The Economics of Open Gaming – An Open Letter To WotC

Why Open Gaming Is Good For Business

The OGL was largely single-handedly responsible for reviving the RPG industry overall and it and 3e took D&D from a bankrupt and largely irrelevant position back to its current state of RPG primacy and pop-culture relevancy.

Let me note something about real world economics. A healthy market sector means more for everyone. My IRL company has been posting record revenues for many consecutive quarters. Our stock took a big hit lately. Why? Because our major competitors posted big losses. This cast the entire sector in a bad light. Doing well in a bad sector isn’t any better than doing poorly in a good sector, and is arguably worse, to investors.

Industry economics are different from “small company” economics and you have to make the adjustment.  The naive businessman says “us doing well is good, our competitors going well is bad.” The smart businessman knows that’s not true.  It’s time Wizards looked at this from a big economic picture point of view. My company (a leading hardware/software manufacturer in its niche field) actively releases free standards and spends money to get the rest of the industry on board with them, because that gets more support, more product, more activity, and more customers to the standard. Wizards and D&D got that exact benefit out of 3e and the OGL.

Competition never drove anyone out of business unless they were a) a small storefront or b) sucked and deserved it. Competition is good.  In fact, speaking with VCs at Web coferences, they prefer for there to be competition before they invest in a field; that way they know it’s likely to be lucrative!  Read a business book published in the last decade before making any more GSL/open gaming “decisions.”

 The best thing you could do right now is to say “Actually, we’ll release 4e under the existing OGL.”  Then, this weekend, mail 4e galleys to all the third party publishers who have expressed interest in the GSL.  (Yes, without the $5k per head fee.)   Throw in some extra swag.  Put an NDA in (assuming there’s not already one in place with most of these guys from 3e) saying “the books are under NDA until June, do not open if you don’t agree.”  Say “Hey, sorry, what can we do to help you get some D&D 4e product out ASAP?”  That’s leadership.  Market leadership is the way to great success.  There’s only so many people you can or want to directly hire.  But if your industry follows you, they may as well work for you!  You get the glory, the movie licensing deals, and the profit from being the preeminent provider of the thing.  Everyone else wants to contribute to your success, not sabotage you, because they share in the overall success.

(Posted on ENWorld,, and sent in to Wizards by email)

6 responses to “The Economics of Open Gaming – An Open Letter To WotC

  1. Yeah I think WOTC has already tipped their hand and shown some of their ideas for the future. Just read the Terms for Gleemax on User Content.

  2. Now that I’ve recovered from the initial shock, I guess I need to stop posting on their forums since they own anything I say.

  3. My favorite part – you have to check the terms of use frequently cause they can change them however and whenever they want – and “using” the site after they change means you consent to them. Like, by logging on to check the Terms of Use. Catch 22 much?

  4. There was some poster on who said that the ToS are a requirement from the company lawyers. They will be changed with the next major revision.

    Personally, they keep me away from the site. I doubt they will be changed enough to make the forums better than the or therpgsite or story-games, none of which own everything I post there.

  5. Actually, if you read the TOS completely, it’s more correct to say that you still own everything you post, but by posting, you give WOTC permission to use your ideas for any purpose they want to, forever into the future. It’s common to many EULAs, not just Gleemax’s, to protect WOTC against parallel development that hasn’t been announced. “No such thing as an original idea any more” and that kind of thing. Feel free to read the EULAs of other RPG forum website, and you will likely note similar verbage there, too.

    That being said, I think it’s more likely that WOTC is just afraid of an OGL bastardization of their product before release date, as to the reason it’s not out there yet for third-parties. All they have to do is make the pre-release stuff Closed Content, and then declare it open on their schedule when it works best for them, and they would be covered. However, there seems to be issues with that particular tactic from their side, and so it looks like third-parties won’t get the data they need until the rules are officially released.

    Once the rules are out there, there’s no way to stop someone from creating an OGL version of the rules, so I agree: it’s better to play along than to retreat behind restrictive licenses. Otherwise, there will be a third-party RPG out within a year that others can use to build on for publishing purposes, much like OSRIC exists primarily to support OGL publications that are 1st Edition compatible.

    My Two Coppers,

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