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The Economics of Open Gaming - An Open Letter To WotC

mxyzplk

Explorer
Why Open Gaming Is Good For Business

The OGL was largely single-handedly responsible for reviving the RPG industry overall and it and 3e took D&D from a bankrupt and largely irrelevant position back to its current state of RPG primacy and pop-culture relevancy.

Let me note something about real world economics. A healthy market sector means more for everyone. My IRL company has been posting record revenues for many consecutive quarters. Our stock took a big hit lately. Why? Because our major competitors posted big losses. This cast the entire sector in a bad light. Doing well in a bad sector isn't any better than doing poorly in a good sector, and is arguably worse, to investors.

More...

Industry economics are different from "small company" economics and you have to make the adjustment. The naive businessman says "us doing well is good, our competitors going well is bad." The smart businessman knows that's not true. It's time Wizards looked at this from a big economic picture point of view. My company (a leading hardware/software manufacturer in its niche field) actively releases free standards and spends money to get the rest of the industry on board with them, because that gets more support, more product, more activity, and more customers to the standard. Wizards and D&D got that exact benefit out of 3e and the OGL.

Competition never drove anyone out of business unless they were a) a small storefront or b) sucked and deserved it. Competition is good. In fact, speaking with VCs at Web coferences, they prefer for there to be competition before they invest in a field; that way they know it's likely to be lucrative! Read a business book published in the last decade before making any more GSL/open gaming "decisions."

The best thing you could do right now is to say "Actually, we'll release 4e under the existing OGL." Then, this weekend, mail 4e galleys to all the third party publishers who have expressed interest in the GSL. (Yes, without the $5k per head fee.) Throw in some extra swag. Put an NDA in (assuming there's not already one in place with most of these guys from 3e) saying "the books are under NDA until June, do not open if you don't agree." Say "Hey, sorry, what can we do to help you get some D&D 4e product out ASAP?" That's leadership. Market leadership is the way to great success. There's only so many people you can or want to directly hire. But if your industry follows you, they may as well work for you! You get the glory, the movie licensing deals, and the profit from being the preeminent provider of the thing. Everyone else wants to contribute to your success, not sabotage you, because they share in the overall success.
 

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Oldtimer

Great Old One
Publisher
Well put. I agree with every word in this and hope WotC is reading it.

Nevertheless, I expect within minutes this thread will be filled with posts from nay-sayers: 'Why should they give away their precious IP', 'There wasn't an OGL before, why does it have to be one now', 'The GSL will be good enough, just wait and see', etc, etc...
 

Ydars

Explorer
I also agree whole-heartedly with this post. It is sound business sense and I hope Scott L and Linae can get the executives at WoTC and Hasbro to look at it.

I also can't help the feeling that Old timer was thinking about my thread on OGL when he wrote the above...............
 

The Little Raven

First Post
mxyzplk said:
The OGL was largely single-handedly responsible for reviving the RPG industry overall and it and 3e took D&D from a bankrupt and largely irrelevant position back to its current state of RPG primacy and pop-culture relevancy.

Actually, I'd say that D&D 3rd Edition was single-handedly responsible for reviving the RPG industry, since the majority of customers only buy WotC products and don't touch OGL materials. The OGL allowed new companies to form in an industry that was pretty static (all the big players had been around for almost a decade, at least), thus giving us Paizos, Necromancers, and Green Ronins, but I don't see it as the "great boon of gaming" that many people seem to.

The best thing you could do right now is to say "Actually, we'll release 4e under the existing OGL." Then, this weekend, mail 4e galleys to all the third party publishers who have expressed interest in the GSL. (Yes, without the $5k per head fee.) Throw in some extra swag. Put an NDA in (assuming there's not already one in place with most of these guys from 3e) saying "the books are under NDA until June, do not open if you don't agree." Say "Hey, sorry, what can we do to help you get some D&D 4e product out ASAP?" That's leadership.

That's giving things away for free, not leadership. It's basically taking your years of work and letting your competitors make money off of it without getting anything in return. M&M, Conan d20, and Spycraft all showed that the OGL can easily work against WotC's profitability.
 

mxyzplk

Explorer
Mourn said:
Actually, I'd say that D&D 3rd Edition was single-handedly responsible for reviving the RPG industry, since the majority of customers only buy WotC products and don't touch OGL materials. The OGL allowed new companies to form in an industry that was pretty static (all the big players had been around for almost a decade, at least), thus giving us Paizos, Necromancers, and Green Ronins, but I don't see it as the "great boon of gaming" that many people seem to.

So major new companies forming isn't a boom? Adding Mutants & Masterminds, Conan, Spycraft, etc? The boom wasn't limited to d20-based games of course; but the bigger the main games are doing, the more support there is even for indie and fringe games. Larger industry = more for everyone.

And sure, other people making D&D product is a key component of that. I'm a little confused about your point. OGL, lots of compnies make lots of money by making direct (Dragon) or indirect (M&M) products... But that's no industry revival!

Mourn said:
That's giving things away for free, not leadership. It's basically taking your years of work and letting your competitors make money off of it without getting anything in return. M&M, Conan d20, and Spycraft all showed that the OGL can easily work against WotC's profitability.

Here's the problem - they didn't work against WotC's profitability, and I defy you to show that they did. Again, this is the "little man" view of economics, where "every copy of M&M is money I shoulda gotten!" Why, did WotC sell a supers game I missed? Would people have bought two PHBs instead of one PHB and one M&M? No. People buy more RPGs than they ever use. WotC has shown that they are not wanting to or going to ramp up to provide every product anyone wants and will pay for/make profitable. No one can.

My RL company developed a new computing bus. We could have kept it for our own products and said 'that's our years of work!' But, you see, we're not retarded. So it's open. So even though there are some companies that do things like make cheap knockoffs of our boards, there are many more that devise additional products that complement them and create a rich product ecosystem that then makes other people want ours.

The previous Conan game was GURPS Conan. If you wanted to play Conan you'd have to use that or devise it yourself. Now there's an OGL version that, even though not one physical dollar from it goes to WotC, uses the d20 rules. You're now playing D&D - not the other old school games you rightly point out as having been largely static ghettos for so long (GURPS, Hero, WoD, Palladium). This 'trains' customers on your product and reduces the mental cost of them to get into another new game along the same lines - including D&D.

Believe it or not, there are people that haven't played D&D. We'll take one of my coworkers. He's only played other stuff, most recently Savage Worlds. But recently their gaming group tried out Castles & Crusades. Now, they're going to run a Savage version of Paizo's Rise of the Runelords Adventure Path. That's attracting people into their games. It's selling direct and indirectly related products, meaning that there's more money for everyone, more skilled game designers to work for everyone, more distributors that take that niceh seriously, more bookstores (and even game stores, nowadays) bother to put any shelf space towards it....

Again, read a business book written in the last decade. Being completely closed is NOT in your best interest, despite it being "common sense" for people without real business education.
 

Lizard

First Post
Mourn said:
That's giving things away for free, not leadership. It's basically taking your years of work and letting your competitors make money off of it without getting anything in return. M&M, Conan d20, and Spycraft all showed that the OGL can easily work against WotC's profitability.

Incorrect.

Which helps WOTC more -- me playing M&M or me playing Champions? Conan using D20 or Conan using BRP? Spycraft or GURPS:Espionage?

As long as I'm in the "D20 Space", I'm a likely customer of WOTC. I am more likely to buy a WOTC product to adapt, or to return to D&D once I'm done with my current game. But once I've left the D20 space, the impulse is to stay with what's familiar NOW -- with Hero, or BRP, or GURPS.

Ryan Dancey understood this. The current crop...I am not so sure.

(The argument that standalone books caused 'lost sales' of PHBs is pretty fallacious; while I'm sure a small minority started with M&M or Spycraft, for the vast bulk of customers, they already OWNED a PHB, so nothing was lost.)
 

AZRogue

First Post
Lizard said:
Incorrect.

Which helps WOTC more -- me playing M&M or me playing Champions? Conan using D20 or Conan using BRP? Spycraft or GURPS:Espionage?

As long as I'm in the "D20 Space", I'm a likely customer of WOTC. I am more likely to buy a WOTC product to adapt, or to return to D&D once I'm done with my current game. But once I've left the D20 space, the impulse is to stay with what's familiar NOW -- with Hero, or BRP, or GURPS.

Ryan Dancey understood this. The current crop...I am not so sure.

(The argument that standalone books caused 'lost sales' of PHBs is pretty fallacious; while I'm sure a small minority started with M&M or Spycraft, for the vast bulk of customers, they already OWNED a PHB, so nothing was lost.)

This is absolutely correct. The positive effects from the OGL were amazing and few people understand them. Most people just don't understand how much they can gain from its existence. Not only was it win-win for WotC, it was a huge boon to DnD players, even if the NEVER bought a 3rd party product, because it increased the number of people out there using the d20 system, thus increasing the pool of potential DnD players. It is, IMO, Ryan Dancey's one great achievement.

And I hate 3E and love what I'm seeing from 4E, before someone accuses me of being pro-3E because I love the OGL.
 

Dark Mistress

First Post
Lizard said:
Incorrect.

Which helps WOTC more -- me playing M&M or me playing Champions? Conan using D20 or Conan using BRP? Spycraft or GURPS:Espionage?

As long as I'm in the "D20 Space", I'm a likely customer of WOTC. I am more likely to buy a WOTC product to adapt, or to return to D&D once I'm done with my current game. But once I've left the D20 space, the impulse is to stay with what's familiar NOW -- with Hero, or BRP, or GURPS.

Ryan Dancey understood this. The current crop...I am not so sure.

(The argument that standalone books caused 'lost sales' of PHBs is pretty fallacious; while I'm sure a small minority started with M&M or Spycraft, for the vast bulk of customers, they already OWNED a PHB, so nothing was lost.)

I agree with you and find it surprising other people don't seem to see it that way as well. I have meet a lot of players that once they are playing a system they tend to play other games of the same or similar system. Like Storyteller by WW, playing Exalter instead of learning D20 or Rolemaster or GURPs for fantasy.

I do think Ryan Dancey understood this far better than I think anyone else did way back then when he came up with the OGL.
 

Delta

First Post
I think there's a cohort of hardcare gamer hobbyists who want to test, play, and explore a new rule system every few weekends. (Something like dining afficionados who search out a new restaurant every week.) These folks are more prominent online and don't realize how rare they are. I have just one or two acquaintances who are outright stunned that I don't want to learn new game systems.

For these friends of ours, the OGL doesn't make sense on at least two levels. (1) They personally don't stick with one system and can't see any attraction or how that would serve as an enticement to anyone. (2) Business-wise the OGL actually pushed a pile of alternative systems out of the market, and they actively resent it for that.
 
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Lizard said:
Which helps WOTC more -- me playing M&M or me playing Champions? Conan using D20 or Conan using BRP? Spycraft or GURPS:Espionage?

I can't speak for you, but for me the answer would be "none of them are any better." I don't buy products to adapt to another system. When I'm playing another system, I'll buy products designed for it.

If there are a lot of buyers like me, then all the OGL does is make it easier for customers to move from playing D&D - and buying products from WotC - to playing an OGL game - and spending their money on another companies products.

I doubt that the OGL helps get people into the RPG hobby. D&D is the market leader: the vast majority of players I've met started with D&D. The OGL may be a good way for people to move away from D&D. This is good for the customers and good for the 3rd party developers, but not for Wizards.

And that's my problem with this open letter and other comments like it. Posters take it as self-evident that the OGL has been wonderful for WotC. I'd like to see some evidence, in the form of sales analysis that removes the effect of the new edition release that occurred at the same time. The OGL has certainly been wonderful for RPG customers and for the developers at other companies, but the people who have the sales data to judge whether it's been good for WotC are pretty much all at WotC.
 

Dragon Snack

First Post
Here, here. Ditto. What he/she said...

I've seen it tangentally in a couple of industries I've been involved with, some who have embraced helping the industry and, sadly, many who have fought it. By far the more successful were those that embraced it (or who had employees who embraced it even if it wasn't company policy).
 

Jdvn1

Hanging in there. Better than the alternative.
mxyzplk said:
Let me note something about real world economics. A healthy market sector means more for everyone.
I just wanted to say that I agree with your post, and that those concepts are solidly established in economic theory.
Scholar & Brutalman said:
I can't speak for you, but for me the answer would be "none of them are any better." I don't buy products to adapt to another system. When I'm playing another system, I'll buy products designed for it.
Precisely, and because of the OGL, there are tons of books that are designed for use with D&D. And, I know plenty of people who play a system like that but not D&D.
 

hossrex

First Post
This entire thread is predicated on the idea that some person on the internet with qualifications impossible to verify knows more about the Role Playing Game sector then people who've made it their business to know about the Role Playing Game sector.

You might be right. You might be smarter then the influential people at Hasbro/WoTC.

But if we were in Vegas, I don't think anyone would put "smart" money on that proposition.

ETA: I love the posts about how its reasonable to assume everyone that plays a D20 game automatically, and inherently has a PHB. Not even everyone in my DECADE old DnD group (formed at the release of 3.0) owns a PHB. If a group likes a ruleset (i.e. D20), they're going to buy into that ruleset. They're however not necessarily going to buy unnecessary "official" books, simply because they've decided to play Spycraft.

In the end... like everything in life... the OGL helped WoTC in some ways, and hurt them in others. The *VAST* majority of people in this thread are focusing so fervently on the "helped" them part that this thread has nearly turned into parody.

Unless, that it, you think WoTC is run by monkeys who don't have a clue whats in their best interest. Especially with oversight by Hasbro, I find that supposition to be quite unlikely. WoTC will do what is statistically to their best advantage. That might be to support the OGL, that might be to discontinue the OGL. Either way, its (thankfully) in the hands of people who've decided to make it their life to study this *SPECIFIC* sector, and not people who think they know the "ins and outs" of capitalism because they own stock in a technologies company.

It might help your little computer company to share your innovations, so everyone can build upon your new paradigm. Thats fantastic! I wish you the best.

It doesn't however benefit Colonel Sanders to go around blabbing whats in his eleven secret herbs and spices.

The point?

Not every sector is identical, there are no "golden rules" for capitalism (or else no one would ever lose money), and you're entire post... as I said in my initial "pre-edit" post... is predicated on the assumption that you're more intelligent then a multi-billion dollar corporation.

I'm not saying I'm smarter then you. I'm not saying I'm right, and you're wrong. I'm just saying WoTC will make the decision it feels is best for itself, and any griping, whining, or pouting from the peanut gallery will simply be because that decision isn't *ALSO* best for them. Not because that decision wasn't best for WoTC.

(The argument that standalone books caused 'lost sales' of PHBs is pretty fallacious; while I'm sure a small minority started with M&M or Spycraft, for the vast bulk of customers, they already OWNED a PHB, so nothing was lost.)

The "vast majority" of a small group is still not really all that important. Thats like saying "most internet troll agree... the sky is red!" Consensus does not equal truth... especially when dealing with the largest contingent of a small demographic.

Jdvn1 said:
Precisely, and because of the OGL, there are tons of books that are designed for use with D&D. And, I know plenty of people who play a system like that but not D&D.

You realize the situation you've just outlined specifically harms WoTC... right? People who might have played DnD because its a fine system... but don't because they've chosen instead to play a game licensed through the OGL.

The vast majority of games utilizing the OGL, in my experience, have been in fantasy setting. "Me too" books. Spycraft, M&M, or Conan might not inherently detract from WoTC sales... but these "DnD clone" books certainly do. A player/DM has "X" dollars to spend per month on books/games. We aren't just talking about core books here. If that "X" goes to a DnD clone (as good as that clone might be), instead of another WoTC book, its lost WoTC money.
 
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Lizard

First Post
hossrex said:
The vast majority of games utilizing the OGL, in my experience, have been in fantasy setting. "Me too" books. Spycraft, M&M, or Conan might not inherently detract from WoTC sales... but these "DnD clone" books certainly do. A player/DM has "X" dollars to spend per month on books/games. We aren't just talking about core books here. If that "X" goes to a DnD clone (as good as that clone might be), instead of another WoTC book, its lost WoTC money.

But the 'clone books', for the most part, are D20STL -- not OGL. They're what WOTC wanted -- setting books, etc.

I can't think of any pure OGL D&D-type Fantasy games, though I'm sure there's some. The fantasy games I can think of -- Sovereign Stone, Midnight, Dragonlance, Dragonmech, and tons more -- are D20, not OGL.
 

Lizard

First Post
I'm just wondering who on this list has read Dacey's extensive essays on the why of the OGL, beyond the simplistic "Uhm, it's supposed to sell PHBs" bit. The real point was that studies howed the main reason people left the hobby was because of no one to play with, and one thing driving that was system diversity -- too many systems, too few players to support them, people just quit gaming and never came back. So by spreading one system -- D20 -- as far as possible, the "no one to play with" problem was reduced. Whether you wanted sorcerors, spies, superheroes, or spacemen, you could do it with the same core rules, suitably varied and tweaked for the genre (as opposed to a true 'generic' game like Hero or GURPS, where the genre is pounded into the rules).

If D20 keeps people playing, it serves WOTC, even if they're not playing WOTC games, because the success of WOTC is served by a strong hobby base overall. (And if WOTC had not been stricken with a case of 'not invented here', it could have helped them a lot more, since they could have used the best OGL material in their work and even made money supporting games like M&M or Spycraft. What if, instead of D20M, WOTC had decided to latch onto the Spycraft base and released core rules based on that? The OGL would have let them. Instead of trying, and then failing, to release a supers game, what if they'd adapted and built on M&M? It would have been interesting...)
 

mxyzplk

Explorer
Lizard said:
But the 'clone books', for the most part, are D20STL -- not OGL. They're what WOTC wanted -- setting books, etc.

I can't think of any pure OGL D&D-type Fantasy games, though I'm sure there's some. The fantasy games I can think of -- Sovereign Stone, Midnight, Dragonlance, Dragonmech, and tons more -- are D20, not OGL.

Well, sure. But the GSL is supposed to merge and replace both the OGL and d20STL. It was initially cast as mostly identical tot he old d20STL. And they're "rethinking the GSL". So the concern is tha they're planning for "no license at all, not even to the degree of the old d20STL." Clark, via his contacts at Wizards, validates that as a real concern.

So whats at risk is also saying goodbye to all the d20 stuff.
 

catsclaw

First Post
mxyzplk said:
Well, sure. But the GSL is supposed to merge and replace both the OGL and d20STL ... So whats at risk is also saying goodbye to all the d20 stuff.
Yeah, I don't see any serious distinction between the OGL and the d20. The d20 license comes with more restrictions (and it's better for the industry if WotC was to stick with the OGL) but 95% of what people want to do is permitted under the d20 license.
 
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Delta

First Post
hossrex said:
Unless, that it, you think WoTC is run by monkeys who don't have a clue whats in their best interest. Especially with oversight by Hasbro, I find that supposition to be quite unlikely. WoTC will do what is statistically to their best advantage. That might be to support the OGL, that might be to discontinue the OGL. Either way, its (thankfully) in the hands of people who've decided to make it their life to study this *SPECIFIC* sector, and not people who think they know the "ins and outs" of capitalism because they own stock in a technologies company.

Companies make bad decisions all the time. Executives are not always the best positioned -- or properly incented -- to identify what's best for their company long-term. For example, most mutual funds go bankrupt. Or consider the current mortgage crisis (initiated by leaders of multi-billion dollar banks and investment companies).

In this case, the current leaders of WOTC actually aren't studied in this specific sector. They come from toy or other entertainment sectors. And the "open evolving system" concept is a *very hard* one to grasp. A lot of sweat & tears have been shed in the software industry between people who do & do not grasp that concept.

I have a friend who works at one of the largest insurance companies in the world. This past week he was at a company conference, and observed a team problem-solving exercise. One of the 8-person teams had all upper-level executives, and they were completely unable to solve the puzzle given to them (my friend watched them argue for 30 minutes about who was team leader). One of the 8-person teams had all low-level help staff, and solved it in under 1 minute.

Will this company be going out of business any time soon? Absolutely not. They're in an immensely profitable sector, and even the worst decisions by management can't stop the money from rolling in profitably. But they're still not making decisions which are best, because the company is terribly wasteful (just not so wasteful as to be unprofitable). That's been my experience in every company I've seen that's no longer run by the founder of said company. So for it be different at WOTC would actually be a notable exception, not par-for-the-course.
 

Jdvn1

Hanging in there. Better than the alternative.
hossrex said:
You might be right. You might be smarter then the influential people at Hasbro/WoTC.

...
In the end... like everything in life... the OGL helped WoTC in some ways, and hurt them in others. The *VAST* majority of people in this thread are focusing so fervently on the "helped" them part that this thread has nearly turned into parody.

Unless, that it, you think WoTC is run by monkeys who don't have a clue whats in their best interest. Especially with oversight by Hasbro, I find that supposition to be quite unlikely. WoTC will do what is statistically to their best advantage. That might be to support the OGL, that might be to discontinue the OGL. Either way, its (thankfully) in the hands of people who've decided to make it their life to study this *SPECIFIC* sector, and not people who think they know the "ins and outs" of capitalism because they own stock in a technologies company.
I think WotC is run by people who know how to run a business--they probably have MBAs and other business degrees--but they don't have degrees in Economics, and don't understand how a growing industry helps them. That's a situation more common than you'd expect.

It's true that there are both positive and negative effects of the OGL, but I'm fairly certain that the positive outweigh the negative (and, I think economic theory and economists would agree with me).
hossrex said:
Not every sector is identical, there are no "golden rules" for capitalism (or else no one would ever lose money)
Economic theory demands that some people will lose money, but larger and stronger companies (such as WotC) will tend to come out ahead.
hossrex said:
You realize the situation you've just outlined specifically harms WoTC... right? People who might have played DnD because its a fine system... but don't because they've chosen instead to play a game licensed through the OGL.
You misunderstand me--I was talking about people who would never play D&D and state that they hate D&D, but still play games that require D&D books.
 

xechnao

First Post
Lizard said:
So by spreading one system -- D20 -- as far as possible, the "no one to play with" problem was reduced. Whether you wanted sorcerors, spies, superheroes, or spacemen, you could do it with the same core rules, suitably varied and tweaked for the genre (as opposed to a true 'generic' game like Hero or GURPS, where the genre is pounded into the rules).

If D20 keeps people playing, it serves WOTC, even if they're not playing WOTC games, because the success of WOTC is served by a strong hobby base overall. (And if WOTC had not been stricken with a case of 'not invented here', it could have helped them a lot more, since they could have used the best OGL material in their work and even made money supporting games like M&M or Spycraft. What if, instead of D20M, WOTC had decided to latch onto the Spycraft base and released core rules based on that? The OGL would have let them. Instead of trying, and then failing, to release a supers game, what if they'd adapted and built on M&M? It would have been interesting...)

There is not such a thing as a perfect general universal roleplaying system.
If it were the rpg industry would be doomed.
How would you keep the production going on? Wouldn't it arrive at a point of saturation?
Even in the case you go on by updating one system with new editions your production plan would be based on reupdating stuff from the previous editions. Not a good customer plan in the roleplaying business in the long run. IMO now it is time OGL rests in peace for the benefit of the rpg industry overall. It is time for the industry to expand by embracing a plan of bigger variety. Another massive OGL movement may be again beneficial in the future for a certain period of time -but for now it has to step back.
 
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