One of the things in the background of my life last week (mostly because I didn’t have the time or emotional capacity for it to be anything else until last Friday) was the on-going destruction of the reputation of Wizards of the Coast in the tabletop gaming community. For those of you unaware, you can read the full context here. In short, though, Wizards of the Coast was planning to replace something called the Open Gaming License (or OGL) with an updated version full of incredibly shitty terms. In addition to disallowing anything like a Virtual TableTop (VTT) or most media related to Dungeons and Dragons (like podcasts or youtube videos), this verion also laid claim to anything produced by a 3rd party and 25% of any revenue produced over $750,000 (which would bankrupt most companies in that position). The version that existed for over two decades, that has allowed so many people to make a career out of third party content creation, was going to be replaced by what was a shameless cashgrab by people only interested in increasing their own company’s revenue rather than continuing to foster the tabletop gaming communities that exist in and around Dungeons and Dragons.
Needless to say, the community blowback was swift and harsh. Perhaps overly so, given how many people turned their ire on individual employess forced to do this work (some of whom leaked this and more to the press) rather than the corporate stiffs making these decisions. I genuinely wish we could have skipped that part, given how abundantly clear it is that this is a move straight out of the “maximizing quarterly profits while burning a company to the ground so you can then sell it to a corporate junker as a tax write-off” book, but it has also always been abundantly clear that some people just want to watch stuff burn and will take any chance they can get to do so. Still, the rise in community outrage and the direct action people took as last week wore on seems to have made an impact because WotC eventually released a statement walking back some of their more outrageous claims.
Which rings a little hollow, let me tell you, since it took them several days of silence to actually make that statement, and the statement as a whole was filled with a bunch of deflections, lies, and condescension. Even if they never actually try to change the OGL as a result of this, I’m pretty sure I’m done. How can I trust that they’re not just going to try this all again in the future? After all, the whole thing started as a secret move that wasn’t supposed to get public attention until after other companies had signed the new OGL. What’s to say they’re not doing it all over again and we’ll get another leak over the weekend pointing out that more contracts and a new OGL have been sent around even after a bunch of other publishers in the TTRPG industry have publicaly come out against these changes? I’ve seen enough companies run into the ground in persuit of short-term profitability before the executive team golden parachutes out so they can live their lives in comfort with their ill-gotten gains while the rank and file employees lose their livelihoods to recognize it when I see it happening again.
Honestly, I’m incredibly frustrated by this whole scenario. I create a lot of custom content for my Dungeons and Dragons games using the OGL and I’ve got over a decade of stuff built up. I spent the last two years creating an entire demi-planar prison adventure thing that I was planning to run a couple times more as more formal playtesting once my current D&D group finishes it so I could eventually use it as my debut into creating settings and aventures to sell to other people. While I have the ability still to produce a system agnostic version of this thing I’ve made, it will take almost as much work as building an entirely new setting since so much of what happens in this demi-planar prison only really works with Dungeons and Dragons. It might even be easier to create my own entirely different game system, especially since I’ve had an idea for one that I’ve been chewing over in the back of my mind for a couple years.
It really sucks to see the focal point of one of your main hobbies, one of your favorite activies, destroy itself. WotC could have left well enough alone and continued to print a ridiculous amount of money every year, but they chose instead to pursue a faster increase to their profits by burning down all the goodwill they’d built up and a bunch of people’s careers and income along the way. Because that’s the thing, projects have been cancelled now. Things people were supposed to do aren’t going to happen and it is going to be a while before the publishers who are trying to step up to fill the gap left by the destruction of the community’s trust in WotC can actually get their own projects to the point where they might want to hire all those people. Regardless of how this actually turns out, the ripples of this entire crock of shit will continue to be felt in the TTRPG community for years to come. For better or for worse.