Q: Why create Open Games?
A: The tabletop RPG business lost 60% to 70% of its unit sales from the period from 1993 to 1997. After a detailed study of the market data available, business managers at Wizards of the Coast decided that the primary reason for this decline was the dissatisfaction consumers had about the products game publishers made available for sale.
One way to help publishers make products that will be more interesting to consumers is to allow them to use standardized systems that have large networks of players. Designing a product targeted at a large network of players gives that product a better chance of being commercially successful than designing a product targeted at a small, or a new network of players.
Due to the history of copyright litigation, and the relatively modest financial resources of most game companies, an informal agreement regarding the use of shared game rules, or a license requiring a monetary payment to a third party would not have been sufficient to generate sustained interest in using such systems. Open Games provide both a royalty free license (meaning they impose no financial burden on the publishers) and a formal, explicit agreement describing how to use copyrighted material owned by others without triggering lawsuits or threats of litigation.
Q: Any other reasons?
A: Yes. In addition to the potential improvement in the business of game publishing, Open Games will be subjected to a large, distributed effort to improve the games themselves. Because Open Game licenses allow publishers to make any changes they deem necessary to the material they are using, a publisher who thinks they have found a better way to write a game rule will be free to do so. And, if that new way is perceived as better than the existing alternatives, other publishers will be able to take that new rule and use it as well. In this way, the overall design of an Open Game should improve over time, and be the benefit of far more development and testing than any one game publisher, no matter how large and successful, could hope to apply by themselves.
Q: Is there an ethical reason to support Open Gaming?
A: In this writer's opinion, yes there is. It has been an established feature of RPGs since their inception that they should be used to create new content. Prior to the advent of widespread Open Game licenses, there was no practical way for that kind of material to be legally and widely distributed.
Open Gaming is recognition that your natural human right to free speech is protected and enhanced. The Open Game system is a way for the game publishing industry to finally deliver on the basic promises made by the very first RPGs; that individuals should be free to copy, modify and distribute their own creative works derived from the game systems they have acquired.
Q: Is there a business-related reason to support Open Games?
A: In the case of companies who own trademarks and brands associated with large player networks, one school of thought holds that Open Games which link to those large networks will tend to reinforce them and drive value to the owners of those trademarks and brands.
That is the primary reason that Wizards of the Coast, as a company, is supportive of the Open Game concept. It fully expects that it will gain a direct financial reward in years to come from the widespread positive effects Open Gaming will have on its RPG properties, specifically on sales of Dungeons & Dragons materials.
Of course, the flip side to that theory is that if it is successful, it is successful because other publishers have also been able to extract value from the network of players through the sale and promotion of their own Open Game product lines. Thus, at the same time the owners of large game network trademarks and brands stand to benefit greatly, so do smaller companies or individuals that simply want to sell their work to the largest possible audience of consumers.
Q: What good is a copyright license for Open Games then?
A: Even though portions of an RPG may not be copyrightable as an idea or as a rule, the actual text used to describe those rules is copyrightable. In addition, all the material surrounding the non-copyright portion is protected by the copyright law as well. The copyright licenses used by Open Games ensure that no matter where an individual judge might draw the line between copyright and non-copyright, you can be sure that you have the freedom to copy, modify and distribute the work. Removing this gray area creates a "safe harbor" that publishers can use to shield themselves from litigation. The safe harbor is an important component to the commercial viability of Open Games. Without it, most rational publishers would not attempt to use a shared rules system out of fear that someone somewhere would sue them for copyright infringement.
Another very valuable right you gain from an Open Game is the right to make a derivative work based on someone else's copyright. Without that right, you cannot legally make and distribute a derivative work. Since RPGs are often self-referencing (meaning, you use one part of the RPG to indicate how another part works or interacts with players during the game), RPGs are essentially chains of linked, derivative works. By giving you the right to make a derivative work, an Open Game license allows you to extend or modify these chains as you see fit.
Q: What does Hasbro think of the d20 System/Open Game concept?
A: The basic ideas were presented to the CEO of Hasbro in 1999 as a part of a wide-ranging overview of the company's Research & Development efforts.
In the great scheme of things, Hasbro as a corporation doesn't care one way or the other about Open Games and the d20 System. In fact, the RPG business itself is just barely large enough to be broken out as a separate line item in the financial accounting that Wizards of the Coast provides to Hasbro.
In short, Hasbro's management and oversight will be a non-factor in the success or lack thereof of the OGL/d20 experiment.
Q: Why is Wizards of the Coast pursuing this strategy?
A: The company believes that one of the major factors which caused the collapse of the commercial tabletop RPG market from 1993 to 1996 was the proliferation of different, incompatible, core game systems.
Wizards of the Coast believes that by doing so, and by educating consumers about the benefits of Open Games, the fundamental economics of the tabletop RPG category will be improved. One (obvious) consequence of this strategy is that if it works, Wizards will see significant, long-term financial benefits. Thus, the company sees this as a win-win situation, where it can benefit along with, rather than at the expense of, other publishers.