Maybe I just have a different perspective than other publishers given my somewhat unwavering support for 4th Edition D&D when most other publishers jumped ship. Regardless of any information I may have which others lack, it wouldn’t have changed Dias Ex Machina’s stance of supporting every edition of Dungeons & Dragons when it comes available. Wizards of the Coast released the GSL in 2008 not to steal rival IPs or shut down competing 3rd party publishers; they did it to prevent a saturation of products like which occurred with 3rd Edition, to prevent someone from making money off the OGL without contributing original content, and to prevent products being released of low quality or of a controversial nature.
The problem occurred because the GSL wasn’t written correctly, leaving holes up to interpretation resulting in the knee-jerk reactions that occurred after the release of the license. Many people claim the GSL was the direct catalyst for the creation Pathfinder, but the truth was Paizo started developing it before 4th Edition had even been released. Yes, there were problems within WOTC. They promised a developer kit for 3rd party publishers in January of 2008 and failed to deliver. They then went quiet for months, unable or unwilling to communicate the state of the rules. This forced several companies to quickly develop alternate plans.
Some companies, like Goodman Games, remained with D&D, a fact I obviously appreciate because it led to our agreement and eventual release of Amethyst Foundations. Many people believe it was the exclusion of online use in the GSL which caused the greatest fissure, and I think that’s a valid argument. I just don’t know how much it was a deciding factor with the majority of publishers. But WOTC was willing to compromise given the amendment made to GSL months later. Unfortunately by then, few people cared. Companies were unwilling to come back, many having already partnered with competition. Pathfinder enjoyed a considerable boost, and WOTC was aware of the market share they lost to Paizo business model, which included many of the things I asked WOTC to implement in my infamous OPEN LETTER TO WOTC some years back.
Rules released under OGL, an online storefront, recognition of 3rd party companies, these are all attributes of the social nature of Paizo’s marketing strategy, one which is extremely popular in today global culture. WOTC has been slowly trying to recover this reputation and their open nature to 5th Edition rules, including their policy regarding playtesting, proves it. But let’s look at the current situation. Pathfinder no longer controls the 3rd party landscape. Evil Hat, Pinnacle, and Pelgrane have all staked claim to their own patch. For 3rd Party publishers like DEM who don’t create their own rule systems, it can be difficult to gauge which system to support, signified dramatically by our (SUCCESSFUL) Kickstarter which includes books for every rule system I’ve mentioned. If there was one undisputed dominant system, we wouldn’t have to worry, just like 3rd edition 10 years ago. That’s not to say supporting these smaller rules systems is a waste; it’s honestly easy for POD publishers like DEM to reprint the same artwork for duplicate books, but we all have to admit it was better when there was only one or two.
Although cautious voices plan to step back and wait, it’s not an approach sympathetic with good business. Simply put, if WOTC does release D&D Next under OGL (or even a GSL which offers considerably more freedom than the last one), 3rd party companies are in the right to flock under the umbrella of Wizards of the Coast. Those who don’t will quickly find themselves rained on. This is why I felt an OGL was obvious, why I don’t think its big news that a rumor was leaked indicating 5th Edition D&D was going that route. It isn’t a realization, more a confirmation. Like when we first starting finding hundreds of new planets and the search continued to find one which could contain life. Truthfully, that second one shouldn’t have been a big surprise after that initial bombshell. WOTC is creating 5th Edition, awesome, and it’s supporting 3rd party. Yeah, I kinda figured that. The whale is about to re-enter the stage and allowing/supporting 3rd party publishers is the best way to do retake a market share they once dominated. Paizo perfected a model already proven by WOTC.
Could WOTC double back and cancel 3rd Party support? Sure, if they’re stupid, and that would reversing a path they’ve already dropped clues about given the open playtesting. And people I know love D&D Next. My group has been testing a new setting employing it, and we think it’s great. We can’t wait to convert Amethyst to it. But even if the rules don’t fall under OGL, and we have another license like the GSL, DEM will still be there. Even if no license exists at all, there are still ways to publish the rules using the previous OGL as a roadmap. It can be done.
Does WOTC need 3rd Party Publishers? No. Do we need them? Yes. Can we make a license that is mutually beneficial which profits everybody? Absolutely. And everybody includes…well…everybody. 3rd party products aid in market penetration. They make competitors allies promoting products instead of competing with them. And if someone thinks WOTC doesn’t need 3rd party publishers to push the envelope of what can be done with their rules, that they covered every corner and turned every stone with 4th Edition so 3rd party publishers didn’t have to, then you should take a look at DEM’s most successful product, Ultramodern4. One thing I will gloat is that DEM did things with 4th Edition that no one else tried. With Apex, we added superheroes. We’re not even done messing with it yet. 3rd Party Publisher can absolutely contribute to the landscape of 5th Edition in ways the 1st party can’t even conceive.
Yes, DEM is apparently the first 3rd party company to announce support for 5th Edition. I think what’s important is, why isn’t everyone?