The open gaming license: an end to an era?

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Set sail across the sea. Jorah Bright

Wizards of the Coast has a long path ahead to earn back the community’s trust.

One of the greatest things about Dungeons & Dragons is the community. People come up with incredibly creative ideas and share them online. People can make money from coming up with these ideas and selling them online to other D&D fans. The reason why D&D players are able to monetize their D&D-related works is because of something called the Open Game License (OGL).

The OGL lets creators take elements from D&D such as basic rules or aspects and make content from it that they can then distribute legally and make money. Wizards of the Coast (WotC), the company behind D&D, has the OGL in place so that they can hold ownership of the game while still allowing D&D fans and players to create their own elements of the game. For WotC, having the OGL helps D&D grow as a game and a franchise. Official D&D books are expensive, while fan-made content is often cheaper while retaining a high quality.

The OGL was initially introduced by WotC in 2000. This was during the era of 3rd edition D&D. Former WotC vice president Ryan Dancey claimed that with the OGL “[WotC] can establish a clear policy on what it will, and will not allow people to do with its copyrighted materials.” Dancey believed that allowing the public to create D&D content would help D&D grow.

In 2008, WotC changed up the OGL for the new 4th edition of D&D. They created the Game System License. The GSL didn’t get rid of the OGL, but they didn’t work well together. The GSL was a lot more restrictive and people didn’t like it. Under the GSL, people could make products that worked with D&D 4th ed., but it limited what fans could create and share for the game.

In 2016, when D&D 5th ed. came out, WotC returned to the OGL. People could make and share content for D&D. They could even get a license to create content within WotC copyrighted material.

People have been speculating for years when the next edition of D&D will be released. News broke in August of 2022 that the next version would be called One D&D and WotC was launching a public playtest. Shortly after, in November of 2022, rumors started circulating that the OGL would not be available for One D&D. WotC tried to quell these rumors by saying that they would support those who make additional content for D&D. They stated that they couldn’t announce anything about the OGL for One D&D just yet, because One D&D wasn’t developed enough.

Recently, in December of 2022, WotC announced information about OGL 1.1, the first big update to the OGL since 2000. OGL 1.1 stated that if anyone wanted to create D&D content, they would need to have a badge indicating that it’s an official part of the OGL 1.1 on the product. If a creator wanted to monetize their D&D content, they would need to inform WotC if the total revenue was more than $50,000 a year. If anyone wanted to make anything related to D&D, WotC would need to know and the product would need to be registered, which was never the case before.

Not only was this change made for the upcoming One D&D, it also applied to any version of D&D. If you made something for D&D 2nd ed., you would need to make it comply with OGL 1.1. Those who already have products released under OGL 1 would have to completely change their products and how they’re sold to continue to make money and be sold under OGL 1.1. Not only would you need to report it to WotC, you’d be allowing WotC to use your product in any way they wanted to for any reason. WotC could take your product, change it up a little bit, and sell it, and you wouldn’t be able to do anything about it under OGL 1.1. And, if WotC suddenly doesn’t like something you did, they could decide that they don’t want you to have the OGL 1.1 license and stop you from creating and selling content.

D&D fans are not happy about the new OGL 1.1. For 22 years, people could freely create D&D content and make a living off of it if they wanted to. Companies like Paizo, Kobold Press, Green Ronin, and Ghostfire Gaming were able to be established as successful companies and successfully create loved content for D&D, but now their businesses could crumble unless they change their models, and fast. If the community takes the changes WotC is making without a fight, then WotC could continue to make restrictive changes like this in the future.

One the biggest things D&D fans took from the OGL 1.1 is that it felt like a betrayal. The OGL 1.0 was put in place to allow D&D, a game about creation and making new things, to be a place where people could be creative and create new things for D&D. The OGL 1.1 completely revoked that feeling of freedom and took away a lot of trust fans had in WotC.

In response to OGL 1.1, the community started to take things into their own hands. Kobold Press announced a new TTRPG system they would create that would be completely open source. Paizo announced their Open RPG Creative License, which would allow content under this ORC to be perpetually open source.

People began campaigning to cancel subscriptions to the website D&DBeyond. D&DBeyond is a site connected to WotC where players can purchase licensed D&D content, share homebrew content, and create character sheets on the site. The cancelation movement started after rumors that WotC was monitoring how people were responding to OGL 1.1 based off of D&DBeyond subscriptions. When the bottom line at WotC allegedly started changing because of the subscription cancellations, WotC started making moves.

On January 13, WotC used D&DBeyond to release a statement in response to the OGL 1.1 backlash. This statement did not have the new OGL 1.1 in it, but they stated that creators would no longer have to pay royalties if creations earn a certain amount of money. They claimed that many of their goals with the OGL 1.1 were aligned with stopping discriminatory products and things like NFTs. They stated that they would not use the OGL 1.1 to steal work from the community. The community did not respond to this statement well either, making fun of the sentence “It’s clear from the reaction that we rolled a 1,” attempting to make a joke about the rules of the game to be lighthearted in this tense situation.

In the near future, we’ll probably see more changes and updates to the OGL 1.1 and be able to see whether or not WotC is actually listening to the community or trying to make more money for themselves.

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