By: Maysie Richter
What is an OGL? The acronym itself means “open gaming license;” however, that doesn’t quite explain to the average person what it is and what it does. You may have seen headlines recently about the OGL, Dungeons and Dragons, and Wizards of the Coast. If you’re anything like me, you probably have no idea what any of that means. Lucky for you, Genna wanted me to know about this subject for work since Hibbs Law, LLC, practices in Intellectual Property law and gaming. So as Hibbs Law, LLC’s newest employee – a paralegal with a background in criminal justice and family law – I did a deep dive, and can now explain the OGL and what it is, and why it has been making the news in such a big way.
In 1997, a company named TSR owned Dungeons and Dragons (D&D). TSR was in trouble. They were going to go under, and if they went, D&D would go as well. Luckily, a business named Wizards of the Coast owned a game called Magic the Gathering at the time, and they had the funds to buy D&D from TSR. With that purchase, D&D was saved. However, in 1999, Hasbro acquired Wizards of the Coast. Hasbro is the large company that owns many of the “standard” games that most families grew up with: Monopoly, Clue, The Game of Life, and more. Hasbro acquiring D&D meant more changes might come.
Ryan Dancey, the Vice President of D&D at the time, decided they needed an Open Game License to protect the game and the community. In 2000, the 3rd Edition of Dungeons and Dragons was released, and with it, the first iteration of the Open Game License.
Now to get in to what the Open Game License is and does. The Open Game License essentially allows third party publishers to produce compatible material. In laymen’s terms? That means that pretty much anyone can make D&D-related content and profit off of it providing they follow certain restrictions. Now you can (hopefully) see where this is going.
One key aspect of the OGL is that it is, by its own terms, perpetual. In 2004, Wizards of the Coast clarified that the Open Game License “already defines what will happen to content that has been previously distributed using an earlier version, in Section 9. As a result, even if Wizards made a change you disagreed with, you could continue to use an earlier, acceptable version at your option.” Genna said that this is interesting, because contractually, the original provision most likely meant to say that publications used the version of the OGL in force at the time of the publication, and would use that publication version rather than be automatically replaced by a new version later if that was when an issue was raised. The contract draft is making a statement that the contract allows the licensee to use any version they liked is so expansive and potentially chaotic that it risks indefiniteness. Keep this in mind because this will be important later!
Why is the OGL in the news now? Well, in August 2022, Wizards of the Coast announced that the next version of D&D was coming out. In November 2022, rumors started flying that the OGL was going to be discontinued for this iteration of the game. 100s of content creators and businesses make third-party D&D content and profit off of it. Even though only a handful of companies in this industry make more than $1,000,000.00 per year under the OGL, the loss or change of the OGL for a new edition of the game will change the trajectory of 100s, if not 1000s of people and businesses.
To make matters worse, in December 2022, new details on OGL 1.1 were released. The community was shocked to find that the OGL 1.1 would replace the original OGL going forward. Remember I told you that that 2004 statement would be important? As we know, Wizards of the Coast told everyone they could elect previous versions of the OGL for future publications. Right? Nope. It seemed Wizards had determined to completely replace the old terms for the new edition.
Further, the new OGL 1.1 would stop D&D-related NFTs and blockchain, allow for termination of the license for content that is “blatantly racist, sexist, homophobic, transphobic, bigoted, or otherwise discriminatory,” require that Wizards be notified, and receive reports on the earnings of all monetized content, and worst of all, in the eyes of the community – it declared a royalty. Products and businesses that earn over $750,000.00 per year must pay Wizards a royalty of 25% on all income beyond that point. If it was a Kickstarter, Wizards would only take a 20% royalty. Most importantly to Genna, OGL 1.1 included an unlimited license back of any of the content creator’s work related to the OGL. I hope you’re beginning to see why this is a big deal.
For example, of the biggest businesses to be impacted by the OGL 1.1 would be Kobold Press. A quick Google search reveals that Kobold rakes in anywhere between 5 million and 25 million dollars PER YEAR. Naturally, Hasbro wants a piece of that pie. They’d get 25% of that going forward if OGL 1.1 were to take effect as originally drafted. Hasbro and Wizards have claimed that only 20 people/businesses fall into the category of those who make more than $750,000.00 per year. However, those who make even $50,000.00 would be required to report it!
Naturally, the announcements made by Wizards of the Coast in December of 2022 caused a massive uproar in the D&D community. A movement called “#OpenD&D” was born. Kobold Press, along with two other big gaming companies, Paizo, Troll Lord Games, and MCDM, have even gone as far as to announce that they will be ditching the OGL in favor of creating their own roleplaying systems. Creators have contributed to the backlash as well, by promoting other games, and disavowing D&D. Fans rallied against the news and pulled their online subscriptions. Wizards of the Coast saw its revenue drop by as much as 60% within days.
Following this backlash from the community, Wizards issued an apology and has since declared that they will not be releasing the OGL 1.1 and instead released a draft of proposed OGL 1.2. OGL 1.2 will have none of the ownership, royalties, and revenue reporting that 1.1 was initially planning to require. Is this going to be enough to repair the damage that the planned 1.1 did to the community? Time will tell.
Interested in learning more? Genna Hibbs of Hibbs Law will be presenting on this topic, as well as hosting a panel of industry players during Gary Con 2023. This panel is Event #1627, and will be held on March 25, 2023 at 7PM CST. For more information, please visit: www.garycon.com or www.hibbslaw.com.