Friday, June 24, 2011

The First Open Gaming Movement

The biggest single mistake WOTC made with 4e was the elimination of a true commitment to the OGL.

See, as much as certain people would like it to be, tabletop RPGs are not passive forms of entertainment. That requires engagement.

And of course, we had been through all this before. One of the great myths I encounter regularly in RPGs is that 3e was the first open edition of D&D.

It was most definitely not. I remember when I started gaming, in 78, I could get books like The Complete Alchemist, offering a strange and wild new character class, modules like Evil Ruins or Lich Lords from Role Aids, alternative gaming magazines with classes and adventures like White Dwarf, and the city of Sanctuary, in all its gritty glory produced by Chaosium.

Not all of it was to my taste certainly, but its mere existence spurred my creativity and kept me engaged in the hobby on a far stronger level. Then, toward the end of 1e and in force in 2e, these products started dwindling away.

And not because of some mythical bubble- no, the tide was stemmed by the very company that had poked the hole in the dam to begin with.

And then with 3e, those floodgates were opened even wider, releasing a tide that raised all boats, including WOTC.

And again, because it was a force that couldn't be controlled, its benefits were forsaken.

Is this the reason 4e failed? Not entirely for sure.

However, it was an advantage of 3e and it still is- Pathfinder, OSRIC, Labyrinth Lord, Mutant Future, d20 Modern, Modern20 all continue to benefit.

1 comment:

Desert Rat said...

Interesting points, but I think a couple of things were left unsaid.

1. 4E was doomed to be a letdown after 3.0/3.5. It simply was. Prior to 3.0, AD&D 2nd Ed was such a stone axe in its time that it's no surprise at all that it almost killed TSR. D&D 3E/3.5E shook the industry to its core.

From about 2000 to 2005 you couldn't swing a stick in a gaming store without hitting an OGL book. Everybody was doing them...even White Wolf, Pinnacle, and a lot of other companies that know better. Some of the stuff was great, some of it good, much of it awful or redundant.

The industry is in a different place now. Many of the Indie publishers have realized that d20 limits you to a particular feel, and have moved back to third party systems. In fact, we're seeing more diversity in game mechanics than we have in a long time.

Also the OGL market has matured. Not as many third-party publishers got on board. Part of that is the GSL, but part of it is the natural weeding out of a lot of companies that did stuff for 3.5 (and particularly 3.0) that are either dead and buried, or have moved on (or stayed with OGL).

And 4th Edition, while a big departure from 3.5, isn't nearly the departure that 3.0 was from AD&D 2ED.

2. The biggest mistake of not carrying OGL forward was the space it opened for competitors, not the stifling of the market.

By forsaking the OGL for the much narrower GSL, WotC forced every third-party publisher making OGL products to make a tough choice, Keep churning out OGL product, or go with GSL.

Most stuck with OGL, or went proprietary. They simply had too much invested in their product lines to drop OGL. Green Ronin stayed OGL with True 20 & M&M, RPG Objects stayed OGL.

The biggest thing about the dumping of OGL is that WotC created their own fiercest competitor. If WotC had simply released a second revised SRD encompassing the 4th Ed rules under the OGL, Pathfinder wouldn't even exist. Instead Paizo saw a big market (3.5) folks that had suddenly been cut off from new product and began working on a streamlined 3.5.

WotC undoubtedly made a business decision to abandon OGL. I'd argue that they began to pull back from the OGL long before 4th Ed was even announced. The reasoning probably was some genius marketing decision to "protect the brand" from inferior OGL product. Whatever the reason, it created a space for Paizo, and if anything killed 4th Ed, it was Pathfinder.