By | December 5, 2022
Dungeons & Dragons & Fear & Loathing

If FTAV had a pound for every time we’ve written about Wizards of the Coast in the last few months, we’d have £2, which isn’t much, etc. . . But the wizards of the sea stir the cauldron once more.

In November, we caught up with allegations from Bank of America that the gaming group “killed his golden goose”, Magic: The Gathering — now it seems to whine menacingly at its, er, silver swan, Dungeons & Dragons.

After testing the patience of Magic players with a “flood the zone” method of card release, D&D’s roleplayers are pulling back from reports WotC, a crucial part of board game king Hasbro, is looking to crack down on the plethora of games that use its rules framework.

D&D spans board games and group improvisation, provides a toolbox for players to embark on imaginative adventures judged by “Dungeon Masters” and a vast set of rules. A movie, Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thievesis scheduled to be released in March of this year.

It’s been on the scene for nearly half a century and is pretty well known, something ex-WotC president, now Hasbro CEO Christian Cocks noted in a “Special Call” the company convened last month (during which it hit back at BofA- the requirements). Per Sentio:

D&D, when I go to cocktail parties and I say and people ask me what should I do? What I used to say is, hey, I was the president of Wizards of the Coast. And they’d say, what’s that — and I’d say, well, we’re doing MAGIC: THE GATHERING and we’re doing Dungeons & Dragons. I would maybe have a 3 out of 10 hit rate if people understood what MAGIC was. But if I did, I’d have an incredibly deep conversation at the cocktail party that would effectively be over for everyone else in attendance.

Or as for D&D though, it was 10 out of 10. Everyone knows D&D. . . Everyone grew up with it in the 70s and 80s, played video games in the 90s [indiscernible] and know that it is a cultural phenomenon right now. And so like the D&D strategy, if the MAGIC strategy is a deep single-quadrant strategy, the D&D strategy is a broad four-quadrant strategy where we have this powerful brand that has similar awareness to Lord of the Rings or Harry Potter.

Part of that success has been due to WotC’s Open Gaming Licence, which allows independent game makers to take parts of D&D’s core rules and use them in their own games via a “perpetual, worldwide, non-exclusive license”. This was a little such as releasing a software development kit, and allowed for a proliferation of expansions that have allowed RPG fans to access Dungeon & Dragon in countless ways.

For anyone worried about how Magic was being treated, the same conversation also contained something of an early warning bell on D&D. Here is Cynthia Williams, WotC President and formerly Microsoft and Amazon:

D&D [has] has never been more popular, and we have really great fans and an incredible commitment. But the first thing I saw about it is that the brand is really undermonetized. ..

Very briefly, I will say that you will see us lean heavily toward the expansion of D&D through D&D Beyond, the acquisition that we did that closed in May. We have approximately 13 million customer registered users there that we will continue to serve by giving them more ways to express their fandom. We have approximately 13 million customer registered users there that we will continue to serve by giving them more ways to express their fandom.

Part of this strategy is getting fans to subscribe to D&D Beyond, an online rules resource that supports the game’s fifth edition. WotC bought Beyond from Fandom last May for $146.3 million

Cocks added, sphinx-like, that he thought “D&D could be a real novelty [indiscernible] for our game portfolio as a whole and for Wizards specifically”. (We assume anything”[indiscernible]” is here, that’s probably pretty optimistic.)

Fast forward to last week, and Gizmodo’s Linda Codega dropped this bombshell:

The new Dungeons & Dragons Open Gaming License, a document that allows a large group of independent publishers to use the basic game rules created by D&D owner Wizards of the Coast, significantly limits the type of content allowed and requires everyone to monetize under the license to report their products to Wizards of the Coast directly, according to an analysis of a leaked draft of the document, dated mid-December.

Despite assurances from Wizards of the Coast last month, the original OGL will become an “unlicensed” agreement, and it appears that no new content will be allowed to be created under the original license.

The leaked draft, Codega says, is about ten times the length of the old OGL and clamps down much harder on the use of the game’s assets. The headline changes are:

— People who earn more than $750,000 in new OGL-based work must pay 25 cents for each subsequent dollar earned
— Creators releasing stuff under the new OGL must grant WotC a “non-exclusive, perpetual, irrevocable, worldwide, sub-licensable, royalty-free license to use that content for any purpose”.

Independent developers, as can be expected, are cursed. Here is an excerpt from an open letter per campaign group OpenDnD signed by approximately 54,000 developers and community members:

Nothing about this new license is “open”. It stifles the vibrant community that has flourished under the original license. Regardless of creator, it locks everyone into a new contract that limits their work, makes it mandatory to report their projects and earnings to Wizards of the Coast, and gives WotC the legal right to reproduce and sell content from content without permission or compensation. The new license can also be modified with worse terms or terminated at any time without any compensation from the creators.

The legal points here are . . . tricky, especially if WotC is allowed to recall the old OGL.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation, an American non-profit organization, has reviewed the key questions, and you can read their helpful summary here. Here are a couple of excerpts:

OGL doesn’t say it’s irreversible, unfortunately. It’s possible Wizards of the Coast made other promises or statements that will allow the recipients of the license to claim they can’t revoke it, but on the face of it, it appears they can. ..

For someone who wants to make a game mechanically similar to Dungeons and Dragons, and even announce that the game is compatible with Dungeons and Dragons, it has always been more beneficial by law to ignore the OGL. Practicalities may dictate a different outcome when facing the legal team of a large corporation, but if the terms of the OGL are repealed and the new OGL proves to be even more onerous, it could change the calculus for creators going forward.

It is added:

Beware of company policies on acceptable use of their copyrighted material that end up being restrictions on your fair use rights rather than granting meaningful permission.

The D&D community seems to be very annoyed, while #StopTheSub (NSFW) on Twitter is full of angry geeks and at least one thread of poorly written erotica. Unsubscribing from D&D Beyond seems like a good way to show displeasure.

Hasbro investors don’t seem too upset, though, with its shares about the highest since before BofA gave the Magic a kick.

Will it matter? We’ll say this: it’s really bold of WotC to fight with both of its main fanbases at the same time. Maybe the dice are on their side.

#Dungeons #Dragons #Fear #Loathing

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