Cancelled D&D Beyond Subscriptions Forced Hasbro’s Hand

Cancelled D&D Beyond Subscriptions Forced Hasbro’s Hand

Dungeons & Dragons publisher Wizards of the Coast finally broke its silence regarding the game’s Open Game Licence on Friday, attempting to calm tensions in the D&D community and answer questions that were raised after Gizmodo broke the news about the contents of a draft of the document last week.

In a message titled An Update on the Open Game Licence (OGL), posted on the web site for D&D Beyond, Wizards of the Coast’s official digital toolset, the company addressed many of the concerns raised after the leak of the Open Gaming Licence 1.1 earlier in the week, and walked them back — fast. Notable changes include the elimination of royalty structures, and the promise to clarify ownership of copyright and intellectual property.

But it might be too little, too late.

Despite reassurances and platitudes from the Hasbro subsidiary, Wizards of the Coast (WotC) may have already suffered the consequences of their week of silence. Multiple sources from 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 went viral, it sent a message to WotC and Hasbro higher-ups. According to multiple sources, these immediate financial consequences were the main thing that forced them to respond. The decision to further delay the rollout of the new Open Gaming Licence and then adjust the messaging around the rollout, occurred because of a “provable impact” on their bottom line.

According to those sources, in meetings and communication with employees, WotC management’s messaging has been that fans are “overreacting” to the leaked draft, and that in a few months, nobody will remember the uproar.

Licensees are pushing back

But despite any hopes that this all might blow over, well-known publishers who have previously used the OGL — some almost exclusively, such as Kobold Press, and MCDM — have already put out statements saying that they will either be moving away from all versions of the OGL, or explicitly offering up their own gaming licenses for their core games.

The “negative impact of implementing the new OGL might be a feature and not a bug for Wizards of the Coast,” said Charles Ryan, chief operating officer of Monte Cook Games. “A savvy third-party publisher might look at where 5e is in it life cycle,” he said, and if they were planning 5e products, reconsidering their investment. Monte Cook Games released their own open, perpetual licence for their acclaimed Cypher System last year.

Smaller indie presses have pulled together resources to help people make third-party content for small games. Rowan, Rook, and Dekard, for example, released The Resistance Toolkit, a document meant to help ease designers off 5einto writing third-party content for their acclaimed RPG Spire.

One third-party publisher told Gizmodo that they had expected WotC to update the OGL as we’ve seen in the leaked documents, but not until 2025, during the full release of DnDOne. Now many third-party publishers, such as MCDM, have moved up their migration timeline following the publicity disaster surrounding the leaked new Dungeons & Dragons OGL. It’s no surprise that many publishers who have made their living writing adventures of heroism and the pursuit of fairness are not responding amicably to being strong-armed.

One of WotC’s biggest competitors, the independent publisher Paizo, owner of the Pathfinder and Starfinder RPGs, is currently spearheading a campaign to create an Open RPG Creative Licence (ORC) that would be stewarded by a non-profit foundation. Other publishers, including Kobold Press, Chaosium, and Legendary Games, have already committed to the effort.

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

The OGL 1.1 text and the 2.0 FAQ

Last week Gizmodo received leaked draft copies of an “OGL 1.1″, and then a few days later, a Frequently Asked Questions document which referred to an “OGL 2.0.” (This is an important distinction, because while a 1.1 could be considered an update to the original 1.0(a), calling the new agreement 2.0 may indicate it’s being imagined an entirely new, separate agreement.)

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 deauthorized. The leaked FAQ said that the “OGL 1.0a only allows creators to use ‘authorised’ versions of the OGL which allows Wizards to determine which of its prior versions to continue to allow use of when we exercise our right to update the licence. As part of rolling out OGL 2.0, we are deauthorizing OGL 1.0a from future use and deleting it from our website. This means 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 since Gizmodo reported this intended deauthorization, including Ryan Dancey, who helped write the original OGL 1.0, the FAQ continued to push this language. Additionally, the Jan 13 update does not explicitly state that they will not attempt to deauthorize the OGL 1.0a. “I do not believe that the OGL v1.0a can be deauthorized,” said Dancey in an email to Gizmodo. “There’s no mechanism in the licence for deauthorization.”

“When v1.0a was published and authorised, Hasbro & Wizards of the Coast did so knowing that they were entering into a perpetual licensing 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 me (I was the VP of Tabletop RPGs) all agreed that was the intent of the licence.”

While the OGL 2.0 FAQ was distributed across multiple teams inside of Wizards of the Coast, sources indicate that this FAQ was not released on January 12 as intended due to the impact of the cancelled subscriptions and the rising tide of backlash online.

The FAQ for the OGL 2.0 also stated that “the leaked documents were drafts, and some of the content that people have been upset about was already changed in the latest versions by the time of the leaks.” However, what upset people — including copyright riders and royalties — still seemed to be in place in the FAQ for 2.0.

The part that of the OGL 1.1 that stated once you publish under the OGL 1.1 other people can use your work as well is very similar to DMs Guild language,” explained Jessica Marcrum, co-creator of Unseelie Studios. “But that’s not ‘open’ language. And it seems like they’re using the guise of the old OGL to to pretend that 1.1 is an open giving licence when it isn’t.”

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

The ‘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 contracts that would supersede the publicly available OGL 1.1; Gizmodo has received a copy of that contract, called a “Term Sheet,” that would be used to outline specific custom contracts within the OGL.

These “sweetheart” deals would entitle signatories to lower royalty payments — 15 per cent instead of 25 per cent on excess revenue over $US750,000 ($1,041,150), as stated in the OGL 1.1 — and a commitment from Wizards of the Coast to market these third-party products on various D&DBeyond channels and platforms, except during “blackout periods” around WotC’s own releases.

It was expected that third parties would sign these Term Sheets. And Noah Downs, a lawyer in the table-top RPG space who was consulted on the conditions of one of these contracts, stated that even though the sheets included language suggesting negotiation was possible, he got the impression there wasn’t much room for change.

Getting it right

In its “Update on the Open Game Licence” released Friday, WotC promised that the new OGL was 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 the 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 were to entirely walk [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 the OGL in the future,” said Unseelie Studios’ David Markiwski.

Meanwhile, the “#DnDBegone” campaign encouraging fans to cancel their D&D Beyond subscriptions gained massive traction on Twitter and other social media sites. Additionally, in order to delete your account entirely, users are funneled into a support system that asks users to submit tickets to be handled by customer service, which has caused massive strain on the customer service workers. Sources from inside Wizards of the Coast confirm that as of earlier this week there are “five digits” worth of complaints in the D&D Beyond system. Both moderation and internal management of the issues have been “a mess,” partially due to the fact that WotC has recently downsized the D&D Beyond support team.

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

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