Wizards of the Coast, publisher of Dungeons & Dragons, announced today that they will no longer be pursuing deauthorization of the Open Gaming License 1.0a, abandoning plans previously stated in the drafted OGL 1.2. This statement comes after relentless fan backlash against the decision to try to “deauthorize”1 the long-standing agreement between WotC and third party publishers. After three weeks of near constant pressure, it appears as if Wizards of the Coast has figured out that they don’t have enough control over the situation to actually win it.
Fans, and lawyers, and fans who are lawyers, along with former vice president of Wizards of the Coast Ryan Dancy, who headed the team that created the OGL in the first place, disagree with WotC that it is even possible to deauthorize the OGL 1.0a.
Brink said in the statement that “these live survey results are clear. You want OGL 1.0a. You want irrevocability. You like Creative Commons.” This sentiment was expressed so overwhelmingly in the playtest OGL 1.2 that Wizards of the Coast had to pay attention. Originally they were going to keep the playtest open for two weeks, however Brink writes, “the feedback is in such high volume and its direction is so plain that we’re acting now.”
The ramifications of the concessions D&DBeyond makes in this announcement are profound. What they are now saying is this:
- They will not attempt to deauthorize the OGL 1.0a
- They are putting the entirety of the Systems Reference Document for D&D 5.1 into the Creative Commons where it can never be clawed back again.
- They are abandoning its previously-stated intentions to squeeze out competition for Virtual Tabletops.
What’s astounding about all this is that the crusades that Wizards of the Coast was fighting have now all been abandoned in their entirety. Everyone thought WotC would not — indeed, could not — budge on their demands. The obfuscation, dissembling and outright lies in their previous statements suggested that WotC planned to win the conflict at any cost, the future of D&D and their own reputation be damned.
One thing to note is that Brink states that putting the entire 400-page SRD into the Creative Commons means that fans don’t need to “take [Dungeons & Dragons’] word for it.” That Brink would explicitly acknowledge the lack of trust between fans and publishers and Wizards of the Coast is incredible.
Finally, the company finished the statement with an olive branch, publishing the SRD immediately, and stating, “Here’s a PDF of SRD 5.1 with the Creative Commons license. By simply publishing it, we place it under an irrevocable Creative Commons license. We’ll get it hosted in a more convenient place next week. It was important that we take this step now, so there’s no question.”
WotC CEO Cynthia Williams was trying to set up Dungeons and Dragons so it could be monetized in the same way video games are, with microtransactions. This makes sense, because prior to joining WotC ten months ago, she was in charge of Microsoft’s Gaming Ecosystem Commercial Team (her boss Chris Cocks, who ascended from WotC to become the president of Hasbro, also came from Microsoft).
The only problem with that idea — well, not the only problem, but a big glaring one — is that you can’t really take a game that can be played over a coffee table with paper, pencils and funny shaped dice and force people to stop playing it that way after they’ve been doing it for 40 years. The fact that she didn’t understand what D&D even was points out just how much trouble Hasbro is likely to be in from this moving forward.
Third party publishers had been preparing to mobilize as early as mid-2022 when Kobold Press began work on their Project Black Flag, a new gaming system that would rival Dungeons & Dragons but not be subject to WotC control. Once the leaks happened to confirm their suspicions about WotC’s plans, fans mobilized en masse. At last report, 40,000+ subscribers quit the D&DBeyond service, and did it so fast they actually crashed their servers.
The TTRPG world is waiting to see what WotC actually does with the new OGL2 The SRD being released in its entirety under the Creative Commons license is a gesture of good faith that pours oil on troubled waters, but the fans, the publishers and their lawyers are all watching to see what Wizards does with this and how they do it.
The fans definitely have Hasbro’s undivided attention at this point. Hasbro has laid off about 10% of their workforce to soften the blow of the upcoming 4Q report in February, and on January 27 their stock price dropped about 7.5% in a single day.
1 “Deauthorization” is not a concept that exists in contract law, nor is it described in the OGL as a process that could occur. There is also the matter of Promissory Estoppel, which prevents participants in a contract from changing their minds afterwards. Many legal experts suggest that because of these three facts, WotC has no power to revoke the OGL. The question of whether or not any company can “deauthorize” a contract in this way will now not be tested in court, and we may never see the matter crop up again.
2 Public opinion identifies the fact that a license is not “open” if one party claims to be able to dictate who can use it and who can’t. The OGL 1.2 draft contains language that attempted to do that.
SCIFI.radio is listener supported sci-fi geek culture radio, and operates almost exclusively via the generous contributions of our fans via our Patreon campaign. If you like, you can also use our tip jar and send us a little something to help support the many fine creatives that make this station possible.