“Wizards took the gamble of waiving their intellectual property rights in Dungeons & Dragons (D&D) and were rewarded with tremendous success. The D&D community is passionate about the game. After two decades under Open Game License (OGL) 1.0 , it is not surprising that there have been protests against the new OGL”
In 2000, Wizards of the Coast (“Wizards”), the creators of Dungeons & Dragons, faced a red pill or blue pill scenario. On the one hand, Wizards could continue to build its Dungeons & Dragons game, while carefully safeguarding its intellectual property rights. On the other hand, Wizards could risk or even waive its intellectual property rights by allowing third parties, particularly players, to use Dungeons & Dragons intellectual property for their own creations with few limitations, allowing its players to help grow the D&D franchise. .
Wizards chose the second option – limiting its claims to its intellectual property and allowing third parties to create their own custom D&D content. A Dungeons & Dragons empire is born. Twenty-three years later, we take a look at the Wizards pick and its impact.
In early January this year, the gaming industry was outraged by a leaked document published by pop culture outlet io9. The document was a draft of the most recent version of Wizards’ Open Game License, or OGL. But what is an OGL, and why have game developers and publishers hastily sought out their metaphorical swords?
The original OGL
In 2000, Wizards ran OGL 1.0, which allowed third parties to freely use licensed portions of D&D’s game system and settings to create their own D&D-based content. Under this original OGL, game developers and publishers could release unofficial D&D material, including unofficial adventures, settings, player options, and more. TheGamer, a gaming news site, explained OGLs as “[A]n open source code created by someone else to program your own original video game. . . .”
Wizard’s OGL 1.0 seemed to make the D&D game system IP free for everyone. The wording of the agreement provided few restrictions for third parties publishing D&D content. OGL granted a “perpetual, worldwide, non-exclusive license” to the open game content, or more commonly known as the System Resource Document, and permitted all OGL licensees to “copy, modify, and distribute any open game content originally distributed under any version of this License.”
With virtually unfettered access to D&D intellectual property, third-party designers and developers have collected their own D&D materials for players to use and even purchase, either as separate roleplaying games or as additional game materials. for official D&D materials. Major publishers that have used OGL in their own business models include Paizo, Kobold Press, and Green Ronin, effectively contributing to D&D’s fame over the years. In doing so, however, these large publishers incidentally became some of Wizards’ biggest competitors.
The rise of the new OGL
After years of following the original OGL, Wizards attempted to remove the liberal access that third parties had to its intellectual property. As the leaked document states, “[T]he open game license was always intended to allow the community to help develop D&D and extend it creatively. It was not intended to subsidize major competitors. . . .” According to the leaked document, Wizards was ready to release a new OGL. Under the new OGL, those creating D&D content or material would be much more restricted than under the original OGL 1.0.
Under the new OGL, licensees would be required to report any material to Wizards, who would then have the perpetual and irrevocable right to use any reported content. Additionally, the new OGL would reverse its old policy of not charging royalties on third-party use of D&D material. Any developer or publisher earning $750,000 or more from the sale of their content would have to pay Wizards a 20-25% royalty. Additionally, the new OGL would only allow the creation of new materials for “role-playing games and supplements in print media and static electronic file formats”. It wouldn’t allow for the creation of anything else, “including but not limited to things like videos, virtual tabletops or mountain biking campaigns, computer games, novels, apps, graphic novels, music, songs, dances and pantomimes”. For such unauthorized creations, creators should enter into an individual, personalized agreement with Wizards.
The fall of the new OGL
The backlash came quickly. Loyal D&D players, content creators, and third-party publishers have taken to the internet to voice their concerns about the new OGL. Prominent game publishers have even announced their intention to cease all content creation under the new license and focus more resources on their own original game systems.
Wizard’s initial response to the backlash was to issue a statement on January 13 indicating that it intended to remove some of the more controversial elements from the proposed new OGL. The final draft would allegedly remove the royalty or language provision from the license that would give Wizards the right to use unofficial D&D material as its own. At that time, Wizards was prepared to ensure that the next OGL contained “provisions that enable us to protect and cultivate the inclusive environment that we are trying to build” and address the risk that others would claim. that Wizards allegedly stole third-party hardware that is coincidentally similar.
Following the statement, Wizards conducted a survey to gauge consumer feedback on the new OGL. After 15,000 responses, the consensus was that people didn’t like it. In late January, Kyle Brink, executive producer of Dungeons & Dragons, tweeted a personal message confirming that fan voices had been heard. Not only was the new OGL completely dropped, but the most updated version of the original OGL would remain.
Key takeaways for business owners
Wizards took the gamble of giving up its intellectual property rights in D&D and was rewarded with huge success. The D&D community is passionate about the game. After two decades under OGL 1.0, it’s no surprise that there have been protests against the new OGL. Sorcerers listened to people and their complaints. For other companies, allowing open access to their intellectual property may not be the wisest course. As technology continues to rapidly evolve, such as the recent boom in artificial intelligence, it’s unclear what kinds of challenges intellectual property owners may face. However, there’s no denying that part of Wizard’s success is due to open third-party access to D&D intellectual property.
Whether this story is a cautionary tale or an epic fantasy to emulate is a matter for business owners – in the gaming industry and beyond – to decide for themselves.