TSR Chat with Rose Estes

Alzrius

The EN World kitten
But the lived experience of people who worked under her as well as the Gygax/Blume regime is that they unanimously preferred her. Yet you refuse to accept that inconvenient information, which makes it hard to take the rest of your argument seriously. Frankly, it seems like you have made up your mind and will ignore any evidence that doesn't fit your belief.
As I've said before, that tidbit comes to us solely from Ben Riggs, who makes it clear that he's very biased. Saying that I'm unwilling to take the words of a biased source as true is not evidence of bias on my own part; skepticism of someone who brazenly admits to being slanted is what's supposed to happen.

I'm honestly not sure how I can make that any more clear.
I don't think either work situation sounds great, but it sounds like her regime was significantly less awful - again, refer to the OP. Imagine, as a woman, having your boss tell you, "Women are good for only two jobs: secretaries and housewives. Anything else and they're a whore."
I don't think you can characterize a work environment where the employees are afraid of their boss as "less awful." The Gygax quote is bad; having multiple employees be literally afraid of the person they work for strikes me as much, much worse.
 

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dave2008

Legend
Right, but we have more. Admittedly, not about the yelling specifically, but about the overall workplace environment under her leadership, as you (sort of) acknowledge below:

That's only part of what he said. Here's the full text of the quote with regards to fear:



The second sentence says that people were afraid to say no to her, and admittedly he characterizes that as being due to her reputation. But even if we write that off (which I don't think we really can, but for this discussion we'll overlook that), that doesn't speak to the first sentence, which doesn't try to soften or explain the fact that people were (so) afraid of her. Full stop.

Now, I suppose you can say that the second sentence is an explanation of the first, placing it in greater context, but that's honestly not how it reads to me. He's saying that people were afraid of her, and as a parallel to that, he's also saying that they were afraid to say no to her. Take away the part about being afraid to say no, and they were still afraid of her.

Honestly though, even that feels like unnecessary nitpicking. If the people are afraid of the boss (and there's no suggestion that this was at the beginning of her career there, before she was a known element), then the reaction to that shouldn't be "we don't know what that really means." It should be "YIKES!!!"

But apparently that's just me.

I would suggest that the lived experiences of the people who worked for her are something that we should take seriously. You can choose to focus on the good over the bad, of course, but I don't think it's out of left field to say that when words like "afraid" and "yelling" come into the picture, "toxic" is the right label to apply.
I am going to just agree to disagree. What you see as being negative to her I see as being supportive. We are not going to get closer. I stand by my belief we don't have enough information.
 

Alzrius

The EN World kitten
I am going to just agree to disagree. What you see as being negative to her I see as being supportive. We are not going to get closer. I stand by my belief we don't have enough information.
For what it's worth, I want to underline that I completely respect your take on this, both in terms of seeing things differently and in deciding that we don't have enough information. Both are entirely reasonable positions, even if they're not ones that I myself hold.
 

MGibster

Legend
My impression from all accounts was that she was a fairly normal boss, neither terrible nor great, and didn't have a deep understanding of the industry (and had trouble finding people who both had that and good business sense at the same time).
I'm still not sure anyone has a great understanding of the industry. Except for maybe Steve Jackson of GURPS fame. That dude seems pretty on-the-ball.
 

Parmandur

Book-Friend
I'm still not sure anyone has a great understanding of the industry. Except for maybe Steve Jackson of GURPS fame. That dude seems pretty on-the-ball.
Fair point: and when Williams started taking charge, the industry was all of 15 years old.

My big TL;DR for the mismanagement of TSR is that the gamers in the company didn't know business, and the business people in the company didn't know games, and neither of those groups ever really geled.
 


Clint_L

Hero
Moving on, I had two of Rose Este's "Choose a Path..." books when I has maybe 12, and I basically had them memorized. I cannot tell you how much I loved them - we couldn't play nearly as often as I wanted to, so I just wore those books out reading and re-reading them. It was great to read about how she is doing.
 

Alzrius I usually agree with your posts but I’ve got to say that Williams doesn’t come off too badly in that excerpt.

I actually find Gygax’s treatment of Kuntz was more troubling, verbally abusing and screwing over a guy who was almost like a son.
 

This was a cool write-up.
I only had Dungeon of Dread and I loved that book as a kid. Such an awesome cover, for many years the water elemental and the black pudding were my favourite monsters because of the book. Thanks for the memories.
 
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Alzrius

The EN World kitten
So, here's the thing: you are just wrong.
No, not really. Having a different opinion doesn't make someone wrong.
Several people here immediately indicated to you that that was not how they read the book; that's what started this discussion - I was very surprised by your take on it. So your assertion that his intentions were "very clear" is prima facie incorrect.
It's not incorrect by any means, let alone prima facie; just because two or three other people read the book differently (and, by the by, that was with regard to the takeaway regarding Lorraine Williams, rather than the tenor of Riggs' bias) doesn't mean that something isn't very clear.
I think what you mean is that it is very clear to you, which is my point: your mind is already made up.
At some point there has to be an assertion that certain things are self-evident, otherwise there's no basis for the discussion to happen. If you're asserting that Riggs is an unbiased source whose personal assertions should be trusted, and can't accept that things such as his repeatedly calling Gary Gygax "Saint Gary" are indicative of why his take on things merits at least a certain degree of skepticism, then the only reasonable conclusion is that you're the one whose mind is made up.
Riggs is very open about his methodology in the book. I think it is overly reliant on anecdotes, but he has a solid journalistic record and overall is fairly objective. His book is a history, which means that it is an interpretation of facts, but I don't think many folks have challenged the truthfulness of his facts. When he states that not one person he interviewed preferred the earlier regime at TSR, I have no reason to think he is lying, nor do you. Unless you have some evidence to present that is stronger than your feelings?
It's worth noting here that you're once again mischaracterizing what I'm saying with regard to Riggs' take. I've never once called him a liar; I'm pointing out that his open display of bias on his part is justification for not taking his assertions to be unquestionable. He's certainly open about his methodology, and I don't think that anyone is challenging him on the facts (or saying his book isn't worth reading). But when he makes repeated displays of contempt for a particular individual, and then says "I couldn't find anyone who thought he was better to work for than his successor," the former undercuts the trustworthiness of the latter.

Again, I don't really see how this is so hard for you to understand. Partisanship erodes credibility, at least when it comes to the area where someone is partisan. Riggs' repeatedly makes it clear in his book that he doesn't respect Gary Gygax, ergo, his claims that no one else did (as much as Williams) are not something I'm willing to put my faith in purely on his say-so. If you can't understand the degree of nuance between that and "he's a liar!", that's a reflection on you, not me.
I consider Game Wizards a more rigorous source, and here is what about wrote about Williams/Gygax when I reviewed that book over on Minisgallery:

Speaking of Williams, a lot of folks have criticized her as having stolen the company and wrecked it, but I don't think you can read about what was actually happening at TSR at that time and maintain that criticism. She was definitely predatory in how she took control, but that was entirely Gygax's fault, as the courts later ruled. He had every opportunity to retain control of TSR and basically just couldn't be bothered until it was too late.

My take, by the end of the book, is that Lorraine Williams actually saved TSR and kept it solvent long enough for Wizards of the Coast to acquire it a decade later. Because if Gygax had managed to retain control in 1985, it would have been all over with a year at most. It was already barely solvent and there's no way he would have been capable of the restructuring that was required to bail it out. So I think she has been really unfairly maligned in the popular discourse about the history of TSR. Not saying I love all the decisions that she made, but now that I know what was happening behind the scenes, it is pretty incredible that she kept the company afloat.
The Game Wizards is far and away a more rigorous source, but that doesn't make the above any less of a counterfactual. Peterson might very well be right, we'll never know, but he's basically saying what we've already agreed to: that she kept the company going. He doesn't speak to her own employees being afraid of her, to her allegedly using misogynistic and dehumanizing insults when firing employees, etc. In other words, he gives her credit where it's due with regard to management, but doesn't address what kind of boss she was.
So...she was as poor at managing it as they were? I mean, I think she started from having to dig out of a hole, but sure, I don't think any of them did a great job. Also, I find it peculiar that you refer to Gygax on a first-name basis but Williams by last name. Did you know Gygax?
No, I didn't. I met him a few times, but nothing he'd ever remember. That said, I think you're reading a bit too much into my choice of name usage; looking back over my posts, I've referred to him as both "Gary" and "Gygax" more than once, and his successor as both "Williams" and "Lorraine" as well (admittedly, the distribution has been uneven; chalk that up to which sounds more mellifluous in my head, I suppose?).
Game Wizards documents the dire situation of TSR at that time very exhaustively.
No doubt. The Blumes' mismanagement is undeniable. But that doesn't mean that Lorraine Williams should be held up as the only one who could have saved the company.
I think people are a lot more complex than "the positive makes up for the negatives." All of us have complicated personalities and behaviours, and have done good and bad things. But what you are doing is taking a few words from one source and using it to comprehensibly label a person as "toxic"...even though the person you quoting emphatically did not label her that way. Quite the opposite, in fact. But you know more than him?
I'll point out again that it wasn't one source. I've quoted Fallone, I've quoted Connors, and I've quoted Mike Breault, at a minimum. While they all have good things to say, they also have very frank bad things to say about her leadership. As I've repeatedly noted, it's up to everyone to decide which are more salient, but when issues such as her employees being afraid of her, her yelling at her staff, and her hurling vile epithets at people in front of other heads of the company before firing them come up, I personally have a hard time reconciling that as anything except "toxic."

Clearly, you disagree.
Because this was a discussion started with Rose Estes, another first hand witness, claiming that "Lorraine told you like it was, and was straight up. You might not have agreed or liked her, but she was up front; no broken promises (like pay and royalties) which apparently happened a lot under Gary." And then you claimed that Ben Rigg's book showed that Williams actually was toxic, to which several of us replied that we read the book and didn't get that out of it.
No, actually, that's not how the discussion has progressed. Another poster said "you don't hear stories about her being toxic [or] out of touch." I pointed out that you do hear stories about both of those things, and that Fallone's quote in Riggs' book corroborated that. He characterizes her as not knowing what her staff did (and it's worth noting that Lorraine herself agrees that she didn't fully understand what D&D was; if you look at her quote in Chapter 11 of David Ewalt's Of Dice and Men, she says "I may not have understood it one hundred percent, but I understood intellectually that it was the right product for the right time.").

That, to me, says "out of touch." As for the "toxic" part, I've already spoken to that.
His several references to "Saint Gary" are to how Gygax and some of his fans have represented him. Gygax never did anything wrong in his own accounting of events. Just about everyone else who worked with the man disagrees - again, I refer you to Rose Estes in the OP. Riggs doesn't really render judgment on it one way or the other, but he does point out that it is an issue.
And here I have to disagree with you; if Riggs had applied that label once, and explained it in the context you just did, that would be one thing. But his repeated adoption and persistent usage of that term characterizes his outlook as being not a corrective against an viewpoint that's uncharitably positive, but as his own being uncharitably negative.

Now, you can absolutely take a different stance on that, but the point is that Riggs compromises his own objectivity in the process of being so partisan. Leaving aside the usual blather about how "objectivity doesn't really exist; everything is filtered through our own perceptions," someone who wants to report on a history should (in my opinion) at least try to check their own biases with regard to people and events. Riggs not only doesn't make this attempt, he's brazen about it. Ergo, I find it difficult to grant him the level of personal faith that you apparently do.
It was a reasonable price because someone paid it; moreover Peterson shows that Gygax easily had the means.
I'm going to have to ask you to source your citation on Peterson showing that Gygax "easily" had the means to afford to buy the Blumes out for $500 a share. That said, the idea that something is reasonable because someone else paid it seems to overlook that Lorraine came from a trust fund family, and was extremely flush with cash on hand to make such a large purchase.
It has been unanimously described as a better work environment than under the Blumes and Gygax. You dismiss Riggs' statement, but here we have Rose Estes saying the same thing. The person you are quoting clearly did not see it as toxic. You are inserting your interpretation of a few cherrypicked words to label it as "toxic," against the word of a reporter who interviewed dozens upon dozens of former employees, and two of those employees.
The words were in no way "cherry-picked." Cherry-picking quotes means taking them out of context, i.e. not presenting the entire quote. At each point, I've noted the full text of what Fallone, Connors, and Breault all said, including the good as well as the bad. I feel comfortable in saying that the bad eclipses the good, and that it's so bad that when someone says Williams wasn't "toxic" in her leadership, there's a reasonable basis for disagreeing.
Well, as I pointed out I think she started from a greater disadvantage and deserves flowers for actually getting it back up and running for a decade. She at least kept it going until WotC could purchase D&D and starting running the franchise like professionals.
And once again, I disagree. Lorraine Williams started from a far, far more advantageous position than Gary Gygax did. When she took over in 1985, D&D was already a household name, having come off of a multi-year boom (albeit one that was well and truly tapped out several years prior) and a lot of (oftentimes controversial) press. She wasn't trying to establish the company, nor was she fighting any internal battles against shareholders. She wasn't even dividing her time between management and creating new product herself (as I noted in my thread on the black boxed set, she was the impetus for its creation, but it was actually written by Troy Denning). Not to mention her pushing the Buck Rogers IP, which was personally beneficial for her and her family.

She was, in other words, running the company on the lowest difficulty setting, at least compared to Gygax, and yet she still only kept it going for the same amount of time. Moreover, her employees have described her in terms such as "afraid," "yelling," "run the company into the ground," and screaming dehumanizing insults. Take that as you will, but I don't see that as the ringing endorsement that you seem to.
See above, but ultimately I think she was not a good manager for TSR, though for very different reasons. Gygax was a complete amateur, who moreover could scarcely be bothered to learn, which is why he handed his responsibilities off to someone he barely knew or vetted (Williams). I'm not some big Lorraine Williams fan. From what I've read about her she was totally out of touch with the fan base for the product she was selling, didn't make a great effort to learn about her product, and was overly concerned with her family's stupid Buck Rogers IP. But she sounds like a decent person on a personal level.
Interesting fact about the Buck Rogers IP: it appears that there's been a recent series of court battles over who actually owns the character (from what I can tell, it comes down to an issue of Lorraine's grandfather John Dille being the publisher, but not the actual creator of the character; to my layman's eye, it looks like an issue of whether or not it was work-for-hire or not).
I think any criticism of Gygax pales in comparison to the often profoundly misogynistic venom that has been spat at Lorraine Williams. Edit: see below.
And this is where I disagree most strongly; I don't see issues of misogyny being of any particular note in Williams' having an overall worse reputation compared to Gary. Rather, I think that Gygax's reputation is buoyed because, while there seems to be a comparable number of negatives to be said about him, he has more positives than she does, those revolving around the fact that he created the game (insert obligatory reference to Arneson here), founded the company, made both a household name, and was himself a creator, whereas Williams' greatest achievement was keeping the company going after it was already established (albeit in financial trouble), and didn't actually care for it the way Gary did.

Now, there's absolutely different takes to be had on that. As I noted, it's entirely reasonable to say that the positives don't outweigh the negatives where Gary is concerned. For that matter, you can argue as to the merit of those positives in the first place. I'm not going to tell you what to value. I just think that there's a general sense that Gary truly loved what he did, whereas Lorraine saw it as a business opportunity, and that rightly or wrongly, the former evokes more sympathy than the latter.
Your one cited source begins with what is essentially a fat joke about Williams, his second to last point is another fat joke about Williams, passes on a bunch of really nasty rumours and innuendo about her family, doesn't recount a single incident from his personal experience, and his one germane anecdote is point 9, which you quote above, which is at best second-hand gossip. That source is not helping your argument, to put it mildly. I find Ben Riggs to be a more convincing source, not to mention Rose Estes, who is speaking about what she personally experienced of both people.
I'm not sure why your numbering is off, but it is: the listed quote is point number seven; there is no point number nine.

As for the issue of Breault's not seeing that first-hand, I'm not surprised that you compared that to my distrust of Riggs' reporting; indeed, I was fully expecting it! However, I think it's important to remember the different contexts; Riggs openly went in with an agenda (page 67 of the hardcover of Slaying the Dragon: "And as I read some of the most intense and vicious attacks on Williams, I could not help but wonder what role misogyny might play in her villainization." When you openly speculate as to the motivations and biases of others, you tend to reveal your own.), whereas Breault worked there.

I say that not to suggest that Breault is necessarily more trustworthy, but that his vitriol is more understandable for his having had her as a boss. Remember, it was Fallone who said that her own employees were afraid of her; I find myself more sympathetic toward someone who worked in a climate of fear than I do toward someone writing a book about it.
 
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