Cancelled D&D Beyond Subscriptions Forced Hasbro’s Hand

Illustration: vicky leta

Dungeons & Dragons publisher, Wizards of the Coast, finally broke your silence about the game’s open play license on Friday, trying to calm down tensions in the D&D community and answer questions that were raised after Gizmodo broke the news on the contents of a draft document last week.

In a message titled An update to the Open Game License (OGL), posted on the website for D&D Beyond, Wizards of the Coast’s official digital toolset, the company has addressed many of the concerns raised after the Open Gaming License 1.1 leak earlier in the week and quickly removed them. Notable changes include the elimination of royalty structures and a promise to clarify copyright ownership and intellectual property.

But it may be too little, too late.

Despite assurances from the Hasbro subsidiary, Wizards of the Coast (WotC) may have already suffered the consequences of its week of silence. Several sources inside WotC tell Gizmodo that the situation inside the castle is dire, and Hasbro’s concern is less about public image and more about the IP hoard the dragon is in.

The bottom line appears to be: after a fan-led campaign to cancel D&D In addition to the signatures going viral, he sent a message to higher-ups at WotC and Hasbro. According to various sources, these immediate financial consequences were the main thing that forced them to respond. The decision to further delay the release of the new Open Gaming License and then tweak the messaging around the launch was due to a “proven impact” on its bottom line.

According to these sources, in meetings and communications with officials, the message from WotC management was that fans are “overreacting” to the leaked draft and that in a few months no one will remember the uproar.

Licensees are pushing back

But despite any hopes that this all might blow over, well-known publishers who have previously used the OGL—some almost exclusively, such as Kobold Press, and MCDM— have already put out statements saying that they will either be moving away from all versions of the OGL, or explicitly offering up their own gaming licenses for their core games.

The “negative impact of implementing the new OGL might be a feature and not a bug for Wizards of the Coast,” said Charles Ryan, chief operating officer of Monte Cook Games. “A savvy third-party publisher might look at where 5e is in it life cycle,” he said, and if they were planning 5e products, reconsider their investment. Monte Cook Games released their own open, perpetual license for their acclaimed Cypher System last year.

Smaller indie presses have pulled together resources to help people make third-party content for small games. Rowan, Rook and Dekardfor example, launched The resistance toolkita document intended to help designers move away from 5th edition D&D rules and write third-party content for their acclaimed RPG Pinnacle.

A third-party editor told Gizmodo that they expected WotC to update the OGL as seen in the leaked docs, but not until 2025, during the full release of DnDOne. Now, many third-party publishers have moved up their migration schedule following the publicity disaster surrounding the new leak. Dungeons and Dragons OGL.

One of WotC’s biggest competitors, the independent publisher Paizo, owner of Pathfinder and starfinder RPGs, is currently leading a campaign to create a Open RPG Creative License (ORC) which would be administered by a non-profit foundation. Other publishers, including Kobold Press, Chaosium, and Legendary Games, have already committed to the effort.

Another third-party editor who asked not to be named told Gizmodo that his company “has already collaborated with other third-party editors” to mount a legal defense of the original circa 2000 OGL 1.0(a).

The OGL 1.1 Text and the FAQ 2.0

Last week, Gizmodo received leaked drafts of an “OGL 1.1”, and a few days later, an FAQ document that referred to an “OGL 2.0”. (This is an important distinction, because while a 1.1 can be considered an update to the original 1.0(a), calling the new contract a 2.0 could indicate that it is being envisioned as an entirely new and separate contract.)

One of the most revealing parts of the OGL 2.0 FAQ included a statement that clarified one of the most inflammatory points of the leaked OGL 1.1 – whether or not the original OGL 1.0a would be disallowed. The leaked FAQ said that “OGL 1.0a only allows creators to use ‘authorized’ versions of the OGL, which allows Wizards to determine which of their previous versions we will continue to allow use when we exercise our right to update the license. As part of the release of OGL 2.0, we are disallowing future use of OGL 1.0 and deleting it from our site. This means that OGL 1.0a can no longer be used to develop content for release.”

While many people have come forward to debate the legitimacy of this interpretation, including former WotC executive Ryan Dancey, who helped write the original OGL 1.0, the FAQ has continued to promote this language. Also, the January 13th update does not explicitly state that the company will not attempt to decommission OGL 1.0a. “I don’t believe that OGL v1.0a can be decommissioned,” Dancey said in an email to Gizmodo. “There is no mechanism in the license for disavowal.”

“When v1.0a was published and licensed, Hasbro & Wizards of the Coast did so in the knowledge that they were entering into a perpetual licensing regime,” continued Dancey. “All of the people involved at the executive level – Peter Adkison (who was the CEO of Wizards), Brian Lewis (who was the in-house counsel at Wizards) and I (I was the VP of Tabletop RPGs) agreed that this was the intent of the license.”

While the OGL 2.0 FAQ has been distributed by various teams within Wizards of the Coast, sources indicate that this FAQ was not released on January 12th as planned due to the impact of canceled subscriptions and the growing backlash online.

The FAQ for OGL 2.0 also stated that “the leaked documents were drafts, and some of the content that people were upset about had already been changed in newer versions at the time of the leaks”. However, what people were upset about – including copyrights and royalties – still seemed to be in the FAQ for 2.0.

The part of OGL 1.1 that states that once you publish under OGL 1.1, other people can use your work too, is very similar to the language of the DMs Guild,” explained Jessica Marcrum, co-creator of the Unseelie Studios. “But this is not ‘open’ language. And it looks like they are using the guise of the old OGL to pretend that 1.1 is an open license when it is not.”

Furthermore, multiple sources have reported that third-party publishers received OGL 1.1 in mid-December as an incentive to sign a “love agreement”, indicating that WotC was ready to use the originally leaked and draconian OGL 1.1.

The ‘Term Sheets’

According to an anonymous source who was in the room, in late 2022 Wizards of the Coast gave a presentation to a group of about 20 third-party creators that outlined the new OGL 1.1. These creators also received offers that would replace the publicly available OGL 1.1; Gizmodo received a copy of this document, called the “Term Sheet”, which would be used to outline specific custom agreements within the OGL.

These “sweetheart” deals would give signatories lower royalty payments – 15% instead of 25% on excess revenue above $750,000 as stated in OGL 1.1 – and a commitment from Wizards of the Coast to market these products from third parties across various D&D channels and platforms, except during “blackout periods” around WotC’s own releases.

Third parties were expected to sign these Letters of Intent. Noah Downsa tabletop RPG attorney who was consulted on the terms of one such contract stated that while the sheets included language suggesting that negotiation was possible, he was under the impression that there was not much room for change.

doing it right

In its “Open Game License Update” released on Friday, WotC promised that the new OGL was still in development and not ready for final release “because we need to make sure we get it right.” The company promised to take feedback from the community and continue to make revisions to the OGL that make it work for both WotC and its third-party editors.

But it might be too late. “Even if Wizards of the Coast walked entirely [the leaked OGL 1.1] back, it leaves such a sour taste in my mouth that I don’t want to work with OGL in the future,” said David Markiwski of Unseelie Studios.

Meanwhile, the “#DnDBegone” campaign encouraging fans to cancel their D&D Beyond subscriptions continued to gain traction on Twitter and other social media sites.

To fully delete a D&D Beyond account, users are funneled to a support system that asks them to submit tickets to be handled by customer service: Sources inside Wizards of the Coast confirm that earlier this week there were “five digits” in the value of ticket claims in the system. Both the moderation and internal management of issues has been “a mess”, they said, in part due to the fact that WotC recently reduced the size of the D&D Beyond support team.

Wizards of the Coast stated in the unpublished FAQ that they weren’t making changes to the OGL just because of some “loud voices”, and that’s true. It took thousands of voices. And it’s clear that Wizards of the Coast didn’t make the latest changes themselves. The entire tabletop ecosystem is keeping Wizards of the Coast living up to the promises made in 2000. And now, fans are setting the terms.

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