Sunday, October 12, 2008

Old-school Revival Part 2: D20 vs. OGL

There is a battle I've fought with a few other publishers, mostly behind the scenes in the now defunct RPGnow publisher message boards. I mentioned in passing in another post on the Old-school Revival that I felt that the fact that the D20 logo became meaningless was the fault of publishers. I'll explain what I mean by that, but let me back up a little bit.

When the Open Game License (OGL) and system reference documents (SRDs) were made available, Wizards of the Coast also created the "D20 System" license. They created the D20 trademark for 3rd party publishers to create supporting materials for D&D 3rd edition. There is a lot of confusion about a few things; frankly, confusion from some people who should know better. It may be semantics, but just to clarify, the "D20 System" at the start was not really a game in the sense that there is a game out there called D20; it is in reality a trademark without a system. It is only a trademark that worked as a proxy for D&D. What WotC essentially did was create a blanket between them and 3rd party publishers, creating a trademark (D20) that merely implied their more valued trademark (Dungeons and Dragons).

The OGL is a completely separate license, which grants the use of material designated open game content by users of that license. The OGL itself does not inherently use any game system. For example, one could theoretically use the Traveller SRD with the OGL, without ever having anything to do with the SRDs released by WotC (except that for some inexplicable reason Mongoose cites the WotC SRDs in the Traveller SRD, but that's another matter). So where am I heading with this?

There came a time when 3rd party publishers realized that dropping the D20 System trademark logo didn't affect sales one bit. In addition, the D20 System license prohibited a number of things, so people would not use it so that they could create content the D20 license prohibited. The kicker is that even though the D20 logo wasn't being used, publishers would still advertise products that used the OGL as being "D20." Also, products would be advertised as "D20/OGL" equating the two in the minds of consumers.

So where I am going is here: it's true that the D20 logo doesn't imply anything about the quality of a product, which is one area where publishers claimed the D20 logo was useless. But then again, the OGL doesn't imply anything about quality either, and people used the OGL as if it were a system logo, even creating "OGL" logos that served as proxy D20 logos. So the battle I currently fight is that I personally think publishers should stop presenting the "OGL" as if is the D20 system, and if they insist on creating a proxy logo they should create something more suggestive of the actual underlying system.

However, whenever I bring this up with publishers the main response I get is that the difference between D20 and the OGL is meaningless to consumers. My reply is that yes, that's because they are told over and over again by publishers that D20=OGL! Consumers are not going to know the difference until you start telling them there is a difference.

So if you've gotten this far you're probably wondering what the heck all of this has to do with the Old-school Revival. Granted, it only has a small connection, but here it is. For me, supporting old-school gaming and open gaming are closely connected. I want the OGL, when it is advertised on a product, to only have the implication that the product makes use of the open game license. IMHO, if the OGL has any connotations they should be surrounding open gaming in general, irrespective of game system. The OGL has become a powerful "symbol" and I think that taking it away from D&D would be a good thing. Besides, the reality is that the OGL will be used to support a number of systems completely unrelated to D&D, including Traveller and RuneQuest just to name a few. No matter what the original intentions of the OGL were, the fact is it has taken on a purpose of its own and will continue to live without the support of its creator.

When I place "OGL" on my products, I do it not to imply a system but to show support of open gaming in general.

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