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Author Topic: Open Licenses and Indie Games  (Read 10506 times)
Tav_Behemoth
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« on: August 23, 2004, 05:57:57 PM »

Ron asked me to expand on some stuff I was saying at Gen Con about open licenses. In doing so I'm going to try to navigate between the Scylla of being sleepless and braindead right now, and the Charybdis of being about to take on a work assignment that won't leave me much time to post about it later. I may well be wrecked on the rocks of metaphor (like my earlier thread about d20 as DJ culture), so give me some leeway and help me out when it comes to making sense!

1. Licenses:
1a- Some indie designers (e.g., Clinton R. Nixon) have begun to release their RPGs using open or "copyleft" licenses. I think this is a Good Thing.
1b- The licenses used most often for this purposes are those created by Creative Commons. I think one or another of these are good licenses for this purpose.
1c- The most important open licensed RPG is D&D. Its adoption of open-source methods at the turn of the millenium was truly revolutionary and is, IMHO, one of the two or three main reasons to be involved with D&D.
1d- D&D is open under the Open Gaming License. This is not a good license to use unless you need to work with material that's already released using the OGL (i.e., is more D&D/d20 specific than rolling a twenty-sided dice to hit and having Strength as an attribute), for a variety of reasons.

2. Why Go Open Source?
2a - A Strong Commitment to Mutualism. (I recently saw a post in which Ron used the terms mutualist vs. isolationist to describe game publishing/design strategies; hopefully I'm using the terms properly). Using an open license forces you to adopt a strong mutualism; you cannot control who does what with your creation.
     Let me interject here that one of the big problems with the OGL as compared to Creative Commons licenses is that the OGL discourages certain kinds of mutualism, insofar as it requires you to get permission to use trademarks like a company name or product title. So you normally can't say "Hey, if you like this dice pool mechanic, check out Book X by Publisher Y, since that's where I took it from." So you can borrow without permission, but not acknowledge your source. Having been trained as a scientist, a field where citation is all-important, I believe this restriction on mutualism was a terrible idea. Masters and Minions uses a limited license that rides on top of the OGL to say "if you borrow something we created, it's OK for you to use our trademarks in order to say you got it from us".

2b - Kit-Bashing Available Parts. This is the main reason we went OGL with Masters and Minions; we wanted to play with other people's toys (like Gygax's stirge), which had been made available to the sandbox through the Open Gaming License. We then got our heads around the implications: what we make has to stay in the sandbox where other kids can do what they like with it. I  find this liberating, but it may run contrary to those strains of the indie spirit which emphazise ideological purity and maintaining control of one's creations.

2c - Power in Numbers. Design by committee is bad, but refinement by evolutionary process is good. One of the things that running the Masters and Minions tournament really drives home is that if you stick to the core D&D rules, different types of characters will be balanced against one another across a huge range of power levels. It took lots of playtesting to make this happen, which was part of Wizards' cost in developing the third edition. Releasing stuff as open content allows you to let the community do the developing in a free Darwinian way. In an ideal open system, content which gets picked up and re-used has been tested and found sound; that which does not spread beyond its original source is probably unsound. Participating in this process leads to better games, both those you design (as you snap up highly-evolved elements) and those that descend from yours.

3. Popularity and Open Games
3a - The constellation of play centered around d20/D&D represents the major use of open gaming licenses.
3b - D&D is the self-pronounced world's most popular roleplaying game.

The relationship between these is complex; it might be said that D&D had to become open because it was so popular that it approached monolithicity. What I want to argue is that using open licenses necessarily requires an embrace of popularity. Here's why:

3c - Those elements which appeal to the most people will be those which are likely to be most widely adopted. The state of actual play will tend towards a common demoninator. (The evolutionary component may or may not make this the lowest common denominator, depending on how you define your terms).
3d - The power of an open license depends on its adoption by many users. Games which are meant for mass audiences are will benefit most from open source, since there are more users in the system who can drive the evolutionary process. (Note, however, that these users could be widely distributed in time: an open license game could evolve across generations of devoted cult gamers as well as a few years of mass-market use).

4. Is An Open License Necessary for Indie Games?
     No. Current law says that individual game rules are not copyrightable (and that trademarks can be used to express compatible). All that dissuades Behemoth3 from creating a book that explicitly claims to be, and is, compatible with D&D is the fear of having to pay legal fees for a lawsuit we'd probably win. In an ideal indie community, litigation is nowhere on the horizon and the people you'd borrow from are your friends anyways. Here's why you might want to use an open license anyways:

4a - Things Change. The ideals you hold now might change after Peter Jackson makes an insanely lucrative trilogy based on your work,  and copyright law is a moving target. Releasing using an open license now guarantees that whatever changes may come, your work will remain in the public domain under the terms you define.

4b - Fight for your Lefts. Powerful corporations are working to strengthen copyright at the cost of the public domain. By using a copyleft license, you take your place on the front lines of this contemporary culture war. Seems to me that's a true expression of indie spirit; whether your helmet-mounted speakers are blaring indie-rock or d20/DJ turntablism as you march to battle makes no difference.
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Get yours from the creators or finer retail stores everywhere.
Clinton R. Nixon
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« Reply #1 on: August 23, 2004, 08:19:56 PM »

Great topic and great presentation. I've been waiting for a thread like this to pop up.

Mutualism is a major reason I license all my games under the Creative Commons license. I think you're spot on about the d20 License, which restricts proper respects for sources by forcing a bit of vocabulary trickery - "d20" instead of "D&D" or other games licensed in this manner.

Where I think you do go wrong, though:
Quote

We then got our heads around the implications: what we make has to stay in the sandbox where other kids can do what they like with it. I find this liberating, but it may run contrary to those strains of the indie spirit which emphazise ideological purity and maintaining control of one's creations.


I submit that using an open license that insists on attribution (as most of the Creative Commons licenses do) will increase control of one's own creations, or at least increase acknowledgement of sources. Under a "normal" copyright, anyone using your ideas is encouraged to obfuscate that as much as possible in order to prevent legal finger-pointing. Under an attribution-enforced open license, there's no downside to saying, "Hey, I got this idea from this other guy."

Legal action is so vastly unimportant in game design, though. It doesn't denigrate the average indie game publisher to admit that we're not in danger of lawsuits. So, why else would a publisher use an open license? Or, more specifically, why do I?

Laziness: I first got turned onto the idea of using Creative Commons for my games when designing The Shadow of Yesterday. It's my first attempt at a "big setting" game, and I don't want to design the entire world of Near. I figured by making the game open, others could create their own pieces of setting easily, and support for the game would increase. We'll see if this happens - with the game taking for-fucking-ever, I haven't really started the experiment yet, but hey - I wrote a new chapter today, and it should be out by Christmas.

(As a side note, this idea's been used before, and I hope I don't have this inaccurately, by Ron Edwards. The Sorcerer mini-supplement program very much allows him to increase Sorcerer support by having others right it while keeping his independent philosophy.)

Ideology: I might as well admit to this one. I'm totally driven by ideology, which I can distill to this: information is power and applied information is wealth. Giving other information empowers them, even if only slightly, which is a Good Thing.
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Clinton R. Nixon
CRN Games
Keith Senkowski
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« Reply #2 on: August 23, 2004, 09:09:51 PM »

Hey,

So quick question.  I decided to try the same model as Ron for Conspiracy of Shadows.  What is the difference between doing that and using something like the OGL or the Creative Commons Liscense?

Keith

PS. By the way Clinton, RPGMall is like Big Brother and sent me an email letting me know you bought the game.  Thanks.  Hope you like it.
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Conspiracy of Shadows: Revised Edition
Everything about the game, from the mechanics, to the artwork, to the layout just screams creepy, creepy, creepy at me. I love it.
~ Paul Tevis, Have Games, Will Travel
Clinton R. Nixon
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« Reply #3 on: August 23, 2004, 09:15:10 PM »

Keith,

Not to get too off-topic, but I've heard a lot of good things about CoS. Looking forward to reading it.

Back to the topic at hand, the difference is that Ron basically has to approve your supplement before you publish it. From a personal standpoint, I've got no problem with that, but it's not "free as in freedom," as the open source advocates like to say. In addition, the restriction that you can only sell it from the Sorcerer site is pretty major, if again not problematic for me personally.

We threaten to go off topic by focusing on Ron, but I'm interested in how he feels about free material for Sorcerer. I've just gotten his ok before posting it before, but if, hypothetically, Gamer X put a free mini-supplement on his website and Ron didn't like it, what would he do?
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Clinton R. Nixon
CRN Games
Michael Hopcroft
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« Reply #4 on: August 23, 2004, 10:42:04 PM »

From my perspective., the question I got when i saw the topic is whether someone who uses an open or semi-=open system such as M&M Suerlink or FUDGE can qualify as indie.

This is an important question for me, as my next three books will be M&M supplments with material for other systems as well.

On the other hand, I am doing an original-system post-apolcalypse gam,e called The After that I'll have the mansucirpt for in about two month. One of my friends is writing it, and I'm publishing ti for him.

Am i an indie anymore?
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Michael Hopcroft Press: Where you go when you want something unique!
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« Reply #5 on: August 24, 2004, 03:54:17 AM »

Quote from: Michael Hopcroft
From my perspective., the question I got when i saw the topic is whether someone who uses an open or semi-=open system such as M&M Superlink or FUDGE can qualify as indie.
Well, none of these make you cede actual control, right? Anyway, FUDGE isn't much different than Ron's deal in the first place - they both require permission of GGG?

Another reason to use copylefting:

Sexy hipness. The logo is different and new, and it just yells "Danger! I break copyright taboo, rawr!" And, seriously, if someone sympathetic to copyleft ideals in the first place sees that a game is itself copylefted, they will more likely give it a deeper look.

Wicked usefulness. GMs ususally write up game/system/char-gen summaries for their characters anyway... from scratch. It's something GMs have to do. So, it could be reasonable to, say, have the total text be straight-copyrighted, but include copylefted (or even just OGL'd) parts in plain text, so that GMs can cut and paste their own summary sheets. I see it as being incredibly helpful.
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Tav_Behemoth
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« Reply #6 on: August 24, 2004, 04:08:54 AM »

Thanks for your post, Clinton! Being an OGL-head, I'm glad for your expertise on Creative Commons licenses & other indie open approaches.

Quote from: Clinton R. Nixon
I think you're spot on about the d20 License, which restricts proper respects for sources by forcing a bit of vocabulary trickery - "d20" instead of "D&D" or other games licensed in this manner.


Let me make some clarifications, perhaps not fully relevant at the moment: The d20 license runs on top of the open game license. Signing on to the d20 license allows you to use a trademark that is a widely recognized euphemism for "compatible with D&D". In return for the use of this trademark, licensees give up a host of other rights, such as the ability to change defined terms, describe character creations, make miniatures, or (since a recent change in the d20 license) depict bathroom activity. The Open Gaming License also forces euphemisms- Masters and Minions is a monster module for the "world's most popular roleplaying game".  While d20 and OGL (i.e, "OGL but not d20") games have different in many degrees of freedom, euphemism isn't one of them.

The intent of the Open Game License is to restrict claims of compatibility -- Wizards gave away the D&D ruleset but guards the D&D brand identity, which would be seen as diluted if anyone could imply that their book was part of that brand. A secondary effect of this restriction is that it inhibits proper source attributions. It's also possible to use euphemisms for citation; I can't say "This idea came from book X by publisher Y" without permission, but Steve Petersen and others have said "This idea came from the sixth source listed in Section 15 of the OGL", which is the only place the license allows you to say X and Y.  

Quote

I submit that using an open license that insists on attribution (as most of the Creative Commons licenses do) will increase control of one's own creations, or at least increase acknowledgement of sources.


I think we can stipulate a range of control, from least to most:
- releasing your game for free and explicitly stating "this is for the taking, no attribution is necessary"
- releasing with an insists-on-attribution open license
- releasing with the Open Game License but adding a limited license to allow use of trademarks for compatibility declarations (like Steve Petersen) or source citation (like Behemoth3)
- normal release under the OGL with a generous designation of what's open and what's "product identity"
- "broken" release under the OGL, declaring as little as possible as open and doing things with the license that discourage re-use
- a cooperative approach where others are encouraged to work with the the material that belongs to the creator, but must get the creator's approval/permission
- unlicensed release where nothing is said or done to encourage or discourage use by others
- a possessive approach where the creator employs a large legal team to whip off cease-and-desist letters against any possible encroachment, and has been known to grab photocopied copies of the rules out of people's hands at cons and rip them up

Copyright laws apply to all of these; in some cases, the creator adds legal instruments or makes statements of intent that influence the way that others interact with the material under copyright.

I dig your mix of laziness and ideology, Clinton - the B3 crew is even more lazy, since we can't even be bothered to invent our own ruleset, although we'd probably have done so long ago if we'd redirected all the energy we currently spend prosletyzing about the virtues of radical openness among other D&D-heads, many of whom use the license because they have to but either don't understand or actively resist its revolutionary implications.
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Masters and Minions: "Immediate, concrete, gameable" - Ken Hite.
Get yours from the creators or finer retail stores everywhere.
Jack Aidley
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« Reply #7 on: August 24, 2004, 04:11:18 AM »

I just wanted to comment on this part:

Quote
4b - Fight for your Lefts. Powerful corporations are working to strengthen copyright at the cost of the public domain. By using a copyleft license, you take your place on the front lines of this contemporary culture war. Seems to me that's a true expression of indie spirit; whether your helmet-mounted speakers are blaring indie-rock or d20/DJ turntablism as you march to battle makes no difference.


I actually disagree, copyleft effectively cedes the ground to the pathological control freakiness of the corporations. Rather than fighting for a true copyright which balances the legitimate rights of the producer to exclusively profit from their work with the consumers right to use, and enjoy, a product they own as they fit you are abandoning the notion of fair and balanced copyrights and instead retreating into a pure public domain principle.
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Tav_Behemoth
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« Reply #8 on: August 24, 2004, 04:27:26 AM »

Quote from: Jack Aidley

I actually disagree, copyleft effectively cedes the ground to the pathological control freakiness of the corporations. Rather than fighting for a true copyright which balances the legitimate rights of the producer to exclusively profit from their work with the consumers right to use, and enjoy, a product they own as they fit you are abandoning the notion of fair and balanced copyrights and instead retreating into a pure public domain principle.


Behemoth3 is a corporation, Jack, and we can no more control the state of copyright law than you can. Like you, we advocate reform of copyright; in the meantime, we can & do take action to bring the terms in which our work can be used more in line with our ideals, by choosing and creating licenses. One of our goals is to demonstrate that an open & rights-friendly corporation can be more successful  than a pathologically grasping and legislature-manipulating control-freak corporation.

I'm not saying that using copyleft should replace or substitute for advocacy of copyright; I do think it's a useful tool for participating in that dialogue. If you're saying that using a copyleft license weakens the fight against corrupt copyright expansion or puts you and I on different sides of the battlefield, I don't agree at all.
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Masters and Minions: "Immediate, concrete, gameable" - Ken Hite.
Get yours from the creators or finer retail stores everywhere.
Jack Aidley
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« Reply #9 on: August 24, 2004, 04:53:16 AM »

Quote
Behemoth3 is a corporation, Jack


Yes, of course. I was generalising poorly when I said 'corporations' - my bad.
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #10 on: August 24, 2004, 05:08:38 AM »

Hiya,

This is an amazing thread, Tav, and I hope it provides the basis for a full Forge article from you soon, after you negotiate the Straits of Gibraltar.

As for the main point I wanted to comment on, Clinton beat me to it!

Quote
We then got our heads around the implications: what we make has to stay in the sandbox where other kids can do what they like with it. I find this liberating, but it may run contrary to those strains of the indie spirit which emphazise ideological purity and maintaining control of one's creations.


"Those strains" which you are talking about certainly don't accord with the basic principle of independence Clinton and I are fostering here at the Forge. We're more about what you're describing - massive cross-fertilization within/among an ongoing spew of game design, with honest citation and acknowledgment accompanying all of it. That's exactly what Clinton and I have been high-fiving each other about for I guess it'd be about five years now.

You're focusing on icons - the minotaur, the stirge, the otyugh* - whereas I tend to focus on procedures, such as narration-allocation, reward systems, and so on. But the point is the same.

For folks who are a little unclear about this, what is mine is my book, with its particular combination of procedures and icons, and most especially with its presentation of them. That presentation is what I'm selling, and what can properly be called copyrighted (and further extended to trademark, registered trademark, license, etc). But the Sorcerer dice system as a procedure is not mine at all. You can use it. You don't even have to change it. And that's not theft.

I merely think it serves us all well if you cite those who have come before you when you make use of it, or a derivative, for your game.

That even applies to stuff that we didn't know about when we invented a system or a creature!! That is key. Prince Valiant (the game) had a tremendous influence on Sorcerer's dice system, but what if it hadn't? What if I'd come up with those ideas independently and then discovered it while prepping the final print text? By my lights, I am still obliged to acknowledge Greg Stafford and his game for doing it first.

To address another point that's cropped up ...

Corporations are a means of doing business which in some cases are not contradictory to self-publishing. Adept Press is such a corporation, so is Issaries Inc, and so is Behemoth3. The distinction is that the corporation is not run by stockholders and that the people who do run it are also the game creators.

Also, Jack and Tav, apparently U.S. vs. British copyright issues are very different from one another, so it's possible that you guys aren't quite as polarized as it might look.

But even if you are, then that's OK too. Why? Because the point is to lay out all the choices available to an independent publisher, and to clarify why any one of us might be most satisfied/served by a particular position within those choices. This thread is going to make a huge difference in serving that crucial need here.

Finally - Tavis, are you familiar with the Adept Press mini-supplement program? If not, check it out or contact me.

Best,
Ron

* If you do not publish the otyugh book right away, I will cry. In fact, I humbly request permission to discuss any possible contributions I might make to the otyugh book. (a) I'm serious. (b) See what I mean about iconography?
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Tav_Behemoth
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« Reply #11 on: August 24, 2004, 05:10:59 AM »

Quote from: Jack Aidley
I was generalising poorly when I said 'corporations' - my bad.


No apologies necessary, Jack. I didn't mean to be cranky, especially since it gets in the way of figuring out whether we have a real difference of opinion about the role of copyleft or just friction caused by the unnecessary rhetorical flourishes I find so hard to resist.
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Masters and Minions: "Immediate, concrete, gameable" - Ken Hite.
Get yours from the creators or finer retail stores everywhere.
Tav_Behemoth
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« Reply #12 on: August 24, 2004, 05:16:09 AM »

Quote from: Michael Hopcroft
From my perspective., the question I got when i saw the topic is whether someone who uses an open or semi-=open system such as M&M Suerlink or FUDGE can qualify as indie... Am i an indie anymore?


I took the liberty of starting a new thread about this, Michael, since it concerns me too but is tangential to the license issue:
Is Indieness a Property of People, Games, Books, or Lines?
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Masters and Minions: "Immediate, concrete, gameable" - Ken Hite.
Get yours from the creators or finer retail stores everywhere.
Jack Aidley
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« Reply #13 on: August 25, 2004, 01:47:12 AM »

I don't really think there's much more for me to say. I should, perhaps, make it clear that I don't have anything against the public domain - whether through copyleft or any other means.

However, because copyleft is a form of public domain I don't think it serves to combat the extreme intellectual property protectionism of the big IP industries (computer games, film and music) it simply exists along side them. It also seems to me that for companies to adopt copyleft rather as a reaction than aiming to promote rational copyright is to polarise the argument to extremes neither of which are particularly healthy as primary IP control methods.
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salkaner
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« Reply #14 on: August 25, 2004, 03:04:51 AM »

Quote from: Clinton R. Nixon


I submit that using an open license that insists on attribution (as most of the Creative Commons licenses do) will increase control of one's own creations, or at least increase acknowledgement of sources. Under a "normal" copyright, anyone using your ideas is encouraged to obfuscate that as much as possible in order to prevent legal finger-pointing. Under an attribution-enforced open license, there's no downside to saying, "Hey, I got this idea from this other guy."


I absolutely have to agree with you.
Also because  I feel all we authors are a bit "primedonne" (or it was "primadonnas" in English? ) and strongly wish to see our work coming known in any form.

Quote


Laziness: I first got turned onto the idea of using Creative Commons for my games when designing The Shadow of Yesterday. It's my first attempt at a "big setting" game, and I don't want to design the entire world of Near. I figured by making the game open, others could create their own pieces of setting easily, and support for the game would increase.


I'm afraid lazyness is quite common among us :)

And.. yes, I thnk you're right again.
But... for my limited experience, I'ts quite difficult to see people working on someone'else open base, in RPG field, except for d20.

Maybe it' again bacause we're all primedonne?
Or because the "open concept" is'n still familar among rpg writers?
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