The Art of the Apology

Thanks to Patreon, we have a template for what a good apology looks like. So how did Wizards of the Coast do?

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Picture courtesy of Pixabay.

A Best Practice​

When Patreon made a change that caused customers to flee the platform, Patreon reversed course and apologized, explaining in no uncertain terms that they screwed up. Wizards of the Coast (WOTC) similarly had to reassess after their changes to the Open Game License (OGL) caused an uproar. So how did they do?

Was it Timely? (A-)​

Patreon announced its fee structure changes on December 6, 2017. Seven days later, on December 13, they reversed the policy and apologized. io9 reported on the Open Game License concerns on January 5, 2023. WOTC released their own statement in response eight days later, on January 13. It certainly seemed like an eternity in the world of social media and likely satisfied no one with how long it took to respond, but WOTC's response is in line with Patreon's. Overall, a week is about how long large organizations can take to get approvals, so this seems right.

Who Apologized? (D)​

One of the striking aspects of Patreon's apology is that it was released by its founder, Jack Conte, who didn't shy away from tough questions. In contrast, WOTC released a statement from "D&D Beyond Staff." The statement used the word "we" 37 times. A key component of an apology is transparency, and the fact that no one individual spoke on behalf of the company makes it difficult to engage with the message. It's hard to forgive an anonymous speaker on behalf of a corporation.

Did it Address the Issue? (B)​

Patreon reversed their implementation. Although they admitted payment terms still needed to be addressed, Patreon unequivocally reversed their plans. Similarly, WOTC never actually rolled out the new OGL and announced that they wouldn't roll out a new version of the OGL with some (but not all) of the issues to be addressed in the new version. Their statement did address most of the pressing concerns, but never rolled back one of the biggest worries: deauthorizing older versions of the OGL.

Was It Contrite? (C)​

Conte openly admitted:
We messed up. We're sorry, and we're not rolling out the fees change.
WOTC similarly said:
We want to always delight fans and create experiences together that everyone loves. We realize we did not do that this time and we are sorry for that.
The contrition is appropriate, but it's at the end instead of the beginning of the statement. Good apologies lead with "I'm sorry," not conclude with it. Weirdly, the last two paragraphs feel tacked on, like another voice (it's impossible to tell who, since there's no author) added more important info. It also includes this:
Second, you’re going to hear people say that they won, and we lost because making your voices heard forced us to change our plans. Those people will only be half right. They won—and so did we.
No apology should ever invoke winners or losers. It devalues the apology and it makes it sound like a game of one-upmanship. That statement seems like "making your voices heard" was a bad thing. Which leads to the next issue...

Was There a Plan to Listen Better? (D)​

Patreon changed how they were engaging with their customers as a result of their misstep, including open channels with leadership. WOTC's letter explains that their plan was always to:
...solicit the input of our community before any update to the OGL; the drafts you’ve seen were attempting to do just that. We want to always delight fans and create experiences together that everyone loves. We realize we did not do that this time and we are sorry for that. Our goal was to get exactly the type of feedback on which provisions worked and which did not–which we ultimately got from you. Any change this major could only have been done well if we were willing to take that feedback, no matter how it was provided–so we are.
And yet, there was no acknowledgement that one of the reasons the community pushed back so fiercely is that there is no single means of providing input to WOTC. WOTC seems to define the community as the 20 biggest RPG publishers using the OGL, as that's who received the first draft that caused the uproar in the first place. Those 20 publishers by no means represented the entirety of the very diverse community of creators. As a result of this lack of clarity on how to let WOTC know what they think, the company has been subjected to a swarming approach, with mass D&D Beyond cancellations, change.org petitions, open letters to the company, and phone calls and emails to their headquarters. Having a channel for garnering feedback would go a long way to at least let the community feel like their voices are being heard, but the apology letter provided no insight on how to do that or if it will change in the future.

Was There a Plan to Communicate Better? (D)​

Patreon made it a point of appointing a new Chief Product Officer and a newsletter to provide updates. WOTC claimed that they "love D&D’s devoted players and the creators who take them on so many incredible adventures," and a promise to not let the community down ... but no explanation as to what the next steps are or when. Currently, the OGL will be released with no explanation as to when and where.

Overall: C-​

Well, that wasn't great.

WOTC's apology had some important nuggets that could potentially go a long way to mollifying the community's frustration with the OGL rollout. But it came after a spotty explanation and included some false equivalencies that likely further antagonized a passionate community trying hard to preserve their game's future.

Nobody "wins" by getting a company to listen to them. That's just good business. As future companies and coalitions launch to take up the mantle of OGL's future, they would do well to remember that.
 
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Michael Tresca

Michael Tresca


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Xethreau

Josh Gentry - Author, Minister in Training
Ok, if that's not the right word to use, then what is the word you would prefer?
You may not want to say WotC/Hasbro was doing psychological abuse, but I will. I think gaslighting was the perfect word to use. (We know "just a draft" is a lie because the leaks are confirmed by WotC as real, and the "drafts" are not presented as drafts--they came with contracts and NDAs attached, along with high-pressure to sign.) I don't think its extreme to say that a toy company would stoop to psychological abuse of the public. Toys are good money. To say that they would not stoop to such a thing over the matter of money just because they make toys is a deflection.
 
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FitzTheRuke

Legend
I think it's fair to say that many corporations are abusive - to their staff, their customers, and their business partners. I don't think that they have to be, in order to make money (though maybe to make perpetually increasing profits - I think that goal requires exploitation somewhere along the line; at least when the natural limits are met, and everything has natural limits). But NOT to make, good solid, sustainable profits.

I think it's just that many corporations, at some level, are run by abusive people, so it naturally flows into their business practices.

It seems that some lawyer at Hasbro explained how they could get out of the OGL "trap" so they decided that they would... without thinking about the potential negative consequences.
 

BlueFin

Explorer
While I accept this is an attempt to provide a balanced analysis and comparison, it is fundamentally flawed.

Any 'apology' that is filled with lies, obfuscation, and watering-down language, to the point of effectively blaming the 'victim' (we the community) for misunderstanding their intention, has failed at the gate, despite the presence of the word 'sorry' (1 word out of 750! - yes, I did the count, not sure what that says about me 😂).

In any meaningful sense, it simply is not an apology at all, and thus the analysis is fundamentally flawed. And because it is not an actual apology, and as many have stated, the only valid mark to give is an F-.
 

Art Waring

halozix.com
You may not want to say WotC/Hasbro was doing psychological abuse, but I will. I think gaslighting was the perfect word to use. (We know "just a draft" is a lie because the leaks are confirmed by WotC as real, and the "drafts" are not presented as drafts--they came with contracts and NDAs attached, along with high-pressure to sign.) I don't think its extreme to say that a toy company would stoop to psychological abuse of the public. Toys are good money. To say that they would not stoop to such a thing over the matter of money just because they make toys is a deflection.
Detractors aside, I have personally experienced a pretty significant loss in time & sunk costs working on a 5e project for many years. But I am ok with that. What my problem is, is that there are publishers, writers, artists, creatives, & freelancers of all stripes, all potentially out of a job because of a mutual agreement that stood firm for 23 years that is now null and void.

Creatives poured their heart and soul into their work under seemingly false pretenses, it is definitely going to sting when they feel that they have been lied to.

I guess it would be an understatement to say that the stress for a lot of people is real right now, & Its taking its toll for real.

I am going to try and keep cool while I work on my own independent game, using my own system, potentially licensing openly by using the ORC if that looks 100% viable.
 

Xethreau

Josh Gentry - Author, Minister in Training
While I accept this is an attempt to provide a balanced analysis and comparison, it is fundamentally flawed.

Any 'apology' that is filled with lies, obfuscation, and watering-down language, to the point of effectively blaming the 'victim' (we the community) for misunderstanding their intention, has failed at the gate, despite the presence of the word 'sorry' (1 word out of 750! - yes, I did the count, not sure what that says about me 😂).

In any meaningful sense, it simply is not an apology at all, and thus the analysis is fundamentally flawed. And because it is not an actual apology, and as many have stated, the only valid mark to give is an F-.
I think you are right about this. That said, I think @talien is doing right by the community to offer a generous analysis. We can see the value of this because we can see the statement is only barely acceptable using the most conservative, generous interpretation. (By any other measure they are failing.)

I think the statement by WotC is more aptly compared to "The Narcissist's Prayer." (Found on Twitter, not OC). If I were to rate how well WotC's letter conformed to the form of the prayer, I would give it a B+. You will notice that the entire Narcissist's Prayer is a gaslighting playbook--all the more reason to call out WotC's abuse of the public.
 

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Xethreau

Josh Gentry - Author, Minister in Training
Detractors aside, I have personally experienced a pretty significant loss in time & sunk costs working on a 5e project for many years. But I am ok with that. What my problem is, is that there are publishers, writers, artists, creatives, & freelancers of all stripes, all potentially out of a job because of a mutual agreement that stood firm for 23 years that is now null and void.

Creatives poured their heart and soul into their work under seemingly false pretenses, it is definitely going to sting when they feel that they have been lied to.

I guess it would be an understatement to say that the stress for a lot of people is real right now, & Its taking its toll for real.

I am going to try and keep cool while I work on my own independent game, using my own system, potentially licensing openly by using the ORC if that looks 100% viable.
This is the real real. Thank you for saying all that.
 

teitan

Legend
It’s an F-, a 0. It wasn’t an apology. It was a concession because they lost a ton of money to try to stop the sieve from leaking more. That was it. And it was blatantly so. They gave no indication of redress and immediate leaks demonstrated no real changes occurring except the royalty fees and longer turn around times to address changes they might make. It will still be incredibly restrictive and no redress about their attempt to squelch companies like Paizo which, come on, it was obvious with their competitors statements.
 

Argyle King

Legend
This whole thing is a cautionary tale for why having a PR and/or Communications person on the team is important.

It's crazy to me that a company under the umbrella of Hasbro made multiple communications mistakes -within just one message- which would have been covered in a 101-level course.

Even if the new license had been the greatest thing since baked* bread, the rollout was handled in a way which did serious damage to the company's perception among the customer base.

(*I feel that sliced is over-rated.)
 

tetrasodium

Legend
Supporter
I think it's fair to say that many corporations are abusive - to their staff, their customers, and their business partners. I don't think that they have to be, in order to make money (though maybe to make perpetually increasing profits - I think that goal requires exploitation somewhere along the line; at least when the natural limits are met, and everything has natural limits). But NOT to make, good solid, sustainable profits.

I think it's just that many corporations, at some level, are run by abusive people, so it naturally flows into their business practices.

It seems that some lawyer at Hasbro explained how they could get out of the OGL "trap" so they decided that they would... without thinking about the potential negative consequences.
I think it's more than that. The GSL debacle & results of trying it once before isn't so long ago that it counts as anything but "still fairly recent" in terms of d&d or what C suite level folks at a company with over a billion dollars in revenue should be expected to know should be expected to know. When the OGL changes first got attention back on November 10 2022 an awful lot of people rolled their eyes & laughed it off because nobody at a company with so much revenue could be so stupid after the last failed attempt with 4e & the GSL.
 

BlueFin

Explorer
@TheSword, some food for thought, rather than worrying too much (read: "at all") about "a business trying to consolidate its IP" ....
Detractors aside, I have personally experienced a pretty significant loss in time & sunk costs working on a 5e project for many years. But I am ok with that. What my problem is, is that there are publishers, writers, artists, creatives, & freelancers of all stripes, all potentially out of a job because of a mutual agreement that stood firm for 23 years that is now null and void.

Creatives poured their heart and soul into their work under seemingly false pretenses, it is definitely going to sting when they feel that they have been lied to.

I guess it would be an understatement to say that the stress for a lot of people is real right now, & Its taking its toll for real.

I am going to try and keep cool while I work on my own independent game, using my own system, potentially licensing openly by using the ORC if that looks 100% viable.
wotc IP has never been in danger. That is not what they are trying to "consolidate" or protect with their proposed new OGL. I won't go into a repeat of deeper analysis here as there is already plenty of it. But please do some deeper research, and think about the deeper harms being done to thousands of creators, employees, family members and their dependents, and the community, before giving too much concern to the billion dollar corp ... just a thought 😉
 


ThorinTeague

Explorer
For the life of me I cannot figure out why so much weight is being put on considering the merits of apologizing for attempting to do something illegal, sincere or otherwise.

What results do you say the average schmuck like you or I would get from breaching a contractual agreement and saying we're sorry?
Thinking of it (I can backpedal because I'm just an naughty word basement dweller who means nothing), apologizing would have an effect on their shares' value.
 


TheSword

Legend
@TheSword, some food for thought, rather than worrying too much (read: "at all") about "a business trying to consolidate its IP" ....

wotc IP has never been in danger. That is not what they are trying to "consolidate" or protect with their proposed new OGL. I won't go into a repeat of deeper analysis here as there is already plenty of it. But please do some deeper research, and think about the deeper harms being done to thousands of creators, employees, family members and their dependents, and the community, before giving too much concern to the billion dollar corp ... just a thought 😉
I get that. But it does make a difference to WotC. The right to own their own game is important to them, clearly. The thing is that there is nothing stopping folks publishing under the new license and therefore not losing their jobs aside from the idea of revocability.

My job isn’t irrevocable. Most peoples aren’t. In fact there’s a decent chance I could be out of a job in 6 months. People’s companies are subject to the vagaries of life and business. They’re restructured, supply and demand rises and falls and tastes change.. The idea that a person is entitled to permanent guarantees over their job in this world is a pipe dream. Where they do exist, someone has to usually pay through the nose for it.

So forgive me if I lack quite as much sympathy for folks that say, unless I can publish 5e products for ever, I’m not going to publish them at all. Yes WotC could revoke the deal under 1.2. Make sure it’s not in their interest not to. Instead of trying to force their hand and being outraged when they’re not happy to be forced.
 

Bayushi_seikuro

Adventurer
I'm being genuine when I write this, because it's just a thought that occured to me.

It keeps being said that the OGL is a contract. I've never signed an acceptance. I've never published any gaming works for mass consumption.

Per Cornell Law's website:
A contract is an agreement between parties, creating mutual obligations that are enforceable by law. The basic elements required for the agreement to be a legally enforceable contract are: mutual assent, expressed by a valid offer and acceptance; adequate consideration; capacity; and legality. In some states, elements of consideration can be satisfied by a valid substitute. Possible remedies for breach of contract include general damages, consequential damages, reliance damages, and specific performance.

How would/did all the sides show acceptance of the OGL? I understand publishers and designers would show acceptance by complying with and including the License in the work.

Another point of the Cornell definition I'm curious about: legality. It's always seemed to me that since OGL had never had a legal case regarding it specifically, using the assumption that it would follow open-source computer code rulings is... an assumption. It never had been tested - everyone just took Ryan Dancey's word for it that what it read as was what it is, and there would never come a time that someone - on either side - would push for it.

I think we should also consider the fact that we live in a world where, if you're a parent who cuts the crusts off your child's PB&J, you are breaking a trademark that Smuckers owns. Smucker’s is in a trademark fight with small business over round, crustless sandwiches
 

BlueFin

Explorer
I get that. But it does make a difference to WotC. The right to own their own game is important to them, clearly. The thing is that there is nothing stopping folks publishing under the new license and therefore not losing their jobs aside from the idea of revocability.

My job isn’t irrevocable. Most peoples aren’t. In fact there’s a decent chance I could be out of a job in 6 months. People’s companies are subject to the vagaries of life and business. They’re restructured, supply and demand rises and falls and tastes change.. The idea that a person is entitled to permanent guarantees over their job in this world is a pipe dream. Where they do exist, someone has to usually pay through the nose for it.

So forgive me if I lack quite as much sympathy for folks that say, unless I can publish 5e products for ever, I’m not going to publish them at all. Yes WotC could revoke the deal under 1.2. Make sure it’s not in their interest not to. Instead of trying to force their hand and being outraged when they’re not happy to be forced.
Wow, just ... wow 😳. Breathtaking. You didn't happen to write wotc's ... sorry, D&D beyond's, "update on the OGL" did you?
 

bostonmyk

Explorer
So forgive me if I lack quite as much sympathy for folks that say, unless I can publish 5e products for ever, I’m not going to publish them at all. Yes WotC could revoke the deal under 1.2. Make sure it’s not in their interest not to. Instead of trying to force their hand and being outraged when they’re not happy to be forced.
Nobody did a thing to force their hand other than grow their market. No bad actor ever stopped doing something harmful because they were appeased.

Mike
 



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