a OGL, let alone have really read the various leaked OGL 1.1 drafts. I've seen a lot of bad faith arguments online.
I can't speak for anyone else, but even if WotC doesn't go forward with this version of the license, they have shown what they were willing and capable of doing; that alone alone has lead me away from D&D 5E entirely, and I will not be buying any more D&D products produced by WotC. I'm only one person, but I'm sure I'm not the only one that feels the same way. I don't want the a metaphorical Sword of Damocles hanging over my hobby.
 

FormerLurker

Adventurer
I can't speak for anyone else, but even if WotC doesn't go forward with this version of the license, they have shown what they were willing and capable of doing; that alone alone has lead me away from D&D 5E entirely, and I will not be buying any more D&D products produced by WotC. I'm only one person, but I'm sure I'm not the only one that feels the same way. I don't want the a metaphorical Sword of Damocles hanging over my hobby.
How have they showed their willingness if they haven't actually released the OGL 1.1?
This feels like condemning someone for having bad thoughts...

And by not releasing it, haven't they also show their willingness to listen to fans and not kill the OGL?
 

Yora

Legend
It personally bothers me that the stock image does not have the length of the arrows correspond to the wavelength of the different colors. Such a missed opportunity.
Fixing the mess should be easy as WotC hasn't actually done anything yet.
One of the things they have not done yet is to make any kind of statement to assure customers that the bad thing they are rumored to be doing is not actually true. They made an announcement that they would make a statement, but then canceled that announced statement.

For a big corporate entity, not attempting to deny a brand-damaging hoax at least at the very next day at the latest is highly unexpected.

Deciding not to act does send some kind of signal.
 
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Bravesteel25

Baronet of Gaming
How have they showed their willingness if they haven't actually released the OGL 1.1?
This feels like condemning someone for having bad thoughts...

And by not releasing it, haven't they also show their willingness to listen to fans and not kill the OGL?
They have shown their willingness by distributing this license with an NDA attached. I would agree with you on the "bad thoughts" comment if they hadn't already acted on this by distributing it externally.

Sure, they might let it go for now, but this shows what they really want to do and I'm not sticking around to wait for the sword to drop.
 

Patreon also active managed the crisis, and made their actions clear as they were addressing it. Also, Patreon had good messaging about the “why” at the time of the announcement. Even if it was poorly received, there was an understandable reason.

WotC’s “bunker down and wait” response is almost legendary in length. It confirms that this was their intent, with no Plan B.

After this, more than a simple “mea culpa” is needed to restore trust.
 

Blue

Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal
Fixing the mess should be easy as WotC hasn't actually done anything yet.
I'm unsure if you are up on all of the news. Multiple 3PP have confirmed that they got the new OGL, with additional non-legalise comments, and a contract to sign.

So they have, in fact, "done something".

And that is even before the fact that considering to try to revoke the OGL is going back on 20+ years of promise and intention.

They have well crossed the Rubicon of "doing anything", and are in the territory of needing to walk it back or push forward.

Especially as the vast majority of the fanbase probably doesn't actually use 3PP. The existence of the OGL doesn't affect most homegames.
Your stance is that no one buys 3PP products or kickstarters? Because that's the only wya your statement is true.

That is trivially shown to be false. Pathfinder, Tol'dorie and Matt Mercer, MCDM, Kolbold Press, etc. Lots of companies publishing and it being bought.

It also doesn't help that so much of the response online doesn't really seem to understand the 1.0a OGL, let alone have really read the various leaked OGL 1.1 drafts. I've seen a lot of bad faith arguments online.
This is like saying "well, some people online don't understand [some atrocity], so therefore the atrocity wasn't that bad". Just ebcause there are ill-informed people out there does nor reduce nor forgive what has been done.
 

Voadam

Legend
Apologies can be tricky, because it requires authenticity and transparency. A general apology from a company's public relations department isn't sufficient. It requires a face to the company, a spokesperson in some authority, to make the appropriate apology.
Also the apology should be an actual apology. No hedging if-then apologies of "if this caused harm, then I apologize." Such conditional apologies are fairly common but are not actually acknowledging anything other than the alleged harm, if factual, would be harm worth apologizing over.
 

We previously discussed how Patreon, focused on its largest creators, ended up making changes that harmed smaller but far more numerous creators, who lost their fans in droves. Fortunately, Patreon reversed course within a week. Their reversal gives some hope for what a path forward for the Open Game License might look like.
You might want to make it even more clear that this Patreon debacle you're referencing isn't current. Even as a regular Patreon user and after reading your full article I had to double check to make sure I hadn't missed some new Patreon Policy disaster with all this OGL stuff going on.
 

FormerLurker

Adventurer
Your stance is that no one buys 3PP products or kickstarters? Because that's the only wya your statement is true.

That is trivially shown to be false. Pathfinder, Tol'dorie and Matt Mercer, MCDM, Kolbold Press, etc. Lots of companies publishing and it being bought.

This is like saying "well, some people online don't understand [some atrocity], so therefore the atrocity wasn't that bad". Just ebcause there are ill-informed people out there does nor reduce nor forgive what has been done.
Not "no one." A statistically small percentage.

There are millions of D&D players. How many backed MCDM and Kobold Press' latest kickstarters?
 
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Blue

Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal
Not "no one." A statistically small percentage.

There are millions of D&D players. How many backed MCDM and Kobold Press' latest kickstarters?
Pthfinder was the #1 played RPG in the world for several years, and that's just one of the ones I listed. Do you know how many products are out that use the OGL?

Sorry, you are out of touch with reality if you think only a small percentage of RPG players ever use OGL products. Go do some research for yourself, since you don't seem to beleive anything I say, then we can have an actual conversation.
 

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