I called it on my blog back in January. It’s not a verifiable fact yet, but Wizards of the Coast appears to be moving to push Third Party Publishers out of DMsGuild and onto D&D Beyond. Put your tinfoil hats on for this one. We have a whole lot to discuss.
Back in January of 2023 when WotC released the Dungeons & Dragons Open Game License 1.1, they destabilized much of the TTRPG industry and DMsGuild in particular. Why were 3PP concerned? Because many companies were afraid the 20+ year old Open Game License was going to be yanked out from under them. Entire product lines are built on that license. The DMsGuild has a separate but similar license, and no one wanted to put more money in the pocket of a company threatening to cause industry-wide unemployment.
People lost all faith in Wizards of the Coast in January. Faith that the company is struggling to regain with anyone who has been a hardcore D&D fan for longer than five years. Diehard long term fans see what WotC is doing. They disrespected us. They’ve been disrespecting us since 2022 or whenever they cooked up all of these insidious machinations to take over the TTRPG industry. WotC was likely nudged into action by Hasbro. WotC treats us like we’re dollar signs and sales waiting to happen and nothing more.
So, the OGL was in tatters, and some would say it still looks shaky despite CC-BY-4.0. Paizo and other major D20 game publishers have begun developing their own games and separate licensing agreements. Even famed Critical Role imprint Darrington Press has begun development on their own game. With all of this going on, the DMsGuild.com sales are beginning to slow.
Now WotC has announced their own platform on D&D Beyond. There is a solid chance we will see the DMsGuild merge with DDB or just dry up and blow away altogether. In turn, without one of their biggest money makers, OneBookShelf will likely fold and thus begins the collapse of the TTRPG industry in its entirety outside of Dungeons & Dragons.
I don’t think most TTRPG players realize the distinctions between DMsGuild and DriveThruRPG.com.
The two main differences are royalties and licensing. The DM’s Guild has its own special relationship with writers when it comes to money. In exchange for a chunk of the creator’s profits going to WotC, we get to use “official” D&D licensed settings, named monsters, certain characters, and other Intellectual Properties that would otherwise be unavailable. Between OneBookShelf and WotC, the writer’s cut is significantly less than just publishing on DriveThruRPG.com.
On the other hand, if one wants to publish on DriveThruRPG, it has to be generic fantasy and avoid all those named locations, monster, etc and stick strictly to the OGL or CC-BY-4.0. There’s also the added disadvantage to writers of having that big, shiny, ampersand backing your product to make it easily recognizable to a larger audience. So, better profits for the creator, less profits for WotC, but stick to the OGL. It’s perfect if one designs one’s own setting or even takes it to a different genre. It’s still 5E, just not labeled, “D&D.”
DM’s Guild makes magnitudes more money than DTRPG because of that big red ampersand. OneBookShelf relies more on DM’s Guild and Pathfinder Infinite than smaller creators on DTRPG to bring in the money. A lot of other independent games show up on DriveThruRPG, however they are distinctly not welcome on the DMsGuild because they’re not D&D or some older TSR/WotC property. 5E isn’t the only game in town, it’s just the one that makes the most noise.
As a long time DrivethruRPG.com customer, I’m really concerned about my favorite distributor.
My biggest fear is what happens to all of the companies who sell games that have nothing to do with D20 licensing who sell their pdfs and Print on Demand products on DriveThruRPG.com. If WotC absorbs DTRPG and DMsGuild into the fold of D&D Beyond, what happens to all of those independent publishers that aren’t D&D?
I see several things happening if DTRPG folds. I think bigger 3PP will survive on their own websites and other Virtual Tabletops besides Roll20. (Roll20 and OneBookShelf are the same company, btw.) Patreon members will likely experience an uptick in memberships. Itch.io is going to balloon up overnight. Maybe another platform will pick up a lot of the indie gaming crowd, but it will never be the same. WotC will basically have a stranglehold on the entire industry.
Yeah, it’s that gloomy. This may have been WotC’s plan from the very beginning. Destabilize the industry and cause chaos by kicking out one of our cornerstones- the OGL. Then announce a Third Party Platform on D&D Beyond and welcome all of the disenfranchised Content Creators back into the fold. This is followed by the dissolution of the DM’s Guild and possibly buying out OneBookShelf/Roll20 entirely.
Now WotC’s multimillion dollar VTT is the biggest show in town. Then all of the indie companies formerly doing business on DriveThruRPG either have to sell from WotC’s walled garden digital platform or take their chances on their own. The hobby pretty much becomes “One D&D” at that point. We might not have a lot of choices except keep track of dozens of different indie companies all over the Internet.
The grimmest component of this for D&D Content Creators is…
DMsGuild going away is probably a foregone conclusion at this point. Sorry. I cringe to think what this is going to do to the pdf market for D&D products of any kind. Imagine if WotC stops selling reprints of old products, too. Then it will really be “One D&D” because there won’t be a choice.
WotC already ignores most of the game content before Third Edition D&D. The only time they ever raid the vaults is to keep trademarks alive and bring back dead fish like Spelljammer to try to make a quick buck. Three books, 64 pages each, mostly art, little to no concrete rules on spaceships for a game set in space. Sorry, WotC, but that’s not a reprint I want to ever look at again. I worry for Planescape fans.
WotC doesn’t touch the old B/X, AD&D 1E or AD&D 2E unless they’re talking about nostalgia or their documentary coming up. They sell reprints, but those aren’t going to “monetize the players.” OG gamers aren’t going to want anything to do with the new VTT or any of WotC’s shenanigans and they know it. That’s why “Guys like me can’t leave soon enough for this hobby.” (*Don’t think I forgot that comment, Kyle. Yeah. Pretty sure that was exactly the context as intended.)
Wizards of the Coast in their greed and rush to make more profits has tried to extend the olive branch to streamers, Content Creators, YouTubers, and other social media influencers with massive clout. They’ve invited all of these very special people to their own Summit. WotC is practically begging for new fans right now and they’re trying desperately to play the social influence card to get them.
I wish I had better news. Some of us have been saying it since we “won” the big battle in January when WotC appeared to capitulate and throw the SRD 5.1 into Creative Commons. It’s never been over. Hasbro/WotC want to be the only show in town. They don’t care about the game. They care about the brand and all those profits.
I’m never going to give up.
I’ll still be here as long as I’m breathing and able to write. I’m not going anywhere. If WotC sucks up the whole damned industry and all games become D&D, I’ll still be the one guy writing a whole different game and running it in my basement if that’s what it takes. I’ve loved D&D since there was this company called “TSR.” I’ll still keep swinging for practically every ethical TTRPG in existence today if I have to.
I will not give up. I will keep on creating cool gaming content. I will keep writing about the industry.
I might be barking in the dark until the day “they” “finally haul me off, but I’m never going to stop calling it the way I see it. I’m a tabletop game master first and a conspiracy nut second. I’m never going to be afraid to make predictions based on what I see and what I know. Most importantly, I’m not going to shut up short of things getting litigious.
I have reached out to both OneBookShelf and Wizards of the Coast for Interviews. More on that if/when it becomes a reality. Honestly, I’m not holding my breath for WotC because I’m not big enough or influential enough. OBS might get back to me eventually. We’ll see.
Thanks for being here. To quote one of my favorite YouTubers, “Stay awake. Stay Aware. Stay safe and I’ll talk to you all soon.” (Jae Woodward, Woodward Entertainment.)