Fandom, the company that owns D&D Beyond, and owns Cortex hopes one day to operate the Cortex Creator Studio as a competitor to DriveThruRPG, Itch.io and perhaps also digital toolkits like Demiplane and virtual tabletops. The company, which makes most of its money through fan wikis, and which recently launched a self-service ad network for creators for it, has the technical skills to make the Cortex Creator Studio marketplace happen. But it hasn’t yet.
The Cortex RPG’s creator license launch hasn’t gone well either. In theory, the license, which you can find here should enable third-party creators to build and sell games that use Cortex Prime.
In practice, though, creators have found reason to distrust it, and there’s been a large amount of dissent. Comments on the Kickstarter update that made the announcement are harsh, but seem valid.
- Fandom seems to exert ownership of any system, mods and other rules that third parties create and which Fandom later adopt for the Cortex System.
- One ruling prohibits content inappropriate for minors which might rule out grimdark games, murderhobo sword-and-sorcery worlds where all goblins are racially evil but is more often used as code for anti-LGBTQ content.
- Free Cortex content seems to be banned from being listed on DriveThruRPG or Itch.io.
Dicebreaker has an excellent article on dissent about the license.
Cortex’s creator, Cam Banks has been busy trying to explain that it all sounds worse than intended. At least, that’s what Banks believes. In a tweet, the designer highlights the role of the ecosystem.
Fandom Community Manager Mellie Doucette noted in an email to Dicebreaker the problem.
Our initial plan for Cortex Prime licensing was to offer the Cortex Creator Studio, a distribution channel, marketplace, gaming hub, and design tool,”
And as Dicebreaker’s Chase Carter points out;
The licenses had been designed for features and infrastructure that simply doesn’t yet exist.
If Fandom had Cortex Creator Studio in place, it would make more sense that Cortex material could only be listed there. Wizards of the Coast have some restrictive covenants on third party D&D material sold via DMs Guild. You don’t see bundles that mix-and-match DriveThruRPG downloads with DMs Guild downloads for this reason.
However, Fandom seems to want to make this right. Doucette also said that the company’s next move will be to ensure that the dense and complex legalese in the license actually worked with the company’s goals of having a vibrant community for Cortex Prime.
That makes sense, right? Fandom’s primary business is all around making money from user-generated content and communities with their wikis. Perhaps RPG designers did into the fine print of the “who owns what” more closely than wiki contributors do, though.
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