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Before my quick return to obscurity is complete, I provide my thoughts on the latest announcement from Wizards of the Coast (“WotC”). In short, they’ve decided to allow continued use of the make-believe OGL 1.0 or the Creative Commons license (CC-BY-4.0).
Who Deserves the Credit?
Matt Colville echoed sentiments similar to my own as to why Hasbro “surrendered.”
I don’t want to diminish the effect rabid gamers had on causing WotC’s about face, but I do want to provide what I suspect is the proper perspective. The lifeblood of any company is acquiring new customers. Existing customers get older, which means they have less disposable income, and eventually die. You need new blood, and that should always be your primary focus. WotC continues to do exceptionally well gaining new customers, and all your rants (and mine) will not impact that one bit. I doubt we have middle-school children reading our blogs and watching our vlogs. If we do, someone needs to call the police.
So, if we all abandoned WotC, in the long run, they’d survive, and they know that. That’s at least part of why they continued to resist actual change for so long before their surrender. So, why did they surrender? Because we do have a short-term impact on them, and more to the point, on their partners. The creators of the Dungeons & Dragons (“D&D“) movie(s) and television show were probably overwhelming WotC’s telephone and email systems. Their investments in licensing the brand are short term, and I’m sure those investments were substantial. They demanded this change, and their demands could not be ignored.
Again, I don’t want to diminish your efforts. You made those partners aware of your concerns, and you were going to inflict a lot of damage, but if not for these partnerships, WotC would have stayed the course.
Once Again, a Prediction Sure to Come True
Those relationships won’t last forever, and when they dissolve, we’re sure to be in the same position we are now, but with even less of us complaining due to the attrition I described above. What if WotC creates its own movie and/or television studio? Then they won’t need Paramount+, will they? What then? Will we run to Paizo? As I said in a previous post, Mattel could decide to compete with its chief rival, Hasbro, in the role-playing gaming market. What’s the quickest way to accomplish that? My guess would be they’d buy WotC’s chief rival, Paizo, or perhaps one of the second-tier companies with a proven track record. Whatever open-gaming “license” that acquired company used will be just as vulnerable to revocation, de-authorization, or whatever contract principle you choose to misapply to that non-contract. We may be delaying the inevitable by not actually solving the underlying problem.
So, Is the Problem Solved?
No, but I think it’s close enough. I advise cautious optimism.
You may recall that I demanded that they dedicate their material to the public domain. They didn’t do that, but they’re slapping the CC-BY-4.0 directly onto their SRD 5.1, which is almost what I suggested. Dedication to the public domain is probably no more than a grant of a perpetual, irrevocable, royalty-free license with no restrictions, and that’s almost what CC-BY-4.0 purports to be.
Subject to the terms and conditions of this Public License, the Licensor hereby grants You a worldwide, royalty-free, non-sublicensable, non-exclusive, irrevocable license to exercise the Licensed Rights in the Licensed Material to:Section 2 – Scope.
1. reproduce and Share the Licensed Material, in whole or in part; and
2. produce, reproduce, and Share Adapted Material.
The potential problem is that the Creative Commons licenses are similar to (though enormously better than) the OGL with respect to acceptance, and they haven’t been tested in US courts. In fact, they’ve barely been tested in international courts. So, we should still be worried?
For now, no. In order for a licensor (that’s WotC in this case) to win a case for infringement, they’d have to argue that license they provided was horseshit. That’s one hell of an argument to have to make.
WotC: “The defendant infringed our copyright.”
Court: “How can you say that? You licensed them the works.”
WotC: “Oh, that license is complete bullshit, your honor.”
Court: “The license you forced them to use?”
WotC: “Yep. Complete bullshit. We suckered them in.”
Warning: Gratuitous use of the word, “asshole,” follows.
This, by the way, is exactly what WotC would have had to do if they were taken to court over the OGL, and they would have succeeded by simply reading my posts to the Court. However, as I said, how CC-BY-4.0 is applied is a little bit better than the OGL. It avoids some of my concerns, and for all we know, it could be upheld by courts for that reason. It could also be upheld because it’s been used successfully in other industries almost since its first publication. Everyone’s been cool about its use. No one’s been an asshole. Therefore, the CC-BY-4.0 gives the gaming community time to adjust and diminish WotC’s stranglehold on the industry.
Of course, their stranglehold will remain unless you’re willing to broaden your horizons and not make matters worse for yourselves.
Not Being Assholes
It’s really easy to allow inertia to take over. We’ve spent so much energy in the past few weeks calling WotC assholes that we could go too far. Many years ago, my cousin, Kessel Junkie, once called me out for a nastygram I wrote to a company that had pissed me off. In it, I informed the company that I was no longer doing business with them. If that were the case, why write the letter? If you want to go, just go. The only proper purpose of the letter should be to get them to change their ways, but if they know I’m a lost cause, my letter will do nothing to effect that change. If you enjoy WotC’s products, then don’t let the inertia put you in that same position.
WotC corporate and legal have behaved as assholes through this entire process. They kept having to go back to the well and make edits because doing the right thing doesn’t come natural to them. They’re definitely not our friends, but we shouldn’t be assholes either. Whatever brought us to this point, this is where we are, and it’s exactly what you wanted, and pretty close to what I wanted. So, there’s no reason to engage in the overstatement that plagues American discourse. There’s no reason to continue to criticize companies for doing what they exist to do: Make money. There’s no reason to continue calling for boycotts at the expense of good people who are the creatives at WotC, or even just the bench warmers so to speak. Those people probably agree with you about their employers’ behavior, but their ability to pay their rent depends on their continued employment. You’ve won, so don’t be a sore winner, but also . . . .
Don’t be Naïve
Whether you realize it or not, your “victory” keeps you in a morass of uncertainty. If you’re okay with that, I’m in no place to stop you. If you choose to ignore the status quo and defer having the rug pulled out from underneath the community, that’s your business. It probably won’t take another 20 years for that to happen, but that still may not necessarily be a bad position for you, just those that follow you. This mirrors our approach to the environment and the economy, passing off future ills to future generations, but the consequences aren’t nearly as dire. They’re just games, and you’ll find others to play if you’re still playing them when this happens again. However, if you want to play the next iteration of D&D, it may affect you as well. All of this applies to 5th Edition, not to “One D&D“. There’s no guarantee that OneD&D will use either CC-BY-4.0 or OGL 1.0. OGL 2.0 may be in the near future after all.
Not My Problem
I don’t really have a dog in this hunt. I don’t play 5th Edition anymore, I own every WotC/TSR product I’ll ever want, and I’m not creating content for others. With my 1st Edition Dungeons & Dragons Character Builder functional, that could change if I get it into a suitable form for publication, but the last time WotC threatened me, I told them to pound sand, and they immediately blinked. They can’t harm me because I know they’re full of shit (as are their licenses). I know what I can and can’t do, and I don’t care whether they acknowledge that publicly. But mark my words: This will happen again. Most of you didn’t listen to me the first time, so I don’t expect you to listen to me now, because even those of you that did listen seem happy living in the “open gaming license” hole they’ve dug for you.
But it will happen again, and next time, WotC will have prepared itself to be able to tell you to pound sand. Even if CC-BY-4.0 is used for One D&D and is ultimately deemed legally enforceable, it’ll be another scary time for small-time third-party publishers. I’ll reserve my “I told you so” for that day. Now, I’m off to obscurity and some much-needed rest from meaningful blogging.
I’ll still blog about stupid stuff.
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Dungeons & Dragons is a trademark of Wizards of the Coast, LLC, who neither contributed to nor endorsed the contents of this post. (Okay, jackasses?)