The Alphastream Game Design Blog
Wizards of the Coast is revising the D&D OGL. What do we want the OGL to be for One D&D? And what does WotC want? What should it want? Continuing on Part 1, here is Part 2.
In many ways, most creators are happy with the OGL. Pay nothing, create products, retain ownership… what’s not to like? But, if we look further, there are a few aspects that are key to the OGL.
A key to the OGL is the language that says it will continue in perpetuity without unexpected changes. This is what allows companies to allocate budgets and creators to spend hard-earned dollars to create products. You know you can continue selling under these terms forever. You know that if you create one product today, you can also create another one using the license tomorrow. It won’t go away. Creators of course want this stability to continue, and for WotC to acknowledge it.
When you create for the OGL, you own the product. It is yours. You can place it for sale on your own site, on a major book web site, on DriveThru or Itch, anywhere. This is vital, because it means that as a creator/company grows, they can sell their creation in the best way possible. It also means full control over not selling a product, over creating an expansion for it, or even modifying it. So, of course, creators want this to continue.
How about things we want to see change?
The System Reference Document is out of date for 5E. It contains limited examples of game material such as species, subclasses, and spells. It also doesn’t include a lot of 5E DM material, such as downtime or patrons or siege weapons. New official material, such as the artificer class, are not included. The legal status of using such items is unclear, or at least arguable enough that you see very few companies try to use that content (Level Up 5E has an artificer, but almost no one else does).
Additionally, translated versions of the SRD and Basic Rules are desired by international creators and players.
The DMs Guild is not the OGL. The Guild is a very clever partnership between WotC and One Book Shelf (which owns DriveThru and all of which is owned by Roll20). Writing for the DMs Guild allows you to use a different license from the OGL. Instead, you agree to specific terms to sell on the DMs Guild. The terms aren’t great. It is great to be able to use WotC IP, and it can be a good place to be noticed. While you technically own the products you create there, you lose your rights to take them anywhere else or to do anything else with the material you created. This can be worth it for some creators, but it is very limiting and many creators as they grow come to wish they had published elsewhere.
Creators would like some friendlier terms that provide some safeguards against vast changes. For example, if the site should ever be taken down, that’s the end of your income. There is no safeguard against this, and you don’t regain control of your product. As we saw when WotC almost decided to end non-bundle sales of Adventurers League adventures, you don’t even control how your products are sold. The terms can be changed on you at any time. Creators would also like better tools that allow them to function as creators, as they do on DriveThru (operated by the same company). Creators want to be able to be able to manage communications with customers and be able to reach out to those customers as they can on DriveThru.
Creators would also like an option to be non-exclusive, so that publishing on the Guild doesn’t feel like a big risk where you can never sell anywhere else.
If WotC wants to entice us to a future platform, it should look to the limitations of the DMs Guild. This includes looking at why products which once hit Platinum very quickly now take much longer to get there – or may never get there – despite larger art budgets and other expenses by creators. When WotC removes control from creators, it means WotC has to take an active role in making the platform more valuable.
What does WotC want? Let’s find out in Part 3…
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Honestly, I think the DMs Guild is a good example of terms for a new version of the OGL. I say that not because I think the current 1.0a should be revoked, but because I think these things are not mutually exclusive. In 2004, an OGL FAQ from WotC had clarified any future changes to the OGL would produce versions that creators could choose to use at will, ignoring versions with terms they disagreed with.
I think the best bet for WotC at this point is to maintain 1.0a (and make it irrevocable), and then make a version that has the carrot (like access to D&D IP or an enhanced SRD) at the expense of the stick (WotC control and royalty fees). This way the executives can still get a license they want, but WotC can save face by preserving the OGL’s intentions in perpetuity.