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

Xethreau

Josh Gentry - Author, Minister in Training
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.
I think you're missing a very important detail here. People weren't falling over themselves to join the OGL at the time of its release. To make joining the OGL persuasive, it was advertised, and they promised, to be permanently free and irrevocable. That was one of the terms of the contract. And that's because there was an opportunity cost at hand. You could either develop your own or RPG, or you could support Wizards of the Coast in building their network externalities. So in exchange for receiving network externalities and a few other benefits, they offered their IP for use on a free and irrevocable basis. I again want to reiterate that it was advertised as such, it was a term to the contract.

So to your point, that makes the OGL extremely unusual! "Pipedream" and all that. We don't expect jobs that we are contracted to do to be permanent... Unless that detail is expressed overtly in the contract and supported in plain English, which it was. To revoke represents a breach of contract by WotC.
 

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Xethreau

Josh Gentry - Author, Minister in Training
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.
Also, this is not true. Supposing that one did move over straight to the new OGL, the OGL in the leaked documents does away with the concept of "open gaming content." As you probably know, open gaming content is a repository of gaming information that began with the 3.0 SRD, and has been built on radically by contributing authors whenever they used the OGL in turn. What the new OGL does is to offer a license to use content from the 5.1 SRD. It does not offer participation in open gaming content.

To put it simply, once you join in on the new OGL, you burn the bridge to previous content under the OGL. This does not represent a safe transition for established authors.
 


BlueFin

Explorer
I'm View attachment 272739that we were caught and are now in View attachment 272741by you the fans.


In the game of View attachment 272742we were trying to View attachment 272743and have a View attachment 272744
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but you play a good game of View attachment 272745 and uncovered our View attachment 272746.



We listened and created a better View attachment 272748 that is free of View attachment 272749and



hopefully will not go View attachment 272750 keep our View attachment 272751 of world dominance intact.


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attempt to make you want to buy those games.
Gold, absolute gold 🤩😂
 

Amrûnril

Adventurer
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.

Companies are indeed subject to the vagaries of life and business. Sometimes, the vagary that they're subject to is that prior leadership has made a perpetual agreement allowing third parties access to the content the company would now like to monopolize.

It's also worth noting that if 3rd parties being allowed to use the SRD content means WotC not owning the game, by that definition, the current leadership has never owned the game. They just think they should be entitled to, despite longstanding arrangements to the contrary.
 


Psikosis

Explorer
I would give it an F overall. Yes, they (sort of) addressed some of the issues, but there was flagrant gaslighting and dishonesty. I mean really obvious. Laughably obvious. The statement reeked of disingenuous, condescending placating.
 

mamba

Hero
It’s seems like more the same: trying to portray one side as wicked and malicious, rather than a business trying to consolidate its IP.
it can be both…

Business decisions don’t always make everyone happy. As I said WotC seem to be willing to compromise.
only if you are very gullible, nothing relevant changed, 1.0 would still be revoked, 2.0 can be changed to whatever WotC wants, whenever they want

3pp don’t seem to be able to, on principle as it would require to acknowledge that what they have is a bargain not a right (which they won’t do without a fight).
What they have is a contract and a party that thinks with all the money they are making they can ignore that and throw the 3pps under the bus

Are you trying to gaslight us too?
 


mamba

Hero
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.
and the idea that it can be changed at any time, and the knowledge that WotC is just waiting to betray them again…

My job isn’t irrevocable. Most peoples aren’t.
neither are theirs, they still have to provide content that sells, it’s not like WotC is guaranteeing them a salary here

So forgive me if I lack quite as much sympathy
no, I do not
 



FitzTheRuke

Legend
my point was more that not thinking about them is negligent, not caring about them is malicious
True that. It seems that the consequences they thought about, they didn't care about; and the consequences they will care about did not occur to them.

I am sure that they thought that a lot of people would be "upset" but they made the mistake of thinking that it was something they could wait out until it passed.

It doesn't look like it will pass. Things will change going forward, and I don't think there is anything anyone can do to stop it now.

Time will tell.
 


Like most posters here, I think you’re being generous with your grading. Definitely not a B for addressing the issue for me when they basically skip over the deauthorising of the OGL, which is the biggest part of the change.

Same with the contrition. It was a “sorry you got upset by what we said” apology, not a “sorry for what we said” apology, coupled with an odd “everybody wins!” claim, that’s almost nonsensical to me.
 

S'mon

Legend
Lawyers have argued for both sides, as I read it.

A real lawyer would have to see what WoTC's actual position is, to give any opinion on whether it would stand up in court. AFAICS as someone who teaches Contract (& IP) they intend to breach their existing contracts with OGL users, since those contracts enable and require OGL users to licence OGC material used, including WoTC SRD material, on the same terms that they received from WoTC.

Note however that breach of contract is not 'illegal' in any Common Law jurisdiction I'm aware of. All it would mean here, AFAICT, is that WoTC cannot legally terminate licencing of their SRD OGC, so they cannot successfully sue their licensees & the people their licensees have sub-licensees OGC to. It doesn't mean anyone can sue or prosecute them.
 

teitan

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 😉
Yet that’s exactly what they said. Their IP. People using their IP and yet the OGL contains no IP nor does the SRD.
 

Enrahim2

Adventurer
A real lawyer would have to see what WoTC's actual position is, to give any opinion on whether it would stand up in court. AFAICS as someone who teaches Contract (& IP) they intend to breach their existing contracts with OGL users, since those contracts enable and require OGL users to licence OGC material used, including WoTC SRD material, on the same terms that they received from WoTC.

Note however that breach of contract is not 'illegal' in any Common Law jurisdiction I'm aware of. All it would mean here, AFAICT, is that WoTC cannot legally terminate licencing of their SRD OGC, so they cannot successfully sue their licensees & the people their licensees have sub-licensees OGC to. It doesn't mean anyone can sue or prosecute them.
There are commonly laws that allow to sue for damages caused by a part breaching contract, isn't it? There has been done significant investments based upon the assumption that wizards will keep their part of the deal. A lot of that is no in jepardy, due to the uncertain legal status of producing more value based on those investments.
 

Charlaquin

Goblin Queen (She/Her/Hers)

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.
B is far too generous. The deauthorization of the OGL 1.0 was not just one of the biggest worries, it was the primary cause of the backlash. None of the other provisions would matter if the OGL 1.0 remained intact because anyone who didn’t like the other provisions could just ignore them and keep using the OGL 1.0. This deserves a D at best. Walking back the royalty structure and the license-back narrowly gets them above an F, but they still shouldn’t be getting a passing grade in “addressing the actual issue” when the actual issue was the removal of the OGL.

Was It Contrite? (C)​

Conte openly admitted:

WOTC similarly said:

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:

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...
Again, this should be a D. The casual tone undermines any ostensible contrition, especially the part where they had to insist they didn’t lose. The token effort to appear contrite gets them above an F, but still doesn’t earn them a passing grade in contrition when it’s not clear they are actually contrite.

Overall: C-​

Well, that wasn't great.
With the two adjustments suggested above, the overall grade falls to D+, with timeliness being the only category they got higher than a D in.
 
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S'mon

Legend
There are commonly laws that allow to sue for damages caused by a part breaching contract, isn't it? There has been done significant investments based upon the assumption that wizards will keep their part of the deal. A lot of that is no in jepardy, due to the uncertain legal status of producing more value based on those investments.

WoTC have certainly done a lot of economic damage to their licensees by purporting to repudiate the OGL, but I think it would be difficult to make a good case that this is an actionable breach allowing a claim for damages. It would be easier if the OGL included a non-repudiation clause.

Edit: Whereas defending a claim by WoTC against OGL 1.0 users of WoTC-originated OGC ought to be legally simple. AFAICS, I am not your lawyer, etc. :)
 
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