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lorraine williams (includes opinions from Gygax et al)

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Henry

Autoexreginated
rgard said:
To be honest though, if TSR had decided to allow derivative use material, but disallowed IP being posted, how would they have policed that? They would have had to employ an army of folks looking for the IP that was posted.

To be honest, I don't blame TSR for overreacting, because in the burgeoning days of the Internet Explosion, no one knew how to act because of a lack of strong precedent for much of this stuff. But goodwill would have been preserved had they acted in a similar way to the way WotC deals with fan material (which is to largely look the other way unless some gross violations are going on). Then again, thanks to the OGL, they don't have to look hard at a lot of it.
 

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WayneLigon

Adventurer
rgard said:
I remember in my early days of the internet (mid-90s) somebody had uploaded all the 1st and 2nd ed D&D rules. Naughty by most standards, so I can understand the lawsuit threat if the threats were directed at those who uploaded the rules.

No, they're talking about campaign sites, sites that had original content using the D&D rules (such as new classes, spells, and monsters of their creation); stuff like that.
 

kenobi65

First Post
Wolfspider said:
I could have sworn that the movie did depict the kids playing D&D at the beginning of the film. :confused:

They're playing a fantasy RPG. There's no mention of the words "Dungeons and Dragons", and no display of any material that would be identifiable as a TSR product. One assumes that, had Gary / TSR approved what they'd been approached with by the producers, you would have seen PHBs and the like on the table.
 

Melan

Explorer
Also, we should not forget that when TSR allowed fan material on a carefully controlled site (named MPGENet, maybe?), they required creators to abide by a code of ethics - an uniquely stupid and restrictive license which would have excluded almost all serious works of fantasy, legends, folk tales or classical mythology from acceptance.
You can read the whole shameful nonsense here.
 

Spell

First Post
francisca said:
Please elaborate on her creative contributions.
I think any success during her tenure was in spite of her, not because of her.

i think that is a bit too harsh, francisca. first of all, she didn't have to have any creative contribution, because she was a manager, not a game developer (and if her managerial ineptitude is any hint of her creative skills, i'm very happy she had very little input on the creative work! :p)

on the other hand, i don't agree on the "in spite of her" part of your post.

first of all i'm a creative person myself. i am a musician, i play in various bands and i am a composer. sometimes i do my own thing, but at least 50% of the time, i have a boss of some sort that i have to please. in all of my years in the music business (11, this year), i've seen countless acts breaking up because people were resentful of each other, or because their motivation to do whatever they did had run dry.

i myself had such experience, in the past, and i can tell you that, at some point, i was close to move to another occupation, just because i felt that i was dealing with people i wouldn't have allowed in my house, and that believed that i was a big headed stupid. luckily i found new people and i moved on.

now, let's make this a bit more general. if mrs. williams was indeed spending her days eating puppies and reminding some of the best designers in the business that they were worth nothing, that RPGs are for losers, and that the avereage gamer would buy a book filled by a money, i doubt that TSR would have lasted for some 7-8 years under her tenure. people would have just packed up and moved to another business (david cook did, but i'm not sure that mrs. williams has anything to do with this), or to another publisher and system.

look at what happened to ICE and Palladium for examples of bad management. in case of palladium, you also have a big personality CEO who doesn't accept to listen to his fans (even though i never heard that he said that they are "inferior").

on the other hand, look at what happened to companies like WotC, or Malhavoc, or other companies that have (or had) a history of fostering a good attitude in the workplace.

it's just logical. even if you had to pay your bills, would _you_ really accept to work for someone who every now and then reminds you of how inferior you are? :)

maybe, if we were talking about seven digit salaries, fame, or whatnot, maybe i would be convinced that people would have stuck to TSR anyway. but, by all the accounts i have, the RPG industry is like the unglamourous side of the music business: you're there because you are proud of what you do, not because you want the big bucks. :)
 

Spell

First Post
Henry said:
To be honest, I don't blame TSR for overreacting, because in the burgeoning days of the Internet Explosion, no one knew how to act because of a lack of strong precedent for much of this stuff. But goodwill would have been preserved had they acted in a similar way to the way WotC deals with fan material (which is to largely look the other way unless some gross violations are going on). Then again, thanks to the OGL, they don't have to look hard at a lot of it.

i don't know... the OGL was a stroke of genius. otherwise, while many other companies without anything like the OGL "look the other way", i doubt everyone would act that way, especially if adviced by dumb lawyers that don't appreciate the importance of having raving fans that put on websites with optional rules, new classes, and so on.

their argument would be that once the company has "turned a blind eye" to serious challenges to the copyright (which, to a non-gamer, might be meaningless stuff like saying: "you can use this with D&D", or using terms like "DC", or "AC", "Character Classes", or even worse using parts of your IP like names out of your campaign settings), then they would have a hard time to fight in court even the blatant copyright infringments of people that upload an entire manual on the net.

nonsense to me, but i have heard this logic before, and i'm not that sure that people outside the gaming community would be able to appreciate the difference...
if i have to judge by other entertainment industries, the old TSR did nothing more than what the RIAA is doing now. no surprise that the cd market is going down, like TSR did, and that RIAA is the kind of boogeyman that mrs. williams was (is?) in some circles.

to bring this back on topic, i wonder how much the CCG phenomenon is important to understand the state of the RPG market in 1994-1996. personally, i remember many a company had a cash problem.

i also remember than when magic hit my hometown, it suddenly became pretty much IMPOSSIBLE finding someone in my gaming club willing to even sit in a one shot adventure. in the end, i just left the club out of sheer boredom, because i wouldn't play a collectible card game, and nobody else would "waste time" with a RPG when they could have a quick and fun magic game.



so far, it seems that lorraine williams is:
1. a bad manager who happened to be around when the whole RPG industry was about to have a big hit by other forms of entertainments aimed at the same niche market.
2. a person whose social skills could have used some improvement, especially when she didn't get her way.
3. a person who has at least a famous enemy (gygax), that every other person loves.
4. the head of the company who enraged a significant part of its online fans because of its narrow minded online policy.
 

Ranger REG

Explorer
Orius said:
Anyway, it doesn't matter any more. It's been almost 11 years now since TSR crashed and burned, and there's lots of new gamers these days who weren't even playing back then. So I'd say she's largely been forgotten. These days when we want to bitch about suits ruining the game, Hasbro makes a far better target. :]
I dunno. Hasbro pretty much let WotC run autonomously. All Hasbro has to do is sit back and watch the money WotC is making for them. The only two times they did meddle are assigning a former Coke ad prez to WotC and put Avalon Hill under WotC operation but that is it.

More importantly, their products don't contain lead (not like that OTHER US-owned toy maker).
 

rgard

First Post
WayneLigon said:
No, they're talking about campaign sites, sites that had original content using the D&D rules (such as new classes, spells, and monsters of their creation); stuff like that.

I think Henry and I already covered that.

Thanks,
Rich
 

Steel_Wind

Adventurer
Spell said:
to bring this back on topic, i wonder how much the CCG phenomenon is important to understand the state of the RPG market in 1994-1996. personally, i remember many a company had a cash problem.

i also remember than when magic hit my hometown, it suddenly became pretty much IMPOSSIBLE finding someone in my gaming club willing to even sit in a one shot adventure. in the end, i just left the club out of sheer boredom, because i wouldn't play a collectible card game, and nobody else would "waste time" with a RPG when they could have a quick and fun magic game.

I'm not sure that's "on topic"; actually, I'd say it was the proverbial left-turn at Alburquerque. :D

FWIW, I agree that the player acquisition model and churn rates for RPGs was greatly disrupted by Magic:TG in the 1994-97 period, and that this had a significant effect on TSR's fortunes. Dancey has generally argued otherwise and suggested it was all about too many product lines - production costs that were too high and sales that were too low == insolvency.

He's right on the production costs side, but the role Magic:TG played in that "declining sales" side of the ledger has never been adequately publicly stated, imo, or at least not credibly explained to my satisfaction.

Forgive me for saying so, but I do not think that the brand manager for WotC's new D&D line would ever be the most credible source of information in terms of the effect of M:TG on RPG sales. And that's not a knock on Ryan Dancey. That's just a statement that ANYBODY who held that position would not be putting that spin on the death of the product line they now owned.

"Yes. The success of our M:TG product line essentially destroyed the player acquisition model for AD&D for four years and played a big part in sending the whole RPG ship down into the depths of the sea. We ended up buying the company at a fire sale price as a consequence. But hey! Love us now and buy our new D&D products please and thank you."

That was not the sort of statement I would have expected to read from the D&D brand manager at WotC. More importantly, that was not an avenue of analysis that they would have been very motivated to pursue.

Whether the CCG effect was critical or not - I don't know. But either way, I would never have expected them to say it - if it was true.

[Edit: Yes I know that the role dead inventory, Dragon Dice, and the returns from the book trade played a significant role in the insolvency of TSR by 96-97. But a significant issue that has never been adequately explained to me is my perception that player churn disruption brought about by M:TG played a large role in declining sales for TSR's AD&D products.

The financial chicanery by the time TSR tottered on the brink was brought about by declining sales earlier in the decade - not just by run-away production costs.]
 

The Little Raven

First Post
Henry said:
To be honest, I don't blame TSR for overreacting, because in the burgeoning days of the Internet Explosion, no one knew how to act because of a lack of strong precedent for much of this stuff.

I do. I blame TSR for targeting the websites of teenagers that contained zero game mechanical content, but merely contained a long detailed summary of game sessions along with references to certain products. Nothing even remotely close to lawsuit-worthy. I almost asked for a lawyer for my 14th birthday because of that cease-and-desist letter.
 

Steel_Wind

Adventurer
TSR received ultra conservative legal advice in a new era where the rules were uncertain. I expect that the ultra conservative advice is not the only advice they received, instead, it was the advice they chose to act upon.

As a lawyer, I can easily confirm that providing very conservative advice scenarios to clients is standard operating procedure and an easy out. The reason is simple: no lawyer ever gets sued by his own client for giving very conservative legal advice.

And so lawyers do it - all the time - because it's the safe way to practice law. That's what the defensive practice of law is all about.

So that explains why TSR received advice regarding its trademarks in the way that it did as BBS's and the Internet exploded on to the scene in the early 90s. But clients are not automatons nor are they blameless in how they choose to act on the conservative advice they receive. I give conservative advice to my clients all the time - some of which they follow and some of which they scoff and say "hell no, we're not doing that".

It's a matter of business experience in how clients choose to act. Unsophisticated clients tend to rely on advice blindly. Sophisticated clients are far more choosy and understand the ground rules which surrounds the advice they receive. TSR was a sophisticated client. Blaming one's own lawyers is not a valid excuse for crappy public relations - or for acting in a deliberately antagonistic manner.

So yes, I blame TSR of that era for their actions. They over-reacted - and not just by a little - they over-reacted by a lot.
 

the Jester

Legend
Wolfspider said:
I could have sworn that the movie did depict the kids playing D&D at the beginning of the film. :confused:

Yep, it does. One of them even says that he could cast a death spell.
 

Henry

Autoexreginated
Mourn said:
I do. I blame TSR for targeting the websites of teenagers that contained zero game mechanical content, but merely contained a long detailed summary of game sessions along with references to certain products. Nothing even remotely close to lawsuit-worthy. I almost asked for a lawyer for my 14th birthday because of that cease-and-desist letter.

I figured if this thread went long enough we'd find somebody hit first-hand by the TSR online fiasco. :) As an example of attitudes of present-day companies, look how much product identity is thrown around even on this board, when doing everything from discussing Forgotten Realms developments, to the Plots and Places and Character forums, etc. If WotC had jumped on every fan discussing Elminster or Bigby like they used to, I seriously doubt 3E would have been as popular as it was (and is), because the word of mouth would have been much smaller.
 

Orius

Adventurer
Spell said:
i don't know... the OGL was a stroke of genius. otherwise, while many other companies without anything like the OGL "look the other way", i doubt everyone would act that way, especially if adviced by dumb lawyers that don't appreciate the importance of having raving fans that put on websites with optional rules, new classes, and so on.

The OGL was probably a result of the lawsuits. When it was introduced, WotC was run by people who were gamers, who understood gaming, and knew how the sharing of creativity is generally good for gaming. Ok, it did produce some crappy d20 products, but it's not like there've never been crappy RPGs published before.

Besides, there was also the potential of the OGL producing something fan-based that could end up revolutionising the game.
 

coyote6

Adventurer
Henry said:
If WotC had jumped on every fan discussing Elminster or Bigby like they used to, I seriously doubt 3E would have been as popular as it was (and is), because the word of mouth would have been much smaller.

Heck, I doubt WotC would've had the resources to make much of 3e if they tried to jump on every such discussion or mention. The Internet's bigger than it used to be -- heck, there are 1759 users on ENWorld right now, and Google returns 4.7 million hits for "Forgotten Realm", excluding the wizards.com and gleemax.com domains. Most of the budget of this hypothetical "Evil Wot¢" would go to dragging the Internet for references and paying lawyers to send C&Ds.
 

Orius

Adventurer
Ranger REG said:
I dunno. Hasbro pretty much let WotC run autonomously. All Hasbro has to do is sit back and watch the money WotC is making for them. The only two times they did meddle are assigning a former Coke ad prez to WotC and put Avalon Hill under WotC operation but that is it.

More importantly, their products don't contain lead (not like that OTHER US-owned toy maker).

I didn't say the comments on Hasbro were intelligent OR fair. :p

In the long run, I think Hasbro is far more interested in making money from licensing (like video games based on D&D) and simply owning the property than actively meddling with it. Basically, they're running the show, and there'll always be people who complain about Hasbro if they dislike the smallest thing about the game.
 

Ranger REG

Explorer
Mourn said:
I do. I blame TSR for targeting the websites of teenagers that contained zero game mechanical content, but merely contained a long detailed summary of game sessions along with references to certain products. Nothing even remotely close to lawsuit-worthy. I almost asked for a lawyer for my 14th birthday because of that cease-and-desist letter.
At least you got a letter of warning. They could just skipped that part and send a court summon.
 

Ranger REG

Explorer
Orius said:
I didn't say the comments on Hasbro were intelligent OR fair. :p

In the long run, I think Hasbro is far more interested in making money from licensing (like video games based on D&D) and simply owning the property than actively meddling with it. Basically, they're running the show...
How are they running the show?
 

WizarDru

Adventurer
Steel_Wind said:
Forgive me for saying so, but I do not think that the brand manager for WotC's new D&D line would ever be the most credible source of information in terms of the effect of M:TG on RPG sales. And that's not a knock on Ryan Dancey. That's just a statement that ANYBODY who held that position would not be putting that spin on the death of the product line they now owned.

But that line of thinking immediately invalidates anyone from making any sort of testimony about that time as evidence. Bill Slavicsek was working for TSR at the time, and said this:
Gamespy's History of D&D said:
"Picture it this way," Slavicsek says, "it's raining money outside and you want to catch as much of it as you can. You can either make a really big bucket or waste your time and attention by creating a lot really small buckets -- either way, you're never going to make more rain." In plain English, TSR, by putting out a lot of product lines instead of supporting the main Dungeons & Dragons line, fragmented the marketplace. The same audience was giving the same amount of money to TSR every year, which had taken on the additional financial burden of creating, producing, and supporting hundreds of products. It needed to grow the marketplace, and these brand extensions weren't doing that.

I don't think anyone underestimates the impact of CCGs on the overall market picture...but TSR's financial strategy was already damaged by 1993...so much so that WotC's sudden rise was another brick in the wall and possibly the final straw. If TSR had been healthy, they would have survived. Companies like White Wolf, Alderac, Mayfair Games, FASA and Steve Jackson Games weathered that storm and continued operation. Weaker companies like TSR and West End Games, who had financial mis-management issues, did not.

Consider that companies have also since weather the arrival of games like Mage Knight, Warhammer, HeroClix and other heavy cash sinks. In the same way, many companies survived the d20 glut, but many did not. This owes more to management issue than otherwise.

To the issue of EGG and other personal accounts: I think many fans are well aware that Gygax is no teddy-bear nor a saint (just ask Dave Arneson, Judges Guild or Mayfair Games)...but he has admitted some mistakes he made. Is his version of history colored by his personal interpretations? Almost certainly, as is true for anyone involved in these affairs, particularly if they involved often contentious events. But the issue stands that there are many former-employees willing to share negative stories of Lorraine Williams, and only one or two that paint a picture of her as a decent person (while at the same time painting an image of her as a terrible manager and CEO). The implication that ALL of these former employees are venting sour grapes seems unlikely, especially as some of them appear to demonstrate no ill will. The most neutral account came from Monte Cook, but his account only covers two years of work at TSR, versus some accounts of folks like Jim Ward (who'd been with TSR since virtually the beginning). Heck, even EGG, after 5 lawsuits, still hired Arneson to write a series of D&D Blackmoor modules...it was Williams who prevented the last one from being published. I think that says something right there.

I also think that most fans who are aware of Lorraine Williams don't particularly harbor any great hate of her, but certainly enjoy a negative view of her based on history, popular perception and her total lack of defenders. Kevin Siembeda, by contrast, has many detractors but also a fiercely loyal fan-base in some quarters. And again, Siembeda has the history as a game designer, artist and creative person...even his worst detractor has to admit that he has successfully created product; Williams has no such credentials. She was a financial planner brought on to the company by Gygax who bought out his partner's shares. Given that Willaims chosen profession prior to becoming TSR's CEO was that of a financial planner, her failure to actually manage TSR's finances becomes a more glaring error. Folks like Gygax, Jackson and Siembeda are creatives first and businessmen second....it's one of the reasons that so many game companies fail. Even WotC, who was making money hand over fist (as TSR did in the early 80s) was at risk of failure during the big CCG rush and then again after the d20 glut.

Spell said:
so far, it seems that lorraine williams is:
1. a bad manager who happened to be around when the whole RPG industry was about to have a big hit by other forms of entertainments aimed at the same niche market.
2. a person whose social skills could have used some improvement, especially when she didn't get her way.
3. a person who has at least a famous enemy (gygax), that every other person loves.
4. the head of the company who enraged a significant part of its online fans because of its narrow minded online policy.

I'd agree with 1 to some degree. #2 we don't really have a lot of data on...being a bad manager is not equivalent of having poor social skills. This was a professional situation, not a social one. In fact, we have some evidence to the contrary. Her management style, however, is generally regarded as inflexible. Number 3 is true for the first half, but certainly not true for the latter half. EGG has quite a few detractors, too. But unlike Lorraine Williams, he is active in the community and always has been. Number 4 is true, though I think it tries to make it sound like Williams was somehow distanced from the policy, as opposed to one of its architects. I would further add:

5. was directly influential in a lengthy series of legal actions against competitors, customers and former employees in an attempt to control their market
6. Made a series of decisions that paid rewards in the short-term but ulitmately damaged the company in the long-term (individualized software licensing rights, Spellfire, Dragon Dice, etc.)
6. Endangered the existence of the D&D brand by endangering the company the created and printed it.

Is the level of vinegar directed at LW justified or over-done? I couldn't say, especially as the only time I even hear of it is when I read histories of D&D and such. I personally have no impression of the woman either way, but I find the lion's share of public opinion is certainly against her, at least in a general sense.
 

TerraDave

5ever
Ahh, the good old days, when we would put our home-brew webpage on a university server, and then wonder if that university would get sued.

Lets summarize:

Gygax: pushed him out, sued him, and he has had not much nice to say about her since. He likes to point out the disdain she felt for gamers and how she would never lower herself to playing an RPG.

AOL or nothing: as noted, they sued fansites and their servers. They didn't have a webpage. They had a presence on AOL.

Mismanagement at TSR: Was so bad it made Ryan Dancy cry. This goes back to the Blume brothers...but I will just say that nothing has confirmed that LW was a good manager. For a time D&D was actually "mainstream popular", then it had an incredibly devoted core of fans (far bigger then anyone elses) who would buy so much of what they released...it was basically a license to print money. Which was squandered in so many ways.

Buck Rogers: an example of the above. Williams was somehow connected to the property, and they churned out one Buck Rogers item after another. There is no way they made money on it.

2nd ed product volume and product quality: They released so much that some of it had to be good. But between the many products that weren't good, to the DM's that (felt they) had to deal with bladesingers and similar problems, to players that had to deal with DMs bringing in some radically new official rule once a month, to the frustrated completists...the shear volume of 2nd ed alienated a lot of people.

And then there are all the personal anecdotes floating around.

A lot of things are hard to peg on LW. Who knows who made the decision on various products, the website, etc. But there is a pattern of: being clueless about what would drive the game forward or who their (potential) customers really where, trying to squeze those customers for as much as they could get, then blowing it, when she was in charge.
 

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