When Hasbro tried to extend its reach over Dungeons & Dragons, fans fought back
Leaked licensing update would claim ownership, demand royalties over some fanmade projects based on D&D
Fans of Dungeons & Dragons have taken aim at its parent company Hasbro following leaked documents that revealed its intention to restrict and take money from content creators of the popular tabletop roleplaying game.
"As soon as we hear about things that restrict our ability to create and share things that we're passionate about, that's when we get really concerned and really upset," said Monty Martin, co-host of the Toronto-based YouTube channel Dungeon Dudes.
"We're so fortunate to be able to do what we do. But the idea that we couldn't do it anymore really is frightening."
Since 2000, the game Dungeons & Dragons has had an open game licence. People have been able to create and sell additional content for the game, such as adventure books or other supplementary material, all royalty free.
Companies like Critical Role, a group of voice actors who have helped popularize the game, and publishing companies Kobold Press and Paizo, create adventure settings and stories that add to the game.
Dungeons & Dragons is bigger than the company that owns it. It's a culture that is shared by people in their living rooms.- Monty Martin
But a leaked agreement drafted by Wizards of the Coast, the Hasbro subsidiary that owns D&D, appears poised to adjust that license and restrict the ability of people to create, market and sell products based on the game.
The agreement would have given Wizards of the Coast ownership over any content made by third parties, and a large percentage of the profits from companies that earned more than $750,000 US (a little over $1 million Cdn).
"It is heartbreaking news for the community as a whole. And a lot of content creators, not just ourselves, but authors and designers and artists of all levels … are really worried about their livelihoods and their creations as well," said Martin.
D&D YouTuber Baron de Ropp, who runs the channel Dungeon Masterpiece, says he feels the same.
"It was upsetting because for the over 20 years the organization has been organizing and fostering third-party content for their game ... an entire cottage industry has been built on that trust," de Ropp told As It Happens host Nil Köksal.
He said the move shocked him and "I think everyone else in the [role-playing game] community."
Community push back
Fans, already used to battling powerful dragons or evil wizards on pen and paper, took the fight to the company's bottom line. Martin and many other fans unsubscribed from the website and game tool D&D Beyond, which is owned by Wizards of the Coast.
They also voiced their frustrations on social media using the hashtag #OpenDND.
In response, Wizards of the Coast appears to have taken a step back
According to a statement from Wizards of the Coast on website D&D Beyond last week, the company said it still intends to revise its open game licence, but claimed that disgruntled fans misunderstood the company's intentions.
The statement said their intention was to prevent anyone from creating hateful and discriminatory products or D&D-affiliated NFTs, and to make sure the open game license was for content creators and players, "not major corporations to use for their own commercial and promotional purpose."
"Driving these goals were two simple principles: (1) Our job is to be good stewards of the game, and (2) the OGL exists for the benefit of the fans," the statement read.
"It has become clear that it is no longer possible to fully achieve all three goals while still staying true to our principles."
The company says it will draft a new version of the open game license that won't include a royalty structure, and any material created by people such as the Dungeon Dudes will remain owned by the creator.
The CBC asked Wizards of the Coast for a comment, but it declined, instead pointing to its statement on D&D Beyond.
Fans' faith falters
De Ropp says he has lost trust in the company.
"I think at this point they've made it pretty clear that they have some ulterior motives," said de Ropp. "I don't think that they realized what kind of a blunder they were walking into."
De Ropp, who runs his channel out of Knoxville, Tenn., says he won't stop playing D&D — but he is worried about the future of the game.
"My concern is not necessarily for what I personally play. It's for children who are interested in the game and may find themselves in a walled garden and unable to explore all of the wonderful third-party content that has been published for the past 20 years," he said.
"The threat of having those licenses suddenly revoked calls into question the livelihood of many of the people who have supported this company and created content for their game for 20 years or more."
Martin and his co-host Kelly McLaughlin have been publishing weekly videos since 2017, and have turned the hobby into a full-time job.
With the help of a Kickstarter fundraising campaign, the two co-wrote an adventure book called Dungeons of Drakkenheim, which takes place in a universe of their own creation. They're currently working on another book, and it's that kind of work McLaughlin worries is at risk.
"Without knowing what the new document looks like or knowing when it will take effect, it's really hard to know exactly where a project is going to end up," said McLaughlin.
McLaughlin says he understands that Wizards of the Coast would want to make more money off a game that has seen a huge bump in popularity, but believes going after creators isn't the way to go.
"It's hard to say that they had our best interests in mind and there were definitely lots of other ways they could have approached this whole thing," he said.
Over the past week, the pair has discussed what the future of their channel might look like.
"Dungeons & Dragons is bigger than the company that owns it. Dungeons & Dragons is a hobby. It's a culture that is shared by people in their living rooms and kitchens and dining rooms," said Martin.
"Dungeons & Dragons only happens when people are playing it."
Interview with Baron de Ropp produced by Morgan Passi