In case you haven’t been keeping up with recent events, there has been a large… let’s say kerfuffle (trying to keep it nice) over Wizards of the Coast and their current attempts to roll back the Open Gaming License, and subsequent roll back of the roll back.
I will leave the discussion of the details and legal implications for those that are far more qualified on such matters than myself. However, since I do actually work in this industry (and man that still feels weird to say sometimes), I do feel like I’ve got a perspective that’s at least a bit different than the average consumer, so I wanted to take a minute to talk more about my thoughts this has brought up regarding the concepts behind the OGL and how it relates to the community and game development.
First and foremost, I want to say that I am incredibly proud to be part of such a creative and intelligent community that gamers make up, and under no circumstances will I ever want to stifle anyone’s imagination and inventiveness in creating their own games and worlds. I would be immensely gratified to wake up one day and find that fan works for 1879 had suddenly exploded in popularity and were popping up at even a tenth of the level they do for D&D, even if I never saw a dime more as a result. Of course, the company does need money and financial support through sales to keep the lights on, and I do work to keep that going (more on this below), but for me personally, I don’t do this job trying earn a living; that’s what the day job is for. I do this because I love creating worlds, telling stories, and getting to see those ideas spread to reach other people and inspire them to create more of their own. So, if you’ve got ideas for things you want to make in and for 1879, go for it, you’ll get absolutely no resistance from me. I want you all to go out and use your imagination, especially if I get to hear about it later.
While my personal motivations are not for profit, as I mentioned above, I do of course recognize that a business has to make money to keep in operation, and gaming businesses are no exception. Where I think WotC really misstepped in their approach demonstrated here is in the fundamental form of thinking, which I think is easier to see from the earlier stages. A game lives or dies financially based on the number of new players that can get brought into it. You may have a dedicated base of fans who will buy whatever new content you put out. If you’re lucky, that core base will buy enough to keep you afloat so that you can make the next project. But if you never grow beyond that, then all you’re doing is keeping afloat, and it becomes a war of attrition until you either can’t make the product anymore or your core base dwindles and doesn’t buy enough to keep you open anymore. Where the profit starts to come in is when new people get brought into the game. Most often, this happens when a new product is released; they hear about the shiny new thing, check it out and think it’s cool, and so buy it as well as all the other supporting materials that go along with their shiny new thing. When we launch a Kickstarter for a new book or set of books, we get a boost in sales, not only from all of our existing fans buying what’s new, but from new fans hearing about us for the first time and buying the things we’ve already produced so they have all the supporting materials.
The thing is, creating new product is expensive and time consuming (and I feel that all too well, believe me). You have to pay for writing, editing, art, the physical product itself, shipping, plus all the supporting costs like running the website, storing the product until it ships as well as any leftovers, attending conventions to promote, and getting someone to manage it all. With an independently made product, however, you don’t incur any of those costs. The fans of the product are taking on that time and energy to produce it and distribute it themselves. But it’s still new product compatible with the existing system the company owns, so if someone new gets the fan-made product, they’ll also want to pick up the original supporting material that it was designed to work with. The company may not see any profit directly off of the fan-made material, but they will still see profits from the new people that brings in buying the original books. The best part about selling existing books is that they really don’t cost anything additional to produce (aside from moderate costs of hosting the website for virtual copies or printing costs to make new physical copies, but those costs are more than covered by the sale); you’ve already invested into the creation of those books. By the way, this does also serve as a not-so-subtle reminder to please send us any new fans you can find; the more we can grow the fan base, the more we can produce for you all to enjoy.
While I have talked about D&D in the past being overly simple as a system and I do still stand by that opinion, I don’t bear any ill will toward the people working on it or using it as their system of choice. Just as I have my own passions and preferences, they have theirs, and I’m sure they feel just as attached to their preferred method of creativity as I do mine. However, I do hope that this entire debacle gets a few of them more willing to branch out and explore other systems. The juggernaut that is D&D and D20 systems in general I think has become a roadblock to getting people willing to even look at other games and mechanics out of fear for having to learn something more complicated. While yes, it’s probably fair to say that most games are at least a bit more complicated than D20, that additional complexity can add to a lot more nuance and fun than I think most of those people realize. I won’t lie, I’d love it if this got more people willing to explore 1879 and other FASA games, but even if they don’t touch our products and just become more open to looking at something new, I view that as a good thing. I’ve talked before about why I prefer the Step system mechanically, but that doesn’t mean I ignore everything else. I explore other games to see what they’re bringing to the table, what works and what doesn’t, so that I can make my game line and individual games that much better because of it, and I sincerely hope other players and developers do the same thing with us. I’d really say that’s the primary silver lining that I’m hoping comes out of this; just getting more people willing to take a chance on something different.
Do you have opinions to share on the situation? Or does the whole thing just make you glad to be a FASA fan and not have to worry yourself about it? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below and on Discord, and we’ll see you in the next one.
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