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How Do I Feel About Wizards of the Coast Right Now?

Updated: Mar 11, 2023

First of all, this is the most important thing, above all: It is absolutely incredible and awe-inspiring that the collective action of the D&D community was able to convince a company as large and as powerful as Wizards of the Coast to change their plans. In watching this OGL scandal play out, it became clear to me that revoking the OGL 1.0a was the only thing that mattered to WotC's leadership, and that we would never get them to give up that agenda without legal intervention. I'm delighted to be proven wrong! And the fact that members of the community rallied together, that WotC employees leaked information, that creators used their platform to amplify their voices and get the truth out - this all managed to move the needle in a way I truly didn't think would happen. We actually got more out of this than we had when this all started! And that's unprecedented. I've never seen a company cave like this before, and that's truly due to the dedication of the TTRPG players who spoke up and kept this topic going for weeks.

Of course, none of it should have ever had to get this far. And the fact that it did is such a sign of how badly Wizards of the Coast's leadership misread the situation.

Whenever you go into any form of negotiation - whether it's buying a house, getting a raise, or trying to convince a billion dollar company not to break a 23-year-old promise and disrupt the livelihoods of thousands of independent creators - it's important to have a clear goal. If you stick to your guns about what matters to you, refuse to compromise on that goal, and make it clear you're willing to walk away if the deal falls through, it's obviously very gratifying when the other party finally stops trying to counter and just accepts your terms. If you won the negotiation, you should celebrate!

But when a negotiation goes for a long time, and you just wind up getting exactly what you asked for on Day 1, then the other party just wasted everybody's time and energy. It didn't need to take this long to say "Yes" to what we originally said we wanted.

In their statement on January 27th, Wizards of the Coast claimed that they've heard our feedback via the survey. But ever since Linda Codega's Gizmodo article dropped 22 days earlier, the entire community had been united on exactly what we wanted: "Don't try to revoke OGL 1.0a." The message has never changed.

And while I am so incredibly glad that organized community action has won an extended battle against Hasbro, it also didn't need to take this long. We told them exactly what they needed to do to make this right, and we told them on January 5th. They're pretending the survey was somehow more organized and clear-cut than weeks of constant online protest, and that's insulting.

If they had tried to push OGL 1.1 on small creators, and then immediately backed down when it got leaked, that still would not have been okay. We would still be very frustrated with them, and many of us would be very wary about working with them in the future. But instead of immediately backing down, they said nothing for eight days, and then spent two weeks trying to get us on board with their plan to deauthorize OGL 1.0a, no matter how loudly we reminded them that we didn't want that, or how many people pointed out that it might not even be legal for them to do so.

It is genuinely a good thing that Wizards of the Coast has reversed course. But there's no reason to believe the leaders responsible for these actions have actually changed their mind. Instead, they were simply left with no other choice.

The common wisdom in business circles is that "boycotts don't work." But we've heard reports that 40,000 people cancelled their D&D Beyond subscriptions in a single week thanks to the #OpenDnD movement... and those same people had pretty much committed to boycotting the new D&D movie. Wizards couldn't run the risk that a movie boycott would go nowhere (like most movie boycotts do) since these fans had proven they were more than willing to cancel their D&D Beyond subscriptions to prove a point.

In addition to that, WotC had a new book coming out in less than a month, "Keys From the Golden Vault," which they had already added to their website with no fanfare. That was the right call, of course - if they'd tried to promote it during the controversy, they'd have been laughed out of the room - but the fact that they couldn't promote their new products without getting ratioed was not going to help their financial issues.

And while Wizards of the Coast can claim that plans were already underway to resolve the issue properly, the fact that we got the "They won, and so did we" statement, and the fact that OGL 2.0 started circulating with some of the same frustratingly wrongheaded language contained inside... well, that leads me to believe that WotC was still really, really trying to get rid of OGL 1.0a.

They changed their plans because they had to. They changed their plans because we showed them what a lot of us D&D fans have known for a long time, and what the rest of the community discovered during this scandal: Wizards of the Coast needs us more than we need them. They changed their plans because there was no other path forward.

But they didn't change their plans because someone in the WotC leadership team was visited by the Ghosts of D&D Past, Present and Future during the night, and had a genuine change of heart about the community.

When someone tells you who they are, believe them.

Now, this absolutely does not mean that this wasn't a total victory - it absolutely was. We can be mature enough to hold two ideas in our head - the fact that WotC isn't holding this particular gun to the head of the community is a really good thing. We were rocketing toward the possibility of a brand new era of lawsuits against third party publishers and independent creators, and that's no longer going to happen. That's great!

Perhaps more importantly, WotC discovered that they truly have far less negotiating power in the TTRPG space than they thought. So whenever WotC makes another attempt to work over the hobby in order to get just a slightly larger slice of the pie (because apparently being literally the most well-known name in tabletop games isn't enough of a head start), we have a blueprint we can look back on to show exactly how to work together, as a united community, to get a massive company to do what's best for the fans.

And the sad thing is, our stated goals were always an "everybody wins" solution, because WotC benefits from the OGL just as much as anyone else. WotC made this an "us vs. them" fight. All we did was play their game (by not playing their game, ha ha, irony) until they backed down.

And perhaps the most important outcome was the huge boost that hit every other TTRPG. And I don't want to see that end. Now that we're out of the woods, I don't think it's the end of the world if you want to buy a Wizards of the Coast book or subscribe to D&D Beyond - I'll likely wind up buying a product or two as well, if I hear good things about one of their books. But WotC's attempt to shut down their perceived "competition" has actually boosted these games to such a point where they might not necessarily be able to compete with D&D financially, but they don't have to - they just need to be more accessible to a large audience. And that has absolutely happened, and I hope it keeps happening.

Someone in my comments said they genuinely hadn't heard of Pathfinder 2nd Edition until this drama played out. That is the kind of monopoly D&D has over the TTRPG community. Pathfinder has just had perhaps the best month they've ever had, and apparently some D&D players didn't even know they exist. The number one challenge for every other game in the space has been the fact that D&D sucks the air out of the room for everyone else. But that changed in January. Even if you plan to keep playing 5e in some form, as I do, it's also wonderful that other games are starting to get recognized and evaluated as peers in the TTRPG space.

That's why this was the best-case scenario, and one I never thought we'd see. If OGL 1.0a had been shut down, the TTRPG hobby still would have thrived in the long-term, but a lot of creators would have suffered in the short-term as their livelihood was stripped away from them and they had to completely reorient themselves with no safety net. But now, those creators have the opportunity to take their time to decide how they want to proceed, and there has been a huge boost to other games thanks to WotC's shenanigans over those terrible 22 days. Pathfinder's current supply of Core Rulebooks was meant to last for 8 months, and sold out in two weeks.

And that's just one game, one extremely visible example. Speaking personally, as someone who was only just starting to dip my toe into other fantasy systems, I now have a huge list of games I want to check out, many of which I'd never heard of. This can only be overwhelmingly good for the hobby. Creators don't have to throw out their entire business model if they don't want to, and that means our hobby is stronger and people won't suffer to get there. That's good for everybody!

Do we forgive Wizards of the Coast? Honestly, I'm not convinced the leadership actually understands what they've done wrong. They still, for some reason, felt they needed an advantage to try to conquer TTRPGs, because they don't seem to realize they've already won. In fact, they've weakened their position, so I wouldn't be surprised if they come back with a vengeance to try to make up the gains they've lost. So, no, we don't forgive, and we sure don't forget. And we certainly don't trust them to behave responsibly.

But now we know exactly what it takes to beat them, if we need to. And the next time they try to make us their enemies, we'll be more than ready.

In the meantime, I'm just glad I can stop spending all of my free time doomscrolling through daily OGL updates and trying to figure out if I can still publish Patreon content for the game I like without getting sued. Jesus Christ, what a month.

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