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Role Playing (Games) The Almighty Buck

D&D 4th Ed vs. Open Gaming 243

Posted by CmdrTaco
from the something-to-think-about dept.
I'm no expert in this subject, but mxyzplk has written a good summary of the issues affecting open gaming and the upcoming release of 4th Edition D&D. The open licensing associated with the 3rd Edition spawned a number of successful 3rd parties and add-ons that made the system far greater than it might have been otherwise. I've attached his writeup on the subject below, and you should really read it if you are interested in D&D, Gaming, or trying to apply 'Open' licenses to things besides code.

mxyzplk writes "Dungeons & Dragons publisher Wizards of the Coast shocked the role-playing game industry today by announcing that anyone wanting to publish material for the new Fourth Edition of D&D, expected out in June of this year, must forgo open licensing entirely as part of their new Game System License.

With the launch of the third edition of the popular game eight years ago, Wizards had sponsored an open licensing scheme. This license, called the Open Gaming License, or OGL, was a kind of open source license designed for game publishers. The result was an explosion of third party game companies supporting D&D and establishing their own game lines. Many of these companies became quite large and successful, notably Paizo Publishing, Green Ronin Publishing, and others.

Now, however, Wizards has stated that any company hoping to publish products for their new edition must agree to discontinue any currently open licensed products and produce no further open products at all — Dungeons & Dragons related or not. A number of companies had leveraged the OGL for their independent games, for example the pulp game Spirit of the Century.

In response to questions about this policy, Scott Rouse, D&D Brand Manager for Wizards of the Coast, says that "We have invested multiple 7 figures in the development of 4e so can you tell me why we would want publishers to support a system that we have moved away from?"

It seems to me that this is the equivalent of Microsoft telling people "If you want to make and sell software for Windows Vista, you can't make and sell any Linux/open source software!" Since this is a small niche market without the visibility of a Microsoft, this play to muscle out competition by making them choose "between us and open licensing" will probably succeed. Some other game companies are rebelling; Paizo Publishing, for example, has declared their intent to move forward with the open-licensed previous version, essentially 'forking' the Dungeons & Dragons code base. But small gaming companies are small indeed, and Wizards of the Coast is owned by Hasbro (a recent development likely not unrelated to this change of heart)."

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D&D 4th Ed vs. Open Gaming

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  • by brennanw (5761) * on Monday April 21, 2008 @09:54AM (#23142380) Homepage Journal
    I'm not a lawyer so as far as I know this *is* legal, but... how can it be? How can your license forbid someone from using another license for a different product? Aren't antitrust laws that specifically forbid that?
  • by PresidentEnder (849024) <wyvernenderNO@SPAMgmail.com> on Monday April 21, 2008 @09:56AM (#23142436) Journal
    Everything I hear about 4e (subscription access to web content, big monster-type race, "WoWification") seems bad. This seems worse. I hope the independent publishers respond by sticking to 3.5e.
  • by Deathdonut (604275) on Monday April 21, 2008 @10:07AM (#23142686)
    The thing they should be worried about is splintering their currently (mostly) consoladated customer base, not legality.

    How is this different from:

    "If you want to work here, you can't compete with us."

    or

    "If you want the free Pepsi soda fountains, you can't sell Coke products."

    They obviously want to sell 4e products and encourage the transition. This may be an overly ambitious plan and somewhat of a strongarming tactic (hard to say for a product that's not even remotely monopolistic), but it's certainly legal.

    Scott Rouse (The Rouse) commented on their motivation recently:

    We have invested multiple 7 figures in the development of 4e so can you tell me why we would want publishers to support a system that we have moved away from?

    This is not spite, malice or some evil scorched earth policy. Yes, we want people to make 4e books and stop making 3.x. Does that surprise you?
  • by Chrisq (894406) on Monday April 21, 2008 @10:33AM (#23143372)
    It's more like "If you want to make and sell products for Vista, you can't make and sell products for XP or any of your other completely independent products that you released under the same license."
  • by Chrisq (894406) on Monday April 21, 2008 @10:40AM (#23143554)
    It sounds like paizo.com has gone for the standard open source solution. Fork your own version from the previously licensed product. Since this is going to get support from other pissed-of companies it has the potential to become the majot player, just like Joomla [joomla.org] vs Mambo [mambo-foundation.org].
  • by Lanu2000 (972889) on Monday April 21, 2008 @10:41AM (#23143582)
    I've heard this argument a lot about 4E. But no one really gives examples as to what they mean. Here you at least say that everyone is assigned to a role of tank/healer/cannon, but couldn't that be said for 3.x and 2E as well? They just didn't explicitly say it in those versions.
  • by sapphire wyvern (1153271) on Monday April 21, 2008 @12:01PM (#23145406)
    You're exactly right. I'm afraid that I can't see sckeener's point at all; in 3E a fighter who didn't wear armour was crazy, unless you started getting into Prestige Classes. And 3E rogues *did* get trap related class features automatically, although you could choose to not exploit them by neglecting the Search and Disable Device skills.

    And Prestige Classes was basically WotC's way of developing a list of several thousand Approved Character Concepts. And if you didn't like the way they'd statted your concept, or it was missing... well, sucks to be you.

    That's why I prefer systems with weakly-typed characters. I'm ok with having a few archetypes (no more than a half-dozen) as long as they're very flexible and easy to customize. In that respect, I think I'll like 4E better than 3.x (at least for a while); the focus will be back on customizing a relatively small toolkit to fit your concept, rather than searching through the books for a pre-gen concept that you want to play. The D&D tradition, however, is for strongly-typed characters. I hope they move away from that.

    Also, it looks like there are no more "no choice" classes like the 3.x Monk, Paladin, or Ranger. Good riddance, I say; no matter what class I play, I want to be distinct from other characters of that class.

    Finally: limited-use powers for everyone, not just the wizard? Awesome! Finally classes other than wizards have tactical decisions to make!

    There are things that about 4E that I don't like the look of. The tactical combat mechanics and related class features aren't one of them.
  • by Sentry21 (8183) on Monday April 21, 2008 @12:27PM (#23145984) Journal
    It's strange... pretty much all the negative things I've been hearing are people on the forums who've never played it and only know what's been told to them, but who form negative opinions based on what they assume people mean (and we've seen a lot of uproar about things that were never actually said).

    Conversely, every review I've read by people who've actually played it, and everything I've heard from the people I know who are playtesting it right now, has been overwhelmingly positive, to the point where I have no question in my mind about wanting to switch over to 4e as soon as is possible.

    Go figure.
  • Conversely, every review I've read by people who've actually played it, and everything I've heard from the people I know who are playtesting it right now, has been overwhelmingly positive, to the point where I have no question in my mind about wanting to switch over to 4e as soon as is possible.
    People who have actually played it fall into three camps.

    1: The people who wrote it.

    2: People who went to a convention just to play it.

    3: Folks who have NDAs, that limit what they can say.

    What part of this audience makes you think it's a fair metric for how good the game actually is?
  • by swordgeek (112599) on Monday April 21, 2008 @01:01PM (#23146762) Journal
    First of all, anti-trust legislation only comes into force when a company has a monopoly, so it's not really relevant here.

    Secondly, this is all dones through legal weaselese. In this case:

    1) I've licensed D&D 3e to you under the OGL. That license states that it is non-revokable, and therefore there is NO WAY I can stop you from releasing all you want under it. However...
    2) I can offer you the opportunity to license D&D 4e from me under a new license. I can put any clause into that license I want. I can say you need to shave your head, paint your arse blue, and change your name to Stacy if I want. You have the option of either accepting those terms, or not licensing 4e from me.

    Note that you could probably take some of those conditions to court for a judgement, if they were particularly egregious. A court may rule that certain licensing restrictions are invalid and unenforceable, and no longer stand. That's why you often see a clause at the end of a license which says something like, "In the event that certain parts of this license are determined to be unenforceable, the remaining parts are still valid." Much of this detail though, depends on country and jurisdiction.
  • by deathy_epl+ccs (896747) on Monday April 21, 2008 @01:17PM (#23147090)

    That simple... because the geek community has a very major issue with fanboyismm, and those that go to geek conventions are demonstrating a particularly strong fanboy streak in general. It doesn't really take coercion to get it, but I still wouldn't trust their opinions in this matter.

  • Not quite (Score:3, Insightful)

    by fudgefactor7 (581449) on Monday April 21, 2008 @02:06PM (#23147930)
    It seems to me that this is the equivalent of Microsoft telling people "If you want to make and sell software for Windows Vista, you can't make and sell any Linux/open source software!"

    More like "If you want to make and sell software for Windows Vista, you can't sell any software that functions on any previous version of Windows."
  • by SatanicPuppy (611928) * <.moc.liamg. .ta. .yppupcinataS.> on Monday April 21, 2008 @04:08PM (#23149864) Journal
    Some of that stuff is just undoing stupid changes they made in the past...Confirmation on criticals, Magical Items costing experience (wtf was that about anyway? Nothing irritates me more than the idea that I get dumber by practicing something).

    Some of the other stuff is just making up for stupid DMs, and that irritates me. Monsters can be scaled down? So? A good DM should be able to come up with an easy or hard encounter with any sort of monster anyway, and relying on the "book difficulty" with monsters means you run out of monsters that your PCs can't beat around lvl 15.

    Likewise magic items and buffs; if I decide that they're spending too long on their buffs, I start throwing random encounters at them. If they keep going into combat, blowing all their spells/abilities, and trying to rest, I make resting very difficult.

    Some of the other stuff I like; level drain is awesome...It forces players to pay attention when certain undead are on the loose. Spell preperation, while I never really liked it, forces a certain amount of tactical thinking that is completely removed by unlimited spells. Can't rest? Who cares!

    Just doesn't sound like fun to me.
  • by grahamd0 (1129971) on Monday April 21, 2008 @05:22PM (#23151012)

    #3 ensures that everyone of a given class/level combination will have almost exactly the same number of HP's. That's a net loss for the game as a whole.

    Unless, like I have, you're playing a melee combat character with a decent CON and roll a 1 at nearly every level. The whole idea of rolling when the game is balanced around your having ~50% of your total potential hitpoints + CON starts to seem pretty stupid.

    #4 is novel, but is firmly in the 'maybe' column. This could change the genre. It could completely destroy any concept of game balance, making casters the only class to play at any level. Hard to say, but it certainly doesn't strike me as something that makes sense without a lot of testing.

    Spells in 4E are only one form of "power" other classes have comparable abilities with comparable use slots, so I'd worry more that it will *reduce* the appeal of playing a wizard.

    #13 was in place to give combat types an edge, so hopefully it got replaced with something

    In Star Wars saga edition, extra attacks are gained through feats. They cost penalties to use (like a Flurry of Blows or Rapid Shot does now) and they have BAB as a requirement. So everyone has the option to get multiple attacks. I'm hoping 4E D&D will have something similar.

    #17 represents a serious change for DM's to bear in mind. Hopefully the ENTIRE rule-set has been reworked to take this into account and every DM is drilled on the changes. The 3e DMG makes a fairly solid case as to how much 'oomph' an encounter is supposed to expend. This limited (yet unlimited) healing is VERY different and could be quite damaging beyond it's short-term gains.

    Monsters are supposed to be much more challenging in 4E. I like the idea of a character getting a second wind over the idea of waking up in the morning, getting in a fight, using up your spells and going back to sleep 10 minutes later.

    #18 means less opportunities for skill-based encounters, which used to be some character build's pride and joy. Fewer skills probably means a more combat oriented Rogue class. for example, which is a net loss for the game also...

    I don't think that's true at all. AFAIK, they didn't flat out remove the ability to perform any actions based on a skill check that could be performed in third edition, they just organized those actions into a smaller set of skills. For example, Thievery replaces Open Lock, Pick Pocket, etc.

    I could go on, but my point is these changes may or may not have been necessary at all, and until we get to measure the full impact of them, there is good cause to be concerned. Some of them seem to be quite huge...

    It's not inappropriate to be concerned if you're interested in 4E, but my take is that I might as well keep an open mind about it. We can't pressure WotC into changing anything at this point, and the worst case scenario is we get to keep playing 3.X.

  • by 2short (466733) on Monday April 21, 2008 @10:54PM (#23154044)
    "... represents a serious change for DM's to bear in mind. Hopefully the ENTIRE rule-set has been reworked to take this into account and every DM is drilled on the change..."

    The entire rule set has been reworked, period. It's a new ruleset. Any discussion of 4E as a list of changes, or of how any 4E rule doesn't work in a 3E context is beyond pointless. Perhaps an illustration will help:

    You know the castling rule in chess, how it says you can't do it if your king has moved? That's totally stupid, because in checkers, you only get a king by getting to the back row, and how are you supposed to do that without moving?

    That's what most people discussing what's wrong with 4E online sound like. 4E is a new ruleset, not a collection of tweaks.
  • Ex-WOTC fan (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday April 23, 2008 @12:48AM (#23167928)
    Well I was on the Fence about 4E. But I think they made the choice for me. No thanks. I vote with my wallet. Wotc Is not getting my vote.

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