Wizards of the Coast OGL Debacle

Wizards of the Coast had a leak recently about some changes they were planning to the Open Gaming License (OGL) for D&D. For those who don’t know the OGL allows other companies and individuals to produce content and sell it using the rules for D&D. Without the OGL, the vibrant community of third-party producers would be competing with D&D by making products for other roleplaying systems instead of providing supporting material for the big system. Basically, the OGL has allowed D&D to become such a big force within the community that it is synonymous with tabletop roleplaying games.

Wizards of the Coast tweaks the OGL with every edition. 3rd edition was the most permissive, leading to a big explosion in 3rd party content. This additional content brought more people into the D&D hobby, myself being one of them. Wizards reversed this stance for 4th edition and lost a lot of their player base to the competing rules system, Paizo’s Pathfinder. 5th edition reverted to the permissive license, allowing for one of the biggest increases in players the D&D hobby has ever seen. This was helped along by high quality online D&D shows and the pandemic’s warping effect on society, culture, and people’s activities across the globe.

As Wizards of the Coast prepares for the 6th edition of D&D (Currently dubbed OneDND), they’re releasing playtesting content and revising the OGL. A leak came out that described the terms of the OGL 1.1. Most notably:
1. Anyone using the OGL 1.1 must report revenue over $50,000 to Wizards.
2. Anyone using the OGL 1.1 must pay a 20-25% royalty on revenue over $750,000 to Wizards. This would create a negative profit for most sales over $750,000 due to tight margins.
3. Wizards reserves the right to prevent you from selling something if they deem it objectionable. Reasonable in principle, but could be used abusively to remove strong competitors.
4. Wizards can use your material that operates under the OGL 1.1 without compensating you. Basically, Wizards could just republish your book and sell it as their own without giving you anything.

So using the OGL 1.1 is essentially suicide for any company trying to be profitable and questionable on copyright grounds for everyone that would use it. But the OGL 1.0a from 5th edition is still viable, so authors could still publish under those rules without using any of the new content Wizards of the Coast will publish under the OGL 1.1.

Except… the leak also stated that Wizards was going to “deauthorize” the old 1.0a license. That’s likely not something that would hold up in court, but Wizards was hoping that they could still scare all the smaller publishers to not fight them in court.

The online community reaction was livid with many people quitting the 5th edition D&D and moving to Pathfinder. Paizo released a statement that they would defend their right to continue using the OGL 1.0a license as the terms are pretty explicit that it is a perpetual and non-revokable license. And of course Wizards released a pathetic apology statement and went back to the drawing board on what the OGL 1.1 would be.

Damage to the brand aside, revising the OGL 1.1 to squeak a little more profit out of other publishers isn’t a terrible idea, but Wizards’ draft had terms that were so bad no one would ever use the license. This wasn’t shaving a bit off the top, this was coming at companies using the OGL with a sword and telling them to stop.

And now a bunch of those companies are dropping D&D and moving to support other systems. Pathfinder is looking like the big leader now. There may be others as well in the future. D&D will of course survive and probably maintain its top position, but plenty of people have moved away.

I think the license could still work, but with a bit of tweaking to the points I mentioned. Point 1 is fine. Point 2 needs to be a royalty on profit over a revenue of $750,000 to prevent destroying profit in general for companies with a large amount of sales. Point 3 needs a third party judge to determine what material is objectionable. Point 4 should be revised to Wizards having right of first refusal to purchase the copyright for content licensed under the OGL 1.1.

One of the questions my D&D group has been chatting about after this debacle is whether we want to stay with D&D as a system. Realistically, this makes no difference for how players and DMs approach the system. We can still buy the books and play the same as before. But if content as a whole is restricted because of the license, do we want to support that type of restrictive environment with our money or support a more welcoming environment? Vote with the wallet, right?

I was planning on taking a break from D&D as a system in a few months after the end of our current campaign anyways. The break was going to last a few years while we explored a few other systems with favorites being Forged in the Dark and Powered by the Apocalypse rules. Since that exploration will probably take a few years, we’ll have plenty of time for the dust to settle on the OGL 1.1 terms before we decide to accept them as part of D&D 6th edition, or not.

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