OGL Why We Should Work With WotC

FormerLurker

Adventurer
I’ve been arguing with other posters about this for a while, outlining things piecemeal. I decided it made more sense to just present my thoughts and arguments in a big, concise post.

Now, I like the Open Game License (hereafter referred to as the “OGL1”). Back when I operated a blog I wrote and shared OGL content. I was dismayed by the GSL back in the day.
I was thrilled when the OGL1 allowed Paizo to keep 3.5e alive as Pathfinder and ran three campaigns of PF1 prior to the launch of 5e.
I support Open Gaming and have given Monte Cook Games, En5ider, MCDM, Kobold Press, Green Ronin, Frog God Games, Nord Games, Goodman Games, and many more large chunks of money. Under the OGL I’ve written content for four of those names. And I was quick to sign petitions and planed to delist my content on the Dungeon Master’s Guild with the early news of the new Open Game License 1.1/ 2.0 (hereafter referred to as the “OGL2.”)—a move that would have killed my limited disposable income.
This is the disclaimer so people know where I stand when I make my position known.

My position being that, at this point, it benefits the community to work WITH Wizards of the Coast on the OGL2 and not fight it. To pause hostilities and enter into reading the draft with an open mind and providing positive and negative feedback on the survey.
Because I believe that this is the best way for both sides to get what they want. For us both… (oh lord, I’m about to say it aren’t I?) … for us both to win.

Here’s the thing, WotC apparently really wants to deauthorize the OGL1. They seem willing to give up on revenue, earnings reporting, or even “owning” OGL content but do not seem to want to waver on deauthorizing the OGL1. That they’re willing to just abandon the idea of collecting 25% of revenue made over $750k without hesitation but balk at the idea of keeping the OGL1 is telling.

Why Should We Compromise?
The big question.
Why should we, as a community, compromise or negotiate at all when we don’t want the OGL to go away? How can we trust WotC not to change the deal again, when they’re already set on changing the existing OGL? To use an overly simple analogy, it’s like being at someone’s house and them deciding to order pizza. But you want to order Mexican instead. If you protest and refuse to budge, they’ll just order pizza without you and you’ll have nothing. But if you compromise and instead request a taco pizza, at least you’ll have a seat at the table.
WotC is going to kill the OGL1. But what the final draft of the OGL2 looks like and how that benefits 3PP is still flexible. If we begrudgingly accept loss of the OGL1 but negotiate and fill out the survey in good faith, we can try to have the OGL2 benefit 3PP and the community as much as the OGL (if not more). AND we can support and advocate for the clauses that make the OGL2 harder to alter or be even more perpetual and irrevocable. So this never happens again.
Because right now WotC is willing to listen. In part because reportedly something like 50,000 people unsubscribed from DnDBeyond. WotC is pausing with the hopes of getting those subscribers back. That those subscribers can be placated and will return. However, it's worth remembering DnDBeyond has tens of millions of users and likely millions of subscribers. Losing 50k out of just 2 million subs (a lowball estimate) is a drop of only 2.5%. And only a small fraction of D&D players use DnDBeyond.
If the OGL1 hold-outs refuse to compromise or negotiate in good faith, WotC will just decide that 2-5% of fans are “acceptable losses” and move on.

Paizo Will Fight
But will they?

A common sentiment is that we don’t need to compromise as Paizo will fight for Open Gaming. But Paizo isn’t some noble, selfless shining knight. They’re a business too. In cynical terms, they’re also out to make a profit, and right now it benefits them to position themselves as WotC’s opposition, as Paizo likes to present themselves as the plucky Rebels to WotC’s evil Empire. Because it garners them good will, which translates into sales. (Remember that less than eighteen months ago, Paizo was in the hot seat for mismanagement and treating employees so poorly that events culminated in their workers forming a union.)
Even in slightly less cynical terms, Paizo still has hundreds of employees to take care of who all have families. They’re not going to risk those on a prolonged lawsuit with no benefit other than winning points for the fandom.
Plus, realistically, WotC doesn’t have to win to “win.” They just have to drag out the lawsuit beyond Paizo’s ability to pay. Lawyers are expensive and have a terrible return on investment. And, again, since Paizo is a business, they're not going to fight a lengthy lawsuit with no profit at the end, when all WotC has to do is offer them a sweet deal and that problem goes away. But a backroom deal between Paizo and WotC doesn't benefit us and we have no say in its terms.
Paizo will fight… so long as they have to in order to keep selling books. With the news that WotC will let publishers like Paizo keep selling their back catalogue and there likely being a window for Paizo to sign the OGL2 or segue over to their own ORC license, Paizo’s not going to fight if they don’t have to.
(Y’know, assuming WotC doesn’t just buy Paizo. They paid over $146 million for DnDBeyond. They can get Paizo for a fraction of that.)

WotC Wants to kill 3PP
But do they?
This is the argument seen for why WotC is killing the OGL1. They’re out to eliminate their competition.
Except Paizo and the like doesn’t compete with D&D. Pathfinder competes with other 3rd Party D&D publishers, vying for the #2 spot on ICv2 charts. WotC probably didn’t even consider 3rd Party Publishers in their plans, viewing them as insignificant. It'd be like a Starbucks store worrying about sales lost to a little girl's lemonade stand.
It took 50k people dropping their DnDBeyond subs for WotC notice (and, again, those might be replaceable numbers): they’re not going to care that Matt Coville’s Flee, Mortals! was sold to 27,009 backers on Kickstarter. That’s huge numbers of D&D Kickstarter but a couple orders of magnitude below WotC’s sales numbers. A book that only sells 25,000 or even 75,000 copies wouldn't be worth WotC's time.
If WotC really wanted to kill Paizo… Paizo would be gone. They could do something like demand Wizard Play Network stores not carry or display non-WotC books in exchange for the "perks" of being a WPN store. Or force book distributors to sign exclusive contracts. There's all kinds of underhanded movies an effective monopoly like WotC can do to crush competition.

What Does a Compromise Look Like?
Where we outline our terms.
The big one I had considered while drafting this before WotC surprised everyone by releasing the OGL2 early was making it clear the new OGL was irrevocable. So WotC couldn't do this again in another twenty years. It sounds like this was already done. But it's worth praising this move so WotC doesn't pull back and also making sure the language for this is airtight.
Another necessary compromise would be releasing the 3.0 SRD and d20 Modern SRD for the new license. This is practically necessary for a few small publishers as well as the Everyday Heroes RPG.

The other concern is the protective options, which are designed around preventing people from releasing "harmful, discriminatory, or illegal content." Stuff like the flagrantly racist content of nu-TSR's Star Frontiers (which is so bad if I typed out the text here I'd be banned) or the Tournament of Rapists adventure for Pathfinder, which was on DriveThruRPG and published under the OGL. Or a purely theoretical d20 version of F.A.T.A.L. (Because WotC can't risk an offensive product using 5e going viral, hitting the mainstream news cycle and causing a new Satanic panic despite being wholly unofficial.)
Personally, removing that stuff sounds pretty damn good to me. But there's the concern that WotC might use it to unfairly remove content. For reasons. That they can't be trusted or might shut down products that use the term "race" or "dwarf" or have racial ability score negatives.
But policies designed around preventing bigotry aren't new or unique to the OGL. ENWorld has an "acceptable content" policy, with mods frequently banning people who espouse hate. Kickstarter has a policy preventing "Projects that promote discrimination, bigotry, or intolerance towards marginalized groups." DriveThruRPG has content guidelines and the ability to report violations. Even Paizo has rules for it's Community Content that asks you "Don’t do anything that might hurt or damage Paizo," such as making offensive content. Clearly, these policies are needed and serve a purpose in our community. They're not a new idea: why should the OGL be any different?
As for the fear that WotC will use the policy to beat down offensive content, this feels unfounded and bordering on paranoid. As mentioned, WotC doesn't have real competition, being in a league of their own, and wouldn't need a license to crush an opposing product. And abusing the provision would cause a huge negative commotion and drive people away from using the license. Even legitimate use would be controversial and dealing with such a product would be better served through an intermediary like DriveThru. It's the nuclear option.
But there's still lots of room to compromise, such as outlining unacceptable content through external sources, such as the anti-defamation league, external sensitivity readers, or setting up guidelines on their website. Possibly with an appeals process, where the product can be edited and resubmitted or allowing publishers to have a few "strikes" before they lose access to the OGL.

Okay... now I've got that off my chest I feel better and will probably go back to lurking for a time, as it's better for my mental health.
 
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No. This is a mess of their own making, and they made it out of greed. We are the wronged parties here. You do not compromise with an abuser in such a manner as to give them the opportunity to victimize you again.

They walked up and slapped us. We do not need to and should not let them bully us into taking steps back.
 





aco175

Legend
I have no problems waiting to see what they come out with. We should give them a chance to make things right. I tend to not say things like "You are dead to me" unless they ruined their chance.

A cover to the Golder Vault book might be a start.
 

mamba

Hero
My position being that, at this point, it benefits the community to work WITH Wizards of the Coast on the OGL2 and not fight it.
the jury on that is still very much open

I agree with giving feedback, but 1.2 might still turn out to be entirely unacceptable and the only real remedy might be to stay with 1.0a.

If 1.0a content cannot be used in work licensed under 1.2 then the whole thing is a nonstarter, and apparently that is how it currently is.

If they cannot fix that, then we have nothing further to discuss (not that there is nothing else to discuss too…). This is a problem entirely of their making, so I have zero sympathy

At this time I am not sure I should even care anymore. They burned down their house, why should I help rebuild it.

I’m much more excited about what is happening on the ORC side, if I never have to deal with WotC again, then good riddance.
For now I am not completely lost to them, but it will be very much an uphill battle for them and a struggle for me to even keep caring.
 
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I’m much more excited about what is happening on the ORC side, if I never have to deal with WotC again, then good riddance.
For now I am not completely lost to them, but it will be very much an uphill battle for them and a struggle for me to even keep caring.
Same. So far at my table, it's myself and another person who DM and this whole thing has gotten us to give PF2e a serious look and we're both excited about the prospect of switching systems by now. The rest of the table will pretty much play whatever we're willing to run since a good time will be had regardless of system so this is completely on WotC to turn around and completely walk back to keep our business.
 

mamba

Hero
I have no problems waiting to see what they come out with. We should give them a chance to make things right. I tend to not say things like "You are dead to me" unless they ruined their chance.
I am no longer sure they haven’t already, at least with me

A cover to the Golder Vault book might be a start.
no, nothing they do matters to me, apart from the OGL, not the least bit interested. If they manage to produce an acceptable 1.2, then I will see if that restored my interest / trust enough to give them my business again and only then is there a point in me checking whether they have anything worth buying
 
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My position being that, at this point, it benefits the community to work WITH Wizards of the Coast on the OGL2 and not fight it. To pause hostilities and enter into reading the draft with an open mind and providing positive and negative feedback on the survey.
Because I believe that this is the best way for both sides to get what they want. For us both… (oh lord, I’m about to say it aren’t I?) … for us both to win.
A bully walks into your home and trashes and mangles your stuff. You gather your friends and say "Hey!". Seeing the number of people there, the bully says "fine, fine, you can have some of your stuff back, the rest I am taking with me.".

What you are proposing is to compromise with a bully. Me, I want the bully to drop my naughty word and get the hell out of my house. Then if I can pay restitution.

Hasbro and Wizards' overreach inept handling of the situation has caused ongoing damage to people's livelihood within the industry. There was a reasonable expectation that the OGL 1.0a was irrevocable and the open content availability unchanged. Especially after what happened with Pathfinder, and 4e in the early 2010s. Wizard earned their way back to #1 with how they handled the development of 5e. For OneD&D they decide to play the bully. As a result, sowed the wind and reaped the whirlwind.

No there is no point for the community to work with Hasbro/Wizards until the following conditions are met.

  • Wizards acknowledge OGL 1.0a as an authorized irrevocable license.
  • That all past open content remains open content under the OGL 1.0a and free to be used as they have been for the past 23 years. Works like the D20 3.0 and 3.5 SRD. The 5e 5.1 SRD as well remains under the OGL 1a.
  • The plan to release various sections of the 5.1 SRD under the CC-BY 4.0 license is followed through.
  • That Chris Cocks, CEO of Hasbro, and Cynthia William, CEO of Wizards of the Coast, each write and sign individual formal apologies to all the publishers impacted by their overreach and inept handling of the situation such as Paizo, Kobold Press, Troll Lord Games, Green Ronin, Gaming Ballistic, Frog God Games, and many others.
After those conditions are met, Wizards is free to release OneD&D content under any license they want. Although their creative and legal choices may continue to be criticized. The community is also free to pursue their creative ideas without Wizard's interference.
 

Remathilis

Legend
I have no reason to think Paizo and Wizards will fight. ORC and OGL can coexist. There should be nothing stopping people from working on both licenses.
Indeed. I've been advocating this very thing. A designer will have several choices, depending on the needs of their product. CC for just the skeleton of d20 RPG which they can use to make whole new systems. OGL for making D&D adjacent material, with the added benefit of additional resources (the SRD) and trade off of WotC gets to say no if your content would be controversial to their image. DMs Guild has even more options, but you pay royalties and agree to even more oversight. ORC will be an option for community shared systems each policed the way the OGL was.

WotC wants greater control over how it's toys are used. It thought it could do so in a system of vassalage, but WotC quickly realized a man who says he is the king is no king. So they are giving back much with the hope that they can keep their central concern: the ability to do something against a product that could harm their brand image by association. Especially with the brand poised to be far larger than it's niche market previously. Just because their were few bad actors before doesn't mean the future will remain like that.

in the light that WotC is willing to give away lots just to regain control of the licensing of it's toys, I am willing to work with them to make sure that such powers have limits. I don't think it's a nonstarter. What used to be the OGL community will be divided across several licenses, and probably several systems. That will probably be healthier in the long term. Yes it means that things will change, eggs will be broken, and some things lost to time (in a quick comparison: how many things did we lose when Flash finally died? That's the cost of progress). But I think we may emerge stronger if we focus on checking WotC's power rather than demanding they change nothing.
 


I can try to understand Hasbro wants to avoid some 3PP with wrong content could cause some damage in the prestige of the family-friendly brand, but I have suffered injustly the censorship in Facebook, banned by fault of false causes, and then I don't trust who says censorship is necessary to stop disinformation and hate speech. I have seen a double standards, to use two different sticks to measure, and I can't trust blindy.

The guidelines about what is "hate speech" could change in the future. Maybe something allowed today could be wrong in the eyes of a new generation.

Hasbro can hire the best lawyers and win in the trials, but then the loss of prestige and trust by the customers could be worse.

Here, some players have learnt to avoid innecessary conflicts by means of diplomacy and social skills, but Hasbro has to understand we are geeks, but not stupid. We don't want to feel tricked paying more really necessary. The sharks within Hasbro have to understand the D&D players aren't so easy to be manipulated or tricked. After several games the players have to smarten up for the survival of their PC against a mercyless DM. Their jobs is about to sell the products we want to buy, not about trying to change our minds about we want to buy.

The rules of the games aren't protected by copyright+trademark laws. Hasbro's lawyers can't forget this.

Hasbro needs good maners and fair play with the 3PPs because someones could be future acquisitions, if these aren't before by some Hollywood producer or videogame studio. Others could pay royalties to can use D&D-Beyond as a showcase for their titles.
 


Jer

Legend
Supporter
So a bit of history for myself - back in the 1990s I discovered that TSR was a terrible company that treated the tabletop industry as if it were their own feudal kingdom and other companies as parasites who were stealing money that they rightfully deserved and fans who produced free content and put it on the internet as copyright thieves. I pretty much stopped playing D&D for most of the mid 90s because of how horrible they were online, focusing on other systems, bringing in new players to TTRPGs via games that weren't D&D, and mostly ignoring D&D's existence other than picking up some 2e supplements used here or there and porting them over to other games (mostly for Torg) up until TSR went bankrupt.

I came back to D&D largely only because Wizards said all of the right things and made all of the right moves to convince me that they weren't T$R. That they were a company that understood the tabletop community and their place in it and wanted to be good stewards for the game. The OGL and the associated SRD actually was the final nail that convinced me that it was worth investing my time and energy back into D&D again because the company behind it wasn't a bunch of aggressive idiots who only cared about their own profits.

So you can see, given that history, why I'm not that hyped to compromise on this right? Hasbro has laid down a marker showing that they're a deceptive business partner to work with, and that they don't care about the broader TTRPG community. Arguably they're worse than TSR because TSR didn't actually engage in the kind of deceptive business practice that Hasbro is with trying to revoke the OGL - if you were in the business, you knew what TSR was. They didn't try to hide it.

So I don't need to support D&D. My entertainment dollars can go elsewhere. I've bought dozens of D&D Starter Sets every year to give as gifts to pull people into the game - I can buy other starter sets for other games. Heck Hasbro has now convinced me that it's worth my time to convince all of the kids that I've introduced to the game over the past few years that it's time to try something new! Maybe it's time for me to gift them a Starfinder beginner box. Or when the WOIN starter set comes out maybe I'll stock up on those for gifts. I can promote games that actually want a community that plays them, rather than a game that wants me to subscribe to their streaming service for a monthly fee.

I actually don't care if Hasbro tanks D&D. I don't care if legally branded "Dungeons and Dragons (TM) (TM) (TM) (all rights reserved)(pat. pending)" gets put into the Hasbro vault next to Rom Spaceknight and the Micronauts and only gets rolled out when Hasbro thinks they might be able to reboot it. It doesn't matter to me. Because I know for a fact that I don't need to play D&D to be a happy gamer - I spent a good chunk of the 90s ignoring D&D and was just fine.

If I never DM another D&D session in my life I'll be fine. Wizards has lost some free advertising from me, but I'm sure they'll be fine too. I just don't care if they're successful or not anymore. Whereas before this all started I was always kind of happy to see D&D doing well in the market, I can go back to just not caring.

My only concern now is all of the folks whose businesses depend on the fact that Wizards deceitfully presented the OGL as a non-revokable license for 20 years, built their businesses on top of that deceit, and now are being told "we were lying". That's my concern at this point.
 

Steampunkette

Rules Tinkerer and Freelance Writer
Supporter
Level Up! is licensed under OGL 1.0a. I write Level Up! content.

If 1.0a goes away, I cannot write Level Up! content because I'm no longer covered under the OGL 1.0a's sublicensing. At least not without risking lawsuits from both WotC and EN Publishing (though I know the latter wouldn't start anything).

If OGL 1.2a is the law of the land, I still cannot write Level Up! content because it was produced under 1.0a.

It doesn't matter how favorable OGL 1.2a is, it still locks me out of writing Level Up! content unless EN Publishing is able to produce a Level Up! revised edition that removes the OGL 1.0a from it.

At which time I won't be writing under the OGL 1.0a or the OGL 1.2a, and any compromise the community makes for OGL 1.2a will be irrelevant to me.

There is no situation where WotC protects my designing career for Level Up! unless they somehow make an irrevocable and permanent provision that Sublicensing of 1.0a to create derivative works is enshrined in the OGL 1.2a -and- any following OGL Revisions.

They won't. Because they don't give a horse's tail flip about me or any other small 3pp.
 

delericho

Legend
My position being that, at this point, it benefits the community to work WITH Wizards of the Coast on the OGL2 and not fight it. To pause hostilities and enter into reading the draft with an open mind and providing positive and negative feedback on the survey.
Because I believe that this is the best way for both sides to get what they want. For us both… (oh lord, I’m about to say it aren’t I?) … for us both to win.

You're right - it's better to work with them as far as possible, in the hope of reaching a mutually-agreeable conclusion.

Here’s the thing, WotC apparently really wants to deauthorize the OGL1. They seem willing to give up on revenue, earnings reporting, or even “owning” OGL content but do not seem to want to waver on deauthorizing the OGL1. That they’re willing to just abandon the idea of collecting 25% of revenue made over $750k without hesitation but balk at the idea of keeping the OGL1 is telling.

That's fine. They can really want whatever they want.

But deauthorizing OGL 1.0a is every bit as much a deal-breaker for many of us as it is for them. It doesn't necessarily follow that we should be the ones to give way. (And that does leave the possibility that the gap simply cannot be bridged. Sometimes that happens.)
 

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