D&D 5E The OGL -- A Lesson for 5E

CleverNickName

Limit Break Dancing (He/They)
An editorial.

Some people are of the opinion that the Open Gaming License was a bad thing...that it allowed third-party companies to compete directly with Wizards of the Coast, and ultimately caused their popularity to drop in the gaming community as people chose the older 3PP materials over the new.

I think these people are only half right.

Yes, the OGL made it possible for third-party publishers to write, publish, sell, and profit from the d20 Game System. And yes, that ended up hurting them in the long run. But the dent in WotC's popularity was not caused by the OGL. Popularity is not mandated by a legal document, after all. It is decided by the public based on product satisfaction: if the public likes your product, they will buy it.

And it wasn't the OGL that made Paizo popular.

When the 3rd Edition was released (and the Open Gaming License with it), there was an explosion of creativity in the gaming community. Publishing companies sprung up overnight like mushrooms, and a nearly endless line of gaming products hit the market. I like to call this the Golden Age of Gaming, because there seemed to be no limit to the creativity, accessibility, and quality of gaming materials that could be found. The evolution of our hobby was so dynamic back then. Even the lower-quality splatbooks and supplements were worth collecting, if only so you could hack them up and cherry-pick your favorite pieces.

Yes, Wizards of the Coast had to compete with third-party publishing companies for business, but that is what capitalism is all about. When competition is fierce, the focus on product quality becomes critical...and some of WotC's best work (IMO) came from this crucible of heavy competition. SWSE? The Book of 9 Swords? Eberron?

Remember...with the advent of 4th Edition, Wizards of the Coast did a lot more than just release a new edition of the game. They also abandoned all product support for older editions, they stopped sales of the PDFs of out-of-print books, and they ignored all interest in the still-valid Open Gaming License. This created a demand in the community for older material, and allowed others to capitalize on it without any competition.

As optimistic as I was about the hobby as a whole, it didn't seem like a wise move. At a time when the economy is down but the hobby's popularity is at an all-time high, they just walk away from half of their customer base? While leaving the door open for their competition to fill the vacuum they leave behind? Not good.

I hope I'm not implying that 4th Edition was a failure...it continues to be a success, and it still enjoys a thriving fan base. But the 4th Edition will never achieve the level of popularity that 3.X enjoys. The GSL restricts the publication of 4E-compatible products, which greatly reduces the amount of material available to the public...material that could otherwise be generating interest, advertising, and buying incentive for the 4E core rulebooks.

The way I see it, for the new edition of D&D to thrive the way that the 3rd Edition did, they need to do two things differently.

First, they need to create a new Open Gaming License for the new edition, to generate public interest and rapidly create a large catalog of gaming material. Instead of locking down the product and relying on their limited resources to promote the new product, they should let the so-called competition do the advertising and promotion for them, and keep a laser-like focus on product quality.

Second, they need to make this new edition directly compatible (not just backward-compatible) with Open Gaming License material. This would allow them to compete directly with Paizo, and enjoy a larger slice of the customer base. Even a conversion manual for previous editions would go a long way to increasing the new edition's appeal.

Wizards of the Coast has found themselves in a bit of a predicament with Paizo and the OGL. But they are only there because they choose to be. A lot is riding on the next edition of the game, and a lot of people are watching to see how they handle third-party publishing support. I hope they kindle that spark of interest into a roaring flame. And I think an Open Gaming License is the best way to do it.
 
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Kynn

Adventurer
I gotta quibble on one thing -- I don't think the early d20/OGL period can rightly be called the "Golden Age of Gaming." That has to go back sometime in distant history, like when AD&D and Basic/Expert were running in tandem in the 1980s. That's the real "Golden Age" that we look back to in this game, with the OD&D stuff being our sainted pre-history origins.

That said, I do agree with you that the OGL wasn't the cause of Pathfinder's success, but the abandonment of the 3e system was. I'm not 100% convinced that an OGL on either 4e or 5e is a magic cure-all, though.
 

CleverNickName

Limit Break Dancing (He/They)
I gotta quibble on one thing -- I don't think the early d20/OGL period can rightly be called the "Golden Age of Gaming." That has to go back sometime in distant history, like when AD&D and Basic/Expert were running in tandem in the 1980s. That's the real "Golden Age" that we look back to in this game, with the OD&D stuff being our sainted pre-history origins.

That said, I do agree with you that the OGL wasn't the cause of Pathfinder's success, but the abandonment of the 3e system was. I'm not 100% convinced that an OGL on either 4e or 5e is a magic cure-all, though.
Yeah, you are probably right about the Golden Age of Gaming. Those are my words, after all, not the consensus. I am really just speaking for myself here. ;)

As for a 5E OGL? I think it could only help.
 

trancejeremy

Adventurer
There was certainly a burst of creativity never seen before or since, I think, when 3e and the OGL first burst forth. But it was largely spent by the time 3.5 came out, much less 4e
 

Kynn

Adventurer
Yeah, you are probably right about the Golden Age of Gaming. Those are my words, after all, not the consensus. I am really just speaking for myself here. ;)

As for a 5E OGL? I think it could only help.

In a post-Pathfinder world, which has also seen the rise of OGL-based OSR games, I think that redoing the OGL is going to be a very, very hard sell internally for anyone at WotC -- selling the concept to Hasbro, I mean.

The situation in the industry now is very different from when they first created the OGL back at the dawn of 3rd edition. And while nearly everyone acknowledges that the GSL failed, it's hard to provide an alternative that will meet the needs of the industry and the consumers while still satisfying the bean-counters.

I may be wrong; I have no inside knowledge per se.

One of the best arguments for the OSL (or a modification thereof) is that during the height of "the OSL period" (say, 3.x or so), WotC and Dungeons & Dragons was firmly established as "the industry leader" and all the other 3PP folks were clearly lower in the pecking order. Now Pathfinder's made a very plausible grab at that throne while WotC was messing around with 4e, and that can have repercussions.

(The truth is that Paizo actually aren't leading the industry -- it's a very reactionary and safe business plan they've taken, while WotC has been doing the visionary thing better -- but you wouldn't be able to tell that just on sales figures alone.)
 

Kynn

Adventurer
There was certainly a burst of creativity never seen before or since, I think, when 3e and the OGL first burst forth. But it was largely spent by the time 3.5 came out, much less 4e

True, a "burst of creativity" is one way to put it.

But there was also a heck of a lot of horrible crap out there that had the d20 logo slapped on it -- another argument against a "golden age" in my book!
 

CleverNickName

Limit Break Dancing (He/They)
True, a "burst of creativity" is one way to put it.

But there was also a heck of a lot of horrible crap out there that had the d20 logo slapped on it -- another argument against a "golden age" in my book!
But that's the thing about competition...if all of the other guys are publishing "horrible crap," it makes your offerings look all the better.
 

Yora

Legend
You are preaching to the choir. We know, and the devs know as well. Apparently even the people who make that descision do, as we've got a couple of statements that some kind of open license is planned, though not yet finalized.
True, a "burst of creativity" is one way to put it.

But there was also a heck of a lot of horrible crap out there that had the d20 logo slapped on it -- another argument against a "golden age" in my book!
"90% of everything is crap." There has also always been a large number of really bad books that had the Dungeons & Dragons logo on them. And so some people produce bad stuff? That's really mostly their own problem. People are unlikely to assume this is representative of the official publications and books that are just bad don't get the popularity to really matter. The bad ones will all disappear in the background, but there's a very good chance that there are some gems that make people more invested in the game and therefore more invested in official publications as well. If there are 10 bad books, WotC doesn't lose anything. If there is just 1 good one, WotC wins. There's nothing to lose, but much to win.
 
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Number48

First Post
Whether it's good or not is debatable, but I can't see 5E having an OGL. When 3E came out, Wizards was a young, new, hip company who bought the brand for the love of the game. But now Wizards is a division of Hasbro, I can't see Hasbro endorsing an OGL. In fact, I think Hasbro is pretty cheesed off that the biggest brand in roleplaying is losing ground to a competitor because of the OGL.

Statistical probability: 10%.
 

Cybit

First Post
I think there are a couple of other factors as well

1) DDI -- regardless of what people may think about it, this is a big concern. Although bottled water and various other pay programs show that it is possible to compete with free with very high quality; due to the nature of the fanbase of D&D, and the aging of that fanbase, I find that this will be much, much harder to do in 2014 as opposed to 2003. WotC honestly would not be able to compete with a free Character Builder / Monster Builder for a new edition. Everyone talks about the pay tools that succeeded in 2003, but, this is 2012. The computer savvy of the average person has grown immensely, and many of the enthusiasts of D&D in 2003 are now skilled programmers themselves in 2012.

Paizo had the immense luxury of having the vast amount of game design already done for them, and their market already built for them, and thus, did not have to spend nearly as much money developing Pathfinder as Wizards did.

For those arguing that PF has the OGL, if I understand the D&D OGL correctly, please note that PF is required to have an OGL, because they are using the 3.5 OGL themselves. This is not an option for them.

2) Paizo isn't coming back unless Pathfinder fails catastrophically. This is now a personal issue between many at Paizo and WotC, due to the way the transition to 4E was handled by WotC management (in a word: poorly), and the ensuing decisions regarding the GSL and Dragon/Dungeon.

3) Pathfinder 2.0; Wizards pulled a Nintendo and created their own biggest competitor. True fact: It was the Nintendo Playstation originally. Nintendo very publicly shifted away from Sony at a trade show, in a very embarrassing fashion, and provoked Sony's CEO enough to get Sony to launch the Playstation on their own. By PO'ing their fanbase and leaving their tools in the hand of a competitor, they managed to shoot themselves in the foot. It would be foolish to do this again.

D&D is no longer the undisputed king of RPGs; as brought up by a previous poster, the OGL makes sense when you are the only real game in town. Not so much. Heck, if 5E caught on, Paizo could simply adopt the rules for Pathfinder, saving themselves millions of dollars in development, and launch Pathfinder 2.0, saving all of their own money for developing IPs and adventures and maps.

I personally hope they don't do OGL, and instead just actually seek partnerships with many publishers to bring new IPs to the table under the 5E umbrella.
 

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