For the past two weeks, the Dungeons & Dragons community has been in shambles. On January 9th, a leaked revision of the Open Gaming License (OGL) blew up the internet. The new license would replace the original one, which gave third-party developers the right to make their own D&D content and sell it and use content from the System Reference Document (SRD), which contained elements from the official books.
However, OGL 1.1 changed all that. It stated that all content, old and new, needed to comply with the new guidelines. Content creators that make over 50,000$ must report their earnings, while the fewer than 20 creators who make over 750,000$ must give royalties to Wizards of the Coast (WoTC) which owns the D&D brand.
Royalties can’t be that bad, can they? Unfortunately, WoTC said that 20-25% of all revenue must go to them. This includes fundraisers for new products. And if that isn’t bad enough, the revision states that all content made under the license is available for WoTC to use. So if they see something they like, they could include it in their products and claim it as their own.
After so much backlash and a petition called #OpenDnD (it got over 67,000 signatures) as well as mass un-subscription from the online service D&D Beyond and third parties announcing their own fantasy RPGs, WoTC responded.
The official website for the #OpenDnD movement (https://www.opendnd.games/)
“However, it’s clear from the reaction that we rolled a 1,” a response on D&D Beyond said. “First, we won’t be able to release the new OGL today, because we need to make sure we get it right, but it is coming. 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.”
This is totally unprofessional talk in my opinion. And it’s just cloudy jargon about what they’re doing.
“What it will not contain is any royalty structure. It also will not include the license back provision that some people were afraid was a means for us to steal work. That thought never crossed our minds.”
They tried covering up the leak, but the community was still angry. Despite assuring their fanbase that past content from the OGL 1.0a won’t be affected and “educational and charitable campaigns, livestreams, cosplay, VTT-uses, etc.” won’t either, people wanted no change to the original OGL, which, when first released, was a “perpetual, worldwide, royalty-free, non-exclusive license with the exact terms of this License to Use, the Open Game Content.”
This doesn’t seem very perpetual if Wizards wants it changed, does it? These changes are because Wizards of the Coast wants to bring more revenue to itself and its parent company Hasbro. WoTC President Cynthia Williams said “The brand is really under-monetized,” despite the company, which owns D&D and Magic: The Gathering (MTG), getting more than 1.2 Billion dollars of revenue in 2021.
“Let me start with an apology. We are sorry. We got it wrong,” a second article from WoTC said on January 18th. They continued to say how they messed up and would be more open about what they would do. They said the language used in the first draft “was disruptive to creators,” and they wanted to discuss a path forward.
“Here’s what to expect.
- On or before Friday, January 20th, we’ll share new proposed OGL documentation for your review and feedback, much as we do with playtest materials.
- After you review the proposed OGL, you will be able to fill out a quick survey–much like Unearthed Arcana playtest feedback surveys. It will ask you specific questions about the document and include open form fields to share any other feedback you have.
- The survey will remain open for at least two weeks, and we’ll give you advance notice before it closes so that everyone who wants to participate can complete the survey. Then we will compile, analyze, react to, and present back what we heard from you.
This is what the community needed. More transparency about what they were doing, not silence for a week and then a weak statement that meant next to nothing (that’s my opinion, at least). Their first ideas were unreasonable and unacceptable, but this is a step in the right direction.
A day later, they released a 6-page draft for the OGL 1.2, which would replace the active 1.0a version. They wanted to do two things in this:
- Give the core D&D mechanics to the community through a Creative Commons license.
- Make sure you can use D&D content from the SRD. The OGL 1.2 will give you a perpetual, irrevocable license for it.
This was just a recap of the past two weeks, not the full story. My opinion is that the first two drafts (1.1 and 2.0) of the OGL were attempts to monetize the brand, thinking less about the community and more about the profits. Despite this, they seem to be going in the right direction with the 1.2 revision, which needs to happen. While the 1.0a version is what’s kept many publishers alive (Like Pathfinder and Kobold Press), twenty years have passed, and we live in a new era of diversity and awareness. To be able to have content that doesn’t have harmful stereotypes or offensive language (something WoTC has encountered before), we need a license to prohibit it. We also need a license detailing more recent items like Virtual Table Tops (VTTs) that allow you to simulate combat and other aspects virtually, and D&D Beyond content.