[Cc-bizcom] The Open Gaming License
robmyers at mac.com
Thu Sep 2 13:44:21 EDT 2004
Wizards of the Coast (WotC), a division of Hasbro, were responsible for
the Pokemon card game craze. They used some of the money from this to
buy the ailing Dungeons and Dragons (D&D) Role-Playing Game (RPG) from
its bankrupt owners. RPGs, of which D&D is the first and most
successful, are a global multi-million-dollar market. But by the end of
the 1990s this market was shrinking fast. WotC had to have a sound
business plan to justify aquiring D&D.
As well as reworking the game brand and rules systems (renamed the
"d20" system), WotC set out to rebuild the community and market for
RPGs by releasing the game's rules under a modular copyleft license and
releasing the rule brand under a license that required licensees to
release some content under that license.
The modular copyleft license is the Open Gaming License ("OGL"). It is
similar in principle to the LGPL. It can be applied to some of a work
without affecting the parts identified as "Product Identity" by the
contributor. So a game based on (for example) "The Matrix" could Open
its rules and other materials without having to Open any of the core IP
of the "The Matrix" brand, which would be marked as Product Identity.
The OGL is not a Free license, and that places a limit on not only how
much brand value can be lost, but also on how much can be created and
returned. It is not a Free license because of its modularity and its
termination clauses based on mis-use of Product Identity. But it is
still the oldest and most successful example of a *hybrid* Open Content
The brand license is the d20 License. The d20 license allows any
company to use the "d20" logo on their role playing games and
supplements that use the d20 rules system if they meet various
- They have to release some of the work as OGL content.
- The have to advertise the PHB on the cover of the work.
- They cannot include the startup rules for the d20 system (so you need
PHB to get these).
The d20 license is not any sort of Free or Copyright license. It is a
value exchange or barter license: you give WotC some advertising, you
give the community some content, and you get to use WotC's brand in
The d20 and OGL licenses have created an explosion in third-party
content and driven WotC's sales. The (now ex-)WotC exec responsible for
the OGL, Ryan Dancey, claims it was written in part to protect D&D for
the community from events like its previous owners bankruptcy. But it
was also written to boost WotC's profits, working with the d20 license
to make as much of the Role Playing Game industry as possible a network
driving sales of the core D&D rulebook, the Player's handbook (PHB).
The OGL has succeeded admirably in both its community and commercial
aims. It is possibly a useful model for computer game modding or for
opening other systems where brand and content want to co-exist and
drive each others value.
Dancey on the OGL:
OGL and d20 site: http://www.wizards.com/default.asp?x=d20/welcome
D&D OGL Rules site:
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