D&D General Lorraine Williams: Is it Time for a Reevaluation?


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I think that was Snarf's point: The subject of this "rant," which was held up at the time as an example of Williams's hatred for gamers and general unreasonableness, comes across rather differently today.

But without knowing what was actually said in the rant, the narrative that this was in some way a pro-feminism speech is just wishful thinking. It's well documented that Ms. Williams did, in fact, harbor a strong disdain for the fanbase. The fact that something sexist happened nearby doesn't excuse otherwise bad behavior. If you see something at a trade show you don't like, you take it up with the employee responsible. You don't start yelling and swearing at your customers.
 

1. These types of transactions are completely normal, especially for closely held corporations.
2. It's not illegal. It's not even unethical.
I agree that it wasn't illegal, although unethical is arguable. My main point was that it was a bad investment, and it cost TSR a pile of money they couldn't afford to lose. It was one of several that TSR made over the years (several under Gygax). I said on another thread that Williams brought some needed business acumen to the company, but the Buck Rogers deal was one they really shouldn't have done...
 


Dausuul

Legend
It's well documented that Ms. Williams did, in fact, harbor a strong disdain for the fanbase.
Is it, though?

That's an honest question. I've taken that disdain for granted--even in my post a couple pages ago--but just realized that my only basis for this belief is TSR staffers who claimed that she disdained gamers, but offer no specific examples. But maybe there are accounts that I've missed.

The chain-mail-bikini rant might have been forward-thinking and feminist, or it might have been vicious slut-shaming. We don't know. But we do know that the subject of the rant is something people have come to recognize as a real problem today; which raises the possibility that Williams was angry about genuine problems in the gaming world of her time, and this was interpreted as disdain by the people around her.
 
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Is it, though?

That's an honest question. I've taken that disdain for granted--even in my post a couple pages ago--but just realized that my only basis for this belief is TSR staffers who claimed that she disdained gamers, but offer no specific examples of this disdain. But maybe there are accounts that I've missed.
We just had a very long debate about whether a joke character in book meant that WOTC had disdain
for gamers, or at least some gamers. I can only imagine that stories of Williams' disdain for gamers might have been similarly exaggerated and repeated.
 

Dausuul

Legend
And an example of why one should be skeptical of the narratives around Williams: It's widely claimed that she banned playtesting. This has been floating around for ages. However, a former TSR employee (scroll down to the comments) asserts that it's a flat-out, bald-faced lie:

"Lorraine never banned playing games. In fact, all of us played games daily at TSR and conducted playtesting of upcoming products. That includes all the members of R&D (from the VP down to the newest editor or designer), sales, marketing, warehouse staff, and more."

And correlated by another:

"I don't recall any official policy about no gaming handed down from Lorraine, not at least while I was there. We certainly playtested the wargames we put out under the SPI label, on company property and company time."

(The latter goes on to note that a lot of stuff didn't get playtested because there simply wasn't time, due to TSR's attempts to outrun bankruptcy through sheer volume of product. The blame for that doomed strategy certainly rests with Williams as CEO. But that is light-years away from forbidding playtesting.)

So... yeah. How many other "well documented" things that "everybody knows" were, in fact, just not so?
 

Bayushi_seikuro

Adventurer
As an outsider looking in, I think there's a lot added to the feelings about Lorraine maybe because for a lot of this this is our primary past time.

I am pretty sure there are plenty of executives at software companies that make games, say ActivisionBlizzard or others, that loathe gamers and the gaming community. But, as corporate officers, I'd be willing to make the assumption that to them, it doesn't matter if they're making Diablo or at Acme WidgetCo - to them, the product doesn't matter. They're only required to produce/ship/sell X product by Y date, regardless of whether it's software copies or hardcover gaming books.

Again, this is just my opinion as well as my experience working in corporate offices of various sizes in various roles. A good example?

Ron Johnson, the man credited with going from Target to running JCPenney into the ground. And you want to know what his 'ridiculous idea' was? Getting rid of coupons and just having straight-forward pricing. Why was that bad? Because the shoppers there liked the illusion that their coupons saved them, even if they were paying the same price in the end.

 

Sacrosanct

Legend
Publisher
One of the people who knows more than all of us is Ryan Dancey. He actually read through all of the board meeting notes, scoured all of the financials, and did a deep dive into the company with how it was working now (In 1997) and how was working from day 1.

And his analysis is pretty damming. It's not just on Lorraine. Or Gary. Or the Blumes. TSR was a horribly mismanaged company from day 1. Not just from poor investments and a complete lack of market analysis, but an absolute ignorance of what the gaming community was saying, and how the community was changing over the years. Gary could have kept control and TSR still would have died because Gary would have been worse in ignoring how gamers and the game were evolving. And we wouldn't have had the settings from 2e that many love on top of that. Christ, it's 40 years later and some of the old school "Gary is god" folks are still up in arms about how 5e is treating race and orc alignments. Can you imagine of 1e style play was still the focus going into the 2000s if Gary was still in charge? It would have been horrible for the game and the community. And I love 1e myself, but even I know I'm not the typica gamer these days.

Lorraine did some really awful things as the head of a company, but they don't seem to be any worse decisions or choices that the Blumes made, or Gary made. But she gets the lion's share of the blame. Largely based on hearsay and slander.

Looking at how some of the original folks in early TSR have reacted in the past 6 months to the game's current direction (catering to SJWs!), and the scandals of nu-TSR, and I'm positive that much of this disdain for Lorraine was not because of her decisions, but because she was a woman in charge of the boys club, and they couldn't stand that. Which is ironic, the people shouting how she has disdain for gamers are the ones who actually show disdain towards her.

She absolutely deserves blame, but she doesn't deserve to be the scape goat. I suspect Gary will never be blamed despite being one of the biggest reasons for the demise of TSR simply because of the deification of him. But if we are to be honest, we need to acknowledge that LW was put in an impossible situation and made some really bad decisions, but her, Gary, and the Blumes are all equally to blame for the demise of TSR, and she has been unfairly criticized. Not for things she did do wrong, but the things that are pure hearsay
 

Voadam

Legend
Lorraine did some really awful things as the head of a company, but they don't seem to be any worse decisions or choices that the Blumes made, or Gary made. But she gets the lion's share of the blame. Largely based on hearsay and slander.
This is a bit arguable.

Some things seem comparable. Gary sued Mayfair. She sued GDW and Mayfair. Both seem bad.

Gary bad mouthed some fan preferences in Dragon Magazine articles. Lorraine sent out C&D letters to online fans and got lots of fan material taken down restricting other fans access to each others material. Lorraine's actions to negatively impact fans seems arguably worse.

The argument can be made that Gary had the same general IP philosophy and would have similarly legally intimidated fans, but he was out when the internet took off so the fact is he didn't and she did so their actions taken are different. They generally deserve credit and blame for their actions, not what they would have done.

If you are talking blame for TSR's financial implosion, Lorraine took over and ousted Gary eleven years before the end. Things were bad from the beginning, but she was there for the end and was responsible for the decade leading up to the end. The person in charge can make changes in a decade. The person outside is less responsible for things that happened a decade after they were ousted.

She absolutely deserves blame, but she doesn't deserve to be the scape goat. I suspect Gary will never be blamed despite being one of the biggest reasons for the demise of TSR simply because of the deification of him. But if we are to be honest, we need to acknowledge that LW was put in an impossible situation and made some really bad decisions, but her, Gary, and the Blumes are all equally to blame for the demise of TSR, and she has been unfairly criticized. Not for things she did do wrong, but the things that are pure hearsay
Equally to blame for things on her watch after she had been in charge for a decade seems arguable.

Gary and the Blumes deserve credit and opprobrium for the decisions and actions on their watch, Lorraine deserves credit and blame for the ones on hers. I would not say they all get equal credit and blame for the actions and decisions of TSR under her leadership.
 

Is it, though?

That's an honest question. I've taken that disdain for granted--even in my post a couple pages ago--but just realized that my only basis for this belief is TSR staffers who claimed that she disdained gamers, but offer no specific examples. But maybe there are accounts that I've missed.

The chain-mail-bikini rant might have been forward-thinking and feminist, or it might have been vicious slut-shaming. ...

There are a lot of accounts of her disliking the D&D customers. Too many to ignore. I've added another account from Mike Breault to me previous post with references. Note that in this account, she also calls another female employee a "stupid, useless cow" which doesn't help the image that Ms. Williams was a forward-thinking feminist.

I look at it this way. When you dig into people like HP Lovecraft, or John Lennon, or Gary Gygax, you'll find things you don't like. Lovecraft was racist, Lennon beat women, and we're hearing more stories about questionable things EGG said in his lifetime. It's important remember and know these negative details; we should not forget or forgive their misdeeds because of the things we like. But its also okay to enjoy the good things these people gave us, without feeling shame about their misdeeds.

We should treat Lorraine Williams the same way. If anyone wants to claim that Lorraine Williams was a positive influence on D&D, tell us about positive things she did. Find out what she did to pull the company out of bankruptcy when she came on board, and how her finance skill helped with debt management. Tell us about the deals she made to get D&D in stores, or increase the number or products released. Show us things we can celebrate.

But don't try and minimize the bad she did. Don't pretend she didn't have a vast amount of negative interactions with both customers and employees. Don't try and re-write history to make her business deals about Buck Rogers or the D&D movie rights any less scummy than they really are. You have to take the good with the bad, and no good will be done by trying to forget the bad.
 

Sacrosanct

Legend
Publisher
This is a bit arguable.

Some things seem comparable. Gary sued Mayfair. She sued GDW and Mayfair. Both seem bad.

Gary bad mouthed some fan preferences in Dragon Magazine articles. Lorraine sent out C&D letters to online fans and got lots of fan material taken down restricting other fans access to each others material. Lorraine's actions to negatively impact fans seems arguably worse.

The argument can be made that Gary had the same general IP philosophy and would have similarly legally intimidated fans, but he was out when the internet took off so the fact is he didn't and she did so their actions taken are different. They generally deserve credit and blame for their actions, not what they would have done.

If you are talking blame for TSR's financial implosion, Lorraine took over and ousted Gary eleven years before the end. Things were bad from the beginning, but she was there for the end and was responsible for the decade leading up to the end. The person in charge can make changes in a decade. The person outside is less responsible for things that happened a decade after they were ousted.


Equally to blame for things on her watch after she had been in charge for a decade seems arguable.

Gary and the Blumes deserve credit and opprobrium for the decisions and actions on their watch, Lorraine deserves credit and blame for the ones on hers. I would not say they all get equal credit and blame for the actions and decisions of TSR under her leadership.
Yes, she was the one at the helm when it was bought. But looking at the financials, if it weren't for her and Gary were to remain in charge, TSR would have died years prior to 1997. So seems silly to place all the blame on her because the company ultimately failed under her watch when it would have failed much earlier if it weren't for her.
 


Parmandur

Book-Friend
This is sadly anecdotal and I can't find it again, so pretty much means nothing. However I do recall one of the 2E TSR alum retelling a story about how she once made mention after a meeting that she was expecting, and that alum mentioning that no one knew she was pregnant (because she was so fat to begin with). That's when I realized, 'oh dear. I don't know if I'm right about who (if anyone) the good guys are.'


These are definitely the kinds of things we need to go back and corroborate. We've all been passing these chestnuts back and forth so long, we all assume that they are true. I think that's the OP's general point.
I think that was Jim Ward, actually. I think he can be considered a bit of a hostile witness in regards to Williams, or TSR in general.
 

Parmandur

Book-Friend
And an example of why one should be skeptical of the narratives around Williams: It's widely claimed that she banned playtesting. This has been floating around for ages. However, a former TSR employee (scroll down to the comments) asserts that it's a flat-out, bald-faced lie:

"Lorraine never banned playing games. In fact, all of us played games daily at TSR and conducted playtesting of upcoming products. That includes all the members of R&D (from the VP down to the newest editor or designer), sales, marketing, warehouse staff, and more."

And correlated by another:

"I don't recall any official policy about no gaming handed down from Lorraine, not at least while I was there. We certainly playtested the wargames we put out under the SPI label, on company property and company time."

(The latter goes on to note that a lot of stuff didn't get playtested because there simply wasn't time, due to TSR's attempts to outrun bankruptcy through sheer volume of product. The blame for that doomed strategy certainly rests with Williams as CEO. But that is light-years away from forbidding playtesting.)

So... yeah. How many other "well documented" things that "everybody knows" were, in fact, just not so?
Yeah, a lot of former TSR people seem to have an ax to grind against Williams...but that there are alternative narratives suggests caution at taking all these tales about Williams at face value.
 

As a collective, we do a lot of handwringing.

that said said this is a good read and interesting.

but I am a simple man. Educated with some interesting life experiences but I like to cut things down to their essential parts.

gygax brought an amazing achievement to the world. For all his flaws, he liked stuff I like and made it into a cool hobby. I would have been friends with him I think had we met at similar ages.

he was not a great businessman. But he was very smart and wanted to have fun. Seems like he was cool to people most of the time and really wanted to play.

me too on both counts. The end.
 

Osgood

Adventurer
In the end, neither Gygax nor Williams was well suited to running the company. They both ran it into the ground. One was a gamer who lacked strong business sense, the other a business person who lacked an understanding of the game.

Perhaps if they had figured out a way to work together, capitalizing on the others‘ strengths TSR would still be around today. That said, I prefer the direction D&D has taken under WotC (who’ve managed not to go bankrupt in a longer period of time), so I think its worked out.
 

I have to wonder... are there a lot of old school gamers around who think EGG was a good businessman? Heck, I started with 1E way back in 1980, and even back then, I was pretty sure he wasn't. There were quite a few indicators of it at the time... the biggest one that had me scratching my head was their trying to sell former SPI games, something that really wasn't their forte. Not to mention the periodic mass layoffs, talent coming and going, etc.
 

Ogre Mage

Adventurer
So ... this may just be because there are more surviving people more familiar with it during the 90s, but TSR was notorious for being overprotective of its IP during the late 70s and 80s (the Gygax/Blume era). Which had the additional irony, back then, of the IP not always really even being TSR's.

That wasn't new "under her watch." Generally, this is a corporate culture thing, often with in-house or outside counsel. I'd be curious to see what influence that had.

The overprotectiveness of TSR's intellectual property may not have been new, but L. Williams tenure at TSR coincided with the rise of the World Wide Web in the 1990s. It was an exciting time and people wanted to make websites for their D&D games. From what I have read including in threads on this site, people received legal notices from TSR that they would have to take all D&D content off their website or face legal action. So there was the birth of a new medium combined with TSR's heavy-handedness in policing its IP in this new medium. I believe this generated considerable ill-will toward Williams among D&D players.
 

Sacrosanct

Legend
Publisher
Also of note, early TSR had a windfall of good luck. Artists and writers were sending them stuff left and right. For free. For the chance to be officially published. Tim Kask (editor for Dragon) said he was extremely lucky he would have his pick of any art he wanted, because so much of it was coming in.

As an indie publisher, I'm here to tell you that outside of production run costs, art is probably the biggest expense***. For a modern book with color art, the typical rate to expect to pay for an established studio is $500-$1000 per page, depending on complexity. $150-$200 for a single figure like a full body portrait, no background. Go pick up the MM and count how many illustrations are there, and do the math. So for a young company to essentially get a lot of that for free? Not an insignificant advantage to help grow the game.

***I spent roughly $10,000 on Chromatic Dungeons for freelancers alone, and I'm looking at spending $25,000 for the upcoming Twilight Fables book, and these are small indie books. Not counting production costs. I've got a rough idea how much LevelUP has for an art/writer budget (based on industry averages, what they pay for writing, etc), and it's no small amount to make that project come together and look as good as it does, as I'm sure Morrus can attest. I don't want to speak for him, but if he or I had the luxury TSR had in the early 80s, it would be pretty big to our overall profit margins (note: I fully support paying artists and freelancers a fair wage, don't get me wrong, and am not saying I am complaining about those costs, because they are worth it. Just making a comparison, that's all).
 

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