Image from Lil Artsy
In advance, I don’t have a dog in this fight, I do conventions, I make events for people to play games at, I don’t make RPG’s (at the moment), so when I see things like this, what I feel for are the people who make those games that I get people to play at my conventions.
D&D has been a big thing for a long time now, and when this first came through, a lot of people jumped on that wagon, and it was a good wagon to be on, the wheels rolled by themselves and you had access to millions of people instantly for whatever you were doing. For a while, D20 was the only horse in town, and while that’s subsided since then, the effect that having something like this available to games creators made, can’t be denied.
Things like this rarely get leaked without a reason for it, and there was no reason for Hasbro to want something like this to leak unless the waters were being tested to find out just how the community would react. Those of us in the community knew how it would react, it wasn’t rocket science. Saying that you’re going to restrict access to something that many have relied on for years, and furthermore, that you’re going to start charging people for using whatever you let them have.
Well, that was never going to go well, was it…?
Except someone somewhere must have thought that there was a possibility that it wasn’t going to go that way, and that can’t have been anyone in the community, not anyone who knows the community, which means it was someone high up who’s looking at the bottom line and realising just how much money can be made if you found a way to effectively put a tax on everything that comes out of your product going forwards.
I’m waiting for this to be walked back, I think there’ll be a lot of talk about how it was a draft and it was never intended for public release and a whole bunch of other statements along those lines, and when the final release gets put forwards, I’m sure that it’ll do something similar, but it won’t be anywhere near as draconian as this is. I’m sure there’ll still be a clause in there that says that Hasbro can make some money off it, and it’s their product, so there’s nothing that can be done with that. If there’d been no reaction, I believe that the version that was leaked would be the version that was true.
But the damage is done…
There won’t be trust anymore, even if Hasbro walk back the entire thing, leave everything as it is, and say that it’ll never happen again, there’ll never be another time where anyone puts all of their efforts into something using a system that someone else owns, not without contracts in place that can’t be broken because a company changes their minds. That in itself isn’t a bad thing, it’ll be harder for creators to put things out because there’s more work involved in creating a working system than most people understand, but there are still other systems out there with millions of people playing them, who won’t be doing something like this.
Will people enjoy playing those games just as much?
Actually, yes they will
If working the convention scene has shown me one thing, it’s that when people want to play games, they’ll find a way to play them. There were arguments when Pathfinder 1 went to Pathfinder 2, of course, but some used the new system, some said they’d never use Pathfinder 2 and just stayed with Pathfinder 1. This won’t be any different, and when you look at the massive number of systems out there that can play games just as well, and are freely available, there’ll still be things that people who don’t do systemworks can use.
I see submissions for all games every year, for every convention I work, and I see people flocking to them every time. Sure, more people offered adventures with 5th edition or some variant of OSR or OGL as the ruleset for the last few conventions, but it’s the scenario that draws people more than the system, as heretical as that might seem be.
And that’s the most important part of all of this…
As long as games companies are putting out superb content, people will want it. There’ll be less interest for games companies to use systems without ensuring that they’ve got it in writing that they can’t have it taken off them because someone in the head office changes the thinking, but those creatives who make those products are still there, and they’ll still be creating, even though the stat blocks will change.
As at least one FLGS has pointed out, 5th edition sells double the volume of anything else out there, and in part, that’s because you don’t have to learn a new system, and you can just go with the brilliant worldbuilding that was in those products. D&D got to the size it is now by the brilliance of allowing everyone to use it, flooding the market with product for that system and ensuring that everyone wanted to play using it. The D20 days were varied, for every excellent product that came out, there was a splat book that didn’t help anything, and in the height of its popularity, that ratio was nearer three to one in favour of the not good books. Would those books have come out if there hadn’t been an easily referenced rules book to work them with? Probably not.
What changed was around the mid 2000’s, when people started upping their game (no pun intended) to bring supplements of superior quality, and with that, everyone understood that the days of people just throwing out whatever they thought of that month were gone. What followed was a golden age of new products, new ideas, and new systems, and while there was still a lot of 5th in there, it was all superb, it had to be to lift it above the sheer volume of other products.
It's never a good time when corporations flex their legal muscles, particularly not in an industry as small as roleplaying, but I believe that this will just make the community stronger, and that together, we’ll go on to adventure in new places.
Whatever horse we’re riding…