Featured image of post Thoughts on the Cortex Community Licensing

Thoughts on the Cortex Community Licensing

Why it's not all about the hustle

I inadvertently took a few weeks off, mainly because I had some writer’s block on what to post. Then I found something to climb onto a soapbox about: the Cortex community license. First, though, I’ll lay out a few takes I’ve seen, at least how I view them.

Take 1: Toolkits Require An Open License

This take is predicated on the fact that Cortex Prime is a toolkit game, but the lack of an open license somehow hampers creativity. The crux of it seems to be that since Cortex demands that GMs put on a “designer’s hat”, there must be some corresponding way for them to monetize their creation. The desire to be creative with the game is lost if that’s absent. Or something.

Take 2: I Can’t Publish My Game

Take 1 factors pretty heavily here. If you can’t “have it your way” in terms of publishing a Cortex game, it means you can’t publish it at all. Because even though there’s clearly a commercial license, that would require actually engaging with the people who created the game in the first place.

Take 3: Everything is Taking Too Long

Because of how long it’s taken for things to get spun up regarding Cortex Prime, players who have been waiting for several things - from a license they find agreeable to published Cortex games - will move on.

Take 4: It’s Fandom’s Fault

This is tangentially related to the other takes. It goes something like this: Fandom’s desire to create a walled garden and court IPs to license is the reason for the lack of a genuinely open license. It’s a case of the Big Corp hoarding everything for itself. A lot of this, of course, ignores that the structure of the licensing and goals for having a “creator studio” is consistent with how Cortex was pre-Fandom.

Soapbox Time

I’m going to get one thing out of the way right off the bat: there is no reason that you can’t create a Cortex game and distribute it. It’s right there in the community license. You can put it on itch, Patreon, or anything similar (just not DTRPG, which I see how it could be a sticking point), so long as you set it to be PWYW. And if for some reason what you are making isn’t possible under the community license, say it’s based on another IP? You just don’t need to agree to the license. You can’t use any assets made available via the community license. You won’t be able to benefit from the share-alike aspects of the license (such as being able to copy and paste rules text from the Cortex Codex), but that’s about it.

Now even this won’t sit well with some people. What if you want to put it on DriveThruRPG? What if you want to actually sell your Cortex game? That’s where the commercial license comes in. If your goal is to pay your bills by selling Cortex games, you just have to contact Fandom Tabletop and work out a licensing agreement. Is it as easy as copying boilerplate Forged in the Dark licensing or firing off an email to Vincent and Meg Baker to get a thumbs up? Nope. But suppose you’re serious about Cortex being what powers your game. In that case, you owe it to yourself to open the contact form and fill in a few fields (even if the answer is “IDK yet, but I have an idea”). If you’re not willing to do the bare minimum, you can’t really say that you can’t publish a Cortex game to make money.

This leads me to the core of my issue with these takes. Cortex is a game that’s meant to be played. Sure, it takes some elbow grease but honestly, not a lot more than getting a GURPS or HERO or even Fate game together. If you’re not playing Cortex because you can’t just sell your game without needing to talk to someone first or they’re taking longer than you expect to come out with products, that’s a You Problem. If you don’t participate in the pretty active Cortex community because you feel like your creativity is being hampered by these things…you guessed it, that’s a You Problem as well.

I feel a lot of the disillusionment, for lack of a better term, has to do with differing expectations with the advent of the very robust indie TTRPG community. Indie RPGs are a beautiful cacophony of shared games, mixing and matching, and creativity. There are game jams and bundles and all kinds of things happening. It’s understandable for someone who really likes Cortex to want it to be a part of that. It’s also understandable to be disappointed when you find out you can’t just start selling Cortex games without having to do a little legwork. There are plenty of other systems where you don’t have to do that. If that makes you pass on Cortex, that’s totally valid. I pass on games for any number of reasons. It’s just not very fair to put all of that back on the Cortex team or the decisions around the product.

Finally, if you have problems with Fandom’s business practices, I’m not going to tell you to not follow your conscience. I’m also not saying that people shouldn’t try to do whatever they can to survive or succeed. Or it’s wrong to want the Cortex license to be different or for books to come out faster. Just make sure you’re considering everything with the hard takes like, “I can’t sell my Cortex game!”.

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