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  • jasonpchajek

Thinking With Dollars But Not Sense: The OGL 1.1 fiasco

I think some people need to remember the old phrase, 'if it ain't broke, don't fix it.'

Specifically I think Hasbro and Wizards of the Coast (WOTC) need to learn that lesson. Back in early January, a copy of OGL 1.1 was leaked onto the internet, creating a firestorm that saw mass cancellations of DnDBeyond subscriptions and huge losses for Hasbro on the stock market.

If you've gotten this far into this whole mess and haven't read the document, here it is.

Now, after the backlash and monetary pain the community has put them through, as of January 14th, 2022, Hasbro and WOTC have tried to make it seem like they've backed off, and that the whole ordeal was a big misunderstanding (DnD Shorts on YouTube did a great job breaking down a lot of the outright lies in the WOTC statement). However, anyone who has worked for five minutes around business people knows that this isn't the end.

They're going to find a way to sneak in many of the provisions they promised 'weren't what they intended' or 'were taken out of context.' They're pursuing increased monetization by any means possible, even if it means risking the longevity of the DnD brand in the process.

These are corporate minds, executives, money makers. They're thinking about their shareholders and board members, not the community members and long-time DnD fanatics.

They don't care about what those before them built, or what DnD and WOTC used to stand for in the TTRPG space. What the OGL stood for and enabled.

The original Open Gaming License (OGL) was written and implemented 23 years ago, giving members of the DnD community to create their own content, utilizing the various editions of DnD's mechanics, as well as the established monsters, NPCs, locations, roll tables, spells, items, etc.

It's a relic of an old way of treating content licenses.

It was an era where the original creators of DnD knew that the game should belong to the fans, and that allowing free license to create and build businesses around the framework they had established, would not only allow the community to grow, but would make that underlying game system the system-de-jouer for most of the TTRPG community.

It was an era of freedom. Community. Creativity.

An era now incongruous with the new business of games and entertainment. Our favorite series and IPs now owned by massive publicly-traded companies like Hasbro, Disney, Microsoft, Amazon. Litigeous entities who care more about dollars and stock prices than they do the long-term health of their brands and products.

Let me speak from personal experience here, because I'm more than 1000% sure there are folks out there who are in the same boat as me.

I got into DnD because of homebrew.

My wonderful partner Miranda has her own homebrew world called Kiyvara, that she's spent years building. It's a staggering amount of work. Thousands of years worth of lore, maps that explore the rise and fall of the various nations and factions, new subclasses, deities, and races. When we first began dating it was something we bonded over, our love of creativity and world building.

Then, she asked a few of us to try playing together. I'd always wanted to try DnD, and after hearing all her post-session debriefs when playing and running various other campaigns and adventures, I knew I needed to get into it. She loved it and knew I would too.

So I did, and now we're two years into that first campaign. We've killed a dragon, stopped a cult from awakening an imprisoned god called the Masked King, won a fighting tournament, travelled through deserts, forests, mountains, and tundra to reconnect a PC's family, killed a royal family who was oppressing mages, and most importantly...have invested thousands of gold in helping an NPC named Lou open a pizzeria.

We're also in the midst of writing and working on a brand new setting guide for Kiyvara. Something all our own, with lore, maps, roll tables, subclasses, new races and mechanics. Not for profit. Probably not even for public consumption. Rather, we're doing this for our friends, so we have our own sandbox to play in, and a world we can change and learn about with every campaign and adventure we play.

Just like Matt Mercer did with Exandria.

Just what the original OGL was intended for.

It's been so fun, and this whole journey started with my partner asking a few of her DnD pals if they wanted me to join a campaign with them.

Now, more than 2 years of playing later, I'm no longer as "really under-monetized" as WOTC president Cynthia Williams wants to believe I am. I own every single source book for 5e. I own multiple adventure guides. I own minis, dozens of dice sets, spell cards, monster cards. I subscribed to the Master Tier for DnD Beyond because I wanted to share content with friends who were getting into the hobby and they wound up buying WOTC products themselves.


How's that for monetization Cynthia?

I've gotten so invested in DnD that I've begun supporting 3rd party content publishers and artists to get even more out of the hobby. I watched the countdown for MonkeyDM's Steinhardt's Guide to the Eldritch Hunt Kickstarter so I could be one of the first people to back the project. I also pledge to the Dungeon Dudes Kickstarter for Sebastian Crowe's Guide to Drakkenheim. Two amazing teams of people producing top tier content that honestly puts a lot of what WOTC has done to shame.

What I'm trying to say here, is that people like me are exactly why the OGL works, and has worked for so long. Being an open platform, where people can build businesses and livelihoods around something like DnD supports the long-term health and stability of a project. It fosters involvement, passion, community, and investment in a product. It breeds--and I'm going to use a business buzzword here--INNOVATION. The number of tweaks to rules, new subclasses, homebrew items, monsters, adventures, that WOTC doesn't have to put money into hiring creatives for, but still drives value and dollars to their game, is astounding.

Think of how many people fell in love with DnD because of Critical Role, the Dungeon Dudes, or Dimension 20, all because the OGL allowed them to legally profit and build businesses around playing DnD in front of an audience. Think of how many dollars that drove to WOTC.

But business execs don't see it that way. They see the words 'open' and 'free' and all they see are lost sales. They're looking at revenue projections, stock prices, and every KPI they have to make their decisions. Short-term decisions. Money decisions.

As someone who works in business strategy and analytics, the benefits of the OGL aren't going to show up clearly in day-to-day, month-to-month, or even year-to-year KPIs and sales reporting. Creativity and community are things that statistical models and AI can't figure out.

But that doesn't matter, because if the execs like Cynthia Williams can't see it on their KPI dashboards, then they don't exist. They don't matter.

We don't matter.

But that's what you get when you think in Dollars and not Sense.

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