When 4th edition D&D; was announced at Gen Con, the immediate question that publishers like GR asked was, “What’s going to happen with the Open Game and d20 Licenses?” There was a meeting that Friday night and we thought we’d be getting info from WotC then. Turns out they were looking for feedback from existing publishers and they did not yet know what they were going to do with the two licenses. A few things were clear coming out of that meeting. 4th edition would be released under the Open Game License and they wanted to create a new d20 logo that was more of a mark of the quality than the original became. However, WotC itself was not interested in any program that would involve oversight on their part. That would require staff work and it’s (understandably) not something they want to spend money on when the licenses themselves are free.
At the meeting I suggested that WotC might offload that approval work to the better 3rd party companies. The idea was that WotC create a new d20 logo and then pick the top 10 or so companies and give them the right to use it. Smaller companies could then approach the official d20 companies and try to make publishing deals. How those deals would work would of course be up to the companies involved, but I imagined something akin to Green Ronin’s deal with the Game Mechanics. This would essentially turn many of the smaller companies into design houses and the d20 companies would be the publishers. The point of this plan would be to prevent a second d20 glut and to ensure that products bearing the new d20 logo met some benchmarks for quality. WotC would probably want to review the list of d20 publishers every 12-18 months, adding companies that had proved themselves and dropping publishers that were doing a poor job.
The important safety valve to this entire plan is the Open Game License itself. The above process would be important only to those companies who wanted to use the new d20 logo. The OGL would continue to allow companies to publish what they wanted without restriction. Many people conflate the OGL and the d20 STL and they are different beasts. Mutants & Masterminds and True20 use only the OGL and do not bear the d20 logo at all. Changing the way the d20 STL worked would not change the OGL and publishers of any size would always have the latter as an option.
Yesterday news came out of the Lucca show in Italy that WotC was going to adopt a plan like this, referring to it as a “three tier” system. Scout Rouse, the man in charge of D&D; these days, quickly showed up on EN World to debunk this rumor. He says they won’t be using a three tier system. He’s previously said that the new license won’t use a fee structure either. I’m not sure what else WotC could do that would provide any kind of oversight at all. They can control the timing of a new d20 STL certainly. They might not allow any d20 products until the Fall, for example. I’m beginning to think though that in the end the new d20 STL will allow a free for all just like last time. I don’t think that’s a good idea.
Update: Well, over on EN World Scott Rouse has made a further clarification that is actually pretty big news for 3rd party publishers.
“There will be the OGL and Wizards D&D; products period. No d20 STL (tiered or otherwise) to be even more clear.”
So there will be no d20 logo at all. This means not only will there be a free for all, there will also be the added market confusion of a dozen or more new brands, as companies scramble to find their own way of indicating compatibility with the new edition. That is not awesome.