Monday, April 21, 2008

The D&D Poison Pill

First the disclaimer: the following rant is based on incomplete information released by reps of WotC, some of it passing through other people before reaching the public. I was waiting to comment on it until after WotC released the clarifications they said they were going to today, but it's now past 6pm PST and still nothing new, so I'm going with what is out there.

I'm a fan of open-source. There's the purely selfish reason that I can use it to get free software, but I also think that royalty-free use of IP is often simply good business. It allows people and businesses to improve upon things, and then share those improvements with others. The end result can be many players making money sharing a large pie, instead of one player making less money out of a much smaller pie.

In the gaming world, some of the best games in print are a result of open gaming, including True20 and Mutants & Masterminds. Also, my current favorite, Spirit of the Far Future, probably wouldn't exist if not for the fact that Spirit of the Century was released under the OGL.

Thus, while I am not a writer or publisher of RPG material, I do have a stake in the future of open gaming. It therefore bothered me when representatives of Wizards of the Coast indicated that not only are they not releasing 4th edition under an open license (something long suspected), but they are writing the license they are releasing it under in such a way that businesses cannot publish both under it and under the old OGL.

This forces businesses like Green Ronin to choose between continuing to support their successful OGL products or supporting 4th edition. Perhaps more importantly, it forces other 3rd party publishers (3pp) to choose whether or not they are going to support WotC products or other 3pp products. They won't be able to do both under the terms of the GSL.

Frankly, this is crap. It's crap for the companies who have to choose between the two. It's crap for the companies that choose the OGL who will lose potential support from those that choose the GSL. It's crap for the gamers who now lose out on potential products that can't be made due to WotC's decisions. It could even be crap for WotC in the long run.

Of course, all of this doesn't even touch on the fact that the GSL will be a revocable license, which means that WotC could pull it away at any time. So, let me rephrase some of what I've just said: the GSL effectively prohibits a company from publishing anything other than support for 4th edition, and at any time WotC could also revoke the right to publish anything for 4th edition.

I don't want to insult people who are planning to use the GSL, but anyone willing to take that offer is not anyone I'd be willing to invest money in. It's a pretty good case study for "Bad Business Decisions 101." Anyone who agrees to the GSL will be allowing their business to be held hostage to the whims of WotC.

Of course, as stated in the beginning, a lot of this is based on speculation. The text of the GSL has not yet been released, and I suspect it isn't even finalized within WotC. I believe that the situation I've outlined above is the how WotC currently intends to release the GSL based on statements made by their representatives; however, I also believe that given the fairly negative reactions received so far that they could decide to go back on this and treat it as if it were a trial balloon that failed.

I hope this is the case, because otherwise I think it would be better if they just made 4th edition completely closed to 3rd party development. Frankly, until now I really didn't care whether or not 4th edition was open, but I do care a great deal if their "open" licensing agreement ends up hurting the other truly open games that are out there, because I'm a lot more interested in those games than I have ever been in 4th Edition D&D.

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