In my last post I came out as a long time off D&D player, and gave a very rough history of the game, with a bit of information about the licensing that helped propel the game back into the lead. Now I’m going to share what Hasbro has done to get all the gamers up in arms.
Reading back over my previous post, I realize I cut a corner or two in the history.
More or less concurrently with the Satanic Panic, Gary Gygax lost control of his company. It’s a pretty long story and scattered in bits and pieces throughout the three web sites I’ve shared. Long and the short, Gary Gygax didn’t have a great deal of money to invest, nor did he have the best (although he also didn’t have the worst) business sense of any CEO I’ve read about. In the end, desperate for cash, he ended up losing his majority stake in the game. He remained President at the behest of the other stakeholders, but the relationship was strained. On top of this, the fledgling company purchased other companies, which as any student of corporate history can tell you, can be a great idea, or can drag your company into bankruptcy.
Belloflostsouls.net discusses how early acquisitions and licensing ambiguities of the time led to headaches, even as several opportunities opened up.
“But even amidst all this unrest, TSR was still growing. In 1982, they acquired SPI, an old wargame company that had been looking to strike out in the roleplaying business. Though, as with many things in those days, the way TSR acquired the company reflects some of the shady doings at the time. With TSR loaning SPI a considerable sum of money and then (depending on whose account you believe) foreclosing almost immediately on SPI and taking it over, with fancy new properties like James Bond 007 looking promising. Sadly, licensed IPs weren’t the only things SPI had in their possession. TSR also acquired a great deal of SPI’s debt…TSR took a hit in acquiring SPI.
“As the story goes, in December of 1983, SPI was facing Chapter 7 bankruptcy. At the same time, TSR had its second of many brushes with lawsuits, targeting other companies with cease-and-desist letters, threatening legal action against smaller game companies like Mayfair Games, makers of Role Aids.
“But even with the ill will brought about by the lawsuits and perception that TSR had bought SPI only to close its doors, TSR was still growing.”
Medium.com shares that TSR also purchased Amazing Stories, a seminal popular fiction magazine. Gygax used some of his waning political clout to spearhead the purchase of the “Greenfield Needlewomen company, a craft firm that produced needleworking products.”
I’ll continue with what I shared in my last post from dndbyme.com: “Early in the game’s history, TSR took no action against small publishers’ production of D&D compatible material, and even licensed Judges Guild to produce D&D materials for several years, such as City State of the Invincible Overlord. This attitude changed in the mid-1980s when TSR took legal action to try to prevent others from publishing compatible material. This angered many fans and led to resentment by the other gaming companies.Although TSR took legal action against several publishers in an attempt to restrict third-party usage, it never brought any court cases to completion, instead settling out of court in every instance. TSR itself ran afoul of intellectual property law in several cases.“
Greenfield went belly up, and TSR went almost overnight from a booming, multi-million-dollar enterprise to being strapped for cash. Like a lot of us when times turn hard, these gamers-turned-entrepreneurs, frankly all three out of their depth, turned to the trusty banking system to save the day. “In need of liquidity, TSR secured a $4M loan from the American National Bank in Chicago.”
Medium.com continues with a very in-depth history of how Gygax was fired. He was given his “golden parachute,” with which he attempted to purchase back control, but it was too little, too late. The political maneuvering of the Blumes brothers, the pressure of the American National Bank in Chicago to be paid back, and the newly appointed President of the company Lorraine Williams ensured it would be some decades before Gygax was back in a leadership position at TSR.
But Tired Blogger, you are writing about Hasbro, not Gygax. How did they come into play? Well, as most companies do TSR had some peaks and valleys, but the 90’s hit hard. TSR was deep in debt, they were producing products hand over fist but evidently that was not translating into profits. More and more gamers were turning to card games like Magic: The Gathering, computer strategy games like Warcraft, or first-person shooter computer games like Marathon, and TSR was on the verge of bankruptcy. Fortunately for nerds everywhere, Richard Garfield, the inventor of Magic: The Gathering, was a true gamer at heart. Rather than simply gloat over the demise of D&D, he bought the company.
But the troubles didn’t end there.
According to Fandom.com “In 1997, Wizards of the Coast was granted U.S. Patent 5662332 on trading card games, followed by the purchase of TSR, Inc., the cash-strapped makers of Dungeons & Dragons. Many of the creative and professional staff of TSR relocated from Wisconsin to the Renton area, and Wizards re-hired many game designers who had been laid off during the troubled last years of TSR. TSR was used as a brand name for a while, then retired. Wizards of the Coast allowed the TSR trademarks to expire. The game and toy giant Hasbro bought Wizards of the Coast in September 1999. Between 1997 and 1999, they spun off several well-loved but poorly-selling campaign settings (most notably Planescape, Dark Sun and Spelljammer) to fan groups, focusing their business primarily on the profitable Greyhawk and Forgotten Realms lines.”
Ryan Dancey, who had been an avid gamer and crucial to the negotiations that led to WOTC purchasing TSR, was made VP over the D&D portion of what ended up being a subset of Hasbro. It was largely his master minding that evolved the ogl that we now enjoy. His reasons for doing this were two fold, according to thealexandrian.net.
“He’d seen TSR’s books and he believed flooding the market with D&D books had been a major factor in the company’s failure.
“There were certain core titles — including the core rulebooks — which were far and away the most profitable books TSR published. Dancey believed Wizards should focus on producing those books. The most profitable ones. He called them evergreen titles.
“But he also knew that supplement support was important for an RPG to thrive. The Open Gaming License would get other publishers — publishers who didn’t have the huge overhead of Wizards and would be much more successful in turning profits on smaller print runs — to provide a constant flow of adventures and other support material for D&D.”
Essentially, all the “Complete Fighter’s Handbooks,” “Complete Rumplestiltskin Handbooks,” and “Complete Dowager Empress Who Won’t Allow Her People to Die While We Debate in Comity Whether the Jedi Should be a D&D Class Handbook” could be relegated to third party companies. Let the small companies take the risk, as long as both companies are reaping the sales and profits, its a win for everyone.
The Alexandrian continues: “Second, the OGL meant that D&D would never again be at risk of being killed due to corporate malfeasance. Remember that just a couple years earlier D&D had almost died as a result of TSR’s bankruptcy, and now it was owned by Hasbro, who could decide at any time that they weren’t interested in publishing a tabletop roleplaying game.
“But the OGL has no Undo button. Once the rules of D&D were placed under the OGL, it could never truly be taken out of print by the actions of a single corporation.
“In addition to the OGL, Wizards also released the D20 System Trademark License. Basically, they wanted a method by which third-party publishers could indicate their compatibility with D&D, but they didn’t want to let them use the D&D trademark. So they created a new “D20 System” trademark, including logo, and let the publishers use that.”
It was very important to Ryan Dancey that no matter what foolish thing Hasbro decided to do, no single corporation could destroy his beloved game.
According to Shannon Appelcline, author of Designers and Dragons, Hasbro had massive layoffs toward the end of 2002, and VP Ryan Dancey was axed as if he were a used up janitor.
He has since found a place with Goblinwork’s Pathfinder. I’m not saying he lived happily ever after, and I have found quite a lot of criticism of him online, I can’t help but smile to think that the Megacorp Hasbro thought it could cast him away with impunity, and he has found a way to contribute to D&D’s biggest competitor.
Here I will post a very thorough, scholarly, but also rather over-pedantic overview of his philosophy about the ogl.
It all started when a company insider leaked some damning info to Gizmodo.
January 5, 2023, the online tech magazine announced “The new Dungeons & Dragons Open Gaming License, a document which allows a vast group of independent publishers to use the basic game rules created by D&D owner Wizards of the Coast, significantly restricts the kind of content allowed and requires anyone making money under the license to report their products to Wizards of the Coast directly, according to an analysis of a leaked draft of the document, dated mid-December.
“Despite reassurances from Wizards of the Coast last month, the original OGL will become an “unauthorized” agreement, and it appears no new content will be permitted to be created under the original license.”
Gizmodo continues: “The original OGL granted “perpetual, worldwide, non-exclusive license” to the Open Game Content (commonly called the System Resource Document) and directed that licensees “may use any authorized version of this License to copy, modify and distribute any Open Game Content originally distributed under any version of this License.” But the updated OGL says that “this agreement is…an update to the previously available OGL 1.0(a), which is no longer an authorized license agreement.”
“The new document clarifies further in the “Warranties” section that “this agreement governs Your use of the Licensed Content and, unless otherwise stated in this agreement, any prior agreements between Us and You are no longer in force.”
“According to attorneys consulted for this article, the new language may indicate that Wizards of the Coast is rendering any future use of the original OGL void, and asserting that if anyone wants to continue to use Open Game Content of any kind, they will need to abide by the terms of the updated OGL, which is a far more restrictive agreement than the original OGL.”
So what? Corporations lie to their customers all the time! “I’m altering the deal. Pray that I don’t alter it further.” Vader got away with it in The Empire Strikes Back, and that hits us viscerally. It is too much like real life and almost too close to home to maintain the fantasy of the story. In real life, Vader always wins, so we escape to books, movies, and rpg’s to escape.
But where do we escape if Vader is running the game?
Gizmodo continues: “Additionally, while the original OGL did not specifically outline what kind of content third-party creators could make available and profit from, the updated OGL is very specific: The updated license “only allows for creation of roleplaying games and supplements in printed media and static electronic file formats. It does not allow for anything else, including but not limited to things like videos, virtual tabletops or VTT campaigns, computer games, novels, apps, graphics novels, music, songs, dances, and pantomimes. You may engage in these activities only to the extent allowed under the Wizards of the Coast Fan Content Policy or separately agreed between You and Us.”
“The Fan Content Policy can be read here, but in broad strokes, it allows for free content “based on or incorporating our IP. Fan Content includes fan art, videos, podcasts, blogs, websites, streaming content, tattoos, altars to your cleric’s deity, etc.”
“The leaked OGL 1.1 draft indicates that WotC may not give licensees a a lot of time to adjust and agree to this new policy: The document reads, “if you want to publish SRD-based content on or after January 13, 2023 and commercialize it, your only option is to agree to the OGL: Commercial.” io9’s source indicated that the final version of the document was originally intended for release on January 4, which would have given companies and creators seven business days to agree and comply.”
So not only are we altering the deal you puny mortals, we aren’t even going to have the respect to give you the time to adjust. The date quoted above would give the third party producers eight days to make up their minds. And if I’m looking at that legalize as a third party producer, what I’m reading is “comply or die, rebel scum.”
Yahoo News conveys the rage of the gamers.
“Wizards of the Coast finally addressed the leak on Friday, saying the drafted license was part of a new license it was creating and was given to content creators to get their feedback.
“However, it’s clear from the reaction that we rolled a 1,” the company said, referencing the game’s rules.
“Wizards said the “thought never crossed our minds” to have a royalty system built into the new license.”
I’m afraid I have to call a Tired Blogger BULLSHIT!
So….I’m sending you a letter for your feedback…but you only have eight day to decide to do exactly what I told you to do. BULLSHIT!
Royalties were never in our mind…but if you earn 750k in revenues you owe us $187,500. Assuming the internet is right, Critical Role had $9 million in revenues, their net profit was somewhere around $2 million. Ok, I can hear everyone now…”Poor babies, they can’t stand to lose nearly 10 percent of their profits.” Fine, well and good. How about the Mom & Pop that has just struggled and clawed their way up, with dreams of making it as online role players. Through herculean effort they finally hit $750k in revenues, and are profiting a similar percentage as Critical Role. That means their total profit was $70,312.50. They’ve finally hit the level where they can do their gig with some mild comfort, maybe through 20k to some of the players of their game to reward them for the performances that put them there. What? Hasbro wants HOW MUCH? $187,500? How in the name of Grazzt are we going to pay that? Guess we’ll have to close up shop. Sorry players, your sol. Sorry ma, you’ll have to go back out on the streets. Sorry Pa, you’ll have to go back to baking meth.
Comicbook.com puts it all pretty saliently: “The ongoing OGL controversy is just the latest sign of a recent shift of how Wizards of the Coast treats Dungeons & Dragons and the community that surrounds it. While Wizards had up until recently worked to build the D&D community, the company has taken steps in the past year to grow the Dungeons & Dragons brand in part by minimizing its focus on that same community. But by taking steps to build and protect the brand, the game’s caretakers have discovered that they have alienated many fans and are now at a crucial inflection point when determining the future for the game.
“Many have referred to Dungeons & Dragons as rooted in folk tradition – at its heart, the game is about a small group of people gathering together to tell a story with the game mechanics serving as a tool for dictating the pace and the action. In some ways, Dungeons & Dragons is an extension of the oral tradition and collaboration that have enabled storytelling since stories first existed. Tabletop roleplaying games differ from any other kind of game, even multiplayer ones, in that the community aspect is crucial to the heart of the game. Community is the engine that powers Dungeons & Dragons, the game mechanics and rules are simply the parts that helps the game runs.”
The article continues: “In fact, Wizards of the Coast has almost entirely cut off its support of the D&D community. The once-thriving Dungeons & Dragons Twitch channel has been mostly offline for months, with Wizards’ few sponsored shows wrapping up their campaigns last year or continuing on without Wizards’ support. There are occasional vestiges of support – D&D Beyond sponsored and hosted an Actual Play event last month that highlighted disabled players within the D&D community and Wizards still regularly sends out Starter Kits for free to schools and libraries – but these community-focused events are growing further and farther between, often with low visibility.
“As new management shuffled into Wizards of the Coast and Hasbro placed a greater emphasis on its Wizards of the Coast subsidiary, much of Wizards’ energy focused on promoting Dungeons & Dragons as a brand instead of as a community. Last year, new Wizards of the Coast president Cynthia Williams told investors that Dungeons & Dragons was “under-monetized” as a brand. While it had much higher brand awareness than Wizards’ card game and billion dollar franchise Magic: The Gathering, it didn’t generate nearly as much revenue. In part, that’s because of the very nature of Dungeons & Dragons – a D&D table doesn’t require a substantial monetary commitment from every player as rulebooks and even dice can be shared between everyone. And while many are worried that Williams will usher in a micro-transaction based system using the upcoming One D&D edition and D&D Beyond, its more likely that building the brand will come from more heavily leaning on the IP that supports D&D – the characters and worlds from the novels and adventures meant to inspire Dungeons & Dragons players into playing the game. While the Dungeons & Dragons IP was created to support the Dungeons & Dragons game, Hasbro has shifted emphasis to that IP in recent months. Even the recent OGL controversy was driven in part by Wizards’ desire to protect the D&D IP as opposed to profiting off of the work of those building a career off the game.”
“Meanwhile, the D&D brand grows even bigger – a new movie is coming out in just a few months, which will likely be accompanied by even more merchandise and a push to get players to join the D&D “lifestyle” of sitting around a table to play D&D with friends. However, the community itself seems to not be a factor in Wizards’ plans for D&D – we haven’t seen any organized plans to help game stores the glut of new players, nor have we seen any sort of cross-promotion between the folks who made the movie and the folks who play the game. It’s still early in the D&D movie’s marketing cycle, but the lack of any sort of promotion of the D&D game (to the point that Wizards has not announced any kind of tie-in game material) is surprising. One would think that a Dungeons & Dragons movie would come with a plethora of game material attached with it, Player’s Handbooks with Chris Pine’s face on it, a new rules supplement allowing druids to transform into owlbears and the like, but either the D&D design team was so far removed from the movie that it couldn’t prepare any tie-in material in a timely fashion or Hasbro executives simply didn’t believe that the movie would meaningfully move any new D&D game material.”
I spent a fair amount of my adult career in sales. The most effective sales professionals are those who are passionate about their product. They firmly believe that the customer wants and needs this in their lives. Where is the excitement? Hell, even Disney fakes excitement for their mediocre Star Wars knock offs better than Hasbro is faking excitement for the D&D movie. I believe they entitled it Honor Among Thieves, I didn’t know the movie was going to be autobiographical.
Hopefully this give my readers a pretty good grasp of why the D&D community is so upset with Hasbro. Hopefully tomorrow or the next day I will finish the series, with a true Tired Blogger take down on why this is really just another metaphor for our times.
Oh yeah! And why was the card offensive to gamers? Because when they made their apology online, the artwork they used to announce was entitled “Bar the Gate” with a quote of “Block the Path!” Dudes…hate to break it to you, but gamers notice EVERYTHING. We see that artwork and assume you are saying “You cannot pass.” Well, maybe so, but in our version of the game, the Balrog needs Gandalf’s money, and if he just decides to buy from Paizo instead…Balrog is sol….
Stay tuned for more Tired Blogging!
Has to has a history of shooting themselves in the dick.
Transformers were some of the hottest toys on the market during their first run.
They promptly made a movie killing off many of the most beloved characters. Children left the theater absolutely distraught over the death of Optimus Prime. Why did they do this? To sell new and different transformers. Because they wanted more profits than they were already making.
Corporate executives excel at killing the golden goose…
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Oh wow! That’s true! I was so focused on the TSR side, I totally forgot Hasbro does in fact have a corporate mindset of f—k the customer, do any soulless thing to make more money. Would anyone like me to write another post delving into that
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