I imagine most people know what D&D is, although I bet some people don’t know what OGL is. After all until I started looking into it I really didn’t either. OGL, or Open Game License, is one of two programs that Wizards of the Coast launched when they launched 3rd edition D&D. The other program being the d20 system.
Essentially the two programs are incredibly similar. They basically allow third parties to come in and make products for the D&D license without using the D&D name. These products could then be anything from new modules, accessories, campaign settings, and additional rules. It wasn’t a bad idea because traditionally those other addons don’t get anywhere near the sales of the core products and I bet on many of these products Wizards actually lost money on. This system allowed D&D to get a ton of additional references, without them having to risk the cash to make them.
The problem came up almost immediately when people started making additional rules for sex and drugs and Wizards didn’t want this tarnisioning their product’s name (an understandable issue). They really should have seen this coming though as these types of documents had already been on the net since the mid-90s, years before 3rd edition came out in 2000. There were also campagins and source books being made that actually made fun of D&D and Wizards also didn’t like these (which was actually a little more sad because they should be able to take light of themselves from time to time, after all the best set of MTG was really Unglued).
So they did more to distinguish OGL and d20. The original licenses I believe made it so that the main difference was that d20 was for books that followed the d20 rules systems whild OGL allowed the player to basically branch off and make completely new systems, using some of the same information. With their changes, Wizards added into d20 that you also had to follow community decency standards, and a few other similar rules and then said these rules applied to any products already released under the d20 name brand thus it took a ton of products off the shelves and even put some companies out of business who had been fairly successful previous to this.
The added result was that from that point forward, instead of trying to get the d20 logo on their books, nearly everyone started just using the OGL license instead which allowed them to use the product as they wished without fear of Wizards later telling them they couldn’t do it and pulling a product that had been on the shelves for years.
Well unfortunately fourth edition D&D offered Wizards an opportunity to revise this and many other problems they found with this initial idea. They now are basically taking out the former OGL and replacing it with the d20 standard, but instead calling it OGL since this was the more popular format previously. (They should have just kept d20 and not offered OGL at all but they are trying to deceive third parties into thinking it is the same).
The two other products Wizards noticed was that 1) There were a ton of crappy d20 supplements out there and eventually people stopped paying attention to them entirely and 2) the OGL movement eventually started just copying rules into their new books so that players never had to go and buy the core products in the first place. Well this defies the point of the program which was to raise sales of the core products. So this also offered the company the chance to tighten these problems. Just by not offering the looser program it stops the first problem from happening because people are less likely to get into it because of less freedom, but to help they are giving companies the ability to start early by spending $5k extra which means only an established company will get the head start. This makes it so that hopefully a D&D player would get established with these companies/worlds and stick with them and hopefully stop the other indies from really getting credit. The second problem gets solved by making it so that players are no longer able to copy rules word for word in thir books, they can only reference them such as “please look on page XX of book XX for further info.”
Now both Wizards and OGL developers have equally difficult problems posing them in the years to come. For Wizards they are releasing a new edition where many of the independent developers they tried to maintain will likely stay back in the former edition. This isn’t entirely loss for them as some of their main developers have already announced 4e upgrades, likely just to stay current not unlike how some video game developers are becoming Windows Vista certified in hopes that it gets them a few extra sales. But the real issue is that many RPG players who have tried the new edition are saying it isn’t that great and many are proclaiming to not get it. Another issue they face is that of glut. It has been just 8 years since they released 3rd edition (which is 5 years less than the 13 years between 2nd and 3rd), and a mere 5 years since they released 3.5 (which in itself made a lot of 3rd edition books completely useless. This quick turnout is sure to anger many and offer resentment. With the system already out there and independent developers maintaining new source materials, there is likely to be a large amount of players who just decide to follow the independent movement and not upgrade to fourth edition.
For OGL developers the problem is that of whether to move or not. If you don’t move, you face an ever dwindling install base as Wizards has decided to split the market and people just naturally move on to 4e. This creates a harsh situation for a lot of companies who were already struggling to stay afloat under their current player base. However, some games that have been made under the current OGL are so drastically different than D&D that the entire game dynamic changes because they are no longer allowed such freedom in 4e. Other games (such as those made for adults) wouldn’t be allowed to convert at all without completely ruining the point of the supplement. My answer to these guys is to just keep up with the 3.x OGL development. If the products are really different to D&D, then they likely don’t need to move into 4e anyway. Hopefully their current install base is loyal enough to keep them afloat and they can build their brand with word of mouth and gain some new players in the future. For others that aren’t affected as much, I would personally like to see them update their current source books to become 4e compliant, while still offering their old ones and if possible any new systems they add in the future to have 3.x versions along side (even if it comes later).
This whole battle coming up oddly reminds me of NWN vs NWN2. NWN2 is bright and shiny and on the surface seems better, but most of the community still uses NWN. Why? because the engine was just all around better. It was easier to deal with and it wasn’t as buggy. Now Fourth edition is the bright and shiny newcomer that by many people’s comments is all glitz and no substance, hopefully the D&D fanbase will tell Wizards that they are doing soemthing wrong like NWN fans told Obsidian and just stick with the old version.
In the meantime it may be worth stocking up on 3.x books made by Wizards because chances are they will stop putting more on the shelves in order to promote 4e books.