For those who haven’t been keeping up with current events, a rumor went viral a few weeks ago regarding plans to drop the Open Gaming License (OGL) from One D&D. The story came from a popular YouTuber, Indestructoboy, and garnered quite a reaction in a short time.
If you’re a casual player or relatively new to the game, allow me to explain why this is such a big deal. Wizards of the Coast allows third-party publishers to write and sell content for their flagship product, D&D. The OGL stipulates how much of the Dungeons & Dragons property can be used.
Essentially, the OGL is a list of rules, classes, items, etc. If it’s not in the OGL, you can’t put it in your D&D module or supplement. Providing an open gaming license isn’t unheard of in the TTRPG industry, but D&D does have a particularly large OGL. In fact, WotC (Wizards of the Coast) made so much content available, an entire industry developed around the Dungeons & Dragons rule system.
Many companies completely depend on the 5e OGL. If WotC refused to offer an OGL with the release of One D&D, these companies wouldn’t be able to produce content for the new edition. They would essentially be stuck working with an outdated version as the community moved on.
A lot of people would be out of a job.
Words Have Power
People lost their Sh** when this rumor dropped. If this tidbit of gossip turned out to be true, more than just TTRPG publishers would end up feeling the pain. Hundreds of content creators, individuals, write and sell content for D&D. It may not be their primary source of income, but it’s still important to them. These men and women spend hours of their life crafting interesting stories. WotC dropping the OGL from their latest edition of D&D would slam a door in their face.
Why would they do this?
This wouldn’t be the first time WotC chose to drop the OGL from the D&D brand. To this day, the 4th edition of the world’s most popular tabletop role-playing game still does not have an open gaming license, and it never will.
Why did WotC pull the plug on the 4e OGL? Because the open gaming license for 3rd edition was a little too open. A series of companies used D&D 3e mechanics to design their own game systems and core rulebooks. These games took what made the 3rd edition popular, added a few spices, and went in their own direction. Essentially, WotC had given its competitors permission to rip them off, or, at the very, least a helping hand off the ground.
When 4e rolled out, the OGL that birthed so much competition got the ax. Frankly, that was an understandable response. It wasn’t the best response, but let’s be honest, can you blame WotC for getting a little gunshy? Offering an OGL dealt a serious blow to their revenue. They weren’t about to do that again.
Looking back at D&D 4e’s massive popularity despite not having an OGL, it becomes clear that they made the right decision.
Oh wait, 4th edition is probably the least popular iteration of the entire franchise!
Yeah, someone needed to put on their thinking cap and figure this problem out. That’s exactly what they did with the 5th edition. They figured out the OGL. They got it right. There’s plenty of content for third-party publishers to work with, but WotC still maintains control over the core system.
Why Is the OGL so Important?
Few would argue that the OGL for 5th edition played anything less than a critical role in the explosion of popularity for the hobby. Third-party content creators and companies produce a virtually uncountable amount of content for 5e. Seeing as WotC only produces a few books a year for their very own gravy train, it’s clear that the plethora of content garnered an enormous amount of attention for the franchise.
The open gaming license in its current iteration makes a lot of sense from a financial standpoint. The customer needs to purchase the core rulebook to play the game. Instead of spending an enormous amount of money to produce modules and content for 5e, WotC allows other creators to do that for them. Some of these books are a hit, and Wizards of the Coast does miss out on that revenue. But a lot of these games fall flat as well. WotC doesn’t have to worry about taking a loss on inevitable duds.
Realistically, there’s no way for a single company to equal the amount of content produced by third-party publishers. If they tried, they would churn out piles of poorly written books and the brand would suffer. A single company can’t make quality content at that scale. These third-party writers generated content and enthusiasm for the hobby. They impacted WotC’s bottom line in a good way.
But is the Rumor True?
On November 22, Wizards of the Coast issued the following statement to Geek Wire regarding these claims.
“We will continue to support the thousands of creators making third-party D&D content with the release of One D&D in 2024…
“While it is certain our Open Game License will continue to evolve, just as it has since its inception, we’re too early in the development of One D&D to give more specifics on the OGL or System Reference Document at this time.”
You can read the full article here.
This isn’t exactly the most reassuring statement, but it’s pretty much the only one WotC could make if they did intend to continue offering an OGL. One D&D’s not going to drop until 2024. They don’t even know what they’re going to put in the game, so they certainly don’t know what they’re making available for third-party content creators.
We should all keep in mind that WotC is unambiguously denying the validity of this rumor. The odds are good that One D&D will have some kind of OGL. When One D&D rolls out, could they slap the community in the face and offer a watered-down, barely usable OGL?
You can bet your last d20 they could, but will they?
I didn’t talk about this roomer when it first dropped because it sounded too outlandish. Everyone in the TTRPG community knows what third-party content did for the Dungeons and Dragons brand. Top-level executives getting greedy now would drastically affect the nature of their true product.
WotC doesn’t produce the majority of the available D&D content. They create the core rule books, supplements, campaigns, and a few adventures every year, and they let the community do everything else. Their real product is a framework for imaginative writers to work within. That’s what Dungeons & Dragons is really selling.
I doubt an active OGL for new iterations of the game is in danger of going extinct. However, to play devil’s advocate, I can think of one factor that might shake up the status quo, digital gameplay.
The BBEG is the Internet?
WotC (more likely Hasbro) wants the future of the franchise to move to a digital interface. Many of the top-level executives in charge of the brand have a background in tech. They purchased the online platform D&D Beyond, and they’re designing their own digital VTT system. This actually is a drastic change to their true product.
Moving D&D online could make consolidating control over the content appealing. If they build the infrastructure to support highly modular and adaptable content, then being the only source of content becomes realistic. This will require a pretty big change to the structure of the game and the WotC business model. Instead of buying core rule books, modules, and expansions, you’ll buy small bite-sized pieces of the game, and you’ll buy them for $2.99.
Imagine purchasing the class you want to play instead of the player’s handbook. When your character finds a magical sword in a treasure horde, you’ll end up shelling out real cash for the stats. DM’s wouldn’t need to buy whole campaign settings. Instead, they’d buy a single dungeon and maybe a town. As the adventurers wander the countryside, the DM might pick up a plot hook or two. Sure, an entire setting can be bought in a bundle, but why would you do that? You don’t even know if your players are going to stay in that area.
If Wizards of the Coast push microtransactions, then killing the OGL will work. They wouldn’t need to match the production of the current third-party industry. DMs and players won’t need entire books brimming with possibilities. After all, most of those possibilities never see gameplay. In this dystopian future, you’ll just buy the exact game element you need at the moment you need it.
The worse part about this possible product shift is the illusory sense that you actually have more choices. No, WotC could never actually produce the same amount of content as the third-party industry, but they could make less content more available. If you wanted to buy a halfling village, you’ll have a dozen options listed on the One D&D homepage. With the OGL model, you had hundreds of halfling villages to choose from, but they’re locked away in books filled with content you don’t need at that moment. This will make you feel like you have more because the little you do have is right in front of you.
Why not do both? Microtransactions are appealing because of their convenience. Allowing the third-party industry to thrive doesn’t touch the real product, instant gratification. If anything, I could see them taking more control over third-party publications. Why wouldn’t they run their own version of the DMs Guild?
Homebrewers could sell their products through Wizards of the Cost. Of course, they’ll take a cut, but now it will be available on the One D&D online platform. Players could purchase their DM’s custom sub-class. At the very least, this would take some of the financial burden off of the DM. Which has been a complaint about 5th edition.
Please keep in mind, a lot of this is speculation based on a rumor. Wizards of the Coast has officially stated that they will continue offering an OGL for future iterations of Dungeons & Dragons. We can play “armchair captains of industry” all day long, but in the end, we won’t know the truth until the launch of One D&D.
Personally, I can’t imagine the people in charge of these decisions don’t understand the secret ingredient that makes D&D so popular. It’s a game that lets you tell a story with your friends. The third-party industry is an industry of storytellers. The people that write these adventures, supplements, and dungeon crawls comprise WotC’s target audience. If they don’t get to tell their stories anymore, why would they keep playing D&D?
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