Like the comic-book evil villain, Hasbro is blind to the obvious - that this latest fiasco is not only bad for it’s customers - it’s also bad business.
Back in the early 2000s, Wizards of the Coast was the saviour of a declining company that had a niche product played by geeky kids in their basements. In stark contrast to both the founders and the dying TSR company, they stopped the arguments over rights and uses, and created the OGL - an Open Gaming License that along with a System Reference Document (the SRD), would allow 3rd party creators to create content using the game’s rules, without licensing costs, as long as they played by some rules. This move ushered in a new era and 3rd party products exploded onto the market, all using the D20 rulesystem as it became known.
Fast forward to 2023, and Dungeons and Dragons is more popular than it has ever been - mainstream media references abound in shows such as “Stranger Things”, “The Big Bang Theory” and Youtube has acts such as “Critical Role” exploding in popularity. Dungeons and Dragons has a whole new audience of young people. Then Hasbro decide that they aren’t making enough money from D&D. Enter the “new” OGL. Licensing revenue from anyone making money from their product. Ownership by Hasbro for any content created using the OGL. Suddenly, every piece of content - from Critical Role, to Goodman Games’ modules, even TikToks and parodies could have to pay Hasbro royalties for content they created. The people and companies that helped popularise D&D in the first place, would now have to pay Hasbro to continue doing so.
As one might expect, people responded. Angry rants blew up all over social media, and Hasbro basically said “we didn’t mean what you think we meant”. Then thousands of people dropped their D&D Beyond subscriptions. Then Hasbro said “we will take it back, no one will have to pay to use the new OGL”. Oh, and “We are sorry you misunderstood us”. Yeah, about that. We did not misunderstand you. Your own people warned you that this wasn’t a good move. Initial signs were that this was not going over well. You literally waited until this started to hurt financially before giving a “sorry not sorry”.
This will go down in history as a teaching moment for would be CEOs. Take a product at the peak of it’s success, and reverse the decision on the one thing that really helped propel it to that popularity in the first place, and hurt all the people who helped you get it there. All so you could theoretically glean some dollars from the people who (unpaid) are your best salespeople.
Look, I am not a socialist who believes all corporations are evil. I understand Hasbro has to make money. I know it’s difficult to run a business, especially one with such demanding and savvy customers. Especially with a product that is relatively easy to enjoy without spending a ton of money. I buy the books, usually all of them as they come out. I am a fan, and I run games several times a week and have done for many, many years. I want the companies to succeed. To be healthy and creative and produce new and compelling products. However, it doesn’t matter if the original OGL legally allows Hasbro to pull the rug out from people who have hinged their livelihoods on the original license terms. It’s the wrong thing to do. It’s also a bad business decision. These small companies who are affected can barely stay afloat already. They will either fold or try to support another product with a better license deal. The biggest companies in the space have already announced their own licence and are moving to fill the space being vacated.
Even if Hasbro cops a “mea culpa” and completely backs down now, the damage has been done. Companies big and small in the space will be reluctant to produce content on the license going forward, now they know that Hasbro cannot be trusted.
I believe the landscape has changed. We are entering a new era in TTRPGs (and VTTRPGs). The game that Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson created is now the property of it’s legions of fans and the companies that serve them best. The only way forward for companies in this space is to recognise that fact, and act consistently with that realisation.