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Dungeons and Dragons OGL Upset

The RPG controversy of the year was Wizards of the Coast, a Hasbro subsidiary, draft Open Game License changes sent fans and game developers into an uproar. The OGL was a default license established in 2000 that allowed fans to use portions of the Dungeons and Dragons property in their own work. This was framed in similar ways to open software licensing in that it could be used as a foundation to create independent works as long as it was using the specific System Reference Document in doing so. This allowed gamers to develop their own works and even to sell them. The most commercialised version of this was the work of Kobold Press and Green Ronin that developed independent games using the SRD as a base. This has always been a successful space for creative engagement with a beloved property.

On January 4th 2023 a new OGL 1.1 was to be released but an early leak of this content exploded into the zeitgeist with very concerning changes including WOTC ability to claim royalties from sold works and complete control over the content produced. The backlash was huge and fans and content creators both began to rally online and establish a response to the changes. This response included unsubscribing from WOTC’s digital toolset and protesting in social media. Further, the largest third party users (whose income was most threatened by the change) announced plans to step away and redevelop their own games.

WOTC has retracted its plans but the damage is done. But a number of key questions have begun to be raised: Was this a failure to listen to its fandom? Was this merely a cash grab? Has this action doomed WOTC and its aligned products into the future? Has this been the initiative needed to get more producers developing independent game engines? What does fully open sourced mean financially for game developers? How will this shape the next twenty years of gaming? And, significantly, does this mean D&D is dead?