Thoughts on Numenera Licensing

Published October 9, 2013 by in For Gamemasters, For Players

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I’ll admit it, I was a little bit surprised by the amount of negativity I heard surrounding the Numenera Limited License after it was recently posted, especially after there was so much positive said about the Fan Use Policy. After thinking on it last night, I decided I should speak up and share some thoughts and info as a happy gamer, content seller, marketing guy, and amateur IP law enthusiast. That said, I am not a lawyer, and I most certainly do not represent Monte Cook Games in any way, so keep that in mind. Also, Rob Donoghue started this discussion rather well, and rather than retread his points, I encourage you to go read his article first, then come back here when you’re done. Don’t worry, I’m not going anywhere.

(NOTE: I’ve posted some updates to this issue at the bottom of the page, too. Be sure to skim them as well, especially as the discussion evolves.)

Let me start off by saying that in the past few months, I’ve learned one thing about Monte Cook: a lot of people love and respect him, and then there’s a group that… doesn’t. That’s fine. You can’t ring everyone’s bell. Me, personally, I’ve had exactly one brief email exchange with him during the Kickstarter campaign, and he was nothing but pleasant. I invested in the Kickstarter campaign not because I was part of the following, but because Numenera sounded like a cool game, and I have a loyalty to cool games. Everything I knew about Cook literally came from the Kickstarter description. I don’t know why that’s important, but I feel I need to say it.

What I guess surprises me is the amount of grief I’ve read on Twitter and various posts about how “horrible” or “terrible” or “restrictive” the limited license is. Specifically, I’ve seen a lot of complaints from other game designers, which I also find really surprising. Mostly because I would expect them to understand exactly why the license was offered up. It’s about brand protection, most specifically. And Cook, due to his notoriety, has a particular stake in protecting that brand, and balancing that with fostering community growth. Not easy to do – sort of like trying to create enterprise open source software. But one of the most important parts has to do with trademarks. As a brand, if you don’t protect and defend your trademark, you can risk losing said trademark. As such, MCG has an obligation to at least set up certain criteria regarding the usage of its name.

Which brings us to the license. Let me just start with this: there’s nothing unusual about this process. Gamers seem to be hating on this because MCG is charging for the limited license and setting “unreasonable” restrictions. That’s how brand licensing works though. If you are going to make money by leveraging the name someone else built, you pay them a royalty. Period. But more to the point…

  1. Why would they charge me for making my own creatures or cyphers? – They won’t. That’s all covered under the Fan Use Policy. Just like the very site you’re reading this on. All the fan creations we share here are covered by that. Write all the blog posts, tutorials, articles, or creations you want. 99% of you won’t have a single thing to worry about. But for instance, with us, I want to create a sort of “living sourcebook” from the best content submitted here, and give that away. Because I’m making a tangible – even if digital – good, I’ll probably need to kick off the $50 to them. And I’ll do it. That gives me the added benefit of being able to legitimately use the Numenera name on my product, and it makes me “officially licensed.”
  2. Where is the line drawn? Why should I pay for a license on something I’m giving away? – The simple answer is because whether or not you charge for your product has nothing to do with your right to have access to their trademark. We are actually a really great example, because of the above referenced “living sourcebook.” I have no intention of charging. And all the content is available per the fan use policy individually. But when I build that into a collection, a new sort of creation is made. The reality is, MCG probably won’t bother chasing down every small PDF type thing folks release. It’ll mostly depend on the “substantiality” of it. Basically, ask yourself this: If you wanted to sell what you made, could you put it on Amazon in the state it’s in. If yes, then you should probably get a license. If no, then you’re probably under the fan use policy.
  3. Elder Sign, following H.P. Lovecraft, as appended in a letter to Clark Ashton Smith, 7 November 1930. CC-BY 3.0 Waerloeg
    Elder Sign, following H.P. Lovecraft, as appended in a letter to Clark Ashton Smith, 7 November 1930. CC-BY 3.0 Waerloeg

    Why would MCG disallow crowdfunding when they themselves exist because of it? – They aren’t. It’s just not covered by the Limited License. If you want to do a crowdfunded project, you need to negotiate a full license. The reasons are pretty straightforward. For one, most crowdfunded projects that succeed will blow past the $2000 limited barrier anyway. Two, we go back to brand protection. Do you know of Chaosium? These are the guys behind the RPG Call of Cthulhu. Cthulhu stuff is literally ALL OVER Kickstarter, and they have, on more than one occasion, had to enforce their trademark. “But Cthulhu is in the public domain!” Yes and no. Lovecraft’s work is, but certain things, like the usage of the name “Call of Cthulhu” and the star shaped Elder Sign, are trademarks of Chaosium. The reason I say this is because if a bunch of people jumped on Kickstarter to run Numenera based projects, and they fail, or don’t deliver, or turn out crappy – no one will ever remember the name of the person that ran the project. All they will remember is “that failed Numenera project,” or “how I got screwed by that Numenera stuff.”

    Also, as I write this, I see they’ve actually amended the text on the license to be more clear about crowdfunded projects, too.

  4. What if I go over $2000? How will they monitor it? Am I going to get hit with a big bill? How do I know my sales in advance? etc, etc – Part of the license means that they can request a sales report from you. If you are making and selling a product, you should have that no matter what (remember, you still need to pay taxes on the income, if nothing else). So if they’re at a con, and they see tons of people walking around with your $50 sourcebook, they’ll be able to do the math and suspect you might be way over the limit. But I like to think that most people creating and selling content are good natured enough to respect the source they are standing on. If you’re going to be shady about your numbers, I have no sympathy for you. BULLETPOINTS!
    • As someone that has created, sold, and was fairly successful with his own book in a niche market, I can tell you right now that if you think it’s easy to make $2000 on your creation, odds are that you’re wrong.
    • Every interaction I’ve had with MCG, be it on Twitter, email, or whatever, has been great. They totally respect the fan community and want to help it out. They aren’t laying in wait for you to hit $2001 so they can sue you.
    • If they had said the limit was $5000, or $10,000, or $7,346, everyone would be asking the exact same question. It’s not about the number. As a business, they need some kind of line drawn in the sand, and then it’s up to them how strict they are about how that is enforced.
    • Don’t be a dick. If you do really well with your product, awesome. High five! Now send an email, pick up the phone, whatever, and let MCG know and negotiate a full license. You’ll likely end up paying a royalty on each item sold. Odds are that it will actually be pretty minimal, in reality (I would estimate between 1%-6%, but that’s just an educated guess on my part). And that’s how this sort of thing works. If you don’t already know that, then right now is probably a good time to learn it, and the MCG folks are probably good ones to learn the lesson with, because they’ll likely be a lot kinder than folks at bigger companies like Wizards of the Coast or Fantasy Flight Games.
  5. Why does MCG hate X? – The release of the limited license isn’t about punishing gamers. In fact, quite the opposite. Here’s a challenge. Imagine you want to sell a Warhammer FRP adventure you wrote. I dare you to go and find the rules about how to license the name so that you can do so. Here’s the thing, let’s say you get a limited license, and five years down the road you’ve forgotten about it. You’re selling some Numenera book you made on, and have been getting your quarterly check, not even thinking about it. But you’ve made $5000! In a situation where you might end up in court over license violations, if you at least started with the limited license, you’re going to be in much better shape than having no license at all. No license = 100% screwed. Period. Limited license = you might still be a bit screwed, but not nearly as bad if you can demonstrate a “good faith” effort and a willingness to resolve the remaining royalties. In the end, it’s a helpful way to protect yourself.
  6. What about X, Y, or Z? – That is to say, why is the license so vague? It’s not. It’s human readable. Go compare this CC license to this one, for instance. Those are two different means of describing the same thing. If the time comes that you need to get a limited license, you’re probably going to get a much denser, but also much more specific, legally binding document to sign. It’ll say basically the same thing as what’s on the website, but in legal terms, with all those little conditions and situations outlined. It’s just that posting that full on legal document on the website isn’t really helpful, because it’ll be hard for the common man to read and understand. That’s just the world of contract law though.

At the end of the day, I know some of the most vocal complaints come from folks that – in my advancing age – I would describe as kids who don’t have a clue how business works yet. To them, my words are likely lost no matter what. Most of them probably wouldn’t create anything that would need a license anyway, on top of it. But there is a group out there that I’ve seen complaints from that definitely should know better. To you, I say: Suck it up.

Update: 13.10.10 10:05AM

Wanted to attach a really good counterpoint from Justin Jacobson, who provides some thoughts on the specific legal impacts of way the license is constructed. You should go read it, especially if you disagree with me, and even if you don’t.

Update: 13.10.09 2:13PM

A lot of discussion going on in the comments. I wanted to pull some of that up for those not interested in digging through them.

  1. I understand my writing style may come across somewhat abrasively at times. I tend to be pretty blunt in my writing. I do know that, but it’s just the voice I have when write on topics like this. Trust me, it goes back long before this article, and has gotten me into exactly this situation before. If that style offends you, well, I’m not sure what I can do about that except don’t let the style get in the way of the message.
  2. On the market: Keep in mind, this game has created a market that is just as new to MCG as it is to us players. Just because it’s another RPG doesn’t mean there aren’t trails to be blazed building it. There is a lot of learning to be done as more products are released, and more people come into the fold. We are all literally at the bleeding edge, and are seeing a lot of rough edges that will undoubtedly get polished smooth over time. Whatever the case, MCG has a financial incentive to foster the community in the best way they can. They think the NLL helps that. Some of you disagree. Regardless, MCG isn’t setting out to sabotage the game they made. It’s fully possible that they made a mistake with the license, and if so, you can expect them to move quickly to fix that. There’s no business value in hanging by your own neck. This is why I don’t understand the immediate reaction some people have that it’s [insert negative adjective here]. MCG has every reason to want it to be a good license, that facilitates the market as much as possible, while providing adequate brand protection.
  3. The quality of the NLL: I just saw another tweet that qualified the NLL as a “poor license.” Of course, with no actual reason why. Irrelevant. The fact of the matter is that the NLL isn’t going to be a perfect license for everybody. It’s not that it’s better than the OGL, or that the OGL is better than it. They are different licenses, that’s it. And I have no doubt that it will get better over time. As with the last point, MCG will certainly revise the NLL as the market matures and they get a better feel for how to foster the community – but that takes time. Heck, they might decide to change it entirely. The best thing you can do is email them and explain exactly how the NLL is keeping you from doing something that you think is really reasonable. It’s possible you’re mistaken and you actually can do it. And if not, it’s possible they’ll adjust the license to fix the issue. Feedback is very important to the process though.
  4. So what’s right? The truth in the matter is that there are a lot of voices at each end of the spectrum. It’s perfectly valid to think that the NLL will harm growth, or make it not worth it to make 3rd party supplements. It’s also entirely fair to think that MCG is 100% in the right with their approach, and that it’s actually good for helping ensure quality. And I’ve seen very experienced folks (i.e. people that make a living making games) on each side of that, as well. There’s not a right or wrong answer, just differences of interpretation, many of which we’ll need time to see which is more “right.” There’s also a huge valley between what is “legally right” versus what is “reasonably fair.” MCG could give everyone the finger and go after any third party creations at all that don’t constitute fair use. Legally right, but pretty unfair and bad for business. My hope goes back to the previous bulletpoint, which is if you disagree – especially if you’re a game designer – let MCG know and help them make a better license. In the end, we’re all vested in seeing a great gaming community made, and the license should be read with that color in mind.

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50 thoughts on “Thoughts on Numenera Licensing

  1. Ryan Chaddock says:

    I had no idea there was such backlash over this stuff. As someone planning on publishing under the LL in the next few weeks, I have to say $50 per book sounds pretty cheap to me.

    1. Michael Fienen says:

      Do some scrounging on Twitter and various gamer forums. It’s not necessarily that it’s a huge uproar, but there is definitely a vocal group that’s unhappy with it. And really, they probably will be no matter what.

      1. David Brown says:

        I think the issue (which Charles spoke to) is that people are comparing a license for a rules system versus a setting… I think even Pathfinder and the like don’t have an open license for the SETTING.
        If MCG did an open gaming license for the CYPHER SYSTEM, then it would be more comparable to OGL and what FATE & Dungeon World do.
        You are playing in Monte’s sandbox when you produce Numenera products. And I’m sure the $50 buy in is just to allow enforcement of the license as a contract.

  2. Tensen01 says:

    If you don’t know how a license works or find this all that odd, you probably shouldn’t be publishing anything to begin with.

  3. Greg Stockton says:

    Great post. And from my own experiences, they’ve really worked to support, not restrict. I’ve been writing content and I was concerned if some of it violated Fan Use (which is why I haven’t posted it yet.) So I sent it to Charles, and he replied with his views, and a proposal for how to support me–and without asking for changes to what I had written.

  4. Jeremy Puckett says:

    This is a good post that I want to respond to. Let me first say that I fully support Monte Cook Games and their right to set up a license any way they want. Paid, free, whatever. It’s their IP, and they can do what they like. That being said, I totally agree with Rob Donoghue about preferring open and growth-focused licenses. I think this limited license will ultimately be detrimental to Numenera, but only time will tell.

  5. Tracy Hurley says:

    Actually, lots of crowd funded efforts wouldn’t go beyond the $2000 mark. Here’s my problems with the limited license for me as a small publisher.

    Let’s assume a 10,000 word supplement for Numenera created by a small publisher (I’m spitballing here based on numbers I’ve started to put together):

    Writing/Design: $300
    Editing: $300
    Layout: $200 (This I know less about)
    Art: $200
    License: $50

    That’s $1,050 in costs alone.

    Let’s say I decide to sell exclusively on RPGNow. I will get 70% of sales, meaning a 30% cost. Let’s say I can even sell to the max of the license, that’s $600 in costs (and a big if in regards to sales)

    So, now there’s a small chance that I can make a few hundred dollars. I can’t test the market first by using a crowd funding method.

    I might suggest that some of the people who are pointing out potential issues with the license actually know quite a bit about how the business side works.

    1. Michael Fienen says:

      But that’s not entirely the case. You absolutely CAN test the market with crowd funding. You just have to talk about the license with MCG first. You lay out the business plan, exactly as you did above, noting the risks and revenue, and they very well may grant you said license to do that. Perhaps, for instance, based on the idea that you pay a smaller up front fee, and then royalties of X, Y, and Z at certain sales milestones (for instance, nothing under $2000, 2% up to $5000, and 1% past $5000). The trick is, all you have to do is ask them. Give them a chance to surprise you with how they might accommodate your plan.

      The RPG market is already one of low margins. Stack on it the “small publisher, small supplement” angle, and it’s even lower. I know people that have LOST money getting books published. That isn’t the fault of the license. Not even a little bit. You’ve chosen to dive into a market that has no forgiveness.

      1. Tracy Hurley says:

        Yes, I can do that. Or I can create content for another game that doesn’t require so much risk. What a number of people are saying is that given that the supplement market for Numenera is untested, going elsewhere looks like a good move and given the relatively steep costs of the license for the potential return, they are likely to do so. This is what business decisions look like.

        1. Michael Fienen says:

          You’re 100% right. You have to measure the risk:reward ratio. If it doesn’t look right, it doesn’t look right. At the same time, the idea that “the supplement market for Numenera is untested” is true for *any* new game on the market, and brings with it virtually the same challenges there, irrespective of the license. And to point #5 above, it can actually protect would-be and small publishers by forcing them to look at the business prospect involved before crowdsourcing, rather than just jumping into something and straight-out failing (with the fall out as in #3 above). If the margins are so razor thin that negotiating the proper license would make or break the project, then it’s exposing an existing problem in the process for the creator, not creating a new one – at least in my opinion.

          1. Tracy Hurley says:

            Unless the license pivot point is set at point that goes makes it harder to get the response that one wants. At that point, it cuts out a portion of the market you want and may even increase the likelihood of getting the types of market you don’t.

          2. T. Rob Brown says:

            That’s what I was going to say, Michael. If $50 is going to BREAK you… then you’re doing it wrong.

        2. Andrew Kocurek says:

          I agree with this 100%. Why make this much fuss when there is the OGL and a ton of different games that don’t require this much development risk? I hope the default answer isn’t “If you don’t like it then go away”. As was said before, this is a small niche market, why must there be so many hoops to jump through, when other systems have proven that a free license (D&D3e, 13th age, Dungeon World just to name a few) can be immensely helpful to small devs

          1. Michael Fienen says:

            I don’t think folks should just go away. I think they just need know what they’re getting into. As for the OGL, it isn’t perfect. It’s “convenient,” in many cases, but that comes with a downside. If you haven’t, you might read Monte’s thoughts on it, as it will give some insight as to why they didn’t go with it:

          2. Andrew Kocurek says:

            This is a very very old link, I have read it before. Most of the things in that link have been negated by the release of pathfinder and the HUGE surge of OGL material. He talks about the bubble bursting with a decline in material… it’s a very old outdated view on the OGL. A LOT of people are making money under pathfinder, and 13th age. Hell 13th Age was MADE under the OGL, as is dungeon world and the Radiance RPG. It’s just a view of the the OGL that quite frankly was wrong.

          3. Ewen Cluney says:

            For my part I’m not at all invested in or mad about the Numenera license, but it’s just making me scratch my head. I’ve heard good things about the game itself, but as a publisher the license has basically nothing to recommend it over the many free options out there. It will no doubt serve MCG’s purposes quite well, but in terms of what’s available in the way of systems publishers can use it’s a non-optimal, non-competitive option.

          4. Andrew Kocurek says:

            See I’m not mad either, I love the game, no one reading my posts should take to heart that I don’t like the game. Also, like I said, I GET that they want to protect their IP, that’s fine. I’m just quite frankly scared to produce anything that would come from me stepping on other’s toes. When I do produce things that I put on the web, it’s not a shoddy post here or there, it’s a pretty fleshed out piece of work. If I’m going to have to PAY to do that for free then I need to find another home to do that type of thing.

          5. Tensen01 says:

            You may want to take a look at what those free licenses actually let you use. I guarantee 90% of them allow you access to the rules set, not the Setting IP or use of the Trademarked material. THAT is what’s different, THAT is what you are getting for you $50, you are being allow to actually put the Numenera name right there on the cover along with “officially licensed product”, and to include references to actual Numenera ideas, names and material.

          6. Ewen Cluney says:

            Right, the license starts to make sense if you feel a strong need to use the Numenera setting. But otherwise it’s still inferior to Fate/d20/Pathfinder/etc.

          7. Tensen01 says:

            Yeah… that’s the entire Purpose of the license. And no, it’s not inferior, it’s an entirely different type of license. There’s really no point in comparing them.

          8. T. Rob Brown says:

            If I want to write in someone else’s world (as I have done for Star Wars and Marvel), I expect to either: A. Pay for the rights to do so. B. Be hired by them or their official license holders as a paid freelancer.

        3. Aaron Fleming says:

          As a small publisher, if I’m making a supplement for a game (rpg, board, ccg, whatever), I’m always going to contact the owner of the trademark first before I do anything. Most companies won’t let you touch their stuff at all unless you pay hefty upfront fees and exclusivity agreements. Let’s not forget that the OGL was considered a failure by WotC and, had they the legal ability to do so, would revoke it. If you aren’t willing to at least contact the people who created the [whatever] you’re trying to build off of, whether for profit or not, I have no sympathy for you.

          1. Tracy Hurley says:

            The reason why companies put out licenses like this is so that contact doesn’t have to happen. There are good reasons for not doing it in every case, but still wanting to get people who are doing something above a certain size to contact first.

          2. T. Rob Brown says:

            Actually… many of those licenses do require contact, if you read them. I’m pretty certain I read that in the Savage Worlds license and I know for certain it’s in the D&D 4E limited open license.

          3. Tracy Hurley says:

            The D&D 4e license (from my understanding) required sending in a signed acceptance of an agreement, not a conversation over a business plan and the like.

          4. T. Rob Brown says:

            Which is a form of contact… *shrug*

          5. Tracy Hurley says:

            Sure, a form letter that may or may not be actually read by anyone is a form of contact. However, it is not what the person I was replying to intended as contact from what I can tell and in the context of my point, is quite meaningless since the purpose of that particular system was to allow people to create 4e content without involving the expenditure of resources on the part of WotC while also ensuring they would know who to contact if something broke the license.

          6. T. Rob Brown says:

            Well… to be specific, I would say that OGL was considered a failure by Hasbro… not necessarily by WotC. Maybe… but Hasbro yanks the chains.

  6. Andrew Kocurek says:

    It just kind of sucks because I love to create stuff and I don’t have MONEY to create this stuff so I give it away, and I create a LOT of things. Hell, even full conversions using just mechanics of a system. I couldn’t care less about the actual world, but I like the mechanics of the game, but I’m scared shitless to even put up anything on the web about it because If I do something wrong, my ass is gonna get slammed. I also like to create my own documents with fan created content. For example I have well over 200 pages of fan created content for 13th age that I have released to the people that play that game, and no one from pelgrane has any qualms about it. There are wikis for D&D, pathfinder, 13th age etc etc. It seems to me that you can’t do that with numenera because if you gather all this stuff in one place it’s a big NOPE GIVE US 50$. That really sucks. So yeah I understand they are protecting their license and that’s fine. But roleplaying games should be about playing the game YOU want to play, and so far as much as I love numenera it feels like I’m playing monte cooks game that I have paid a license to play, not a game I can tinker around with and sell supplements for, which I would love to do, but I’m not going to start jumping through hoops for this. Great game, but he could have taken a page from other companies like pelgrane press and have a more liberal licensing agreement.

    1. Walker P says:

      But isn’t all the stuff you do covered under the fan license?

    2. Michael Fienen says:

      “It seems to me that you can’t do that with numenera because if you gather all this stuff in one place it’s a big NOPE GIVE US 50$.” – But that’s not true. This site is a perfect example. I’m collecting all kinds of fan stuff here without a bit of fear. Creations, downloads, articles, whatever. It all falls under the Fan Use Policy. But in my example above, where I cross the line is when I turn that whole into a “product” on its own – something standalone, something that *could* be sold if I wanted. You are totally free to release your documents and creations though (and let me know if our site can help you with that). If you’re worried, just email them and ask, as Greg noted below.

      1. Andrew Kocurek says:

        This doesn’t make sense then. “But for instance, with us, I want to create a sort of “living sourcebook” from the best content submitted here, and give that away. Because I’m making a tangible – even if digital – good, I’ll probably need to kick off the $50 to them.” You just said I could do this, but in the post it says I can’t. Completely different conflicting messages. I do create PDFs of fan stuff all the time, and a wiki is no different I can easy parse through wiki pages and create a PDF. Does this mean I have to pay to distribute this stuff that was made under fan license?

        1. Michael Fienen says:

          The basic example I gave in the original article was, if you put something together that – as it is – could be sold on Amazon, then odds are you’ve created something that needs a license. Just because you make a PDF, doesn’t mean it’s something that could be sold (see the PDFs in our download section, for instance). Websites are very much the same. They are a collective, but not something one could just scrape and sell. In my case, I am going to create a very purposeful ebook though, that when done, could easily be sold if I wanted to. Layout, structure, artwork, all that stuff. It becomes a very different beast from the original items which created it. “Greater than the sum of its parts,” and all that.

          1. Andrew Kocurek says:

            Yes, I do that, I create sourcebooks that COULD be sold on sites. It’s a hobby of mine. Of course I release them for free, but Table of contents, some art here and there, some bookmarks. It’s all stuff I do in my freetime. This means things I’m doing for free I have to pay to release to others now? Is this correct?

          2. Michael Fienen says:

            If that’s the case, then you might be well served with a simple email to the Numenera team. They might look at it and just give you a clear green flag. But yes, then there is a possibility that your creation might need a limited license.

            Personally, if you do that, and you’re passionate about it and want to get into Numenera, I’d love to talk to you about it. It might be that I could handle the footwork for any of the i-dotting and t-crossing for you, and you could just focus on making cool stuff.

          3. Adriano Varoli Piazza says:

            “whether or not you charge for your product has nothing to do with your right to have access to their trademark”
            seems to answer your
            “This means things I’m doing for free I have to pay to release to others now?” question.

  7. Chris Freeman says:

    Since the boom the internet it seems that many people have little or no respect for intellectual property or copyright. As a designer I find that pretty appalling and can totally understand why this limited license policy is a good idea. And, as you point out, MCG seems to be very supportive of gamers and fans. I think that most of the backlash is from people chapped because a) they don’t understand licensing, or b) they’re openly being told, perhaps for the first time, that they can’t capitalize on the intellectual property of others without permission, or c) perhaps both.

    In my trade I deal with copyright, trademark, and intellectual property rights fairly often and the MCG limited license policy is incredibly liberal and reasonable by most standards. I’ve been playing RPGs for 30+ years and if I’d cooked up something as awesome as Numenera I’d want to protect it too. I think that MCG is doing a superb job balancing that protection with encouraging and supporting fans.

  8. Michael Fienen says:

    And I genuinely want to thank everyone for taking part in the discussion on this, whether we agree or disagree. It will be very helpful to those that are researching this issue farther, and all the interpretations are valuable.

  9. Charles Ryan says:

    Hi, all–

    Charles Ryan here; I’m the COO at Monte Cook Games and the author of the limited license. Great discussion.

    I wanted to address the comments of two people posting on this site.

    First, Tracy: I have two comments on your analysis. First, in your math, you account for all the costs associated with your hypothetical product, and you end up making about $400 on $2000 in revenue. That’s a 20% profit margin. Obviously, that’s not a great deal if you can bring in a 30% or 40% elsewhere, but in business in general, a 20% net margin is considered pretty healthy.

    But the news gets better: The license limit is based on your revenues, not the retail selling price. If you sell printed materials, we wouldn’t include the distributors’ or retailers’ markup as part of your revenue, and the same is true with DriveThru. You reach the NLL’s limit when DriveThru writes you a check for $2000, not when they sell $2000 at their retail price.

    (So good news: Your scenario just bumped to a 50% margin!)

    Next: Andrew. I don’t know how to say this gently, but frankly if you’re doing as much stuff as you say you are, you really should develop a better understanding of IP. You say you’re “scared shitless to even put up anything on the web about it because If I do something wrong, my ass is gonna get slammed.” If you’re that uncertain about how these things work, you might consider a different hobby. Because although MCG isn’t the type of company that goes around slamming people’s asses, sooner or later you’re going to get into trouble with someone. The good news is, our fan use policy and the NLL are pretty clearly written and straightforward–give them a read, and I think you’ll have a pretty clear understanding of what is and is not OK with us.

    Finally, a general comment on comparing the NLL to the OGL: The OGL is a license for a game system, not for a game world, a brand, or a trademark. The value is that it lets you create games within a system that’s widely familiar and compatible with lots of stuff out there. The value of the NLL, however, is that lets you create products for Numenera. The value is that you tap into the Numenera brand and its fan base. These are different propositions, and any license dealing with them has different considerations.

    1. Andrew Kocurek says:

      Thanks, I think I’ll have to take my buisness back to 13th age for the time being because I know where they stand on fan created stuff. I still don’t have a good understanding of whether I could release a fan compilation of things, so no it is not as “clearly written” as you would like to claim it is.But it is a good game and good luck to you and your 3rd party devs. If you open your game similar to the OGL as pathfinder, dungeon world, and 13th age uses let the community know. Have a great day.

      1. Adam Jury says:

        Andrew, the fan license is incredibly clear: — which part of it do you not understand?

        If you want to compile fan material from multiple people, just be sure to have their permission (obviously!) and make sure the compilation doesn’t contain anything prohibited in the policy. No harder than making sure a compilation of OGL material doesn’t contain something that’s Product Identity or not actually under the OGL.

      2. Tensen01 says:

        You might want to do more than a skimming of what you’re talking about. The Fan Policy is pretty clear cut, though you clearly haven’t even bothered to read it. It’s no different than the 13th Age Fan use Policy. And the OGL? That’s for system ONLY. Setting material is almost never included in the OGL.

        And I get the severe feeling that all you want to do is capitalize on other peoples work with the minimum amount of effort and risk on your part. Maybe create your own thing, then you don’t have to worry.

  10. T. Rob Brown says:

    Wait… he’s letting you use the Numenera name for $50? That’s CHEAP, actually. Why are people complaining? With D&D OGL, you can’t use the D&D name — just the system.

  11. T. Rob Brown says:

    Charles Ryan is correct… people keep comparing this to the existing licenses out there… but it’s not really the same — it’s a LOT BETTER. Look, let’s say you license for Savage Worlds. What do you get? You get the right to produce material for the Savage Worlds system. Do you get the right to Deadlands IP? NO. Do you get the rights to Solomon Kane IP? NO. You only get access to the rules system. Which is fine but it’s not the same as what MCG is offering.

    For Pathfinder, do you get the rights to the Pathfinder world (their IP)? NO. You only get access to the Pathfinder rules. It’s a great and popular system but again, you don’t get access to the creative content (named characters, named cities, world, etc.)

    With D&D 3.0/3.5 OGL you still couldn’t use the D&D name. The only 3rd party (I can recall) that used the D&D name during 3.0/3.5 (aside from Paizo on its actual D&D brand products created through/in conjunction with Dungeon and Dragon magazines), was Kingdoms of Kalamar (Kenzer & Company) — they paid extra for that license, they didn’t just use the free license. No one, under the OGL, gets access to Faerun (Forgotten Realms), Krynn (DragonLance), Greyhawk, Eberron, Dark Sun, Spelljammer, Birthright, Mystara, or any other D&D campaign setting, characters, or existing locations. Those are all copyrighted materials, just as Monte Cook’s Numenera is copyrighted.

    The D&D 4E license is actually fairly restrictive. I think the only major 3rd party publisher (aside from some Gale Force Nine products which are under a purchased license, since they use the D&D name) that still makes 4E products (last I checked) is Goodman Games. Again, they don’t get access to any of the creative content by WotC — just the rules system.

    The option to actually be able to write in Monte Cook’s world and not JUST use the rules system, is a PRETTY BIG DEAL, IMHO. He’s not just letting you play with his dice, he’s letting you BE part of Numenera. I can’t think of another license that’s that awesome.

  12. James Jenkins says:

    This is a great article. I’m going to buy the license for each book of Numenera Adventures I plan to write and sell on Drivethru. I think $50 for revenues up to $2k is a great deal, If I hit at or near the limit, that’s less than 2.5% to MCG, for me being able to create great adventures in this wonderfully open setting that covers a billion years, right? I’m all for it. ALL FOR IT.

    Imagine trying to do this for Gamma World back in the day. This is wonderful.

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