This is an open letter to Wizards of the Coast in a bid to stave off the flight of GSL companies and promote an atmosphere of mutualism to better all parties.
I’ll attempt to word this letter in a fashion that promotes compromise and expresses my understanding of the situation. It starts with the declaration that Wizards of the Coast are not obliged to follow anything mentioned here. They don’t owe anyone, and I am neither demanding action nor contending that what I request must be followed. I am suggesting a course of action that will benefit all parties involved.
On Friday, February 25th, I received a phone call from a writer experienced in 4th Edition wishing to produce his product. He had previously been tied to another major publisher that had recently dropped its 4th Edition lineup in favor of Paizo’s Pathfinder which they claim had been growing in sales to the extent of surpassing their 4th Edition products. This is not an isolated incident but only the latest symptom, following in the wake of similar announcements from Mongoose and Goodman Games. For all intents and purposes, despite declarations from fanboys on both sides about whether Pathfinder or D&D is the better seller, it is now glaringly obvious that from the 3rd party publisher outlook, the winner has been decided.
This wasn’t always the case. It’s important to mention that I am not threatening to cut my ties with the mother company. If DEM fails to make an impression with its 4th Edition lineup, we won’t be abandoning it in favor of Pathfinder. Most likely, if our 4th Edition products prove to disappoint, it may be the end of products from the DEM universe. This is not a threat; it’s simple fact of life and investment. Dias Ex Machina made its name with 4th Edition D&D. We already created an Amethyst 3.5 in 2008. We switched it to follow 4th Edition; stepping back to 3.75 feels…exactly that.
I am offering suggestions to make the 4th Edition D&D multiverse a welcoming place for 3rd party publishers, most involving D&D’s online presence. This is not like the days of the OGL, where companies could access and copy the entire rules system, a la Linux. Third party companies need to reference original WOTC products. This encourages sales. Additionally, more 3rd party products increase D&D penetration in the marketplace. It may not be a significant increase, but the investment is negligible, making a return virtually guaranteed. You wouldn’t even have to offer these to every publisher, only to those you believe have reached a certain level of quality—perhaps companies that are producing truly original products over those only offering variations on elements already created.
It’s important to know that 3rd party companies can keep up with the pace if you dare them to. Changing the rules through an errata is not as damaging as you might think. As a metaphor, I would offer that a 3rd party product (at least Amethyst) was a car using WOTC roads. WOTC can change the laws and the limits, where and how fast you can go, but we don’t have to rebuild our car. The problem is WOTC uses an express lane and refuses to open to those following them.
So here are my proposals:
TALK ABOUT US
Simply put, with the many blogs and official press releases WOTC issues, reserve a section to mention the products being released by third-party companies. This could include the many newsletters and online articles dealing official WOTC products. This would not be a one-time occurrence but a recurring practice so that players will know these products and companies are ever-present in the community. Currently, WOTC has a single page mentioning 3rd party companies and one forum group called GSL. We would like something prevalent and dedicated one blogger a week, one page in a newsletter, maybe even space in an issue of Dragon. You would be surprised the amount of free content 3rd party publishers would offer in exchange for a bit of free advertising.
In the many products released by WOTC, they put aside space for advertisements. Although you would imagine costs would be astronomical, offering a discount or a single gratis communal page dedicated to everyone (like those small market advertisers at the back of a Road & Track) could work wonders. Banner ads on the website would never come to pass, but allowing some advertisement, side by side with D&D, could muster up considerable leverage in convincing third-party companies that they are under your umbrella, not standing beside you in the rain.
Although there are perhaps dozens of products that may not reach your level of quality, if one does come about, acknowledge them. Perhaps even special awards dedicated to only 3rd party products. You could offer accolades for artwork, layout, writing and originality. You won’t even need to make plaques; a simple GIF would suffice.
File this under improbable, but opening an online store is something Wizards still insists on not creating. They offer DDI as the compromise. But selling 3rd party PDFs via the official Wizard site would not only promote our products but also offer revenue for WOTC. If you think this is unprecedented, it is important to know that Amethyst Foundations (a 4th Edition 3rd party book) is available for sale (and does sell) on Paizo’s online store. If Paizo can sell a 3rd party D&D product, why won’t the creators of D&D. There is revenue there to be had.
The DDI is the single biggest feature that sets 4th Edition apart from the rest of the RPG community, allowing up-to-date content a finger-tap away. Trying to get 3rd party content into Character Builder has been a poster-protest since the debut of the controversial application, something that WOTC has never been receptive to. They have come close, with the frank answer being that even though they are not against the idea, WOTC is not sure how to implement it. Meaning they could if they spent a large amount of money on programmers to enable the system and still keep it secure…ergo, they won’t do it. I am not talking about Character Builder; however, I am talking about all the other aspects of DDI, the exclusive content. Allow 3rd party products to post artwork, classes, and monsters. It would be part of DDI content and showcase the products offered by 3rd party companies.
TALK TO US
The last proposal is to keep us 3rd party companies in the loop. With the exception of the first GSL license update, there has not been a single email sent mass to the companies signed under the GSL. There has been no attempt to keep them—us—informed of future products and changes in the rule structure. We are not told about rule updates until after they have gone up. We had no warning about the potential rule changes coming with Essentials. We are not made aware of the coming products; if we were, we could make an effort to support those very same product lines.
As long as you require, by word of GSL, to reference your products without copying information within them, then consumers must own those books to use ours. It’s a symbiotic relationship, not unlike the clownfish swimming around an anemone. All we’re asking is to open that umbrella just a teeny bit more to allow us the same protection, show us that we’re connected, not holding on for dear life.
Hoping and Optimistic (as they are different)
Dias Ex Machina Games