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TSR Did TSR Sue Regularly?

Shannon Appelcline (Designers & Dragons) talks about it here! With infographics! "Every company interacts with the rest of the industry in a different way. For Chaosium it's been more than 40 years of licensing, while Target Games created and defined roleplaying in its home country of Sweden. Dave Nalle's Ragnarok Enterprises instead influenced designers and publishers through interactions in...

Shannon Appelcline (Designers & Dragons) talks about it here! With infographics!

"Every company interacts with the rest of the industry in a different way. For Chaosium it's been more than 40 years of licensing, while Target Games created and defined roleplaying in its home country of Sweden. Dave Nalle's Ragnarok Enterprises instead influenced designers and publishers through interactions in A&Eand Abyss. As for TSR, the founder of our industry: as wags have put it: they sue regularly."


They also sued WotC once!
 

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GreyLord

Legend
Apparently they had 40 million in revenue.

Adjusted for inflation it's a lot bigger than 1983 number adjusted for inflation.

Hell both numbers are bigger than the RPG market circa 2019 iirc.
It varied.

I think in 1992 they had something close to 90+ million (gross...NOT net),

And in 1993 they had over 100 million (gross...not net).

Still, they hit rock bottom pretty quickly after that...because gross doesn't tell the whole story.

They were spending plenty of money as well, and licensing (for example, Buck Rogers) was funneling money away in a way that I feel was almost fraudulent in some ways. Other places they had debt building up for YEARS, and when it came due...it came crashing down hard.

TSR itself wasn't doing as badly as some suppose when Gary lost it. I think they had around 25 - 30 million (Net?) in the early to mid-80s which is not doing that badly themselves (and probably a LOT MORE in gross, considering the popularity at the time).

That's around the equivalent of 100 million dollar industry today...or somewhere in that range. It's up there. That one company was bringing in some pretty major money.

However, it wasn't all roses...there were other income and debt problems that were threatening the company...but the sales were actually not bad at all.
 

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Zardnaar

Legend
It varied.

I think in 1992 they had something close to 90+ million (gross...NOT net),

And in 1993 they had over 100 million (gross...not net).

Still, they hit rock bottom pretty quickly after that...because gross doesn't tell the whole story.

They were spending plenty of money as well, and licensing (for example, Buck Rogers) was funneling money away in a way that I feel was almost fraudulent in some ways. Other places they had debt building up for YEARS, and when it came due...it came crashing down hard.

TSR itself wasn't doing as badly as some suppose when Gary lost it. I think they had around 25 - 30 million (Net?) in the early to mid-80s which is not doing that badly themselves (and probably a LOT MORE in gross, considering the popularity at the time).

That's around the equivalent of 100 million dollar industry today...or somewhere in that range. It's up there. That one company was bringing in some pretty major money.

However, it wasn't all roses...there were other income and debt problems that were threatening the company...but the sales were actually not bad at all.

Peak 83 afaik at 27 million, 84 they crashed 30% but they forecast growth and spent assuming that. 85 Gary was gone burger.
Big difference with profit though.
 

They were spending plenty of money as well, and licensing (for example, Buck Rogers) was funneling money away in a way that I feel was almost fraudulent in some ways.
I'm only familiar with the Buck Rogers one, but as I understand it that wasn't at all fraudulent.

Lorraine Williams had a significant financial interest in the transaction, she declared her interest to the other directors, and the board approved it in full knowledge of the facts.

It didn't work out, and prevented TSR from attempting to acquire the Star Wars license which was also available at the time. I think it is the second element, rather than the first, which with hindsight made it such a terrible business decision. However, at the time, few people realised how much demand there was for a Star Wars RPG.
 


I'm only familiar with the Buck Rogers one, but as I understand it that wasn't at all fraudulent.

Lorraine Williams had a significant financial interest in the transaction, she declared her interest to the other directors, and the board approved it in full knowledge of the facts.

It didn't work out, and prevented TSR from attempting to acquire the Star Wars license which was also available at the time. I think it is the second element, rather than the first, which with hindsight made it such a terrible business decision. However, at the time, few people realised how much demand there was for a Star Wars RPG.

It wasn't fraudulent, but Williams basically used her ownership position to get the company to pay her for something she couldn't otherwise monetize, and which didn't translate into much profit (if any) for the company. It was deeply unethical. It didn't just "not work out;" it wasn't particularly intended to. The deal was done solely so that Williams could extract money from the company, with zero concern for whether or not it was a good business decision. They didn't go with Buck Rogers over Star Wars because there was any legitimate reason to think an IP that hadn't been relevant since the Korean War was going to sell; they went with it because it got Williams paid. Everything Williams did makes sense if you see it through the bust-out lens rather than the "what were they thinking???" lens.
 

GreyLord

Legend
I'm only familiar with the Buck Rogers one, but as I understand it that wasn't at all fraudulent.

Lorraine Williams had a significant financial interest in the transaction, she declared her interest to the other directors, and the board approved it in full knowledge of the facts.

It didn't work out, and prevented TSR from attempting to acquire the Star Wars license which was also available at the time. I think it is the second element, rather than the first, which with hindsight made it such a terrible business decision. However, at the time, few people realised how much demand there was for a Star Wars RPG.
The higher ups say she was clear about it, and to commit fraud means that you have to be deceptive about something (ownership, your stakes in it, etc), but I cannot see why or how they'd have ever approved some of the things she did which put money into her own financial accounts.

I suppose embezzlement would be the better word for it, but the way everything went with some of her personal interactions to get gain at TSR's expense just seem so insane I can't imagine anyone really approving such things.

Obviously they did, but it just doesn't make a ton of sense for everyone else just to go along with it. At least to me. Those at the bottom had no choice, but the ones at the head of the company in the late 80s to the mid 90s just mystifies me looking back at it.

It was absolutely unethical.

Perhaps I'm just bitter a bit and feel something worse was going on.
 

Dire Bare

Legend
well, BR wasn't the only 'bad idea to spend money on' that TSR had...
I'll push back against the idea that TSR starting a Buck Rogers product line was a bad idea. At least, the first Buck product line (Buck Rogers XXVC), the later revamped one (High Adventures Cliffhangers) was terrible IMO. The XXVC products were ultimately not successful, but so have been many other product lines. New RPGs come and go all the time, Buck Rogers was just a little more high profile. Buck Rogers is a classic sci-fi property ripe for a reimagining, both back then and still today.

Back in the day, I read all the XXVC novels, had the board game, and the RPG boxed set and LOVED IT ALL. None of my friends wanted to play the XXVC game sadly, but I still have that problem today when trying to get friends to play anything other than D&D. The reimagined Buck Rogers universe for the XXVC game was pretty awesome, IMO. Why was it ultimately unsuccessful? Who knows? Marketing? Only DireBare loved it? Everybody else was playing Star Wars?

In 20/20 hindsight, the failure of both Buck Rogers product lines to sustain any significant success, plus Williams personal connection to the property, makes it look like a BAD IDEA. But that's with hindsight. TSR certainly was not a well-managed company, but there were LOTS of truly bad decisions made, and lots of things that just didn't pan out. It's all water under the bridge, I'm mostly concerned with what my favorite RPG companies are doing NOW.

That said, I'd love it if WotC could strike a deal with the Dille estate to publish ebooks of the TSR-era Buck Rogers XXVC product line. I'd snap them up. It's not gonna happen, of course, but a nerd can dream.
 

It wasn't fraudulent, but Williams basically used her ownership position to get the company to pay her for something she couldn't otherwise monetize, and which didn't translate into much profit (if any) for the company. It was deeply unethical. It didn't just "not work out;" it wasn't particularly intended to. The deal was done solely so that Williams could extract money from the company, with zero concern for whether or not it was a good business decision. They didn't go with Buck Rogers over Star Wars because there was any legitimate reason to think an IP that hadn't been relevant since the Korean War was going to sell; they went with it because it got Williams paid. Everything Williams did makes sense if you see it through the bust-out lens rather than the "what were they thinking???" lens.
Lorraine Williams has never commented on her time at TSR. How do you know what her intentions were?

It was clearly a bad business decision, as they paid way too much for the licence, but TSR had a history of bad business decisions.
 

Back in the day, I was the only kid I knew who even knew what Buck Rogers was, and that was because I found an anthology on my granddad's bookshelf that he gave to me. It really isn't just hindsight. Buck Rogers in the 1980s was a nostalgia brand for the WW2 generation; there was no question of whether Star Wars or Buck Rogers were bigger, particularly with kids. The basic problem is, even if you own a corporation outright, like Williams did, you can't legally do stuff like have it take out loans and just give you money. But what you can have it do license an IP you own, and take out loans to finance the creation of products from which you reap up-front royalty payments. From what I've read, Williams didn't receive royalties primarily based on sales; she received them based on the size of print runs. So basically she'd found a way to get herself massive cash advances from a product that didn't sell. And when it all blew up, well, the liabilities were TSR's, not hers.
 

Lorraine Williams has never commented on her time at TSR. How do you know what her intentions were?

It was clearly a bad business decision, as they paid way too much for the licence, but TSR had a history of bad business decisions.

Williams was both owner and chief executive of TSR. You can say, "Lorraine Williams" instead of TSR. It was her company. She made the decisions. Every decision she made basically resulted in assets flowing her way and unsustainable liabilities piling up on the corporate balance sheet. At some point, given how many people do exactly that (PE firms do this all the time), I do not need mind-reading capability to know that the quacking thing eating bread crumbs is a duck.

TSR isn't a person; it's a legal construct that existed to make money for Lorraine Williams. It does appear to have done that, just not by the traditional way of being profitable.
 

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