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About Me





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  1. Both my company and Jerry Grayson's have D6 licenses that predate Eric Gibson buying WEG. We have BOTH gotten emails from Eric during his tenure saying our licenses are grandfathered in with no changes. What this means is that we both get to use the D6 trade mark, whether or not Eric releases the STL. I was also around in the industry during the beginning of the d20 OGL experiment, saw the bubble of 'fan produced' products, and saw how it collapsed the RPG market to lower sales volumes after the three tier model basically said 'fuck it; if it's not from a publisher I've heard of before, I'm not touching it.". I've been the developer of two OGL product lines with other publishers. I've run multiple OGL d20 games, I've played in more. I understand ENTIRELY why WoTC scrapped the OGL on D&D 4th. (Well, they couldn't invalidate it, but they could say, in essence, "If you want to do licensed products for D&D 4th, you must also renounce the OGL".) It's something I saw coming in 2004. So, I'm going to discuss the OGL, the GPL and Open Source Licenses. The Promise: The basic premise of the GPL license is that it's a license that ensures your right to tinker and modify the code of any project you download; that license also means any changes you release can be folded back into the project. In software development, where there doesn't have to be a physical distribution of CDs, this means that the cost to physically produce a product for sale is as close to zero as can be imagined. In software development, this means that 'with enough eyeballs all bugs are shallow' - you say "I am trying to solve a problem with parameters X, Y and Z" on your dev list, and good odds are, someone with a clever idea will send something to you that can be massaged in to fit; they may also send you a patch - you then integrate this into a distributed build, and there's an upstream improvement. There is a HELL of a lot of work on making SVN style version control repositories work for distributed software development. The Failure: Open Source software development is a great way to make bullet proof servers. To date, it has been a poor way to make customer-facing software geared to end users, in large part because the fun part of the project is writing the code. The part of the project that's like pulling your teeth with red hot pliers is quality assurance testing, usability testing and documentation - let alone chrome that makes things look pretty to the person who isn't a programmer. Those parts also cost money. The Perils of Publishing Writing a game engine, and even putting into beta testing, is the fun part. There's this buzz of shared creative energy, and it's a blast. Turning that game engine into a playable, salable product that doesn't require the designer to be there to explain stuff to you, that's where the *work* in RPG design comes in, and why publishing houses charge for games. Most projects have an 80/15/5 split. 85% of the work is fun, 15% of the work is tedious, 5% of the work is "Aaaaaairgh!" and gives you fantasies about killing people...and the time involved usually splits out to 30/30/40. That last 5% involves about as much time as the first 30%. Larger game publishers can spread the workload over multiple people, but in a 2-3 person company? It leads to burnout (as we saw with Eric.) Even worse, selling games USUALLY means selling a physical object; this means that upstream revisions don't automatically get folded back into the project. They get folded back in when the first print run has sold out, if there's time, and if the game developer wants to spend that last grotty 5% again. The Intersection of Open Development and Publishing Writing games is, fundamentally, writing procedures manuals that people read for fun. There are usually development cycles, open playtesting, closed playtesting and blind testing cycles to try and poke holes in all of the rules and get them fixed. More eyes in a development process are generally good. So that part of Open Development is beneficial to publishers. The problem is that the distribution costs of new versions for publishers are quite high. Shipping physical books costs more than shipping elegantly arranged electrons. Some publishers are basically abandoning the physical print book except as special case items - notice how SJ Games has basically turned GURPS into a two tier product line: Stuff you buy in stores, more stuff you buy from e23. Market Fragmentation and Trademark Dilution WoTC tried to have its cake and eat it with the OGL - they kept third party publishers from saying their products were D&D branded, but said they were d20 'compatible. This was meant to put their market in a pre-eminent position, and it was meant to hand off making a bunch of low-sales, high effort support products (like adventures) to third party publishers. Where it bit them in the ass was that there was no central gate keeper to ensure compatibility. There were specifications, and it would be stupid to make your 'd20' compatible game add 7 more stats and change the skill list - but that ultimately what happened was a lot of 3.5 splatbooks of Ever Increasing Power; it got to the point very quickly where the GMs of d20 games I was playing said "If it's not a WoTC product, I'm not considering it. Even if it IS a WoTC product, if it's not in the PHB or DMG, I reserve the right to say 'no' and make you rebuild your character." This also caused problems on the sales level; the first book on Gnomes could sell passably - the second (from a different publisher) would sell like crap - even if it was better designed. There was a huge incentive to push things to market as quickly as possible. Some companies thrived on that. Now that I've pointed out the perils of the swamp, my next post will cover my attempts to fix the problems with respect to D6.
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