Thursday, April 17, 2008

4e GSL

Word is spreading that the mythical Game System License (née OGL 2.0) for Dungeons & Dragons 4th edition will be released by WotC any day now. Look, WotC has even put up a press release about it. Of course, there are no details about the terms of the GSL or even when the GSL will be available. The only dates mentioned in the press release are when the 4e SRD will be available (June 6, 2008 -- the same day as the release of 4e) and the earliest on which 4e-compatible products may be sold (October 1, 2008).

So, basically, lots of people are getting excited about ... nothing. We must remember that WotC has already said that GSL will be released "soon" on several occasions, stretching all the way back to last Fall. Each time they failed to deliver anything and each time they returned to the scene they said something different than what they had said previously. One can be forgiven, I think, for believing that either WotC didn't actually know their own Open Game License very well and were scrambling to try and find a way to put the genie back in the bottle, so to speak, or else there was some kind of internal disagreement over the extent to which 4e should be open and how WotC should proceed, if at all.

Granted, a press release like this implies very strongly that the logjam has finally broken and something is about to be revealed. Exactly what is hard to say at this point. However, in the interests of honesty, I must admit that I am in fact surprised that WotC is following through with a GSL at all. I had previously predicted that there would be no GSL and on that point I seem likely to be proven wrong. Of course, the GSL still has not yet appeared; it's entirely possible that, press release or no, the license could still never materialize, in which case I'd be forced to say that WotC is simply incompetent. Likewise, it's also possible that the terms of the GSL will undercut the whole point of openness in the first place. From the link above, we already know that WotC plans to limit the kind of products one can produce under the GSL, although, in return, third parties are permitted to use a version of the D&D logo to denote compatibility with 4e, which is more than the 3e OGL ever permitted.

Still, the proof is in the pudding and I remain convinced that the terms of the GSL will be restrictive enough to make it only worthwhile if your business plans consist solely of being a support company for D&D, which is to say, writing adventure modules. Given that publishers are expected to "register" with WotC to be able to use the D&D logo, I think tighter restrictions are inevitable.

In the end, I think this is too little, too late. Paizo is already lost and the number of confirmed companies who will support 4e no matter what number (I think) two. I can't imagine many people will be jumping on the bandwagon this time around. It's another misstep by WotC in the roll-out for 4e that could have been avoided but wasn't.


  1. The more this goes on, the less likely any other outcome seems to me.

  2. Yes, indeed. I'm a firm believer in never chalking up to malice what can be more easily explained by incompetence. Still, the delays over the GSL seem a perfect storm to me. WotC gets the benefit of being able to say, "See, 4e is open" and can then point to the lack of interest in the GSL as support for their either discontinuing it later or otherwise sidelining it. I'll frankly be amazed if more than a handful of companies support 4e at all, but then who would blame them for not doing so?

  3. I didn't think there would be a GSL either. But, in the end I think that sharing a trademark for free is a generous thing. However, I wouldn't call it "open gaming." A trademark license is not equal to support of open gaming. The Open Game License is no longer being supported by WoTC, which I find disappointing. Nonetheless, the license carries on without them and will be supported by a number of publishers in the future.

  4. Re: Trademark license

    I must admit that I'm amazed that the GSL is free. I expected it to amount to a trademark license in the end, but I also expected it to require a fee, so, yes, I suppose WotC does deserve some kudos for that.

    Of course, I imagine that the terms of the GSL will be non-viral and restrictive. There won't be such a thing as "open content" under the GSL at all, so each publisher will exist in his own little world of support and can't draw on the pool of ideas others have created, which, for me, is the biggest success of the OGL/D20 STL.

    I might be wrong. I guess we'll have to wait and see. The fact that the GSL will still be covered by a NDA until June 6 makes me suspicious, though.

  5. Either embrace openness (because you understand it) or don't. This wishy-washy-ness appeases no one.

    It's OK to stand up & say, "After trying it, we're not convinced this whole OGL and d20L thing was worth it. The guy who championed it is long gone, so those of us in charge now are going to—hold on to your hat—do what we think is best. If you want to produce 4e-compatible products, come talk to us."

    That'd earn more respect from me.

  6. (Forgot to check notification of further replies.)