Wizards of the Coast OGL Controversy

Since I have been regularly playing roleplaying games, I have been trying to keep up to date on any news or game releases coming from the TTRPG (Tabletop Role Playing Game) community. As one would have it, there has been a huge piece of news that I have seen being discussed everywhere. It relates to Wizards of the Coast (WotC) / Hasbro and their OGL (open gaming license) stance. At first, I wasn’t quite sure what the controversy was, but now that I have dug into it more, I can see why fans were angry. I wanted to delve into this a bit more as I think this is something that everyone should be aware of if they play Dungeons & Dragons on a regular basis.

To start off, an Open Gaming License is a copyright license where players can stream, discuss, and play Dungeons & Dragons without fear of violating copyright laws or being sued. I think about Not Another DnD Podcast being able to exist without WotC coming to them for using their game without their permission. While many Dungeons & Dragons streamers play the game using the rules created by WotC the worlds that are created are entirely built by the streamers. It makes it complicated to try and regulate that since a lot of this world-building is original.

Moving into the controversy, there was a leak online where WotC was considering modifying its OGL. WotC was contemplating adding a caveat that if streamers made a certain profit from playing Dungeons & Dragons, they would have to report that to WotC. WotC would reserve the right to take a portion of the profits. Based on the article I linked above, it looks like the dollar amount was $50,000. Additionally, any creators earning more than $750,000 would pay a 25% royalty to WotC.

If the above is true, who cares? Why is this a bad thing? My first thought on this is that it doesn’t make sense to me. In my opinion, if players buy roleplaying books, those books and any creations from the books are owned by the players. I think one of the biggest ways to help invite or welcome new players is for people to see the game being played in pop culture. This in turn can help increase profit for WotC since new roleplayers will buy the books. Another thought that occurred to me is how greedy this feels. 25% royalty may not seem like a lot for those making above $750,000, but it still equates to $187,500 that WotC would collect. The streamers who do make that much in profit are often trying to do this as a full-time job, so they would need to pay taxes on the profits they make. Based on all this, it feels more like a punishment than a good thing coming from WotC. Another fear that I had in reviewing all of this is how this could change. If WotC made this change and it was accepted, they could, in theory, lower the dollar threshold. They could make an amendment and say that anyone who makes $10,000 in profit would now be included. This wouldn’t go over with fans, but it could happen if this change to the OGL was successful.

The reaction to this has been furious and quick. Fans canceled their D&D Beyond subscriptions along with encouraging players to try other roleplaying games. Paizo, the game company behind Pathfinder and Starfinder made a statement that they would keep their OGL the same. WotC did release a statement on January 13th where they mentioned listening to fans and providing an update to their OGL which so far, doesn’t include the above changes. Personally, I feel disappointed that WotC tried to be sneaky about it as they wouldn’t have the profits without the players in the community. It feels greedy to me and I don’t want content creators to be impacted by this.

If you’re still left with questions, I’ll link a few additional articles that I was reading through when I put together this post. In summary, I think WotC shouldn’t enact these changes as it would impact content creators.

Insider – Dungeons & Dragons Change

Polygon – Wizards of the Coast Licensing

Gizmodo – Open Gaming License

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