D&D 3E/3.5 Ryan Dancey on the Goals of the Open Gaming License

The purpose of the OGL was to act as a force for change. In that sense I think it is an unquaified success.

It changed the relationship of fans to publishers - any person with an idea could participate in the market if they wished.

It changed the relationship of developers to publishers - instead of having to make "Fantasy Heartbreakers", developers were free to show their creativity using a widespread system (which also meant that their talent could more easily be determined instead of having to first decipher a whole new set of notation and rules).

It changed the way TRPGs are presented to the market. Designers were forced to explain why they weren't using a pre-existing OGL option if they elected to do something different. Publishers were forced to reconcile their ideas against the weight of many competitive offerings. Buyers gained a quick and reliable way to determine if the game being offered was something they were likely to be able to induce others to play.

It changed the form factor of TRPG prouducts. Prior to the OGL, other than perhaps as a magazine submission, short form material had no viable commercial market. Likewise the idea that an electronic-only product could be marketed effectively was doubtful. (The OGL facilitated the latter by ensuring that the PDF publishers didn't have to first convince you to try an unknown TRPG too; once the PDF market became real, it then became possible to reliably make alternative TRPG offerings too but it took the intial burst of D20 PDFs to get the market started in a large way).

I also had the goal that the release of the SRD would ensure that D&D in a format that I felt was true to its legacy could never be removed from the market by capricious decisions by its owners. I know just how close that came to happening. In 1997, TSR had pledged most of the copyright interests in D&D as collateral for loans it could not repay, and had Wizards of the Coast not rescued it I'm certain that it would have all gone into a lenghty bankruptcy struggle with a very real chance that D&D couldn't be published until the suits, appeals, countersuits, etc. had all been settled (i.e. maybe never). The OGL enabled that as a positive side effect.

I was amazed and surprised at the number of commercial ventures that got their start around the OGL. Some of those companies are still in business today, and that says something considering the dreadful state of the industry as a whole in the Year of Our Lord 2010. In terms of getting more people into the business of publishing TRPGs, and more people into the role of "was paid to do TRPG design", the OGL broadened and deepend the talent pool in our industry just before we really needed it. (A shout out to the Indy RPG movement which did the same thing in a different way.)

I always wondered if some 3rd party would become a success by iterating on (rather than revising) D&D. Paizo, I'm pleased to say, appears to be well on the way to doing that. They have also embraced the "open source" concept of community-lead improvements. Having thousands of designers work on a game has got to produce a better result than a mere handful, provided the system of editorial control can be sorted (and it seems Paizo has done a great job on that front too.) The OGL, of course, is a virtual requirement for that to have happened.

There were downsides. A lot of retailers bought a lot of OGL crap. Bad on them. As gatekeepers of the industry's purse, they blew it.

The D20 Trademark was abandoned by Wizards and that was a mistake.

Some games that probably deserved their own unique mechanics were subverted by publishers trying to hitch on to the D20 bandwagon. (I would feel worse about this if the Indy RPG movement hadn't acted as a counterweight).

Conversely, several games that cry out for an OGL/D20 version have not and probably will not ever get one. (RIFTS, to say the least).

There is also a lot of work still to be done.

We still lack a clearinghouse for great system design within the overall D20 umbrella. I've seen some just astonishigly awesome stuff in various products over the years and wish that there were a way to categorize it and make it searchable and accessible to future designers.

The OGL itself needs work. I wish a version 2.0 were possible which addressed software better, and did a better job of handling Open Game Content from many diverse sources in one work and had a more robust way of citing sources.

I sleep pretty well at night. I think the OGL was a benefit to the industry and to the players, and I think it is still generating good works.

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Ryan S. Dancey

Ryan S. Dancey

OGL Architect


Well, that was fun
Staff member
Dug up from the depths of EN World. Ryan Dancey posted this nearly a decade ago! Definitely a good refenernce for one of the common debates which crops up around here. Especially the quote:

"I also had the goal that the release of the SRD would ensure that D&D in a format that I felt was true to its legacy could never be removed from the market by capricious decisions by its owners."

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