We live in amazing times and to be a gamer is awesome! The gaming hobby is still surging ahead at full steam as is evident by the rising number of game companies, conventions and games hitting the market as of late. The RPG industry is booming like never before and despite as great as it is to be a gamer in 2016, I would like to propose that on the RPG side of the hobby we are hurting ourselves, Let me explain.
Today, there are so many different and unique RPGs on the market, both at brick and mortar retailers and online through a variety of distribution sites. This is great and don’t get me wrong, there is literally something for everyone out there right now. No matter what your interest, someone is or has creating something that will scratch that itch. Unfortunately, some publishers have opened the flood gates with open gaming license (OGL) agreement that has introduced a world or crap material to the market. Not all content released under open gaming licensing from one publisher or another is crap; in fact, there is quite a bit of good quality content out there. Sadly, there is a far greater share of crap!
I understand publishers want fans to keep coming back to the well to get new official content (i.e. rulebooks and supplements), but some heavy hitters have bent to the cries of the fans for these open licenses. Fans want to create officially sanctioned content for a game they love and at its core that is awesome. What is not awesome is these licenses allow anyone to publish and make available anything without any sort of quality control. Take for example, the newish DMs Guild that was created for the new 5th edition Dungeons and Dragons. The plethora of content available through the guild is amazingly large, but little of it is actually quality material. There seems to be little consistency in terms of trade dress, formatting and layout that one might expect to find in any 5th edition product trying to seamlessly blend in with existing official content. Consumers have an expectation of what 5th edition D&D products (official or OGL) should look like from an aesthetics point of view. Combine the extensive amount of ill-conceived, poorly written and poorly edited open gaming content at the Guild and no unifying quality control and what you have is a glutton of crap to sift through looking for a few good nuggets.
I wholeheartedly support the content creation efforts of everyone, but I swear to God, if you’re going to write content make sure it is not crap! Yes, I know, everything is in the eye of the beholder (no pun intended), but just because you can type words in a document doesn’t make you a content creator. Even if the publishers themselves are not going to enforce quality standards, take pride in your work and playtest it! proofread it! and let others provide you feedback before putting it out for public consumption!
As a consumer, it is frustrating to sift through so much mediocre and crap content for a variety of systems that I play that I have almost completely sworn off OGL derived content. The Guild and other such sites rely on a rating system to separate the good from the bad so that more good content is purchased and the crap is relegated to the bottom of the list. The problem with these rating based systems is that new content is often overlooked because it doesn’t have any ratings. Additionally, the rating are most likely skewed anyways. If a content creator wants favorable ratings (even if the product sucks) they could, and I am sure many do, give copies to friends and those that will enter a high rating. So, as with many sites (Amazon, BGG, RPGG, etc.), ratings are generally useless. I know this is a side issue, but it is still relevant. I work hard for my money and I reluctant to take a gamble on OGL based products which almost always turn out to be crap. Although, when I do find a content creator that does release quality work, I tend to continue to come back to see what else they have done.
Bringing this back full circle, is it too much to ask the publishers of the games with the OGLs to set some modest standards for which any OGL (specific to their OGL) derived content must meet? Several companies come to mind that are already doing this. Burning Wheel HQ’s Torchbearer RPG and Savage Worlds both do a great job of standardizing trade dress and general overall product quality before it can be released and officially supported. These examples admittedly do not have nearly as wide open of an OGL, as say D&D or Cypher system does, but they are OGL nonetheless. Why do publishers not wish to ensure derived works for their systems meet some type of standards? I feel it would create better overall content that is in keeping with the standards of the game it was written for.
The long and the short is, this is both a content creator and OGL owner problem.