Most Dangerous Column in Gaming
You May Have Asked
some answers that might surprise you!)
By Ryan S. Dancey
Wizards of the Coast
has been gracious enough to give me a few pages of space here on the d20
System website to deal with some issues that have been brewing since the
release of the Open Game License
and the d20 System Trademark License.
Hopefully, you'll find this material as entertaining to read as I found
it to write!
Why did you tell people that you wanted d20 to be the only roleplaying
My first response whenever this question comes up is "quote me."
Because I can't be quoted as having said it, despite the "common
knowledge" that I did. Bar none, the above is the most common misattribution
I have to deal with. If you go back through the thousands of public messages
I've written on the topic, you'll never -- not once -- find me advocating
the idea that the d20 System should be the only roleplaying game, and/or
that the OGL will cause that to happen.
on the record, though, as saying that I hope that the idea of Open Gaming
reduces the number of game systems to the minimum number the market can
support. Some people have chosen to interpret that remark as a code for
"one system," but that's something I don't believe and have
you think that diversity is a good thing?
I'm a big fan of diversity, when it serves a purpose. There are a number
of very healthy reasons to have some diversity in game systems, mostly
related to the inability of any one game system to effectively support
the diverse number of genres and styles that people seem to want to be
able to play.
I don't believe in is diversity for artificial reasons. And that's what
the hobby gaming industry has had to put up with for most of its existence.
While you might think game publishers really yearn for the chance to publish
their own game system (and admittedly, many do begin with that objective),
until the OGL there was no other viable alternative. If all you wanted
to do was change the magic system of D&D, you couldn't do that;
you had to construct a whole new RPG to feature your new magic system.
If you wanted to get rid of classes and levels, you had to write a whole
new game from scratch. If you didn't care at all about the RPG itself,
and just wanted to publish a sourcebook for your cool world, you had to
cook up a game too. That created a whole lot of artificial diversity in
game systems. It went on for so long that people began to assume that
the diversity was the "right" or "natural" state of
to all that diversity is that it reduces the value of every product you
buy. Because those rules are not interoperable, you have to pay a "knowledge
tax" every time you want to use a product from a different publisher.
For some people, the "knowledge tax" is trivial, a mere irritation.
For many others though, its an insurmountable problem. The real
effect of that diversity is to reduce the value of the products
really blew a gasket after Gen Con last year. What happened?
I had a really good time at Gen
Con last year. I joked that it was the "d20 Gen Con"
-- the year when every other booth had an exciting new Open Gaming product.
I took my camera and snapped a lot of pictures to document the event.
Nobody really new if the market was going to be large enough to support
all those products or if the "d20 Gen Con" would be the
last time anyone cared about the trademark.
increasingly obvious, though, that a lot of publishers simply didn't care
enough about the valuable gift they'd been given in the form of the System
Reference Document and the d20 System Trademark. It was very disheartening
to see the number of license violations at the show. I don't mean complex
esoterica like a problem with the level of derivation in a copyright,
but dirt-simple stuff like not even including a copy of the OGL itself
with the work!
the only one who noticed, either. There are a lot of people at Wizards
of the Coast who are already a little leery about this whole "Open
Gaming" thing, and those people rightfully raised the roof about
the quality of license compliance.
how many people did Wizards of the Coast sue?
That's the really funny part. All we did was draft an open letter, which
got pretty wide distribution, and I sent a handful of explicit emails
to a handful of publishers pointing out the most egregious mistakes. And
that was all we did. Nobody got sued. Nobody had his or her rights terminated
per the license. Nobody was asked to destroy products.
still aren't great in this department. Publishers are still not paying
enough attention to the details of the license, and Wizards is going to
have to start taking some steps to get a better level of compliance; but
those steps will still be the kind of low-level, mostly behind-the-scenes
thing the company has been doing throughout the lifetime of the OGL. When
you hear a rumor that Wizards has "screwed" some publisher,
you probably want to take that rumor with a grain of salt until you see
something official from Wizards on the matter.
there any changes coming to the licenses?
Yes, there are.
finished a revision of the d20 System Trademark License and d20 System
Trademark Usage Guide. Most of those changes are things that will help
publishers better integrate their products with Wizards' releases, including
a system to link to important core books like the Monster Manual
and the Dungeon Master's Guide. There are some changes that are
unilateral advantages for Wizards, though. The biggest of those changes
is a prohibition against using the d20 trademark on a miniatures product.
Now that Wizards is in the miniatures business via Chainmail, it
wants to maintain its exclusive right to link the d20 System to sales
of miniature figures.
big change is not really so big, although it does have its own set of
implications that will keep the rumor mill churning for quite some time.
publishers were given the option of including a notice saying that the
material they were publishing was compatible with D&D. Since
most products are, most publishers used that option. However, we're starting
to see products come to market that are designed to be used either as
stand-alone games, or are not connected with the medieval fantasy genre
of D&D at all.
that those games are still working to feed players into the network of
Wizards' d20 offerings, the license has been changed. Now, publishers
are required to indicate compatibility, but the list of compatibility
options has expanded to accommodate these new kinds of usages.
are updates I would like to make to the OGL itself, too. The biggest change
I'd like to make is to add a section on how to implement the OGL in a
software product. Right now, there are so many issues about doing so that
my opinion is that, short of a complete open-source release, the OGL cannot
be effectively used in software. I'd like to fix that issue once and for
all. It's unclear to me when or if that revision will happen, as its
a pretty low priority for Wizards and it opens up a big can of worms.
do you think of the recent attempts by third-party publishers to create
Open or semi-Open licenses for their RPGs?
First, let me go on record saying that more openness is always good.
The lower the barrier is to reusing a game system, the more value players
get from that system -- and more value is always a good thing.
I do think its unfortunate that many of these publishers are choosing
to use a new license and not use the OGL.
know what it is about the psychology of game publishers, but even when
you can convince a group of them that there's a better way to do something,
they all seem bound and determined to prove they can do that thing from
Gaming is not a magic bullet. It will not make your game system sell.
Open Gaming in and of itself adds little or no value; having an open game
license (of any kind) is not going to be the factor that makes your product
successful. The value of the Open Game concept is allowing people to retain
knowledge about a game system and apply it repeatedly where appropriate.
If nobody plays your game system, you can be as open as possible and it
won't add any value. If you are bringing a game system to market that
is just a clone of a hundred other options already available, it won't
matter if your game is open or not -- your game will be successful on
the basis of your ability to induce people to play it.
of all these different licensing schemes is that they erect another set
of artificial barriers between game systems. If every company has their
own license, and if the licenses are not compatible with one another,
we'll see a marginal increase in utility but not the kind of massive increase
in utility we would see if everyone would publish under one set of unified
that a future step in the open gaming era is for consumers to start demanding
that publishers use the OGL and not a "house license." Educated
consumers who understand the value proposition of open gaming can do more
to induce change in the market than any other force.
all the time (and space) I have for now. Keep checking back here regularly,
though; we've got a lot of material in the pipeline that will start appearing
on these pages, and I'll probably chime in again in the future with some
additional thoughts and comments.
if you have any questions about Open Gaming or the d20 System Trademark
License, you can reach me at Andrew Smith.
Dancey, formerly Dungeons & Dragons brand manager, is the founder
of the Open
do you think? Discuss these questions and answers on the d20