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?

excuse-me-2696394_960_720.jpg

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.
 
Last edited:

log in or register to remove this ad

Michael Tresca

Michael Tresca

BMaC

Adventurer
I asked Chat GPT to write an apology for trying to revoke the OGL 1.0a. The result is better than the actual one:


Dear valued community,

We at Wizards of the Coast would like to extend a sincere apology for our recent actions regarding the revocation of the Open Gaming License 1.0a. We understand that this decision caused confusion and frustration among many of our fans and supporters, and for that, we are truly sorry.

We would like to assure you that our intention was never to limit creativity or stifle the growth of the gaming community. We recognize the importance of the Open Gaming License 1.0a and the role it has played in fostering innovation and collaboration within the industry.
We have since withdrawn our decision to revoke the license and will continue to support the use of the OGL in accordance with its terms. We understand that trust and transparency are essential in maintaining a strong relationship with our community and we are committed to working together to build a better future for everyone.

Once again, we apologize for any confusion or upset our actions may have caused and we look forward to your continued support.
Sincerely, Wizards of the Coast.
 

log in or register to remove this ad

Eyes of Nine

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

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:

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...

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:

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.
The one thing I'm learning from this conversation is that teachers have a really hard job to grade work on anything like an "objective" scale 😂 :ROFLMAO: 🔡

I like the framework @talien used to judge this apology. I have a couple of quibbles - minor I think

First is we held up Patreon's apology and subsequent actions as the apotheosis of corporate apologies. Well, since "corporate apology" is almost an oxymoron, I guess Patreon's is better than almost all others (not that I have a full file folder with every corporate apology ever). In fairness to Michael, it's probably the best adjacent example in our hobby to use as a rubric

Second - whether I feel like the grades are appropriate - well for me personally I might grade up and down a few points for each section. But overall my conclusion is same as Michael's - they didn't do the worst possible; and could have done much better
 

Eyes of Nine

Everything's Fine
I asked Chat GPT to write an apology for trying to revoke the OGL 1.0a. The result is better than the actual one:


Dear valued community,

We at Wizards of the Coast would like to extend a sincere apology for our recent actions regarding the revocation of the Open Gaming License 1.0a. We understand that this decision caused confusion and frustration among many of our fans and supporters, and for that, we are truly sorry.

We would like to assure you that our intention was never to limit creativity or stifle the growth of the gaming community. We recognize the importance of the Open Gaming License 1.0a and the role it has played in fostering innovation and collaboration within the industry.
We have since withdrawn our decision to revoke the license and will continue to support the use of the OGL in accordance with its terms. We understand that trust and transparency are essential in maintaining a strong relationship with our community and we are committed to working together to build a better future for everyone.

Once again, we apologize for any confusion or upset our actions may have caused and we look forward to your continued support.
Sincerely, Wizards of the Coast.
But but but - there isn't a single thing in that AI apology that gives shareholders hope that Hasbro will make MOAR MONEY!!!!
 

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.
Indeed, D&D was out in the open via the OGL before Hasbro ever bought WotC.

Their due diligence before the buyout should have made it clear that one of WotC's two major properties, D&D (the other being M:TG of course) had much of its content out there under a copyleft license.

They bought WotC knowing that D&D was under an open-source license. . .that they are buying the D&D trademarks and setting-specific IP, but the game mechanics itself of D&D were never something WotC had exclusive legal control over from the moment they bought WotC.

. . .now, literally decades later, they're trying to gaslight the gaming world into acting like they always could have just "de authorized" the OGL one day and this whole time we've been using the OGL under the ongoing generosity of WotC, which they've decided to stop just so they can stop all these pesky bigots from making bigoted D&D-compatible materials (never mind this isn't an actual problem), and so they can stop people from making D&D NFT's (again, not a real issue, especially since the OGL doesn't allow use of the D&D trademarks).
 

Dausuul

Legend
Dear valued community,

We at Wizards of the Coast would like to extend a sincere apology for our recent actions regarding the revocation of the Open Gaming License 1.0a. We understand that this decision caused confusion and frustration among many of our fans and supporters, and for that, we are truly sorry.

We would like to assure you that our intention was never to limit creativity or stifle the growth of the gaming community. We recognize the importance of the Open Gaming License 1.0a and the role it has played in fostering innovation and collaboration within the industry.
We have since withdrawn our decision to revoke the license and will continue to support the use of the OGL in accordance with its terms. We understand that trust and transparency are essential in maintaining a strong relationship with our community and we are committed to working together to build a better future for everyone.

Once again, we apologize for any confusion or upset our actions may have caused and we look forward to your continued support.
Sincerely, Wizards of the Coast.
If Wizards had published this, I'd have reinstated my DDB subscription, ordered some new Magic cards, and been happily filling out the latest playtest survey.
 

Dausuul

Legend
Indeed, D&D was out in the open via the OGL before Hasbro ever bought WotC.
This isn't quite true. Hasbro bought Wizards in September 1999, and the OGL was released in 2000.

Not that that changes anything. Wizards put the SRD out there under the OGL, did their very best (given the jurisprudence of the time) to nail down the terms so that it would be irrevocable, and represented it as such to the community. Hasbro could have stopped them from doing that, and didn't. I doubt anyone at Hasbro was paying much attention to what the D&D nerds got up to -- Magic and Pokemon were the cash cows at Wizards then -- but that's on Hasbro. Wizards then, over a period of many years, continued to represent the OGL as irrevocable (see their FAQs), and recommitted to it in 2016 with the 5E SRD.

Furthermore, the OGL is not a gift. It is a contract, where those who sign on agree to give up certain rights in exchange for certain others. For example, you forfeit the right (which you otherwise possess!) to put "Compatible with Dungeons and Dragons" on the cover of your books. I'm not in the camp of those who say the OGL is a cheat, but Hasbro certainly gets substantial consideration out of it.

Was the OGL a good business strategy? That's not something we can ever prove. Ryan Dancey thought it was, and the editions which were released under the OGL (3E and 5E) were kept around longer than the one which was not (4E), suggesting that Wizards at least thought they did better. But whether it was good or bad doesn't matter. When you sign a contract, you don't get to tear it up years later because some of the terms are inconvenient to your current plans. Hasbro, through Wizards, made a commitment and should be held to it.
 
Last edited:

Argyle King

Legend
At this point, I'm half-expecting some attempt to claim that an OGL 0.5 exists within the WoTC archives; it contained a clause which allows revocation of the OGL; and Hasbro is choosing to use it.
 




And for the community, this video is mandatory viewing.

Stuff we learn:

  • They don't actually read the feedback in depth, just use it as a "temperature gauge." This is an attempt to quiet the rumbling by moving the conversation to someplace they can ignore it.
  • Kyle Brink is the guy who took over for Ray Winninger. He has no authority and is basically a scapegoat
  • The real person we need to be mad at is named Chris Cao
 


I am absolutely shocked that WotC executives don't care about D&D. So shocked! /s
I mean, you can laugh, but there were plenty of content creators who thought they were influencing the direction of 5.5e by providing thoughtful feedback. They really did think they were being listened to.

This is a painful revelation for some of them. They've been used as basically free advertising for 5.5e.
 

I mean, you can laugh, but there were plenty of content creators who thought they were influencing the direction of 5.5e by providing thoughtful feedback. They really did think they were being listened to.

This is a painful revelation for some of them. They've been used as basically free advertising for 5.5e.
The worst bit is that the people at WotC that wanted the info still couldn't get it after requesting it.
 

Visit Our Sponsor

An Advertisement

Advertisement4

Top