Everyone appears set on abandoning D&D 5e, even WotC

The OGL is on its way out or will be mutating into a form that no one recognizes anymore. The army of 3rd party publishers and content creators began separating themselves from D&D once it became clear that the rumoured OGL changes were actually real. What happens next for all of those people that were creating content for D&D? In a manner of speaking, all those creatives making stuff 5e just take their money and walk away. Why do I see this on the gaming horizon?

My opinion is probably a bit different than other people’s perspectives. Looking at how WotC has chosen to handle the situation I’m not so sure it matters what happens with 5e. (I’ll develop that line of thought.) Yet, it’s fairly clear to me that the 3rd party publishers who have been using the OGL as the backbone of their business models have a different trajectory than WotC. The expectations about what the OGL was supposed to be and why really were really highlighted by the confrontation between fans and WotC. All of this left everyone with at least a lot of uncertainty. Some questions have been explicitly answered, and people appear set on moving on from D&D and WotC.

Paizo announced their own OGL that will be developed along with a host of other publishers. Kobold Press is currently playtesting their own OGL product codenamed “Project Black Flag”. WotC for its part has made a ton of material available using a Creative Commons license. I only add this last one because it’s a different path than the one WotC originally laid out for D&D, and it’s worth noting that 5e is now basically free to own in its entirety. This move is what altered my perspective on this copyright and publishing dispute.

There are many, many publishers out there that will be, or would have been impacted by the changes initially proposed by WotC/Hasbro. Those changes have been walked back, or at least altered. Regardless of WotC’s capitulations, most publishers appear to have looked at the situation and decided they’d carry on as if the licensing changes were going to happen anyway. A result of this dispute is that D&D is now probably seen as a little toxic in the TTRPG community.

The irony is that I think WotC is abandoning 5e just as much as 3rd party publishers are. Even despite the now infamous announcement about the OGL, there was already a murmur about the “next” edition of D&D called, One D&D. No one knows what that is yet, but with all the furor over the changes to the OGL publishing license, people are looking elsewhere.

The fact that D&D is now available as a creative commons product, essentially means that WotC is giving away everything except the art in the core product, and even some stuff beyond, I think this reveals a larger business plan for D&D. It’s almost like WotC has decided to abandon the vessel that is 5e, despite the fact they themselves ran the ship aground. Now, their capitulation is something like saying, “look at this amazing heap of debris that will one day be a beautiful coral reef. Isn’t it incredible? Everyone should be allowed to enjoy it freely.”

The company will continue to profit from all of the books that they’ve printed. That material will sell. D&D comfortably has fans, meaning paying customers to the WotC boardroom, numbering in the millions-maybe even in the tens of millions. That probably won’t change.

What has changed is the gaming landscape. People once reliant on WotC and D&D are now looking elsewhere and in large numbers. The irony is that WotC has also apparently moved on, from 5e. Walking away from the current edition won’t change anything for the next iteration of the so-called “world’s greatest role-playing game”. The real effect of all this will be on gaming at large.

As far as I can tell, what is the only real result from all of this is that the entire industry is undergoing “a great schism” of sorts. On one side will be D&D, sitting atop its dragon’s hoard content from over four decades. On the other side is the rest of the gaming industry. The rivals will glare at each other from across the distance, but a rift has been created. D&D will likely not be seen as part of the “real” RPG hobby, or at least in a significantly diminished capacity. It is a sort of gatekeeping, but it was brought about by WotC.

In the short term, very little will change in the hobby at large. Any RPG besides D&D has very little chance of being seen by people discovering the hobby. For a variety of reasons, this will stay the same. It’s the long-term effect that will be most interesting. Only time will tell, but unless all of the games that aren’t D&D can win gamers away from WotC’s ttrpg behemoth, it makes no difference what the outcome is from this split.

An important question for all those smaller publishers now is, “how can they compete with D&D for shelf space in stores?” Hobby and specialty stores will almost always have all the other games from smaller publishers. However, D&D occupies space at retailers like Target. Kids just wandering through the aisles with their parents will see a boxed set and not even know other products like it from other companies already exist.

Until this discrepancy can be addressed, it’s hard to see what will actually impact D&D in the short term. The absence of marketing budgets for smaller publishers means that many games often spread via word of mouth. With more people picking up those other products, it’ll be telling to see how D&D is promoted in the future with fewer people bringing it to the table. Stories about boxed sets passed on by older siblings are almost a rite of passage for many grognards that discovered gaming. Will those stories continue, but with other games? This is an example of the long-term effect that might change with people walking away from D&D.

Perhaps divide isn’t the correct term. Maybe what’s needed is to see this all more as the construction of a partition. WotC/D&D on one side, everyone else on the other, but one hobby. Thus, we have a split. Two concurrent factions moving parallel to one another. D&D remains the world’s most visible TTRPG, and then there’s a whole industry asking if people want to give gaming a try. From “6e” onward the entire gaming landscape has the potential to change fairly significantly. Regardless, it’s probably fair to say that 5e is the true casualty of the OGL controversy. Everyone looks to be set to move on from it.

The future is weird for gaming but exciting. I expect that there will be more initiatives to address finding ways to bring products to potential audiences. I expect that there will be cool new innovative products. I also expect that the number of people looking for a spot at a table will increase, as has been the case for a few decades now. Despite all the acrimony and frustration vented about the OGL, I don’t see many negatives on the horizon. That’s probably the best outcome of all. A bright future for just about everyone.





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