Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Wizards of the Coast: A New Series

I was close to the people who founded Wizards. We gamed together for years in Walla Walla long before Wizards was more than a vague idea. We attended each other's weddings, supported each other though breakups and tragedies, and generally understood each other's character and intentions.

I never worked for Wizards, but my wife did as did most of my friends - indeed, there was a time when I seemed the only one of my circle of friends who did not work there - and many times we talked together about why they did what they did and what they hoped to achieve. In the early days, in the basement of the house that Peter and Cathy mortgaged twice to try to keep their dream alive during the difficult years, I attended almost all of the weekly staff meetings, and I often hung out at the company - since after all most of my social circle was there. After the move to the first and second office buildings I was still there almost every day, however briefly, since I drove my wife to and from work and often came inside and hung out, and I attended many staff functions.

I was such a part of the company without being an employee that even during their later, more security-conscious years even employees who did not know me would let me into the building without pause. The newer employees saw me so often they just assumed I worked there, and the older employees all knew me too well to think of me as an outsider. The funniest example of that was when the head of security let me in the very week he personally enacted strict new guidelines to protect building security. It just didn't occur to anyone that I was an outsider, but I was. I was as inside as an outsider could have been.

Eventually we'll talk about why I never became an employee, but for now my point is not that I'm one of the cool kids because I'm friends with the cool kids - my own career where I've chosen to make my mark on the world has nothing to do with gaming. My point is that you're never going to get a more inside look at Wizards from an outsider than I can give you, because the only people more inside than me were actually inside.

That puts me in an interesting position to write a series like this. It's because of my background that I know from first-hand experience that most of the histories written about Wizards of the Coast miss a good deal of the story. It bugs me. If we don't understand what happened, if the true story is never told, how are we supposed to learn from it?

Peter and I once talked about how weird media coverage is. When we were younger, we just assumed that the media was more or less right most of the time, aside from occasional errors that had to be corrected in the next day's paper. We figured outrageous errors only happened because of conscious bias.

It was Wizards's experience with the media that taught us both how naive that view was, how wrong the media is most of the time about most things. In the entire time I was associated with Wizards, I never once read even a short article about Wizards that didn't get something really basic wrong, like claiming that Peter invented Magic, or that Richard founded Wizards. These were not writers with a vendetta against the company; they were just driven by the demands of their industry to hurry to press, with no time for quality control or fact checking. Peter and I concluded in that long-ago talk: If the media is this wrong about something we know, how wrong must they be about all the other subjects we don't know well enough to tell the difference?

Experience eventually teaches most of us the sad answer. Reporting is more or less always full of errors. It's organized, professional gossip. The most you can hope for is a moderately accurate and entertaining source. The only part of history we ever learn the truth about - and at best only in fragmentary form - is the history we ourselves lived through. Everything else is hearsay, exaggeration, and distortion. When I read articles and Internet speculations about Wizards's motivations for this or that action they took, I know I'm not reading the results of malice but of the logical consequences of getting our information from second-hand sources that cannot possibly offer us the truth.

The only real antidote for this is for each of us to offer, as soberly and carefully as we can, those pieces of history we can report from direct experience, with the understanding that although they are merely subjective perspectives they are at least honest ones. I have maybe three worthy stories in me, and this is one of them. Telling what I know of Wizards's origins is one of the contributions I can make toward trying to capture a little real history for those who missed directly experiencing it. I missed a lot, but I also saw a lot. We still know the rest of the players in this little drama, and their perspectives can help fill in the many gaps in what will follow.

Maybe together in this piecemeal way we can tell a little truth together. I hope you enjoy it.


  1. I am posting about this on the WotC forums. This is an awesome series, and I look forward to reading more.

  2. Thank you, Marcel. I'm glad you're enjoying it.