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

Mistwell

Crusty Old Meatwad (he/him)
That's not what Dausuul was refuting, which is why their second link says the same thing as your link, which is that a lot of stuff wasn't playtested but not because Lorraine banned it. That's what Dausuul was pointing out.
It's difficult to prove she banned it of course because there would be no written policy or anything. But we can prove they were not playtesting, despite playtesting before she arrived. We can call that coincidence of course, or a factor of growth or whatever. But it does point to a pattern which changed with her arrival which may be linked to her attitudes regarding playtesting.
 

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Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
Supporter
1. These types of transactions are completely normal, especially for closely held corporations.
2. It's not illegal. It's not even unethical.

Common, I don't doubt it. Not unethical? I mean, if you don't want to do business with folks around here, you can say that in public, but otherwise...

Overall, we have precious little evidence that TSR would have done any better under Gygax, given his dubious choices at the time.

It also bears mentioning that this was an age before the internet and relatively easy polling and customer feedback. Learning what the market was really like was extremely difficult, so making correct decisions was rather more luck than understanding, I expect. Neither Gygax nor Williams could be said to really know what they were doing with the new industry.
 

Mistwell

Crusty Old Meatwad (he/him)
Snarf's comments about the Buck Rogers issue does sound like spin and handwaving, but they're right that Lorraine initially did a far better job than Gary which significantly prolonged the existence of the company. That's especially critical because it meant that by the time TSR did fail WotC was wealthy enough to buy the whole company, thus saving D&D as well as providing the resources to keep it the top RPG. If TSR had crashed in the late 80's or early 90's there may not have been such savior and D&D could have gone up in smoke.
It's one thing to say she did some good as well as bad. I think that's a fair argument.

It's another thing to completely hand waive what was very likely a gross breach of fiduciary duty. Snarf single-sentence "Meh" dismissal of what is a huge issue which was on the minds of pretty much every single employee at TSR at the time doesn't do justice to the issue. Ask ANY TSR employee from that era about the impact of the Buck Rogers stuff at the time and they will tell you how uncomfortable it made them feel. How much it pulled things off of their successful lines.

Large sums of corporate funds were funnelled to support what was essentially her family trust, despite low interest in the property. Funds were taken from other more successful projects to fund those Buck Rogers projects which kept growing and gathering dust in storage due to lack of sales. Her creepy brother was slinking around the company doing the same. She was claiming her father "invented" Buck Rogers when he didn't (he simply got the license). When she left TSR she used the Buck Rogers properties with GoHero to claim "Lorraine created the company TSR, makers of Dungeons & Dragons, the preeminent role playing game."

This is not a person who needs your "reevaluation." You want to say she did some good as well as bad, fine. But let's not re-write history to pretend that "Buck Rogers stuff" was just a minor nothing. It wasn't minor and it wasn't nothing
 

Dausuul

Legend
We have a TSR employee reporting as copied here at ENWorld that they didn't playtest most of what they put out in those years.
I literally said that in the post that you're quoting.

It's difficult to prove she banned it of course because there would be no written policy or anything. But we can prove they were not playtesting, despite playtesting before she arrived. We can call that coincidence of course, or a factor of growth or whatever. But it does point to a pattern which changed with her arrival which may be linked to her attitudes regarding playtesting.
And in that post you quoted, I cited two firsthand sources who said there was playtesting, on company property and company time. One of them was the very person you linked above.

Both are clear: There was no ban on playtesting. There were time constraints that meant a lot of stuff got rushed out the door without testing, but playtesting was absolutely allowed and it was done when there was time for it.
 

Mistwell

Crusty Old Meatwad (he/him)
I literally said that in the post that you're quoting.


And in that post you quoted, I cited two firsthand sources who said there was playtesting, on company property and company time. One of them was the very person you linked above.

Both are clear: There was no ban on playtesting. There were time constraints that meant a lot of stuff got rushed out the door without testing, but playtesting was absolutely allowed and it was done when there was time for it.
Why are you spinning this,

"That being said, here's something horrible to admit: The vast majority of modules and systems in hardback books were not playtested, to the very best of my knowledge. The designer would make them up, perhaps playtest them on his own or informally call a buddy or co-worker over to review or briefly playtest them, but as a general rule I saw very little playtesting occur."

as this,

"there was playtesting"

?
 

Snarf Zagyg

Notorious Liquefactionist
That is a monumental understatement and whitewashing which shows extreme bias in your spin.


This is part 1 of my comments- this is just about the Buck Rogers Thing. Please ignore if you don't care (and you shouldn't). Part 2 will be my general observations about the other comments. Then I'm moving on. :)

So here is my original comment-

Oh, the Buck Williams thing? Without going too far into the weeds, not the best look, but also not surprising in closely-held corporations. It wasn't a factor in TSR's demise.

So let's talk about this. Williams was the majority (overwhelming majority, if not sole) owner of TSR. TSR is a closely-held corporation. This makes it very different than a public corporation, or even a private corporation with numerous shareholders. Let's use a quick example to understand why (and I apologize to the extent that I have to be both pedantic and reductive, but that's the point we are at)-

Start with the premise- what is purpose of a corporation. Why, to maximize profits. Why? To increase the value to the shareholders. Corporations exist to make the owners (shareholders) money. We all understand that.

So, public corporation will have executives making decisions on behalf of the owners. If that executive is making a decision to enrich himself (let's say, by diverting money to his other business interests) instead of the corporation, that's bad and unlawful. Because it's not going to the owners of the company.

On the other hand, imagine you own a company. If you make a decision to enrich yourself (say, by increasing your dividends instead of the salaries of the employees), that might or might or not be a good business decision, but there's nothing inherently wrong with it. The entire purpose of the corporation is to make money for ... the owners of the company.

The takeaway from the first part of this is that we view interested transactions of closely-held (or owner-controlled!) conrporations differently.

Obviously, that's not the end of it- there's a further fiduciary issue with self-dealing (aka, interested transactions). Basically, it is fair dealing (think of this as transparency) and at a fair price? The fair price matters even more, because there are additional tax implications.

Whew.

That's the basic layout. Now, how does this work in practice? Well, let's start by looking at what TSR was doing before Lorraine took over. I'm just going to illustrate some examples-

A. TSR would identify properties to buy, then the principals (G+BB) would buy those properties and TSR would rent from them. The upshot, of course, is that the G+BB would end up with a steady stream of income to pay off the mortgage that they got for the properties in question.
B. Dragon Magazine (owned by TSR) would use Gygax's wife's company for ad sales, which was an incredibly lucrative business.
C. TSR would acquire companies owned by Blume relatives (such as the infamous crafts company).
D. TSR had the entire Gygax family on the payroll.
E. TSR had the entire Blume family on the payroll. And the Blume extended family on the payroll. And the extended extended family.

...and so on. Literally, there's more.

Let's start by acknowledging that none of this is uncommon for closely-held private corporations. Family on the payroll? Check. Doing business with other family businesses? Check. In fact, things such as (A) are so common, and so advantageous for various reasons, that it is somewhat uncommon not to see it.

In my opinion, none of the above is bad in of itself. A is common. B is fine so long as it was at a fair price. C might have been okay (but ... yeah, that wasn't a fair price). D & E weren't egregious necessarily, except for the fact that the favoritism and lack of ability of some of these individuals destroyed morale, really hurt the company (the Purchasing Dept. saga) and led to one incident that was beyond the pale (paying one Blume's college tuition and full TSR benefits and a stipend so they could be qualified for the job they were previously holding!).

Now, let's compare this with the Buck Rogers saga. Yes, Lorraine William had a pecuniary interest in Buck Rogers IP. Yes, TSR paid for it. That's always the end of the analysis. Seriously, it's always, "BUT BUCK ROGERS!"

Fine. Show me the receipts. Show me that Lorraine was not paying the correct ("fair") price for it. Show me that it was treated differently. Because otherwise, we have the usual situation-

Lorraine owned one company. Lorraine was familiar with another product she had the rights in. Lorraine may have thought she could leverage the two together, and she did. At the time, it wasn't unthinkable (the TV show had just ended in 1981, and was incredibly popular in syndication in the early 80s along with BSG).

I don't see what's wrong with that. Could it have been wrong? Sure! The thing is, I've done a lot of work with closely-held corporations and licensing ... and this (alone) isn't remarkable. So if you want to say this is bad ... where are the receipts?

And to say that this caused TSR to fail doesn't match up with the timeline. Did the 1988 boardgame or RPG make it fail? Or was it the 1993 game? And did it fail because it was Buck Rogers, or because it was a non-D&D product? Did Amazing Engine (released at the same time) save TSR? .... Dragonstrike (HA!)?


Cool story, right? But what do I really have a problem with (clearly I do, since I just wrote an ESSAY!). It's the unthinking vilification. Peel away the layers. Lorraine hated gamers (well, maybe?). Lorraine wouldn't let people playtest (not really true). Lorraine was mean to everyone (except the people who say she was unfailingly polite).

BUT BUCK ROGERS! Great. Buck Rogers. Whenever Gygax is brought up, do people reflexively say "OH MY GOD, LOOK AT ALL THE SELF-DEALING!" Because that was a heckuva lot worse. Nope. Do they bother producing receipts? Nope Because Lorraine Williams is evil, so it must have been bad. Even though ... and I can't believe I have to say this ... because it was well-known that she actually had this interest, and because she wasn't a fool, I can't imagine that she didn't engage in a market-rate transaction (of course, anything is possible).

People have formed their opinions, and they need something to hold onto. I think it's worth examining why people have those opinions, and how they formed. Because, at the end of the day ... it is "SCOREBOARD." The company didn't survive, and she did sell.

So ... why the vilification? Why is Lorriane Williams held out for such special contempt? That's part 2.
 

Snarf Zagyg

Notorious Liquefactionist
Part 2- Why I have begun to re-think the Lorraine Williams Saga.

So this is a general response and addition in regard to some of the comments (some thoughtful, some ... well, I don't agree with) in the thread. Why? What brought me to this point, other than reading Peterson's book (causing me to re-evaluate the ouster)?

A brief interlude. When I was growing up, it was common to bike everywhere. I remember it as a time of unfettered freedom. Think of it like Stranger Things (maybe a little earlier time, but same gist). Day or night, I could be on a bike, out somewhere. Anywhere. Sometimes in packs of kids, sometimes alone. It was awesome. It is one of my most treasured childhood memories.

So I was talking to a friend of mine. She grew up in the same place. Same time. And we were discussing biking. And she agreed it was great, but she said that she never, ever, biked alone at night, and wouldn't even bike alone in remote areas. And I was kind of stunned- because, you know, it was safe, right? But she explained that there were older men in some areas that would catcall and harass girls. Middle school girls. And she just felt that lack of safety. Thing is- I never knew that. I had no idea. I just assumed everything was the exact same, because ... why wouldn't it be? But from a young age, her experience was already very different than mine (in a lot of ways, I know, but I'm just pointing this one out).

And now I think about Lorraine Williams. And I think about these older posts people are pointing to as definitive evidence of how bad she was. Like the one Desert Gled linked to, by Mike Breault. Why? Well, Desert Gled wanted to push back against the possibility that Lorraine might not have liked "bikini clad" girls at a convention, so he quotes Breault as saying that Lorraine called a woman a fat cow.

But is that true- what Breault actually said to begin that quote was, "I did not witness this but was told it independently by two higher-ups whom I trusted" Okay then! So, maybe? Could be true, could be urban myth. Who knows?

But what else do we see Breault say?
"This is rather cruel but I will pass it along, considering my audience. One Christmas party, Lorraine announced she was eight months pregnant. While we all politely applauded, you could see all the stunned looks in the room; almost no one knew. Did I mention she was a large woman?
:-o
"

Ha! She was fat! Get it? In her list of horribles that he is producing, no one liked her, and so it was funny when she told the company at a Christmas Party that she was pregnant, because she was so fat! Ha! That's so funny!

I can't even.

And that's where we get to the root of the issue I'm having. We have a female executive in the 80s and 90s. That's not easy. And ... she was the executive of a gaming company! I mean... wow. Okay.

Now, let's imagine, for a second, just imagine ... that the gaming community back then was somewhat male-dominate. Somewhat insular. Maybe just a little ... I know it's hard, but work with me. And the head of THE gaming company is a woman.

Imagine the pushback she would have received. After a while, I think she might not have been very fond of all those people mocking her. Giving her lip. Talking down to her. "Man"splaining things about the business. And yet, when you read many accounts that discuss individual and personal dealings with Lorraine, you usually see something along these lines (by Jose Freitas)-
These are my opinions based on stuff I heard from a lot of the insiders, they may not be entirely true and as usual one's perception of reality is skewed by the people we know, those we call friends and so on. To me, Ms. Williams was always unfailingly nice and polite, even though the 2000 or 3000$ royalties per year my company was sending her were probably close to insignificant.

And then you have the received opinions, most of which are rumors upon rumors, or don't look that great in the light of day.


This isn't a request for canonization. This doesn't minimize the eventual failure of TSR under watch. But my goodness, we really might need to re-evaluate this vilification. Because the more I think about it, the more actual evidence I see, the more I realize that parroting the words of older gamers about her ... is not a good look for me.

YMMV.
 

Dausuul

Legend
Why are you spinning this,

"That being said, here's something horrible to admit: The vast majority of modules and systems in hardback books were not playtested, to the very best of my knowledge. The designer would make them up, perhaps playtest them on his own or informally call a buddy or co-worker over to review or briefly playtest them, but as a general rule I saw very little playtesting occur."

as this,

"there was playtesting"

?
I followed the link to the original and read the thread, wherein the exact same person you were quoting posted this:

"We certainly playtested the wargames we put out under the SPI label, on company property and company time."

But, y'know, clearly first-hand statements from two people who were actually there and witnessed the supposedly-forbidden playtesting are just "spin," while rumors floating around the internet with zero corroboration should be given every benefit of the doubt.
 

Voadam

Legend
Start with the premise- what is purpose of a corporation. Why, to maximize profits. Why? To increase the value to the shareholders. Corporations exist to make the owners (shareholders) money. We all understand that.
Purpose is a relative concept. :)

Shareholders generally want the company to increase their shareholder value. The purpose of a corporation for shareholders is often to increase their investment value.

Customers generally want the company to sell them stuff they want. The purpose of a corporation for a customer is often to provide them with stuff.

Employees generally want the company to treat them decently and provide them benefits for their work. The purpose of a corporation for an employee is to provide benefits in return for their work.

Society generally wants stuff to be provided to the public and people to gain wealth. The purpose of a corporation for society is generally for stuff to be provided and wealth to be generated.

Society should not generally care directly whether shareholders get maximized value of their investment. It is only to the extent that investment return provides society with the stuff it wants that society should generally care at all.
 

Snarf Zagyg

Notorious Liquefactionist
Purpose is a relative concept. :)

Shareholders generally want the company to increase their shareholder value. The purpose of a corporation for shareholders is often to increase their investment value.

Customers generally want the company to sell them stuff they want. The purpose of a corporation for a customer is often to provide them with stuff.

Employees generally want the company to treat them decently and provide them benefits for their work. The purpose of a corporation for an employee is to provide benefits in return for their work.

Society generally wants stuff to be provided to the public and people to gain wealth. The purpose of a corporation for society is generally for stuff to be provided and wealth to be generated.

Society should not generally care directly whether shareholders get maximized value of their investment. It is only to the extent that investment return provides society with the stuff it wants that society should generally care at all.

No.

There is a reason why we have a distinction between "for-profit" and "non-profit" corporations.* Again, this isn't supposed to veer from the topic of TTRPGs, and I had to simplify, but corporations (in America, I can't speak to every place in the world) exist to maximize shareholder value. A return of profit for their shareholders.

Anything else is ancillary. That is the purpose of a corporation.


*EDIT- such as charities, foundations, and the like.

Second edit- I said I would bow out after my two comments, so I will.
 

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