Dungeons & Dragons Writers Given Non-Compete Clauses

In what seems a bid to monopolize the industry’s top talent, Dungeons & Dragons publisher Wizards of the Coast has prohibited several freelance writers from working for the company’s competitors.

This isn’t a new policy - according to my contacts in the Dungeons & Dragons writing community, this has been happening for at least a year and a half. Some writers have been offered a guarantee of a certain amount of continuous work, but not all. The clause seems to be an effort to keep the industry’s best writers out of the hands of competitors like Paizo, who like most RPG publishers rely on the services of freelance contributors.

Wizards of the Coast has always been top dog for RPG writers, paying two to three times the rate of most other publishers and commanding some of the best names in the business as a result. Still, writing in this field is usually a work-for-hire gig, and most full-time writers manage it by writing for third party companies at the same time. With this latest move, writers are being told, “You work for us exclusively, or not at all.”

The company drew criticism earlier this year by by adopting a much more aggressive policy toward third party publishers than they have in the past. First the publication rights to Dragon and Dungeon magazines were withdrawn, then the third party game license was delayed until after the game launch, effectively locking many publishers out of producing fourth edition game supplements until October.


Comments (12)

jonathan (October 16th, 2008)

I’ll preface by saying i have no idea wtf I’m talking about - but isnlt the first-publication rights issue an ordinary aspect of freelance writing? A non-compete clause, however, seems a bit heavy handed, no? I mean… if they are not being paid a retainer for guaranteed work, then how are these authors suppose to feed themselves and their families if they are being prevented from writing for other publishers in their area of expertise? I just can’t resist - given the 4E reference - but this seems a bit draconian to me. =D

Syrsuro (October 16th, 2008)

In a back-handed way, this may make it easier for new writers to break into the market.

Any formerly “free-lance for WoTC” writer who happens to also work on other publications/for other companies will likely refuse to sign such a non-compete, thinning the competition.

But I don’t see cutting off access to some of the best writers/designers (i.e. those also writing for the competitors) as necessarily a good idea for WoTC. I guess they think their talent pool is deep enough to allow for some thinning (or they will just enforce the rule spottily, allowing them to cut deals if necessary).

Carl

steamtunnel (October 16th, 2008)

One word:
psudonym, psudonym, psudonym.

There is a reason things like this are used often the the publishing industry…

Besides this can backfire easily. If someone becomes a big enough name, they can refuse with no water off the back. I would suspect that Monte Cook has crossed this line.

Rob Conley (October 16th, 2008)

This type of clause is also unenforceable in states like California. So not only it is a bad publicity move it useless depending on where the writer lives.

Ben (October 16th, 2008)

Dose this cover their novel department too or just their gaming line writing?

Bob (October 16th, 2008)

Hasbro already severely downsized the staff at Wizards of the Coast earlier this year, and inside sources say that they’ll be shut down completely as soon as the current slate of products is done. So this policy is kind of a moot point.

Toord (October 16th, 2008)

If hasbro dismatles WOtC, the wrath of Shavarath shall be unleashed upon them. I guarantee it.

Geek Gazette (October 16th, 2008)

I’ve worked in industries that used non-compete clauses and they are mostly BS. There is always a way around them. It may cause some headaches, which is why most don’t bother fighting, but it can be done. The pseudonym example mentioned earlier is probably one of those loopholes.

Ogre (October 16th, 2008)

Bob Says:
October 16th, 2008 at 1:56 pm
Hasbro already severely downsized the staff at Wizards of the Coast earlier this year, and inside sources say that they’ll be shut down completely as soon as the current slate of products is done. So this policy is kind of a moot point.

Ogre feels great relief. Ogre started to think he would become paranoid about the Wizards.

Wil K. (October 16th, 2008)

@steamtunnel: psEudonym, you mean.

Ben Overmyer (October 17th, 2008)

The end of Wizards of the Coast, huh? That’s…well, I don’t know what to think about that. We’ll have to rely on third-party publications using the OGL to support D&D from then on.

C. WOodley (April 8th, 2009)

To start off… not a business major or nothin’. I often find that unofficial writers often come up with better or (at least) comparable ideas to the professionals. Could these side companies have outreach contests to find lurking talent? Something similar to the fiasco that Wizard went through to have Eberron crafted? Plus if Wizards (which is obviously run by suited monkey’s considering the idiotic moves they’ve been making, I blame Hasbro)is going under what does it matter if they are violently gripping a handful of writers?

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