The Alphastream Game Design Blog
Wizards often has complex desires. Sometimes in the past, it has wanted exactly what the industry needed. Sometimes it has wanted things that were very bad for the industry. The 4E GSL (Game Systems License) was a disaster for many reasons, but the largest was a complete mismatch between what creators wanted and what WotC thought it wanted. The GLS ended up being very bad for WotC.
But, there are some realistic desires WotC could want. WotC can’t change the OGL that is already present, so any new OGL has to offer some incentive if it includes anything that would be detrimental. We see this with the DMs Guild. It isn’t an OGL, but it has enough attractive qualities that many will use it for some applications. It is a successful strategy, even if it is not ideal in all situations.
WotC should want to firmly establish what it wants and how it gets there – and for the OGL for One D&D to reflect that. For several editions, D&D has wanted something other than what book sales provide. That’s fine, so long as it recognizes books and the game as the root of the brand and the base from which everything is launched.
It can be incompatible to want higher book sales and also want to make your money elsewhere. D&D annual revenues are estimated to be $100 to $150 million. That’s a very small portion of the $1.3B total WotC revenue, even if D&D is growing. When D&D is so relatively small, WotC can and should ask itself whether it is better to return to a D&D release schedule focused on branding (which also produces great revenue) instead of trying to squeeze slightly higher revenues by overpublishing.
Update: Imagine WotC thought it should take a cut of all the top crowdfunded 5E OGL products. Is that worth it? EN World maintains a list of all the RPG crowdfunded projects that raised more than $1M. If we take that list and remove the non-D&D projects, here is what we get:
I added the last two columns, which calculate the revenue above $750k that each project generated, and then calculates WotC receiving 20% of that revenue. 20% of revenue is an incredibly high cut for projects, since crowdfunding is often much more than sales. The funds cover all kinds of costs beyond product sales. Losing 20% of revenue would destroy a lot of projects.
But, besides that major problem, even if the projects could afford to give 20% to WotC, for WotC this amounts to only $2.7M. D&D, at $100-150M and desiring to be a $1B brand? This is an insignificant contribution towards that goal. Even if WotC received 100% of all the crowdfunded revenue above, $24M, it would not significantly help WotC reach their $1B goal for D&D. Just as overpublishing won’t help D&D reach its goals, taxing creators will not help WotC reach its goals for D&D either.
Here’s the approach we could use instead if we were WotC:
Clear Resonant Themes: make releases into classics. Use these as the base for your other endeavors. Go back to the early 5E days of a strong story bible shared with partners, launching cool products you license. Rally the community around these resonant themes. A release like Strixhaven shouldn’t be forgotten due to several simultaneous releases. It should be a major theme and launch countless high school campaigns, licensed properties, and more.
Get Everyone Playing: Make the game simpler so the game spreads as far as possible. Remove the barriers to entry with lots of ways for people to play D&D. Instead of making 6E harder to master, with more feats and more features, streamline the level 1 experience so character creation is super-fast and contributes to new players getting hooked and wanting more.
Make the OGL an Even Bigger Asset: Get everyone creating. If book sales aren’t the key to revenue, then get everyone creating. They aren’t competitors; they are partners. Get more partners and keep the focus on D&D and the amazing creator community. A $1M crowdfunding campaign isn’t competition – it’s someone working for you and your brand instead of making a competing game or another form of entertainment. (Stranger Things is entertainment and where WotC wants to be… and it still isn’t competition!)
On that basis, we can explore other goals:
WotC is once again launching a VTT. We hope it goes better than the one they tried to launch for 4E. A VTT will be stronger if the audience is drawn to it. The same is true of D&D Beyond. This means removing barriers. Right now, DMs and players struggle with wanting to use third-party material, but an inability to get it into the D&D Beyond character builder. This fuels the use of other sites, such as Roll20 and FantasyGrounds, as well as just using paper and pencil so you can use any combination of materials. Invite creators to create for these platforms through the OGL, with an additional platform license that takes a reasonable cut while allowing creators to retain ownership and the benefits of the OGL. Grant special partnerships to the largest creators with a better cut, not a worse one, so you encourage the best to work with you. Don’t ask companies for their annual revenues – focus on your platform fees and overall growth, instead of on controlling your partners.
WotC says it wants increased “monetization” – business lingo for enabling more purchases after the primary obvious ones. That’s an absolutely fine goal. You can be a D&D Beyond customer currently and buy a book. But you can also buy digital dice. If secondary purchases truly are important, then WotC will get more of them by bringing more support onto the VTT and D&D Beyond. This will come from empowering creators to sell on those places. Empower creators, who are your partners, to also create secondary purchases on the platform. Charge reasonable royalties.
I absolutely understand how WotC can look at the list of top 5E crowdfunding campaigns and desire a cut of that. However, it is important to note that revenue is not profit. The profit from crowdfunding campaigns is often lean with companies needing to crowdfund their next product in order to pay salaries, manage inventory, and otherwise stay afloat. Companies can use the current 1.0a OGL to create without providing a royalty. Let them keep doing that, and focus new royalties on platforms and other strong benefits that attract partners. A good royalty is one a partner/creator gladly pays because everyone is benefitting. Focus on the royalties lots of partners will want to pay because it’s a win-win for WotC, for creators, and for the hobby.