Wizards of the Coast Executives: Lawful Evil or Chaotic Stupid?

The management of Wizards of the Coast decided to leave the OGL alone. In an attempt to repair the loss of trust, they put the 5.1 SRD into Creative Commons. That is a great outcome and I’m glad that they made that decision.

I was wrong. I didn’t expect WotC to change their minds about the OGL.

I expected them to impose their will and take what they thought was theirs. In the US, the party with the best lawyers often wins. I expected WotC to accept the costs of fighting off the opposition and shut down the OGL.

I’m glad that I was wrong about that.

What if WotC management believes their own PR?

My New Year’s resolution is to be kinder, less grumpy. I’ll give WotC executives the benefit of the doubt.

Based on the leaked “draft” of the OGL and the statement made on January 13; here is what the management of WotC believed when they decided it was a good idea to revoke the OGL.

The management at WotC believed…

The OGL was being exploited by “major corporations.”

The OGL was being used to create so much “hateful” content that it would overflow a bag of holding.

Deauthorizing the OGL was protecting the Dungeons & Dragons brand from shysters selling NFTs, and blockchain tokens.

None of those are real issues. There are no major corporations exploiting the OGL. The tiny amount of “hateful” content that occasionally appears gets stamped down by the hobby. There may be some con artists selling NFTs but most everyone has gotten wise to it by now and nothing in the OGL gives permission for those applications anyway.

I am setting aside my cynicism dear reader. I am turning over a new leaf. I believe them. They really believed those things were true. They weren’t lying. We should feel sorry for them, the executives making decisions at Wizards of the Coast are idiots less mentally abled than the intelligent and erudite readers of this blog. Have pity, friends.

If what they said in their statements are honest expressions of what they actually believed, the alignment of WotC executives isn’t Lawful Evil it’s Chaotic Stupid.

Are you sure you want to do that?

Oh dear, it seems that I’m being sarcastic and nasty. So much for that New Year’s resolution.

Chis Cocks, Cynthia Williams and Dan Rawson had nothing but profit and market share in mind when they made the decision to revoke the OGL. It was the same criteria they had in mind when they made the decision to leave it alone. WotC management only cares about the brand and how much money they can squeeze out of it. The game and the people who play it are secondary to the money.

Revoking the OGL was a dumb move. Nothing positive could have come from it.

WotC deauthorizing the OGL wasn’t going to defeat Paizo. It was not going to acquire or hold market share from other third party publishers. All those publishers have to do is what they said they intend going forward; not use the OGL.

Management apparently didn’t realize that the OGL and the third party market was a positive feedback loop for D&D. Players like the game. They buy the books and other merch. Third party publishers produce stuff for D&D. More people try 5E because it has better support and a bigger network. Players recruit their friends who don’t play. WotC sells more core books and D&D Beyond subs. Third party publishers produce stuff for D&D and on and on.

Never be mean to someone who can hurt you by doing nothing.

Chris Voss, Former FBI hostage negotiator

If WotC wants to take Paizo’s market share, they need to make better products than Paizo; attract and retain better creators than Paizo; and have better relationships with their customers than Paizo. Simple to understand. Hard to execute.

Instead, they opted to use the legal system to push a competitor out of the market. Instead of creating value, they tried to destroy it. That’s an asshole move.

For whatever reason, WotC management eventually figured out that revoking the OGL was not going to accomplish what they hoped. What did it was probably a combination D&D Beyond subscription cancelations, a few columns of negativity from the financial media and the reality of the situation.

What now?

WotC has burned some good will. There will be an effect on WotC’s revenue. How much? It may be less than any of us think. We’ll have to wait to find out.

My suspicion is that most of the people playing 5E don’t know anything about the OGL or the third party market outside of DM’s Guild. They just play and don’t pay any attention to the serious hobbyists online. The local D&D group on Facebook that I follow didn’t have much to say about the OGL drama. It was brought up but the conversations were short lived. There wasn’t a big call to boycott the movie, switch to PF or much of what we saw on Twitter and YouTube.

Most D&D players who came into the game with 5E are most of the market. They don’t care about the OGL or 3rd party publishers, only buy what WotC sells, and don’t pay much attention to the online commentary.

WotC managers are going to get some of what they thought they wanted.

The “major corporations” exploiting the OGL are going to stop exploiting the OGL. Paizo, Kobold Press, and others are going to exploit WotC mishandling of this situation instead. For WotC, that may not matter much. WotC want to keep 5E players and add to that pool. They will ignore everyone else. For third party publishers, it will be a big deal. A relatively small loss to WotC is a big gain for the 3rd party market in absolute terms.

Did WotC kill One D&D or was the OGL drama just a minor setback?

We will see.

6 thoughts on “Wizards of the Coast Executives: Lawful Evil or Chaotic Stupid?

  1. > There will be an effect on WotC’s revenue. How much? It may be less than any of us think.

    Sadly, you may be right. On top of the D&D fans who didn’t care in the first place, I’ve also seen people ready to forgive and move on as if nothing happened. A prominent example is Sandra Snan who wrote (at https://idiomdrottning.org/ogl):

    > Doomsday averted. I got what I wanted. D&D is saved. Movie and such unboycotted as far as I’m concerned.

    My reaction is, really??, you’re already willing to give your money to the assholes who genuinely tried to destroy a big sector of the hobby??

    As far as I’m concerned WotC are still the bad guys. The fact that their stupid plan failed miserably doesn’t change the fact that they tried, and our victory hasn’t been warranted by their good will, but by their fear of lost profit.


  2. > There will be an effect on WotC’s revenue. How much? It may be less than any of us think.

    Sadly, I think you might be right. On top of the D&D fans who didn’t care in the first place, I’ve also seen people ready to forgive and move on as if nothing happened. A prominent example is Sandra Snan, who wrote (at https://idiomdrottning.org/ogl):

    > Doomsday averted. I got what I wanted. D&D is saved. Movie and such unboycotted as far as I’m concerned.

    My reaction is, really??, you’re already willing to give your money to those assholes who genuinely tried to destroy a large part of the hobby??

    As far as I’m concerned, WotC are still the bad guys. The fact that their idiotic plan failed miserably doesn’t mean they didn’t try, and our victory isn’t due to their good will, but to their fear of lost profit.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Sorry I missed this comment. It was in the spam box for some reason and I don’t check it more than once a week.

      Precisely. We’ve been around the block a few times. Just because this particular attempt at getting more money without providing value was thwarted doesn’t mean they won’t try again and be more sneaky about it the next time.


  3. Paul

    They’re not scared of Paizo or Kobold Press or any of the other publishers. They’re scared of Meta and Disney. The real fear appears to be that one of these mega entertainment companies is going to release a 5e game using stuff wotc published under the OGL, cut wotc out, and essentially control the brand based on scale. I think that’s a slightly overblown fear, but it does make some sense.


    1. It makes no sense at all. None. Not even a little.

      Before a company like Disney does anything, they do market research. They have massive amounts of data about all kinds of consumer behaivior. It’s a matter of an afternoon to build a query. If they have done that research, they will have figured out that there isn’t enough money in it to make it worth their time. Disney has a lot of money but not infinite money. They want to get a return on investment. They want and need that return to be measured in the hundreds of millions if not billions of dollars. Disney spent 10 BILLION dollars on creating content last year. The general idea of business is to make money by spending money. Marvel (owned by Disney) has Guardians of the Galaxy film coming out in may. The production budget is probably something like $200 million. The marketing budget is about half that so $300 million total. The ENTIRE tabletop RPG market is estimated (hard to find data but it’s out there) is about $150 million. Magic the Gathering, by itself, brings in 3X more revenue than all tabletop RPG’s combined.

      Would a tabletop OGL product, even a video game make a return in the hundreds of millions of dollars, even if it was made by a Meta or a Disney? I doubt it. Maybe they could make a product that could make millions in profit. Maybe even 10s of millions in profit. That’s small change and not worth the effort for Disney. If they are going to create something that, at best, has a chance of making less than the rounding error on a weekend box office revenue for Ant Man, why use the OGL?

      You can make enough money as a small company using the OGL because you don’t need billions of dollars to make it worth your time. Even Paizo is probably not making more than 10’s of millions. WotC said that only 20 companies worldwide were making more than $750,000 a year in revenue (not profit) from the OGL. Was Disney one of those companies? Your average Chick-fil-a store brings in more $10 million a year in sales. You could do better selling chicken sandwiches than you can selling tabletop RPGs. The only way an OGL product would be worth Disney’s time is if it could be turned into some sort of digital product. If you are going to go to the expense, why use the OGL?

      Why bother with the OGL when you could just hire a game designer and have them design a game that you own? D&D’s rule set is nothing special. It’s OK but the real juice of the system is the setting and other material attached to it. The most valuable bit is the IP. D&D does specific things but not in a way a skilled game designer couldn’t do better and custom fit to the specific IP. Despite the insistence of WotC marketing and the fan boys, D&D is not the “world’s greatest role-playing game” and it can do some things well but not everything.

      Many narrative universes don’t work very well with D&D systems. A designer would be much better off starting from scratch and creating a rule set that is custom fit to the narrative universe of whatever IP they are using. TTRPG designers are cheap compared to just about every other kind of creator and writer. I made more money than most freelance tabletop game designers working as a shipping clerk. It’s not a special skill that can’t be hired out and freelancers are cheap. Marvel hired Matt Forbeck to create a new RPG. Did he use the OGL? Fuck no. He and Marvel are smarter than that. https://www.marvel.com/rpg Marvel fans who like RPGs want to play a Marvel game. There is no benefit whatsoever to using 5E mechanics for a Marvel game. Forbeck saw this. Marvel saw this and made their own game system.

      Nobody at a “major corporation” with any business sense is going to use the OGL. I think Bob Iger is a fuck-ton smarter than Chris Cocks but lets do a thought experiment.

      Let’s say Disney’s management is as stupid as Hasbro’s and they decide to make an OGL product. Let’s say it’s wildly popular. Will it be more popular than D&D? Will it pull fans away from D&D? Probably not. More likely, it will drive fans TO D&D because of network effect, brand awareness, and the market share Hasbro already has. Why would a major corporation create something that will benefit your competition as much or more than it benefits you when you can just create your own game? That would be stupid.

      I could go on with many more business reasons why Meta, and Disney, and Marvel have no interest in “exploiting” the OGL. Which leads us to ask… Why would Kyle Brink and the other managers at WotC/Hasbro make this claim?

      A) They have some evidence that some big corporation intends to “exploit the OGL.” OK Kyle, what big company is doing that and with what product? Show us.

      B) What they really want is to destroy Paizo, Kobold Press and the rest of the third party market because they want that market share and they think we are dumb enough to believe the “major corporation exploiting the OGL” narrative. This is dumb because what WotC doesn’t get is that those companies make things that WotC won’t/don’t make. They won’t get that market share because the people buying those third party products don’t want the WotC alternative.

      C) They’re incompetent.


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