Mike Mearl's L&L about the OGL


4th Edition

Liberty's Edge

L&L on OGL

While Mike gives no details, he does say that an announcement will be made in the fall. And that the community (I don't know if he means customers, publishers, or both) will be able to create new 5E material in early 2015.

Mike Mearls:
"Therefore, we want to share the timeline we're working with. While the details are still in flux, we can say that we plan to announce the details of our plans sometime this fall. After that announcement, we plan on launching our program in early 2015.

Until then, we hope you will familiarize yourself with the new edition as the products are released, learn how and why it differs from past editions of the game, and dive into your first campaign. There's no better way to learn the game's intricacies than by digging into it through play. Once the community has some experience with the game, both we and you will be ready to creating the next wave of material for it."


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Quite surprised at all the comments against an OGL. I'd expect indifference from many, but several seemed quite firmly opposed to the idea.

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The article sounds very much like WotC will have something akin to Paizo's community use policy, but not the style of OGL that encourages a lot of 3rd party support from publishers.

At least that's my take on it.


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Well, it's promising.

On the one hand, I'm thinking - well if they aren't flat out saying there will definitely be an "OGL", then it's likely it won't end up being OGL. Maybe behind the scenes Hasbro is freaking out the legals and they are trying to work out something that retains a modicum of trademark/IP control as well as ensuring quality-control through some sort of vetting system.

Another part of me is more hopeful and thinks "the program" is all part of the project management that sees the release of the books staggered and an OGL that appears after some sturdy errata garnered from a few months of plenty of gamers' gameplay and campaigns.

Mostly though I'm incensed by the slick marketing gabble:

"dive into your first campaign"

"no better way to learn the games intricacies than by digging into it through play"

I miss the days when people were people and they spoke to you as if you were one too. The unit-shifter commodification of RPGs saddens me immensely. Sure, these are companies. With business models. And employees. With pay packets. And they always have been. Blah blah blah.

Eh. Grumpy OSW is grumpy.

Bring on the OGL...


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Oceanshieldwolf wrote:

Mostly though I'm incensed by the slick marketing gabble:

"dive into your first campaign"

"no better way to learn the games intricacies than by digging into it through play"

I miss the days when people were people and they spoke to you as if you were one too.

They should have engaged more with the relevant stakeholders.. :o


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Attempting to read between the lines on this one.

"We're going to hold back on any kind of open license until we've had time to make money off 5e ourselves."

I really don't blame them for that.

"We want some time to figure out all the things we didn't see coming with the 3e OGL, like people writing entire replacement games based off our system, and ensure it only allows people to add material that still requires our game at the core of it."

Despite the fact this very thing that allowed Pathfinder to exist... I really can't blame them if that's what they want to do, either.

"I'm going to keep using the word 'fans' here in this statement, because I'd hate to give 3PPs the impression we're including them as well this early on. It may well be we only come up with some kind of community license for sharing material on the internet, we're not really decided on that yet."

And again, ditto, that's their call.

Now, I love the OGL, I love the fact it gave us Pathfinder, I love the fact it brought so many 3PPs into existence (after all, I owe my start in writing to one of them,) and I love how it, from my perspective, appeared to bring the whole RPG business back from the dark pit it appeared to have disappeared into and more into the light of the mainstream.

However, I don't feel any publisher owes it to anyone to have a 3PP licensing mechanism of any kind on any product. That should be their call alone, made from the perspective of "Will allowing all this additional material help sell our product, or will it just end up creating competition?"

I'm slightly uncomfortable with the idea that some customers will actually take it into account when buying a game. I'd rather they focused on the actual content they're purchasing than the license it comes with. However, at the end of the day that's the individual customer's call, however uncomfortable it makes me ;) It's in the same realm as the people who saw the original OGL as "look! free rules!" (and some actually complained about the bits that were missing!) when it was supposed to be a resource for allowing 3PPs to create compatible material, not something for the end customer to be concerned with. Still, that particular feline is well and truly out of the non-rigid container now :)

From a professional perspective, I hope there's a way for me to create and sell some 5e material if I ever wish to. From a customer perspective - I don't really care one way or the other.


Steve Geddes wrote:
Quite surprised at all the comments against an OGL. I'd expect indifference from many, but several seemed quite firmly opposed to the idea.

I'm one who really opposes the idea, at least an OGL that's very similar to what we have right now. What I'd like to see is the Basic Game they've come up with and then write adventures that it easily works with. As they've stated, the Basic game is free and only consists of the...well...basics that's prevalent in the RPG industry with iconic classes, races, magic items, and monsters.

And that's where they stop. No Psionics. No "Advanced Classes". No HUGE plethora of feats and magic items. Because, ultimately, if (and/or when) WotC decides to change course and try something new the idea of a new OGL can bite them in the butt.....again. I don't want a gaming company to feel that they've painted themselves into a corner and restrict themselves to a very finite system where they can't find room to grow. That's what I think happened to WotC.

They came out with products FAR too fast (and underdeveloped) and when the hit the saturation point that players get to, they were at a crossroads. Continue the splat treadmill with variations and altercations to the same stuff we've been seeing for the past 5 or 6 years and make the game MORE unwieldy and unbalanced, Attempt another revision that will surely make a good portion of our fan base mad and it'll seem like a cash-grab OR restart from the ground up. Personally speaking, I'm not much of a fan for points 1 or 2.

Solution 1 is pretty much just putting off the inevitable AND making the system far more unbalanced and crazy than if they had just kept producing adventures. Just adding MORE stuff apparently seems to be the answer for a while, until that saturation point is hit again. It's only a matter of time that people will, eventually, lose interest in "Heroes of The Shattered Cove, Volume 6: containing EVERYTHING you need to run a Pirate-Space game with 6 new classes, 11 new Prestige Classes, 15 new magical item, 5 legendary artifacts, and NEW space-ship sailing rules!!!" By then, most people will be rolling their eyes and saying "What?"

As for the second alternative (another revision of a revision) I don't (and haven't) purchased anything Paizo related because I'm mostly seeing 3rd Edition with some significant houserules and because it's free. It's not a bad system, but the kinks are all still there and the "fixes" were heavily geared at the weapon-users (sad panda face). A revamped revamped Pathfinder with some additional "fixes" and probably some additional sub-systems thrown in for a change of pace isn't really what the system needs. And probably NONE of these will be heavily supported after it's initial debut AND it'll either trump ALL the previous stuff that came before or be so off kilter that no one will use the options in favor of previously "superior" material.

So what we're left is another game. And that's where the OGL comes in and says "ah ah ah......if you depart someone will come in and swoop down to continue this with a small revision. To the customers, it won't LOOK like a cash-grab because it's continuing their favorite stuff AND they're not you." Which puts us RIGHT back to square one. Hopefully the new OGL (if there is one) can allow for modifications and give anyone who enjoys tinkering some room to grow the game from there with their own created stuff. And I think that would be great. I just don't want to see the game stagnate because everyone so afraid of departing familiar waters.

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I think a lot of the OGL criticism fails to credit the fact that the OGL is one of the major reasons that D&D had such a resurgence during the 3rd edition days. I also think that the, "but it allowed Pathfinder to exist" argument fails to take into account the fact that WotC basically forced Pathfinder into existing by 1) pulling the magazine licenses away from Paizo and forcing them to come up with a new line of their own, 2) coming up with a long-delayed and insufficient license that forced Paizo to come up with a new plan, and 3) creating a game that was so dramatically different from previous editions that it created a major divide in the fan base.

Using Pathfinder as the central figure in an "OGL is bad" argument also ignores the fact that the actual system is only one reason why the game sells so well. Paizo puts out dynamite products with a level of quality that isn't seen in most other areas of the industry. If being able to recreate D&D-like rules was the only requirement for a game to sell hand over fist, then Swords & Wizardry, OSRIC, Castles & Crusades, and the like would all be jockeying for the top spot. Those products, while good, do not have the level of production or support that allows Pathfinder to sell so well.

WotC is under no obligation to support an OGL of any sort, but I don't think it would be as disastrous for them as some people make it out to be. The fact is that the OGL played a role in 3rd edition D&D selling extremely well, and the events that created Pathfinder as an alternative to D&D were so specific and multifaceted that I don't believe another company will be in such a position in the future.


Diffan wrote:
Steve Geddes wrote:
Quite surprised at all the comments against an OGL. I'd expect indifference from many, but several seemed quite firmly opposed to the idea.

I'm one who really opposes the idea, at least an OGL that's very similar to what we have right now. What I'd like to see is the Basic Game they've come up with and then write adventures that it easily works with. As they've stated, the Basic game is free and only consists of the...well...basics that's prevalent in the RPG industry with iconic classes, races, magic items, and monsters.

And that's where they stop. No Psionics. No "Advanced Classes". No HUGE plethora of feats and magic items. Because, ultimately, if (and/or when) WotC decides to change course and try something new the idea of a new OGL can bite them in the butt.....again. I don't want a gaming company to feel that they've painted themselves into a corner and restrict themselves to a very finite system where they can't find room to grow. That's what I think happened to WotC.

They came out with products FAR too fast (and underdeveloped) and when the hit the saturation point that players get to, they were at a crossroads. Continue the splat treadmill with variations and altercations to the same stuff we've been seeing for the past 5 or 6 years and make the game MORE unwieldy and unbalanced, Attempt another revision that will surely make a good portion of our fan base mad and it'll seem like a cash-grab OR restart from the ground up. Personally speaking, I'm not much of a fan for points 1 or 2.

Solution 1 is pretty much just putting off the inevitable AND making the system far more unbalanced and crazy than if they had just kept producing adventures. Just adding MORE stuff apparently seems to be the answer for a while, until that saturation point is hit again. It's only a matter of time that people will, eventually, lose interest in "Heroes of The Shattered Cove, Volume 6: containing EVERYTHING you need to run a Pirate-Space game with 6 new classes, 11...

I don't think expanding the OGL would necessarily paint WOTC into a corner. It hasn't done that to Paizo. Yeah, there will be some overlap in some cases, but that overlap tends to hurt the 3pp, not the main company. The nice thing about OGL is that it allows the development of niche options that are not really economical for a larger company, or development/support of rule systems that are poorly supported for similar reasons. So it provides material that might be missing in the core rules for people to include

Now I do agree with you that from a purely business sense, OGL can be a bad idea, since if you ever decide to change the system significantly, it allow people to continue on supporting the game they are used to without switching over. Which I why I suspect they might be not using an OGL but maybe arrange licensing deals with other companies for adventure support, etc. My guess is for similar reasons any future pathfinder edition is going to be a fix of the rules, not a system wide overhaul. Which I think works for them as they are in the business of selling adventures and support for Golarion, not rule systems.


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I think many people against the OGL were somehow affected by it with the arrival of 4E (maybe it split their game group, maybe they were mad that Paizo staff stopped writing for the current edition of D&D, etc.).


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Matt Thomason wrote:
I'm slightly uncomfortable with the idea that some customers will actually take it into account when buying a game. I'd rather they focused on the actual content they're purchasing than the license it comes with. However, at the end of the day that's the individual customer's call, however uncomfortable it makes me ;)

This is always good advice. While I've enjoyed/am enjoying Next/5E during the playtest, I think making decisions based on an OGL is misguided.

I'm sure I sound like a broken record, but I think the current OGL allows use of enough terms that you could produce third party adventures under it, it's just that PF players would look at the stat blocks and say, "That AC is way too low for a fifth level party," and a 5e player would have to understand that "Sense Motive" should be read as "Wisdom (Insight)." The d20 system and Next/5E share a lot more mechanical terms than they don't, and I think that makes a Next/5E specific OGL a low priority issue on all sides. (Not that I want to be the one to prove it in court.)

Given the lack of information in Mearls' column (Not that I'm complaining, it's an overview, not an in depth explanation, and that's fine) I'm definitely in the "just have to wait and see" camp, but I'm very curious as to whether a 3pp (oops, a fan) will be allowed to use the Dungeons and Dragons brand name, or will have to go "for use with the fifth edition of the world's first role-playing game."

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MMCJawa wrote:
Now I do agree with you that from a purely business sense, OGL can be a bad idea, since if you ever decide to change the system significantly, it allow people to continue on supporting the game they are used to without switching over.

This is a commonly made argument that I'm not really sold on. If a company is reading the market correctly, they should be able to tell whether their customers want an overhaul or a smaller revision. And if they don't provide what the customers want, they will go elsewhere, with or without an OGL.


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Charlie Brooks wrote:
This is a commonly made argument that I'm not really sold on. If a company is reading the market correctly, they should be able to tell whether their customers want an overhaul or a smaller revision.

Their customers are not a monolithic group. They want different things. Giving half of them what they want - and charging for it - and giving the other half what they want - and not charging for it - is a great way to lose 50% of your revenue.


Charlie Brooks wrote:
MMCJawa wrote:
Now I do agree with you that from a purely business sense, OGL can be a bad idea, since if you ever decide to change the system significantly, it allow people to continue on supporting the game they are used to without switching over.
This is a commonly made argument that I'm not really sold on. If a company is reading the market correctly, they should be able to tell whether their customers want an overhaul or a smaller revision. And if they don't provide what the customers want, they will go elsewhere, with or without an OGL.

Well...regardless of OGL or not, any change in the core game (no matter how minor) is going to cause at least some people to be annoyed and drop out of the game. The only difference is that with a OGL, there is a potential for another game to come along and keep those people.

I am sure a part of 5E's business strategy is the assumption that a good chunk of the 4E fans will switch over if only because their game won't be actively sorted any longer.

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MMCJawa wrote:
Well...regardless of OGL or not, any change in the core game (no matter how minor) is going to cause at least some people to be annoyed and drop out of the game. The only difference is that with a OGL, there is a potential for another game to come along and keep those people.

Yes, you can't please all the people all the time, but reading the market well should give you the ability to please most of the people most of the time. WotC either thought that 4th edition would be more appealing to the majority of fans than it was, or they overestimated the amount of pull the D&D brand name really had.

Quote:
I am sure a part of 5E's business strategy is the assumption that a good chunk of the 4E fans will switch over if only because their game won't be actively sorted any longer.

I guess that's a decent assumption to make, but I think it can be a dangerous one. Maybe Pathfinder kept people who liked 3.5 away from 4th edition, but I'm not entirely sure it's a lock that those players were going to migrate over to 4th edition in large numbers. Speaking for myself, I had decided to hunker in and keep playing 3.5 up until the Pathfinder Core Rulebook came out.

I don't think the OGL had no impact on the failure of 4th edition, but I think it's a bit too convenient an excuse that causes people to ignore a lot of the other failings that occurred leading up to that game's launch.


I'm wondering if they plan to do a threefold approach in terms of third party support.

1) A D20-like license that allows you to state compatibility with D&D and probably use an official logo but requires you to state requires the Basic PDF to play. This would let you use any monsters included in the Basic PDF (and maybe anything from the three core books) but wouldn't let you use their setting content. It would also have some sort of quality/content litmus test, though probably without an official review requirement.

2) A general fan website sort of license, similar to the logo one above but which restricts use, prevents sales and possibly restricts what you can include, for example no beholders.

3) Direct individualized contracting with established, high quality third party publishers to produce "real" D&D adventures and supplements, for example the way they've done with Kobold Press for the initial adventures. I can see them deciding to farm out the Dragonlance work to Margaret Weis for example. Maybe even do some Greyhawk products with Eric and the Paizo team.


Relative to #1 on my list, I could see them possibly charging a fee for use.


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DaveMage wrote:
I think many people against the OGL were somehow affected by it with the arrival of 4E (maybe it split their game group, maybe they were mad that Paizo staff stopped writing for the current edition of D&D, etc.).

Ah, cheers. That makes some sense.


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Scott Betts wrote:
Charlie Brooks wrote:
This is a commonly made argument that I'm not really sold on. If a company is reading the market correctly, they should be able to tell whether their customers want an overhaul or a smaller revision.
Their customers are not a monolithic group. They want different things. Giving half of them what they want - and charging for it - and giving the other half what they want - and not charging for it - is a great way to lose 50% of your revenue.

Not if having an OGL in the first place more than doubles your revenue.

(I'm not making any claim about the actual effect, of course, but whatever the lost proportion of revenue is "post edition change", some of it will presumably have already been covered in the increase in earnings/market share pre-split).

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