On Vitriol: This Zak Smith Thing - Almost four years ago, Zak Smith and wundergeek had a very public fight about gender politics. At the time, I had been away from blogging due to the health...
2 weeks ago
But a couple of weeks ago for some reason things started picking up. I'm not sure why, but partly it's because we realized that we can actually move forward and continue publishing products with all of us working on a part-time basis. Probably because we've gotten pretty proficient at our respective tasks here. Jesper's living at home and said he could go without pay indefinitely, particularly since his involvement here at WotC has gotten him some free-lance contracts for other companies (an upcoming White Wolf book is being entirely illustrated by him, and I hear they liked it well enough that he's going to be doing another one). I'd been working full time here and at Boeing (I've averaged over eighty hours of work a week for the last two years) and didn't need WotC income, Jay said he could work part time for WotC and full time elsewhere and manage Design & Development from home through e-mail if he could take home one of the computers, Beverly said she could probably get by with her husband's full-time job if she could pick up some free-lance editing, and Lisa's working part-time freelancing too (she just edited a book for TSR, for more money than I'd been paying her for three months worth of work!).Postscript: Looking at that list of editing and illustration side projects, once again you can see Lisa Stevens contributing crucially in the clutch to keep Wizards alive. Her experience, rolodex, relationships, and networking savvy continued to make the difference in the survival and development of Wizards.
|Paul Randles, 1965-2003|
|Judy Sorenson, 1954-2011|
|Mr. Bob, rest in peace|
|Peter Adkison, 29 March 2011|
If this project involves publishing, you'd better get publishers' permissions, first . . .A day later, Peter responded:
I will be following the procedures outlined for me by my intellectual properties attorney.Experts from all over the Internet contacted Wizards and contributed their conversion notes to The Primal Order to create the first Capsystem product. TPO hit the stores five months later in April 1992, and two months later in June Kevin Siembieda launched the lawsuit that nearly destroyed the fledgling company. The long, difficult road to their very first product release led Wizards of the Coast directly into legal trouble.
|Kevin Siembieda, Palladium founder|
|Publisher of numerous RPGs, including Rifts|
But just after the Guidebook came out, on June 17th, 1992, we were dealt a devastating blow (although it took several months before the full impact really started to hit). We were jointly sued by Palladium Books and Kevin Siembieda for copyright and trademark infringement due to the TPO integration notes. The further and further we got into 1992 the more time and resources this started to consume, and a cloud started settling over our office that sapped our energy and caused us to start doubting the future of the company. This last November and December were low points, culminating with the fact that the case wasn't thrown out of court on the 14th of December as we'd hoped it would be at the summary judgement hearing we had that day. We had started a stock solicitation in November, but it was proceeding slowly, and on December 28th, during our Christmas holiday, I told our staff that the payroll checks I was writing would be their last, probably for several months.
|The Scent of the Beast|
|Pawns, The Opening Move|
|The Archaen Codex|
|Tales of Talislanta|
|The Compleat Alchemist|
After the Guidebook, Geographica, Tales, Pawns, and the Codex seemed to just fly out the door. Once we had Jesper, we had an incredible team and we started to really get into synch.
|Rashid sleeps on Surya, 8 August 2006|
|Jonathan Tweet, Mr. Creativity|
After the release of TPO things bogged for a month or two until we got The Talislanta Guidebook out the door--another huge tome that consumed massive amounts of internal resources to get done "right." I have to admit that I'm not sure we did as good a job as we could have, although it's heads above the earlier editions (don't mean to slam Bard Games, but with Jonathan Tweet's coauthoring and Beverly's editing, it really turned out very nice).
|Cathleen Adkison, one of the three original principals|
|Michael Cook, quality-improvement guru|
|George S. Lowe, "Primal Caterer" (and friend)|
|Jay Hays, who deserves higher-resolution|
|Jesper Myrfors, in high resolution & high spirits|
The last part of 1991 and early 1992 was also consumed by the millions of things that had to be done to get going. Getting UPC codes for our books, UPS drop/stamp, bulk mailing permits, distributor announcements and solicitations, learning how to use a fax machine, securing financing on a copier, getting a laser printer and a couple of Macs, etc., etc., etc--all the little things that had to come together. If we wouldn't have had Lisa who knew how to do all this already, we would really have been flailing.
Of course the biggest hurdle of all was money. Financing has always been the limiting factor for our company's growth; it's very difficult to find people who want to invest in gaming. Well actually, lots of people want to invest in gaming, but most of them are gamers who don't have any money. We were never able to raise our entire stock solicitation, but we were able to get enough of it to get going and we're still paying the consequences of not having been able to raise it all. The biggest day in that sequence was the securing of a $30,000 line of credit, which was enough to guarantee publication of TPO and the Guidebook. The day we secured that LOC is a day I think of as the turning point as to whether all this was really going to be worth it or not. Before that there was always the possibility that we'd have a good product, good people, and a good plan but couldn't move forward because of lack of capitalization. But at that point I knew we were guaranteed of at least being able to make our mark in the gaming industry, that no matter what happened, I'd be able to contribute something to the industry I love so much. No matter what happens now, even if the company goes under because of this Palladium lawsuit [next post --Ed.] and I end up paying back the loans for the next twenty years, I'll always feel that I came out ahead.
Concurrently to everything I've been describing, we had our share of internal problems. Almost everyone who was initially involved with the company ended up moving on, either because they found that they didn't have the time to do the work on top of their "day job," because they didn't have skills we needed, because of personality conflicts, loss of interest, or what have you. I'm happy to say that I'm still close with everyone I've ever worked with. But now, out of the most active players in WotC, I'm the only one who was there at the beginning. Those primary people are Lisa and Beverly, of course, and Jay Hays and Jesper Myrfors. Jay came on board the earliest, along about November of 1990. He immediately dived into things head long, with tremendous ambition, dedication, and energy. He told me that he'd be a corporate officer within six months and on the board of directors within a year--he succeeded in both goals. He's consistently been one of the most hard working and fanatical members of the team, and he has a stock percentage to show for it. Jesper is the most recent arrival. He is an artist who'd always been a fan of Talislanta, asked to do art, and then just started coming down to the office and started hanging out, looking for things to do, volunteering his time. Within a couple months he was running just about all of the production department and we figured we'd better put him on the payroll. He's been a tremendous part of the team ever since.
|The Primal Order, Wizards's First Product|
|Dave Howell, who rewrote & typeset|
Well, that fall I got the critiques back from the writers I'd sent them to. These critiques helped a lot, since they included two important elements: (a) pages of constructive criticism on how to make it better, and (b) a statement saying that the product had tremendous potential and that they wished us the best of luck. The letter from Ken Rolston was especially encouraging, and led to us asking him to write the foreword for the book.
One of the major criticisms of the draft I'd sent out was that it was very dry and that it was too oriented toward AD&D. At that time I brought Dave Howell into the loop and started working on yet another redraft of the book, this time with the intent of "lightening it up" and removing all the AD&D flavor. Also, about this time I started studying other game systems to write integration notes and quickly came to the realization that I need a lot of help. That's when we started up the famous experts-l mailing list, where I called for gaming-system experts on the net to help us out. By December 1991, we finally had a complete honest-to-god professional-quality first draft of TPO. Time to go see Beverly again.
This time Beverly didn't throw up on it, but actually declared it as "having potential." The editing soon turned into redrafting/editing, and Beverly and Dave both actually moved into my house (much to the chagrin of Beverly's husband and housemates) and worked on TPO night and day. Dave was helping with the redraft and doing the typesetting too. I helped where I could, but they were able to work fulltime while I had to go to Boeing and run the company. The book was supposed to be released in January, but it didn't go to the printers until late February, and the shipment arrived at my house on April Fools Day, 1992, perhaps the greatest day in my life other than my wedding day. To hold that book in my hands and see thousands of copies in boxes after working on it for over a year and a half was just incredible.
|Mike Davis, matchmaker|
|Richard Garfield, mathematician|
Also at about this time magical event #4 happened (although we didn't realize its import at the time). As a result of one of my posts on rec.games.design, I received a letter from a guy named Mike Davis about this game that a friend of his, Richard Garfield, had designed. The name of the game was Robo Rally, and to tell the truth it sounded kinda stupid from the description. I politely told him that we were a roleplaying company and were only mildly interested in "getting into board games some day." He was fortunately persistent and I eventually agreed to take a look at the game and meet them since they were both flying out to the west coast to see Richard's parents. Well, the game was simply brilliant, and I was immediately impressed by their intellect and imagination, which surpassed my own on both counts. We told them we'd like to publish it the following summer after we got on our feet (the projected release date for TPO had been pushed back to winter of 1991 by this time). To jump ahead in the story, we never have published this game because of the tremendous expense of putting it out, although we're working on perhaps doing it as a joint venture with another company that shall remain nameless at this time.
At this meeting I mentioned that there was going to be a convention (Dragonflight 1991) the following weekend [Friday-Sunday, 23–25 August 1991 --Ed.] and they should come up to Seattle to attend. Mike had to go back to Atlanta, but Richard said he'd come up. Then Richard, probably wanting to show off, asked me if I'd like him to design a game during the next week (!), and if so, to describe to him a game concept and he'd do it. Well, I had always thought it would be really cool to have a fantasy-oriented card game that was quick to play, easy to carry (playing cards only), fairly easy to learn, that could be marketed through the convention circuit. I had noticed that people spend a lot of time at conventions hanging out in lobbies, standing in lines, etc., and I think having a game like this could sell very well in that market. He said, "Okay."
Next week Richard came to Dragonflight and while we were in a vacant parking garage across from Seattle Center (Ken was with us and we had parked there so Ken could run in to some building and pick up something), Richard described to me a game that he'd come up with that fit those specs--and went way beyond. And this game was the single most awesome gaming idea I had heard of since 1978, when I heard of roleplaying. I started whooping and hollering and yelling, primarily because I knew at that moment that we had an idea that would add a whole new dimension to gaming, and if executed properly, would make us millions. This wasn't just a new game, it was a new gaming form. (Btw, if we can raise the capital, this game will be coming out this summer. Wish I could tell you more, but you know how it is...)
|Talislanta, an established RPG product line|
|Stephan Michael Sechi, creator of Talislanta|
Enter magical moment #3. Lisa asked me how I'd like to have her as an employee. Why would she want to leave White Wolf, a rapidly growing company (they'd just put out Vampire) to join a company that didn't even have its first product out the door? Ownership (there were some other reasons too). WW is a partnership between Mark Rein·Hagen and Stewart Weick and she didn't see how her hard work would get her anything in the long run, whereas WotC [rhymes with ROTC --Ed.] is a corporation and we were willing to give her a sizable chunk of stock to come work with us. A long and involved negotiating session ensued, where Lisa was able to entice us even more by saying, "How would you like to start production with an entire product line, and $100,000 in inventory? Have you ever heard of Talislanta?"
The next couple of months were amazing. Lisa and Rich went to GenCon [Thursday-Sunday, 8–11 August 1991 --Ed.] and started strategically placed rumors about this hot new gaming company on the west coast that she was helping out. By then the rumors had started flying about how she'd left WW, and I think she was offered about three jobs at that convention (Lisa has an incredible reputation in the industry as being very good at sales and marketing). We entered negotiations with Stephan Michael Sechi to acquire the exclusive English-language publishing rights to everything Bard Games had ever done, and we started raising money in earnest so that we could move Lisa out here and get started.
I was very paranoid about TPO though. I was starting to realize that there was a lot at stake, and that deities were probably not going to be that hot of a topic, and that TPO had to be awesome. So, at GenCon I got Lisa to collect the names of some key authors in the gaming industry who'd be willing to critique the draft I had at the time. As a result of that I was able to send drafts to Allen Varney, Graeme Davis, Jonathan Tweet, and Ken Rolston, not to mention Nigel Findley who I'd met at a local con (Dragonflight in 1991 [Friday-Sunday, 23–25 August 1991 --Ed.]). TPO basically sat on the shelf that summer/early fall while I waited for feedback and tried to get over feeling burned out on the book.