The Story so Far…
In November, a rumor started circulating that Wizards of the Coast (WotC) would discontinue their Open Gaming License. The rumor got traction with the hashtag “#OpenDnD” inciting anxiety throughout the homebrew and indie game developer community. Shortly thereafter, WotC released a statement refuting the rumor and directly stating that One DnD would have an updated OGL.
I chose not to address the matter until WotC made their statement. Honestly, the rumor sounded outlandish. Independent content creators are a huge part of the community and a fundamental pillar of Fifth Edition’s popularity. Homebrewers are die-hard dnd fanatics. I know because I am one of them. They (we) are the forever DMs. They (we) are the people buying the supplements, tinkering with the mechanics, and writing lengthy blog articles about all of it. Killing the OGL from future editions would cut a vital leg out from under the IP.
However, the community’s anxiety refused abatement. “#OpenDnD continued to gain traction, so on December 21st, WotC decided to summarize the changes they were making to the updated OGL. I’m providing a link to that statement here, and I highly recommend reading it for yourself. It’s pretty short and to the point.
To summarize, OGL 1.1 will include the following
- Content creators must inform WotC that they are creating a for sale product under the OGL 1.1 agreement.
- Report revenue made from your use of the OGL if you are making $50,000 or more.
- Include a creator product badge in your content.
- Royalties if you make $750,000 or more in income from your third-party content. (apparently less than 20 companies fall under this category)
Keep in mind, this official statement only outlined the changes Wizards of the Coast intended to make. We did not see any actual legal text or draft of the new OGL.
The OGL 1.1 Leak
On January 4th 2023, the YouTube Channel Roll for Combat, announced that they received leaked text from the unreleased OGL 1.1. This was just an excerpt (if it is legitimate) of highly alarming changes. The leaked text doesn’t address any of the officially stated changes summarized above. Roll for Combat published the leaked document on their reddit page, but I will supply a copy the text below.
If you would like to watch the video that first broke the news, you can do so here. Note: Roll for Combat provided a time stamp so that you can go directly to the announcement.
“This agreement is, along with the OGL: Non-Commercial, an update to the previously available OGL 1.0(a), which is no longer an authorized license agreement. We can modify or terminate this agreement for any reason whatsoever, provided We give thirty (30) days’ notice. We will provide notice of any such changes by posting the revisions on Our website, and by making public announcements through Our social media channels.”
“You own the new and original content You create. You agree to give Us a nonexclusive, perpetual, irrevocable, worldwide, sub-licensable, royalty-free license to use that content for any purpose.”
“You waive any right to sue over Our decision on these issues. We’re aware that, if We somehow stretch Our decision of what is or is not objectionable under these clauses too far, We will receive community pushback and bad PR, and We’re more than open to being convinced that We made a wrong decision. But nobody gets to use the threat of a lawsuit as part of an attempt to convince Us.”
What do you mean “No Longer Authorized”?
In the few hours after this leak dropped, the community collectively melted down. The language here looks pretty scary to indie game developers, so lets take a closer look.
The first paragraph has arguably stirred up the most buzz. Across the internet, content creators are decrying the attempt at eliminating the legitimacy of their currently published work, but what exactly does “OGL 1.0(a), which is no longer an authorized license agreement” mean?
I am not a lawyer, but I don’t believe this is eliminating the legal protections provided by OGL 1.0. Article 9 of the OGL 1.0(a), which is the OGL for Dungeons and Dragons 5th Edition, protects creators from alterations to the OGL.
“9. Updating the License: Wizards or its designated Agents may publish updated versions of this License. You may use any authorized version of this License to copy, modify and distribute any Open Game Content originally distributed under any version of this License.”
This article clearly states that you can use any authorized version of this license to use Open Game Content covered by that article. I don’t believe WotC can de-authorize older versions of the OGL. But that doesn’t mean they have to continue publishing content protected by this OGL.
If this leak is legitimate, I believe this paragraph simply means new content created for DnD will not be covered by olde OGL 1.0(a). You must use the new OGL 1.1 if you want to publish homebrew content that uses One DnD material. If you’re still publishing 5e content, you should still be protected by the old OGL.
What do you mean, “royalty-free”?
The second paragraph is much more of a concern than the first. If you make content under the new OGL 1.1, then Wizards of the Coast can republish it in their own books. They won’t have to pay you for your work, and they won’t have to credit you.
If this is legitimate, indie game developers should be very weary of this clause. It opens the door for all their hard work to be snatched up. They’ll still be able to publish and sell their own original content, but WotC will have the right to release it as part of their own content too. Indie content creators could end up competing with their own material repackaged and reinforced by the official D&D brand.
But is this legitimate?
There won’t be any way to know for sure how much (if any) of this leaked content is legitimate until the official release of OGL 1.1. However, there are some inferences we can make about this content. The last paragraph, for instance, will not be in the final draft of the OGL 1.1 in its current form.
How do I know? Too much of the content lacks any relevant legal purpose.
The first sentence carries serious weight and implications, but everything after that reads like a press release. The courts don’t care if these decisions produce “community pushback and bad PR”. There’s no legal reason to state they could be “convinced” they made a mistake. Hell, the last line isn’t even close to being grammatically correct.
“But nobody gets to use the threat of a lawsuit as part of an attempt to convince Us.”
There should be a comma between “decision” and “But”. Then a lower case “B” should be used, and why is “Us” capitalized? That’s not a proper noun!
No, this text is not part of the official OGL 1.1. At least not in its current draft. These changes and restrictions may or may not be expressed in the official One DnD OGL 1.1, but we won’t know for sure until Wizards of the Coast releases that document.
What do we do with this?
In November, the indie game community erupted over the rumor that One DnD would not carry an OGL. That rumor was proven false. There will be an OGL with 4 new and distinct changes made to the content. (see above) This week, we see another leaked rumor enter circulation. What will the truth actually look like?
Over the last few weeks, I’ve seen a lot of misinformation, misunderstanding, and even fear mongering. People love their creations, and the threat of loosing control over a product of hours upon hours of work can be unnerving to say the least, but all we have to go on is rumor after rumor. Panicking and passing off unsubstantiated claims as fact isn’t going to help anyone.
Speculating on the motives and possible actions taken by other people and companies must be encouraged. Should you be on guard for changes to the Open Gaming License if you’re a third-party indie publisher or content creator? Yes, because you’re a responsible adult. You should always keep your ear to the ground and your eyes open, but that also means planning for the most likely outcome. Don’t put too much stock into unsubstantiated rumors as they get denied by the target of the claims. Yes, keep them in mind. Be ever vigilant. Write a plan A, B, C, all the way to Z12, but focus on the facts first.
Fact: there are nearly 20 companies (according to WotC) that earn nearly 1 million each year from their third-party content. Certainly, there are more companies that make less than the $750k benchmark officially set by the OGL 1.1, yet many of those companies still produce substantial revenue.
My Opinion: Any attempts made to shut down the OGL 1.0(a) in favor of this new OGL will leave those companies little choice other than to sue the ever loving s*** out of WotC and Hasbro.
The giant is surrounded by pissed off halflings. I don’t think the old OGL is going anywhere.
Fact: One DnD is slated to be backwards compatible with 5e.
My Opinion: One DnD will have some cool stuff but in the end will look more like 5.5e. There is so much third-party content circulating right now, we practically already have a 5.5e. DnD enthusiasts don’t actually need WotC to make a new edition.
Hasbro needs them to make a new edition because they need to make more money and get people to sign up to the new online platform.
Fact: WotC screwed up with Magic, big time.
My Opinion: The Magic The Gathering disaster demonstrates a misunderstanding of the product and a major strategy misstep. It looks like they incorrectly thought the purpose of a company was to make money. Companies fail when they think that. You must provide value. You must sell something people want. Money is food for a company. They need it to survive, but you can’t eat dinner without first planting a crop.
With MTG, they saturated the market with a substandard product. They didn’t understand that the value comes from collecting and using rare cards. Are they repeating these mistakes with DnD? Are they trying to make money without understanding what their audience really wants? Or have they learned their lesson. Will they course correct before the Hasbro stock takes another dive?
That’s an article for another day. For now, we should stay focused on the facts and what we can control. If you’re a content creator, keep creating. Keep an eye open for updates from WotC, and be ready to pivot when/if the time comes.
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