Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Betrayed by their own OGL?

As I flip through my pdf of the Beta version of Paizo's "Pathfinder" rpg (it's awesome, btw) something occured to me.

Did WotC shoot 4E in the foot by yanking the Open Gaming License?

Maybe "yanking" is too strong a word for whatever they did. Nerfed it? Tightened it? Whatever. I'm not a copyright lawyer or a developer/designer so it's not something I know much about or care about. With that in mind, everything that follows is based purely on common sense and my admittedly vague grasp of these sorts of things.

All I know is that under the old OGL, small publishers could put out whatever they wanted with the d20/3rd edition DnD ruleset as a foundation. Sure they were taking a small piece of WotC's pie, but they were also supporting interest in the game. Strikes me as a win-win.

Under the new scheme, as I understand it, other companies can still create material for 4E but they have a lot of hoops to jump through first. Now, if 4E was to become an economic juggernaught that wouldn't be an issue. The small fish will still push upstream, but if 4E sales are no better than 3.5's then there's really no incentive for small publishers to jump. Not when they can freely produce stuff for 3.5 and get the same sales.

I can see Paizo (especially since "Pathfinder" has apparently sold out at GenCon on the first day) being the first of many who chose to market products that support or mesh with 3.5 instead of 4E. As a result, those gamers who feel jilted by 4E but don't want to cling to an unsupported 3.5 edition have a reason to stay. This group, is to me, the vital swing market for WotC. Give them a reason to stick with 3.5 and 4E is bound to suffer. Not to the point of utter failure (not with the strong brand name and investment already made) but it could be enough to push 4E to become even more of a tabletop skirmish game. I say that because if you can't beat your previous edition you made, then make the newest one into something new and different.

At least, that's one scenario I could see shaking out. All because WotC didn't want to share their sandbox with the other kids.

Am I way off base here?

1 comment:

Alexandra Erin said...

I think they're definitely missing an opportunity here, and not just from the third party business.

If nothing else, making a System Reference Document that covered the core 4E rules with an open license ought to be good business for them.

I mean, I love 4E to death... in case you haven't noticed... but the original PHB is more "tantalizing promise you quickly realize only has so many tricks to share" than "complete gaming experience." That factor worked against it when it was the only player content book on the shelves for 4E. Now that there are two Player's Guides for individual settings, a second PHB, power supplements for all three sources from the original PHB, and getting close to two books full of new magical items... plus all the online content... getting the original PHB's contents into people's hands seems like a win-win for WOTC.

And of course, if players who got hooked in online realized that they could get all the crunch loaded into the character generator for a small fee, Insider subscriptions would skyrocket.

Traditional business logic probably tells them that this would undercut their book business, but I've got a feeling that the majority of the people who did this would not have been potential customers otherwise, and once they know the value of the system they still might pick up a book or two that covers their favored topics.

And books remain pretty indispensable for DMs. Searching the Compendium and Encounter Builder for something you know is there is pretty easy... flipping through to see what all is there isn't. More people playing = more DMs.

I could believe there were good solid business reasons behind the decision, but I think the pros of a truly open license are already beginning to outweigh the cons.