Saturday, March 22, 2008

The OGL vs. the D20 License

I figured I'd answer aozora's question from yesterday's comments. Back when 3E came out the D&D Brand Manager, Ryan Dancey had this great idea that he would make the game open source and get everyone else to write the things that had to low of a profit margin for WotC to bother with. He did it in 2 tiers, there was the Open Game License which was forever and then there was the D20 license which could be revoked at any time, and was more restrictive (you couldn't have character creation rules and had to refer people to the Player's Handbook), but you could use the D20 logo. The OGL was just supposed to provide the underlying framework, and give other game systems something they could use. All of the action was supposed to involve the D20 license because they figured people would need to logo to get anyone to buy their product. In this way they hoped for the best of both worlds, a bunch of supporting material that drove people to buy the core books.

Instead what happened was that so much crap was released under the D20 logo that it actually got the point where it was almost a negative thing to have it on your book. And all of the big players who had made a name for themselves started stuff that was basically compatible with D&D but under the OGL, which allowed them to sell a self contained system which didn't even need any of WotC's books for it to be played. Since the OGL was set up that it can never be revoked people can use the 3.5 (and 3.0) system as the basis for their derivative games forever. And so of course that's what a lot of people were wondering would the OGL create a split in the D&D market where some people continued didn't switch to 4E, but rather continued to write stuff for 3E. And that's basically what happened, though I'm surprised that Paizo was the first person to take the plunge.

One thing that is important to remember is that the OGL allows you to declare certain parts of your work as protected, mostly proper names. As a result many of the iconic D&D monsters (and all of the adventures and settings) are not "out there" for example mind flayers, beholders, githyanki, basically any monster whose existence doesn't pre-date D&D as a myth. For me that's actually a pretty big deal because there's a lot of coolness locked up in that set of monsters. (I want to say that Drow are protected as well, but I wouldn't swear to it.) Anyway that's a quick and fairly rambling explanation, but I hope it answered your question.

I guess when you're 5 McDonald's is the height of fine dining

3 Comments:

Blogger aozora said...

Thanks for the overview. It reinforces the questions you've posed about what Paizo could be thinking.

They say they are planning some adaptations to 4E through Necromancer Games, so they have the future covered in a way, and avoiding the immediate costs of switching systems -- including accepting delays caused by WotC late releases.

As long as the mutant Pathfinder strain doesn't grow too big commercially to be worth WotC objecting, they can do pretty much whatever they want.

Maybe WotC will turn out like Sony and PS2 / PS3 where their best selling product and best market share is their older product version.

4:58 PM  
Blogger Liz said...

Our youngest may prefer McDonald's, but our penultimate child commented at Hires yesterday, "Now this is what I call fine dining."

12:00 PM  
Anonymous Ed said...

What until you introduce the kiddos to the Epicurean Elysian Eatery that is Crown Burger, with its Ribeye Steak sandwich.

Great, now I'm drooling on the keyboard.

1:42 PM  

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