There are terms for decisions that are often used in business discussions in tech companies in America. Sometimes they are referred to as “one-way door versus two-way door”, other times as “glass ball or rubber ball”. In either case, the meaning is the same. “Is this a decision we can undo later?”
You may see where this is going, if you paid attention to the tags on this post.
First, a few disclaimers. I am not a lawyer, so I am leaning on articles written by those who are. And while I have spent decades around the table top industry, it has never been my livelihood. Nor have I ever published anything under the OGL.
Last week, word leaked of a revision to the OGL from Wizards of the Coast. The most significant part of this was that Wizards intended to revoke (sorry, “deauthorize”) the 1.0a OGL that has been in use for a couple of decades. For an analysis of this by an actual domain expert, look to this article by Kit Walsh
Today, Wizards released a non-apology-apology which, frankly, isn’t that believable on its face. You’ll note that no one is actually taking responsibility for the errors directly, and the spin of “Our plan was always to solicit the input of our community before any update to the OGL” just doesn’t pass the smell test.
I’m going to assume you’ve read the piece by Kit Walsh linked above, because I’m not a lawyer. But, to summarize my understanding, the OGL largely gave publishers rights they already had, and required them to give up some rights they may have had. So, what, precisely, was in it for the publishers using it?
In general, in a lawsuit in America, each side pays their own legal expenses, win or lose. There are exceptions, but they are edge cases. So even if you are within your rights, the cost of establishing that in court can be prohibitive. In effect, the biggest benefit of the OGL was security, the knowledge that this was absolutely authorized and you weren’t going to have to spend far more money than you ever made on a product to defend your right to have printed it in the first place.
The actions Wizards took broke the trust in that security. And that’s a one way door. The glass ball is in shards on the floor, and it looks like the industry will adopt a different license. Who would tie themselves to a business partner they cannot trust, when there are other options?
How badly will this hurt the D&D One (which some angry fans have started referring to as “D and Done”) release is still to be seen. But with the loss of at the very least a significant part of the third party ecosystem support, significant negative brand publicity, and an enormous amount of free publicity for their smaller competitors, they certainly did a lot of damage to themselves.