Today, Wizards of the Coast, who publish the Dungeons and Dragons line (among others), announced a new Open Game License(OGL) for publishers. What is an OGL? Well, the short of it, is that an OGL allows other publishers to use a game mechanic system to produce their own games, for their own profit. Typically, the rules for an OGL contract are publicly posted, so that other companies can decide what’s best for their business. Reasons for using the OGL license can range from less time investment (i.e. don’t have to playtest a “new” system) to marketing for an existing fan base.
Wizard’s new OGL license for 4th Edition rules is vastly different than the previously-released version. I feel that freelancers (artists included) should sit up and pay attention to these discussions because changes like this may affect workflow, payment, and publications. Even if you don’t ever plan on writing for this system or this industry, I feel that there is a lot we can learn from this situation, especially since there is more changes to come.
It seems like several people within the gaming industry are discussing the particulars of the agreement, but I feel that the most important part that any freelancer will need to know is that Wizards currently has a vested interest in every product that will be sold, published or distributed by anyone outside the company. As a freelancer, I feel you should keep that in the back of your mind. It’s too early to tell how this new license will be legally interpreted and implemented; however, if I were going to write for 4th Edition I would approach with caution.
Whenever a third party has an interest in a product, it’s akin to working for a “licensed” project. Licensed projects, while they can be fun, can sometimes drag on for months due to disagreements. Sometimes, they get canceled and other times, they get stuck on the shelf, never to see the light of day. That’s not to say that there isn’t a fair amount of products that do get published; it just means that the workflow can be slowed down because someone else (that the freelancer doesn’t typically come into contact with) is part of the project.
So if you here a lot of things about contracts and licensing related to 4E or any other system, don’t hesitate to ask the publisher directly about what the scope of your new involvement will be. Rumors and conjecture will only go so far, but I feel that you do need to arm yourself with knowledge.