View Full Version : Re: GSL

2008-06-19, 01:32 AM
I just posted this on my blog (http://www.thealexandrian.net), but I feel like sharing.


As some of you may already know, Wizards of the Coast has decided to stop supporting the Open Gaming License (OGL) with the release of 4th Edition. Instead, for many months now, they have been promising to unveil the Game System License (GSL). They were originally planning to roll the GSL out early this year and charge early adopters who wanted to release products in time for GenCon $5,000.

This was a marked contrast to WotC's approach in 2000, when they eagerly sought out companies like Atlas Game and Green Ronin to have products available at GenCon when the 3rd Edition Player's Handbook was first released. Those products -- Three Days to Kill and Death in Freeport -- created huge amounts of buzz for the new edition.

Ultimately, the $5,000 money grab proved irrelevant because WotC couldn't get their ducks in a row. As a result, when the GSL was finally released to the public this week, everyone was given the same starting date: October 1st, 2008.

We have known for a long time now that the GSL was going to be deliberately more restrictive than the OGL. WotC considers the OGL to be a failure. With 4th Edition, the only material they want produced is supplemental material which feeds directly back into the sales of their core rulebooks.

The announcement of 4th Edition put a freeze on the development of my own personal company, Dream Machine Productions (http://www.thealexandrian.net/dreammachine/index.html). Until it became clearer what 4th Edition was going to be, it was difficult to make any meaningful decisions. And, since my company was young, I had the luxury of simply waiting until I could make an informed decision.

My trepidation over the 4th Edition rules have grown over the past several months, but -- in the end -- I had come to the decision that I would playtest Keep on the Shadowfell and make a final decision pending that experience. Honestly, I thought it quite likely that -- if nothing else -- I would be publishing The Slave Lords as a 4th Edition adventure path.

However, the GSL (http://www.wizards.com/d20/files/GSL_20080617.pdf) has now been released and those plans are shifting once again. This license is, frankly, completely unacceptable. The most problematic sections are these:

6.1 OGL Product Conversion. If Licensee has entered into the “Open Gaming License version 1.0” with Wizards (“OGL”), and Licensee has previously published a product under the OGL (each an “OGL Product”), Licensee may publish a Licensed Product subject to this License that features the same or similar title, product line trademark, or contents as such OGL Product (each such OGL Product, a “Converted OGL Product”, and each such Licensed Product, a “Conversion”). Upon the first publication date of a Conversion, Licensee will cease all manufacturing and publication of the corresponding Converted OGL Product and all other OGL Products which are part of the same product line as the Converted OGL Product, as reasonably determined by Wizards (“Converted OGL Product Line”). Licensee explicitly agrees that it will not thereafter manufacture or publish any portion of the Converted OGL Product Line, or any products that would be considered part of a Converted OGL Product Line (as reasonably determined by Wizards) pursuant to the OGL. Licensee may continue to distribute and sell-off all remaining physical inventory of a Converted OGL Product Line after the corresponding Conversion is published, but will, as of such date, cease all publication, distribution and sale (and ensure that third party affiliates of Licensee cease their publication, distribution and sale) of any element of a Converted OGL Product Line in any electronic downloadable format. For the avoidance of doubt, (a) any OGL Product that is not part of a Converted OGL Product Line may continue to be manufactured, published, sold and distributed pursuant to the OGL; and (b) this Section 6.1 will survive termination of this Agreement.

That's a thick bundle of legalese, but what it boils down to is that, if you publish a product under the GSL, you cannot publish (or continue to publish) the same product under the OGL. Nor can any other product in the same product line be published (or continue to be published) under the OGL.

This, in itself, would be okay. The problem is that WotC sets itself up as the sole arbitrator of what constitutes a "similar title" or "similar product line". This means, ultimately, that once you publish anything under the GSL, you have explicitly given WotC the legal authority to prevent you from publishing any OGL product.

11.1 Termination. This License and the rights granted hereunder will terminate automatically upon written notice to Licensee or upon posting on its website of a termination of the GSL as applied to all licensees.


11.3 Effect of Termination. Upon termination, Licensee will immediately cease all use of the Licensed Materials and will destroy all inventory and marketing materials in Licensee’s possession bearing the Compatibility Logo. Licensee will remove the Compatibility Logo from all advertising, web sites, and other materials. Licensee will solely bear all costs related to carrying out this provision (in addition to any other provision) of the License. Wizards may, in its sole discretion and upon written agreement between Wizards and Licensee, extend this License for those Licensed Products that otherwise comply with the terms of this License.

And then there are these clauses, which are fairly straight-forward: WotC can terminate the GSL at their whim. And, when they do so, you are legally required to immediately destroy all of your GSL products.

However, and this is important, section 6.1 survives the termination of the license.

This means that, once you accept the GSL, you have given WotC the ability to immediately shut down your OGL and GSL product lines in their entirety. The entire license is a giant poison pill -- just as many people (including myself) were predicting months ago.

The counter-argument can be made -- and will be made -- that WotC are all a bunch of really swell guys and they would never use their powers for evil. In fact, this counter-argument has already been made many times over in many different places across the internet.

But it doesn't really matter whether they're currently planning to use their "if you accept this license we can immediately order you stop publishing all OGL and GSL products at our whim" powers in a malicious fashion. The point is that, by accepting the license, you're giving them those powers. And if you're actually in this business -- i.e., you've got money on the line -- then you can't afford to just ignore that. You have to take it into meaningful consideration and make an informed choice.

And if you're making that decision based on your belief that the guys down at WotC are a swell bunch of guys who would never screw you over... Well, frankly, you're a fool. Because even if those guys are all swell, they could all be fired tomorrow.

If you're making this decision, then there's really only one question you need to ask: If WotC decided, at any time, to terminate my ability to publish all OGL and GSL products, would I be OK with that?

If you're OK with that, then you're golden. If you're not, then you shouldn't be using the GSL.

Personally, there's no way that I could ever do business in that environment. I will not be developing under the GSL. I will not swallow the poison pill.

So what lies ahead for Dream Machine Productions? A good question.

For right now, I can tell you that the City Supplements (http://www.thealexandrian.net/dreammachine/roleplaying/city-supplements.html) will be continuing, although I will probably be moving them in a more systems-neutral direction. (They were not particularly stat-heavy to begin with, and I don't see any reason not to make them as appealing as possible for fans of both editions.)

I am also currently waiting for an artist to return a signed contract. As soon as I've got that in hand, I'll be making a major announcement. All I can say of that for right now is: