Cancelled D&D Beyond Subscriptions Forced Hasbro’s Hand

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illustration: Vicky Leta

Dungeons & Dragons Publisher Wizards of the Coast finally broke his silence regarding the game’s Open Game License on Friday, trying to calm down Tensions in the D&D community and answer questions raised after Gizmodo broke the message on the contents of a draft of the document last week.

In a message entitled An update to the Open Game License (OGL), published on the website of D&D Beyond, Wizards of the Coast’s official digital toolset, the company addressed and quickly retracted many of the concerns raised after the Open Gaming License 1.1 leak earlier this week . Notable changes include getting rid of royalty structures and promising to bring clarity ownership of copyright and intellectual property.

But it might be too little, too late.

Despite assurances from the Hasbro subsidiary, Wizards of the Coast (WotC) may already have felt the consequences of their week of silence. Multiple sources within 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 is perched on.

The bottom line seems to be: cancel after a fan-led campaign D&D Aside from subscriptions going viral, a message was sent to WotC and Hasbro officials. According to several sources, these immediate financial consequences were the main reason that forced them to react. The decision to further delay the launch of the new Open Gaming license and then adjust the messaging surrounding the launch was made due to a “demonstrable impact” on their bottom line.

According to these sources, the message from WotC management in meetings and communications with staff was that fans are “overreacting” to the leaked draft and that in a few months, no one will remember the uproar.

Licensees are pushing back

But despite any hopes that this could all be over, well-known publishers who have previously used the OGL – some almost exclusively, such as Kobold Press and MCDM – have already made statements that they will either move away from all versions of the OGL or offer explicitly own game licenses for their core games.

The “negative impact of implementing the new OGL could be a feature and not a bug for Wizards of the Coast,” said Monte Cook Games chief operating officer Charles Ryan. “A savvy third party could look at where 5e is in its lifecycle,” he said, and if planning 5e products, reconsider its investment. Monte Cook Games released their own open perpetual license for their acclaimed Cypher system last year.

Smaller indie presses have encouraged developers to write third-party content for small games for years by offering easy-to-understand and forgiving system licenses, game frameworks (such as Code published a guide to creating adventures for trophy dark) and system reference documents to help new creators get started with the system. Rowan, Rook and Decardthe publishers of the acclaimed RPGs heart and Towerfor example established the RRD Community License years and offers the Resistance Toolbox to make other people’s creations accessible.

A third party told Gizmodo that they expected WotC to update the OGL as seen in the leaked documents, but not before 2025, during the full release of DnDOne. Now, many third-party providers have pushed back their migration schedule after the publicity disaster surrounding the leaked new one dungeons OGL.

One of WotC’s biggest competitors, independent publisher Paizo, owner of the scout and star finder RPGs, currently leading a campaign to create one OpenRPG Creative License (ORC) that would be managed by a charitable 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 named, told Gizmodo that his company “has already worked with other third-party publishers” to build a legal defense 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 a few days later a FAQ document related to an “OGL 2.0”. (This is an important distinction, because while a 1.1 could be viewed as an update to the original 1.0(a), the new agreement’s naming, 2.0, may indicate that it envisions itself as an entirely new, separate agreement.)

One of the most revealing parts of the OGL 2.0 FAQ was 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 states that “OGL 1.0a only allows creators to use ‘authorized’ versions of the OGL, which allows Wizards to determine which of its earlier versions continue to allow use when we exercise our right to update the license. As part of the OGL 2.0 rollout, we are disabling OGL 1.0a for future use and deleting it from our site. 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, including former WotC executive Ryan Dancey, who helped write the original OGL 1.0, the FAQ has continued to push this language. Additionally, the January 13 update does not specifically state that the company will not attempt to deauthorize OGL 1.0a. “I don’t think the OGL v1.0a can be deauthorized,” Dancey said in an email to Gizmodo. “There is no mechanism in the license to deauthorize.”

“When v1.0a was released and authorized, Hasbro & Wizards of the Coast did so knowing that they were entering a perpetual licensing regime,” Dancey continued. “Everyone at the executive level involved – Peter Adkison (who was CEO of Wizards), Brian Lewis (who was Wizards’ in-house legal counsel) and I (I was the vice president of Tabletop RPGs) all agreed that this was the intent of the license.”

While the OGL 2.0 FAQ was spread across multiple teams within Wizards of the Coast, sources indicate that due to the impact of canceled subscriptions and mounting online backlash, this FAQ was not released on January 12th as intended.

The FAQ for OGL 2.0 also states that “the leaked documents were drafts and some of the content that people were upset about had already been changed in the latest versions at the time of the leak”. However, what pissed people off – including copyright infringement and royalties – still seemed to be in the FAQ for 2.0.

The part of OGL 1.1 that says that once you publish to OGL 1.1, other people can use your work as well, is very similar to DM’s Guild language,” said Jessica Marcrum, co-founder of Unseelie Studios. “But that’s not ‘open’ language. And it seems like they’re using the cloak of old OGL to pretend that 1.1 is an open ging license when it isn’t.”

Additionally, multiple sources reported that third-party developers were given OGL 1.1 in mid-December as an incentive to sign a “sweetheart deal,” indicating 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 held a presentation to a group of about 20 third-party developers outlining the new OGL 1.1. These creators were also offered offerings that would replace the publicly available OGL 1.1; Gizmodo has received a copy of this document, referred to as the “Term Sheet,” which is used to outline certain custom contracts within the OGL.

These “sweetheart” deals would entitle signatories to lower royalties — 15 percent instead of 25 percent on incremental revenues above $750,000 as stated in OGL 1.1 — and a commitment by Wizards of the Coast to use these third-party products on various D&D to market beyond channels and platforms, except during “blackout periods” around WotC’s own releases.

It was expected that third parties would sign these term sheets. Noah Downsan attorney in the table-top RPG space who was consulted on the terms of one of those contracts explained that although the sheets contained language suggesting negotiations were possible, he was under the impression that there wasn’t much give room for changes.

get it right

In its “Update on the Open Game License” released Friday, WotC promised that the new OGL is still in development and not ready for final release “because we need to make sure we’re getting 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 run in its entirety [the leaked OGL 1.1] back, it leaves such a sour taste in and around my mouth that I don’t want to work with the OGL in the future,” said David Markiwski of Unseelie Studios.

Meanwhile, the “#DnDBegone” campaign encouraging fans to cancel their D&D Beyond subscriptions continued to gain traction on Twitter and other social media sites.

To completely delete a D&D Beyond account, users are directed to a support system that prompts them to submit tickets, which will be processed by customer service: Sources within Wizards of the Coast confirm earlier this week there was a “five digit” Value gave complaint tickets in the system. Both moderation and internal management of the issues are “a mess,” they said, partly due to the fact that WotC recently downsized D&D Beyond’s support team.

Wizards of the Coast stated in the unpublished FAQ that it didn’t make any changes to the OGL just because of some “loud voices,” and that’s true. It took thousands of votes. And it’s clear that Wizards of the Coast didn’t make the latest changes of their own accord. The entire tabletop ecosystem keeps Wizards of the Coast true to the promises they made back in 2000. And now the fans set the terms.

This article has been updated to clarify the Rowan, Rook, and Decard third-party license.

Want more io9 news? Check out when to expect the latest Wonder, war of starsand star trek What’s next for the releases DC Universe in Film and TVand everything you need to know about the future of Doctor Who. Cancelled D&D Beyond Subscriptions Forced Hasbro’s Hand

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