Sunday, September 04, 2005

The OGC Wiki Debacle

Two weeks ago, Mike Mearls made a post to his livejournal suggesting the implementation of an OGC Wiki containing "every scrap of open gaming content [he] can find." Since then, he has added only a second quick comment to say he's "reading comments, thinking, planning, and putting together some ideas." In the meantime, a lot of people have been having nothing short of a conniption over the idea of such an OGC Wiki being implemented. Discussion has been going on at EN World and at, though the thread at EN World has been closed due to flare-ups. Some publishers have warned/threatened to severely limit their OGC declarations if such a project were to get off the ground, and one (Ronin Arts) has already done so.

So what do I think about this whole bru-ha-ha? I think it's not worth even half the attention people have been giving it. The project, at least the idea of the project, is a good one; I would LOVE a place where I can go and check out what OGC is out there for X or Y application before I sit down to write and possibly end up wasting my time reinventing the wheel. Almost everyone, especially publishers, I think can agree with this. However, much like with communism, what looks good on paper does not necessarily translate well to reality, and I think this OGC Wiki will prove to be a good idea that never really works well. Oh, a lot of people will try, especially now that Mike Mearls has put his name (it remains to see if he'll put his weight behind it, too, in the form of his own OGC) behind such a project, but I don't think it will work out in the end.

One of the main problems such a project faces is the vagaries of the OGL. Sure, for products that give out 100% of the text as OGC this is no problem, but these aren't the products that are the main target of an OGC Wiki (IMO). It's products like Mearls' own Iron Heroes that are the ones with a big bullseye painted on them because of their convoluted and obfuscated OGC declarations. And you know what, I'd be the first in line to see the result after they are put through the grinder of an OGC Wiki. But for that to happen, the people involved in the project would need to be incredibly cognizant of the labyrinthine ways of these OGC declaration so that OGC can be pulled clean and without any PI attached that would compromise its usability, and (please pardon my skepticism) I don't think even Mike Mearls can do that for his own authored Iron Heroes, let alone for other Malhavoc products, or the rest of "crippled" OGC products in the market.

This OGC Wiki issue will have two end results that I can think of: one, OGC is pulled from products with convoluted OGC declarations, this OGC is still contaminated with PI and steps, including legal ones, are taken to shut down the wiki; or two, project participants give up trying to figure out the arcane formulas that these OGC declarations amount to, and simply start filling up the wiki with OGC from products with easy OGC declarations (can't get much easier than "100% of all text" or "all text in chapters X, Y, Z"), which then forces these publishers to restrict their OGC using the very arcane and convoluted formulas used by the indecipherable products, leading to a market where it becomes a bitch, at best, to get OGC from a product, and an eventual defeat of the whole concept of Open Gaming in the first place. Either one is possible, quite possibly both.

I think, however, that taking any action right now in the possibility that such a project would actually take off the ground is an alarmist knee-jerk reaction. I understand, sympathize and empathize with the desire to protect one's work, but all that's being done is punish people now for a threat that may or may not become true, one that I feel will fail even if it takes off the ground.

Please understand, I LOVE the ideals of the OGL and I am all for giving the most amount of information as OGC (my own products, for example, are pretty much all OGC--both crunch and fluff--except for a few terms here and there that I claim as PI) and I think that most other publishers fall into this camp. In essence we would be punished for our willingness to exalt the ideals of Open Gaming, but we really can't bitch because the possibility of someone doing exactly what the proponents of an OGC Wiki are saying they'll do is quite clearly implied in the OGL; we all knew it, and we all decided to use the OGL anyway. We may not like it (I certainly don't), but tough cookies, we signed off on it. What this means is that it's time for us publishers to be a little bit more selective of what we give out as OGC from now on, without getting into convoluted OGC declarations. Personally, I'll be looking at my future products with a sharper eye towards deciding what I declare as OGC and what not, though I cannot claim that I know exactly what I'll do yet.

The second thing I've learned from this issue is that it is time to start adding more than just crunch to products. This has been my belief from the start, and has shaped what I release and how I release it. There have been many times when I have wondered if I should switch to a more generic model where I just put out a barrage of short collections of crunchy stuff as it comes to mind, but I always end up deciding against it and sticking to my original concept for HMP, publishing rules along with story that ties it to a greater picture. Sure, I've opened up my story as well as my rules, as have many others, but perhaps that needs to change. We'll see.

This is not the first time that an OGC Wiki idea comes up, and even with Mike Mearls behind it, I don't think it will happen. Sure, some people will set sites up (some already have), and get started, but it will fizzle down and die in little time (if I am wrong, you have permission to come here and tell me how wrong I was). People need to take a step back and just see what happens before making any decisions. Perhaps it is, indeed, time to reevaluate the business model and make provisions for the future, but it is not the time for knee-jerk reactions. What OGC's out there is already out there and there's nothing we can do about it except trust people to be nice enough to not mess with our income (though I also think it is time people stop basing their businesses on the goodwill of people; if people are nice to you fine, but if they aren't and are playing legally, then tough - I don't like it any more than the next person, but it is a reality) while we evaluate the general situation and make plans for future products.

So, to summarize...
OGC Wiki - a lot of hot air that won't amount to anything in the long run. Good idea, but will remain that, an idea.
Overgenerous OGC Declarations - open for abuse by the very same license that allows their existence, and will slowly disappear.
Convoluted OGC Declarations - the reason why this new round of the OGC wiki idea has come up, a bane to the industry, would love to see them disappear (I just don't understand what is so difficult about the phrase "you must clearly indicate which portions of the work that you are distributing are Open Game Content" in point 8 of the OGL, unless you are playing around with the letter of the license and not the spirit, in which case I am just as guilty of placing my trust on the goodwill of people).
My actions - none at the moment, except watch closely what develops so I can make an informed decision, most likely will restrict somewhat my OGC in future products so as to protect my IP.

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