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Freelancers Beware: What Wizard’s new OGL May Mean to You

Posted on January 25, 2008 by Monica Valentinelli

When Wizards first announced it’s new Open Game License (OGL) for publishers, a flurry of forum activity like this thread on RPGnet covered concerns from fans, contributors and publishers. Wizard of the Coast’s new OGL license for 4th Edition Rules hardly resembles the previous, free-flowing version, and while you may (or may not) agree with the way that Wizards has handled this aspect of their business, I still feel that it’s important to point out that this change could affect freelancers workflow and payment schedules.

The fact that Wizards will have a vested interest in every product that will be sold, published or distributed by anyone outside of Wizards brings their third-party products to another publishing realm — the world of the “licensed” work. For those of you who have either worked for (or are a fan of) games like Battlestar Galactica, Angel, or Starship Troopers, you know that those projects can be put on hold months (if not longer) pending approval from the licensee owner. Admittedly, it is too early to tell whether or not this will be the case for Wizard’s upcoming 4E, but it is something to keep in mind.

Whenever a third party becomes involved in any project (gaming or any other), it creates a dynamic that can be really difficult for all persons involved. I had commented earlier in a blog post that:

Whenever a third party has an interest in a product, it’s akin to working for a “licensed” project. Licensed projects, while they can be fun, can sometimes drag on for months due to disagreements. Sometimes, they get canceled and other times, they get stuck on the shelf, never to see the light of day. That’s not to say that there isn’t a fair amount of products that do get published; it just means that the workflow can be slowed down because someone else (that the freelancer doesn’t typically come into contact with) is part of the project.

What does that mean to a freelancer? It could mean that publishers would not be able to make payments because of the way that they run their business. Before you say, “Oh, that’s not possible…” the fact of the matter is that particular scenario has happened before and may happen again. Now, that’s not to say that companies will be smarter than that this time around, but you never know. It’s not a company’s responsibility to manage a freelancer’s checkbook, it’s theirs. I often recommend that freelancers plan their finances around their existing funds (not upcoming) for that reasons but it can be hard to do in many cases. Realizing there might be a problem to budget accordingly is a lot better than getting caught in a whirlwind of bounced checks or worse. There is nothing worse than “banking” on a payment that is delayed for weeks on end; when it comes to major changes like the one Wizards has offered, it may take a long time for companies to sort out what the contract and new OGL agreement means to them.

The other thing that freelancers might want to think about when planning their business? Consider branching out into new areas instead of relying solely for freelancing work related to 4E. It’s very possible that the available work may also be affected by this change, so some deviation from concentrating on “one publisher – one game” may be warranted here.

In the end, the message I’m trying to convey here to freelancers is simply, “Don’t Panic, Plan.” Budgeting and diversifying may help any freelancer weather potential volatile changes and remain working on lucrative projects that pay. After all, who wants to work for free?

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