Sunday, January 8, 2023

A Rising Tide Lifts All Boats

A Rising Tide Lifts All Boats
There has been a lot of brouhaha over Ha$bro updating, or at least contemplating/trying to update, the Open Game License to version 1.1 and start skimming money "off the top". This whole thing feels so far past ridiculous as to actually be recockulous.

Now I understand that this is alarming to some people, but to the average gamer, and I dare say small publisher, that would read this blog....meh, it's not something to get too worked up about....well, at least from a more common-sense perspective.

I am fully cognizant that there is always the possibility of a "frivolous" lawsuit from a big company like Ha$bro, which could just ruin a "small guy" even if they're in the right....because lawsuits and lawyers cost money up-front, but I'm discounting that for the purposes of this one-sided discussion.

1st off, if you read the SRD-OGLv1.1 (published January 1st, 2016...according to the PDF) and the OGLv1.0 (pulled WotC via the internet archive), I don't think you can get much clearer than the Offer and Acceptance, "By Using the Open Game Content You indicate Your acceptance of the terms of this License." and the Grant and Consideration, "In consideration for agreeing to use this License, the Contributors grant You a perpetual, worldwide, royalty-free, non-exclusive license with the exact terms of this License to Use, the Open Game Content."

This legalese was deliberately written in an easy-to-understand language for a reason. I will postulate that the reason was to entice people to write compatible 3rd party materials for D&D. This is a good thing for Ha$bro, and I will argue that it is still a good thing!

Unless you really want to use the shiny & new version of D&D and need to use the updated OGL & SRD, you can just use the old one......let's see...oh, yeah...in perpetuity.

A lifetime ago I worked in an overly competitive industry and my boss, ever the salesman, worked to break down some of this competitiveness. He realized that there was no possibly way for all these companies to be able to service all of the potential customers. There was always going to be some high-level competition for the high-end(paying) clients, but the well of customers was (unfortunately) never going to run dry and there was far more value in everyone working together.

One of his favorite sayings was "A rising tide lifts all boats."

If you are able to, look at your gaming stuff. Do you have more than one rulebook? More than one set of dice? How about adventures and/or other sourcebooks? If you're here odds are you have multiple game systems, multiple editions, and possibly even multiple copies of certain books of the same game system! I'm willing to be $$$ that you will be adding to your library of material. Most of my gaming friends like to share with new players and each other as well, and I think that's more common than not.

The thing is, all of as, as players, are not just going to pick up a Player's Handbook and call it good. You know this, I know this....hell, Ha$bro knows this! They should know this....I mean most companies do research and have marketing people! Heck, Marketers usually like to segment customer groups and give them interesting names somewhat indicative of their perception of said customer group..... 

I'm sure somebody at Ha$bro realized that everyone is making more money off of RPGs than they are, but I'm not sure that they realize that more than likely nobody is making more money than they are. Obviously by "everybody" I mean collectively. Trying to get a chunk of change off of everyone successfully making products using the OGL & SRD will only reduce the effectiveness of these 3rd party producers, raise their prices, and shrink the number of "competing" products. This is basic economics....seriously Econ 101.

The thing is, there isn't a set, defined pool of customers and customer dollars (although Marketers act as though there is). Getting a 3rd party vendor to lose $100 of profits does not mean that Ha$bro makes $100 more. Instead it just means there is less product "out there", which assuming full utilization of purchased products (no collections, etc.) means there is less gaming going on.

Ha$bro needs more gaming in general, and I'd argue it needs more new gamers than anything. Most of us reading here probably do not play the current edition of D&D, and even if you do, it probably isn't your preferred system. Now, this is going to be my weakest point because it is my "gut" feeling here, but I think there are two main purchasers of the current edition of D&D: die-hard fans, and brand-new-to-rpg players.

Some people will always pick up the current flavor and run with it until there is a new edition. These purchasers are not likely to be "lost" to 3rd party vendors and would be labeled, by the marketers, as "Brand Loyal". This OGL/SRD issue is lost on them.....

Now the other group, new players....they're going to pick up the core books and supplements/adventures. If they enjoy themselves they may pick up 3rd party materials and/or more "in house" products. With any luck, these new players, that marketers would label as well....I'll jokingly call them "Newbs", will become Brand Loyalists.

I've already insinuated it, but there is a 3rd group of potential D&D players and that is the established RPG player that isn't a Brand Loyalist or a Newb.....and odds are most of you reading this fall into this third group. For the sake of this discussion we'll say the Marketers label us as "Gamers". Now the Gamers might interact with the Brand Loyalists and even the Newbs, but this would be in addition to our normal gaming, and with regard to Newbs it might be to help establish non-players as Newbs. Gamers are much more likely to pick up a 3rd party vendor product for a variety of reasons, but one I'll highlight is the likelihood that there is little to no chance that a Brand Loyalist or Newb has seen the 3rd party product (pretty much by group definition). In this instance the availability of 3rd party OGL/SRD products directly impacts the the creation of a new D&D customer. This is a bit of a stretch, which I understand.

The absolute best way for Ha$bro to increase their sales of D&D products is threefold: Make quality products, making playing RPGs more socially-acceptable, and increase the number of RPG players overall.

  1. The availability of 3rd party products does not have a direct impact on the quality of Official D&D products from Ha$bro, but if an author/designer is making good product for someone else, it stands to reason they could be a good designer/author for Ha$bro....
  2. There has been a concerted effort by Ha$bro to make D&D more socially-acceptable. Movies, affiliated products, and time have all been a factor here.
  3. More players means more customers. It doesn't mean Ha$bro gets a larger slice of the pie per se, but the pie itself is bigger, so kind of the same thing?
2nd (I had a 1st off, so I need a 2nd), if Ha$bro is going to play corporate fuck-fuck games, then they can probably expect more dumbfuckery to follow. I'm assuming that since the original OGL is pretty well spelled out that the only way Ha$bro is going to be able to get their skimming operation going is to force 3rd party publishers to update from the old OGL to a new one that has these profitable provisions in it. My assumption is that if you want to make "stuff" compatible with the newest, shiniest edition of the game you have to use the new OGL and it'll be provisioned such that you cannot use the old OGL. What can a publisher do?

I'll tell you...they'll form a new corporate identity to publish material just for the new OGL and keep the old company working under the old OGL. Clearly IANAL (I am not a lawyer), but since companies are essentially people, you just have one person doing one thing and the other person doing the other, and they're brothers in the same family. 


This whole Open Game License update is a lame cash-grab that is more likely going to hurt D&D and Hasbro than it is to bring in gobs of cash, unless you're of the opinion that any publicity is "good" publicity. Hasbro made a very legal promise to the gaming community and trying to rescind that promise is going to cost in multiple ways. They're much better off growing the gaming community overall than they are tearing it apart.

1 comment:

  1. This smells of normal corporate gooberness. The fundamentals of the gaming industry are similar to other luxury goods. Once I have my wedding ring, for instance, it is unlikely I will need another. I may occasionally buy something else, but unless my income increases considerably, my purchases will be small and infrequent. After all, how many pairs of earrings does my wife need? (I ask this with the full understanding that she may ask a similar question of my own hobby-related purchases.)

    Fundamentally, I think Hasbro is trying to turn gamers into "collectors" of the worst sort. I am happy with my previous editions, with my DCC material, and with my occasional purchase of quality material from people like Raging Swan. I pity new players who think they need the newest shiny to play.


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