Canceled D&D Beyond Subscriptions forced Hasbro's hand

Canceled D&D Beyond Subscriptions forced Hasbro’s hand

Illustration: Vicky Leta

Finally, Dungeons & Dragons publisher Wizards of the Coast broke his silence regarding the open game license on Friday, trying to calm down tensions in the D&D community and answers questions that have been raised by Gizmodo gave the news about the contents of a draft document last week.

In a message titled An update on the Open Game License (OGL), posted on the website for D&D Beyond, Wizards of the Coast’s official digital toolkit, the company has addressed many of the concerns raised after the Open Gaming License 1.1 was leaked earlier this week, and brought them back — fast. Notable changes include the removal of royalty structures and a promise to clarify copyright ownership and intellectual property.

But it may be too little, too late.

Despite assurances from the Hasbro subsidiary, Wizards of the Coast (WotC) may have already suffered the consequences of their week of silence. Multiple sources inside WotC tell Gizmodo that the situation inside the castle is dire, and Hasbro’s concern is less about public image and more about the IP hoard the dragon sits on.

The bottom line seems to be: after a fan-led campaign to cancel D&D Beyond subscriptions going viral, it sent a message to higher-ups at WotC and Hasbro. According to several sources, these immediate financial consequences were the main thing that forced them to respond. The decision to further delay the release of the new open games license and then adjust messaging around the release was due to a “demonstrable impact” on their bottom line.

According to those sources, in meetings and communication with employees, the message from WotC management was that fans were “overreacting” to the leaked project and that in a few months no one would remember the uproar.

Graduates push back

But despite any hopes that this might all blow over, well-known publishers that previously used OGL — some almost exclusively, like Kobold Press and MCDM — have already made statements saying they’ll either move away from all versions. by OGL, or explicitly providing their own game licenses for their core games.

“The negative impact of implementing the new OGL could be a feature and not a bug for Wizards of the Coast,” said Charles Ryan, COO of Monte Cook Games. “A third-party publisher might look at where 5e is in its lifecycle,” he said, and if they were planning 5e products, reconsider their investment. Monte Cook Games released their own perpetual open license for the acclaimed Cypher System last year.

Smaller indie presses have pooled resources to help people create third-party content for small games. Rowan, Rook and Deckardeg released The Resilience Toolkita document intended to help designers move away from the 5th edition D&D rules and write third-party content for their acclaimed RPG turns.

A third-party publisher told Gizmodo that they expected WotC to update the OGL as seen in the leaked documents, but not until 2025, during DnDOne’s full release. Now many third-party publishers have moved their migration timeline following the publicity disaster surrounding the newly leaked Dungeons & Dragons OGL.

One of WotC’s biggest competitors, the indie publisher Paizo, the owner Pathfinder and Starfinder RPGs, is currently leading a campaign to create a Open RPG Creative License (ORC) which would be administered by a non-profit foundation. Other publishers, including Kobold Press, Chaosium, and Legendary Games, have already embarked on the effort.

Another third-party publisher who asked not to be identified told Gizmodo that their company “has already worked with other third-party publishers” to create a legal defense of the original, circa 2000, OGL 1.0(a).

OGL Text 1.1 and FAQ 2.0

Last week, Gizmodo received leaks of copies of an “OGL 1.1,” then a few days later, an FAQ document that referred to an “OGL 2.0.” (This is an important distinction because while a 1.1 might be considered an update of the original 1.0(a), calling the new accord 2.0 may indicate that it is envisioned as an entirely new, separate accord.)

One of the most telling parts of the OGL 2.0 FAQ included a statement that clarified one of the most inflammatory points of the leaked OGL 1.1 – whether or not the original OGL 1.0a would be deprecated. The leaked FAQ said that “OGL 1.0a allows creators to use only ‘authorized’ versions of OGL, which allows Wizards to determine which of its earlier versions to still allow use when we exercise our right to update the license.” As part of the release of OGL 2.0, we are deprecating OGL 1.0a from further use and deleting it from our website. This means that OGL 1.0a can no longer be used to develop content for release.”

Although many people have come forward to debate the legitimacy of this interpretation, including former WotC director Ryan Dancey, who helped write the original OGL 1.0, the FAQ has continued to push this language. Furthermore, the January 13 update does not explicitly state that the company will not attempt to deauthorize OGL 1.0a. “I don’t think OGL v1.0a can be deprecated,” Dancey said in an email to Gizmodo. “There is no mechanism in the license for opt-out.”

“When v1.0a was published and licensed, Hasbro & Wizards of the Coast did so knowing they were entering into a perpetual license regime,” Dancey continued. “All the people involved at the executive level – Peter Adkison (who was Wizards’ CEO), Brian Lewis (who was Wizards’ in-house counsel) and myself (I was VP of Tabletop RPGs) agreed that this was license intent.”

While the OGL 2.0 FAQ has been distributed to several Wizards of the Coast teams, sources indicate that this FAQ did not launch on January 12th as planned due to the impact of canceled subscriptions and the rising tide of reactions online.

The OGL 2.0 FAQ also stated that “the leaked documents were drafts, and some of the content people were upset about had already been changed in the latest versions by the time of the leak.” However, what pissed people off – including copyright and royalty adults – still seemed to be in the FAQ section for 2.0.

The part of OGL 1.1 that says once you publish under OGL 1.1 other people can use your work is very similar to DMs Guild language,” explained Jessica Marcrum, co-creator Unseelie Studios. “But this is not an ‘open’ language. And they seem to be using the preface of the old OGL to claim that 1.1 is an open-grant license when it isn’t.”

Additionally, multiple sources reported that third-party publishers received OGL 1.1 in mid-December as an incentive to sign a “sweetheart deal,” indicating that WotC was ready to go with the draconian OGL 1.1 originally leaked .

“Term Sheets”

According to an anonymous source who was in the room, in late 2022, Wizards of the Coast gave a presentation to a group of about 20 third-party creators that outlined the new OGL 1.1. These creators were also offered offers that would replace the publicly available OGL 1.1; Gizmodo obtained a copy of that document, called a “Term Sheet,” which would be used to describe certain custom contracts under OGL.

These “sweetheart” deals would entitle signees to lower royalties — 15 percent instead of 25 percent for excess revenue over $750,000, as stated in OGL 1.1 — and a commitment from Wizards of the Coast to market these third-party products for various D&D Beyond channels and platforms, except during “blackout periods” around WotC releases.

Third parties were expected to sign these Terms. Noah Downsa lawyer in the tabletop RPG space who was consulted on the terms of one of those contracts said that while the sheets included language suggesting that negotiation was possible, he felt there wasn’t much room for change.

To do the right thing

In the “Open Game License Update” released on Friday, WotC promised that the new OGL is still in development and not ready for final release “because we need to make sure we get it right.” The company promised to take feedback from the community and continue to make revisions to OGL that made it work for both WotC and its third-party publishers.

But it may be too late. “Even if Wizards of the Coast went all the way [the leaked OGL 1.1] back, it leaves such a sour taste in and in my mouth that I don’t want to work with OGL in the future,” said David Markiwski of Unseelie Studios.

Meanwhile, the “#DnDBegone” campaign encouraging fans to cancel their D&D Beyond subscriptions continued to gain traction on Twitter and other social media sites.

To completely delete a D&D Beyond account, users are directed into a support system that requires them to submit tickets to be handled by customer service: Sources inside Wizards of the Coast confirm that earlier this week there were “five figures” worth of complaining tickets in the system. Both moderation and internal issue handling were “a mess,” they said, partly due to WotC recently downsizing the D&D Beyond support team.

Wizards of the Coast stated in their unreleased FAQ that they didn’t make OGL changes just because of a few “loud voices”, and that’s true. It took thousands of votes. And it’s clear that Wizards of the Coast didn’t just make the latest changes on their own. The entire mainstream ecosystem is holding Wizards of the Coast to the promises they made in 2000. And now, the fans are setting the terms.

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