Subscribe to the Layer newsletter

Get the latest from the world of licensed IP in games. Subscribe to the Layer newsletter.

Fantastic! Thanks for signing up!
Oops! Something went wrong, please try again.
🎉 We’re excited to announce our partnership with Sanlo - making $200M available for developers to finance IP licensing! 🎉    Read more.
Brands and IP licensors
About Us
Log in

What does Wizard of the Coast’s Open Games License fiasco tell us about their commercial strategy?

Industry Commentary

It’s been a difficult month for Wizards of the Coast, the American publisher of fantasy and science fiction games best known for Dungeons & Dragons and the TCG Magic: The Gathering, after it announced changes to its Open Game License. The backlash from D&D fans has been significant that the publisher has been forced to backstep, so what was it about the proposed changes that caused so much of an outcry? 

If you’re unfamiliar with the Open Game License, it's a public copyright license by WOTC allowing tabletop RPG game developers and publishers to essentially create homebrew Dungeons and Dragons content, such as new adventures, game scenarios and settings. 

Changes to this license were leaked by Gizmodo at the beginning of January, with the new changes imposing restrictions on companies recreating D&D content under the OGL. Anyone making revenue of over $50k from the license would need to report their figures, while anyone making over $750k (roughly 20 companies) would need to pay a revenue share. 

The community responded with backlash, and WOTC has released a statement apologizing for “getting it wrong” while promising to be more transparent about future changes, sharing new proposed OGL documentation for review and feedback from the community. 

As everything we’re talking about here relates to tabletop gaming, let’s bring this back to video games and look at what the proposed changes might reveal about WOTC’s gaming strategy. 

At the beginning of January, a new report from Bloomberg suggested that WOTC had cancelled the development of five video game projects, scaling back its ambitions in the video game industry. 

The report doesn’t make clear which projects have been cancelled, but this doesn’t mean that WOTC has given up on its digital gaming strategy. As the success of Marvel Snap, Hearthstone, and countless Yu-Gi-Oh games have proven, TCG video games are here to stay and only getting more popular. 

What’s interesting is that, despite the huge brand credibility of Dungeons and Dragons and Magic: The Gathering, WOTC has failed to release a digital game that’s been met with similar levels of success to Marvel Snap. 

As the OGL doesn’t include digital gaming products and we know that an ambitious open-world Dungeons and Dragons game is still in the early stages of development, it’s likely that WOTC has stripped back its video game production so it can focus on creating projects that have the best chances of succeeding in a competitive marketplace. 

We believe there’s a fantastic opportunity in the gaming market for WOTC to create a gaming experience that focuses on user-generated content first and foremost. Earlier this year, we covered the partnership between Lionsgate and the story-telling platform, Dorian, where creators could use the Dorian platform to create their own stories inspired by the Blair Witch franchise universe. 

While we’re not suggesting that WOTC expands its OGL to include full freedom of digital video games (that would be commercial stupidity), we do wonder if there’s a way for the publisher to test the water by pushing its IP into new formats through smaller partnerships (perhaps limited-time collaborations in the mobile space?). 

After all, D&D’s main character is the player itself. The possibilities with this IP are endless and it’ll be exciting to see what can happen if someone finds the perfect formula for a video game – whether that’s WOTC, a partner studio, or an indie. 


Read the episode transcript here

Get the latest from the world of licensed IP in games.
Subscribe to the Layer newsletter.

Thank you! Your submission has been received!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.