Last week, I posted my initial reaction to the One D&D Announcement. In it, I said that I believe that the OGL is going away. I’ve gotten a few questions on why I believe that to be the case. So instead of repeating them over and over again, I’m sharing them here. But first, some history.
Why Was the OGL a Success?
The Open Gaming License (or OGL) was created as a way for fans and businesses to be able to create their own products that can be used with D&D 3e without fear of being sued over. That fear was legitimate since TSR did exactly that. Because of that, gamers saw 3e as their edition, one where they could create their own material and share it with the world. Not only that, the OGL opened a great pathway for publishers to create their own material that gamers could buy. This material frequently filled niches that Wizards felt were not profitable enough to explore themselves. Want an all-animal race setting? There’s an OGL product for that. Want a super-high-level adventure? There’s an OGL product for that. Want your game to be more like a superhero comic book? There’s an OGL product for that.
Wizards benefited from this. The OGL increased core book sales because the core book was still required to play the game, no matter how far from a standard D&D game they ventured. Many of their past and current designers cut their teeth by creating OGL products. It was a great proving ground for creators.
Why Do I Believe the OGL Will Go Away in D&D 6e?
Wizards never liked the Open Gaming License, even in the 3rd edition era when they introduced it. It was work for them that never directly made them money. All the reasons I mentioned above about benefits to Wizards, none of those arguments have a direct dollar sign next to it saying, “the OGL brought us this much money.” So there is no business reason to maintain it.
Additionally, Wizards felt they had no control over it. The Book of Erotic Fantasy soured what little goodwill they still had towards it; their game was associated with something they felt was not up to “community standards.” Sure the d20 logo was pulled from that book, but it was still a blemish the OGL never recovered from in their minds.
Wizards tried replacing the OGL with the GSL (or Game System License) in the 4e days, which turned out disastrous. The license was obviously inferior, more restrictive, and felt mean-spirited like they knew they had to put out some license, and this was all they were willing to do. 4e was not your edition; it was theirs. They had taken their ball and went home. 4e was given a black eye for abandoning a license that was far more restrictive and could end at any time. In fact, that license did end with a forum post on a website not owned by Wizards.
So after 5e was released, Wizards released an OGL version at the same time as launching the DMs Guild. The DMs Guild made D&D a fan’s edition again. It offers a way to write in-setting content—something the OGL never had—in exchange for more control over what was being produced. Most importantly, however, it added a very definite line in Wizards’ budget saying that this license directly made them so much money. And it has been exceptionally profitable for them.
Take Monster Manual Expanded III, for example. That book regularly costs $35. For the sake of argument, say Wizard’s cut is 20% (I don’t know if it is exactly this, but it is in the ballpark). That means Wizards makes $7/book. It has sold over 5000 copies. So they probably netted $35,000 off a book they spent absolutely nothing to create or promote. And that is one book. I should note that that number may very well be lower due to sales and similar, but it could be higher since we have no idea how many beyond 5,000 copies were sold to date.
The OGL has never had that. No OGL book directly made Wizards any money. Not only that, the majority of the hit 5e products are DMs Guild instead of OGL products. I mean, why look for an OGL product to use in your Forgotten Realms game when you can just get a DMs Guild product already in the FR? On top of that, DMs Guild products have a stronger sense of legitimacy than OGL products ever possessed.
So if Wizards maintains the DMs Guild for 6e and just says, “The OGL is coming,” and it never materializes, it is not something that the fan base will reject the new edition over.
Check out our OGL 5e products at DriveThruRPG.