Okay, I’ve watched a bunch of Youtube videos and now feel ready to add my two bitcoins about the current Dungeons & Dragons uproar over the new Open Gaming License.
Seriously, though, I’m not unequipped to discuss this. I am an OG RPG gamer. I mean OHH GEE. I gamed with the original D&D woodgrain box. The box with chits of paper instead of polyhedral dice. I’ve been gaming since before there were ten-sided dice.
I went to a D&D tourney when I was in high school, and I was the only girl there.
I have also joined the fairly rarefied community of lady Dungeon Masters. So I do feel qualified to speak as a gamer, about gaming.
My viewpoint is that Wizards of the Coast/Hasbro is engaged in a ham-fisted money grab, and understands absolutely nothing about the customer base that is the mainstay of their revenue. And seems to care less.
Photo by Timothy Dykes on Unsplash
A quick recap if you’re not aware. Back around 2000, Wizards of the Coast published Third Edition D&D with an “open gaming license,” which declared the basic rules and stats of D&D to be open source, and keeping only named IP like Elminster, the Forgotten Realms, Waterdeep, Beholder, the purview of Wizards of the Coast. A harmonious vision, that created an active culture of third-party publishers making new worlds, monsters, classes, adventures for D&D, that succeeded for twenty years.
But during those twenty years, WOTC got bought out by game giant Hasbro. Who I suspect are the real villains in this story, because they speak in bad faith and care only about the bottom line.
WOTC/Hasbro wants to rescind the Open Gaming License (which was intended to be irrevocable) and replace it with a new, far more restrictive license that demands royalties, and contains an outrageous clause that says, you, third-party publisher, “own” your original content — but WOTC can use it and publish it whenever they want, at no cost and in perpetuity.
And this has the entire tabletop gaming community in an uproar. We don’t like seeing indie creators attacked. We don’t like being gaslit and disrespected like that.
I know this is all very, very inside baseball. But my husband hasn’t shut up about it for five days now, and neither has the Internet.
Wizards attempted to backtrack, too little too late, but their press releases have actual lies in them (this was just a draft license) and are not fooling anyone. The vapid legalese indicates to me that the suits over there have no idea who they are dealing with: to wit, fandom, a legion of obsessive, obstreperous nerds like myself. Some of whom are lawyers, or also work in the gaming industry.
The whole thing is, IMO, just a clumsy, tone-deaf attempt to wring more money out of the D&D brand. Wizards/Hasbro cares nothing for “the community” of gamers, the rights of artists and makers, putting out a quality product, or any of that. They see D&D as a cash cow from which they are trying to milk every drop. Charging creators. Raising prices for the fans. Undercutting other publishers. I understand they’re trying to corner the market on the “virtual table top” software as well.
This impression is heightened by an earlier incident in which WOTC also tried to “monetize” its other flagship brand, Magic: The Gathering, by selling an overhyped anniversary set of cards that they actually expected regular gamers to buy by the case in order to play. Screw the legendary game that created a whole new market sector, and WOTC’s bones in the industry. Screw the anniversary. Screw the fans.
Well, the fans are revolting, and doing so by canceling their subscriptions to D&D Beyond, which I guess is Wizard’s own virtual table top. (I don’t really know, I’m still a pen and paper gamer.) So many cancellations, it crashed the servers. That membership which, they were planning to hike to 30 dollars a month according to some reports. Damn,. even HBO doesn’t charge that much.
Leading third-party publisher Paizo struck back at WOTC by vowing to create a true, irrevocable open-source gaming system, which they call the ORC License. Which is cute, but I’ve already forgotten what it means. … ah. the Open RPG Creative License. To be shepherded by a non-profit organization. They have the means to do it, and support it, too. So a lot of other companies are jumping on board The hashtag is #OpenDnD.
Wizards of the Coast is straight killing the goose that lays the golden egg, here. It’s hard to believe even the Hasbro suits didn’t see the folly of threatening to take other people’s stuff, without license or fee, forever. It’s a means of forcing other companies out of business, is what it is.
The suits also forgot how engaged and activated subcultures are in the age of social media. This news went around the world instantly. And people responded instantly. Hasbro got caught with its pants down. Somehow they really didn’t think anyone would object to this vulgar display of hubris.
I agree with WOTC/Hasbro about one thing. There’s no reason Dungeons & Dragons couldn’t be a cultural juggernaut like the MCU or Star Trek. I mean, my God, they have forty years of adventures, campaigns, tie-in novels and more to draw from. D&D survived the Satanic Panic in the 1980s, and the nerds who were stuffed into lockers back then are now the titans of industry and culture. There’s no reason the whole country shouldn’t know what a Beholder is just like they know who Hawkeye is. The property has been sadly mishandled in that regard.
But man, this is NOT the way to go about it. Might I remind you an A-List D&D movie is coming down the pike in mere weeks. WEEKS.
Great move, WOTC, completely enrage and alienate your customer base, indeed your entire industry, RIGHT when you are launching the first of a hoped-for tentpole movie franchise. The Iron Man of D&D, as it were. GREAT MOVE.
Oh, and Hollywood just greenlighted a live-action D&D TV show, didn’t it?
If you want someone to wade into the legalese, or count the beans, you’ll find plenty on YouTube. It’s all over there.
From my viewpoint, this will be taught as a case study in business schools in how NOT to treat your customers OR your suppliers.
It’s too bad. I had hopes for that movie.
But take heart! All is not lost. D&D is not lost to you. Even if you’re poor, even if you live in the developing world.
This is what I told gamer friends who were anxious about Third Edition … and Fourth … and Fifth.
You don’t need any of that. No one can take D&D away from you. You don’t need Wizards. Or Hasbro. Or D&D Beyond, or any of it. What you need are secondhand copies of the core rulebooks from your favorite rules set , some PDF modules from DriveThruRPG, and off you go. Run a few of those and then design your own adventures. D&D lives in your head and your heart. Not in the books. Not in warehouses or cloud servers. You can game for the rest of your life and never give another penny to Wizards if you don’t want to. In the final analysis, D&D belongs to us. Not the suits.