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TSR Staff Levels at TSR

In the early 1980s, the staff levels at D&D publisher TSR* peaked at near 400 people, although by the mid-80s it had dropped back down to below 100. D&/D historian Jon Peterson (whose book Game Wizards: The Epic Battle for Dungeons & Dragons is coming out soon!) charts the figures from 1976 through to 1985.

*That's the original TSR, not the current TSR!


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Russ Morrissey

Russ Morrissey






Tsuga C

Explorer
Wonder how history would have played out if one of those "investment companies" had picked up TSR back then.
Probably not well. Cerberus Capital picked up Chrysler and didn't really understand the specifics of the automobile business and it didn't result in anything positive. Investment groups are all about finances and profiteering. The ethical and wise ones want to do more than streamline operations and milk the purchased entity for short-term profits, but those are in the minority. Any investment group that picked up TSR would've had to have had a good understanding of RPGs, the RPG industry, and RPG players to make a good go of it and I don't find that a likely possibility.
 


Ulorian

Explorer
Probably not well. Cerberus Capital picked up Chrysler and didn't really understand the specifics of the automobile business and it didn't result in anything positive. Investment groups are all about finances and profiteering. The ethical and wise ones want to do more than streamline operations and milk the purchased entity for short-term profits, but those are in the minority. Any investment group that picked up TSR would've had to have had a good understanding of RPGs, the RPG industry, and RPG players to make a good go of it and I don't find that a likely possibility.
That doesn't make sense to me. An investment group/venture capitalist only picks up businesses they can turn a profit on, for sure. What would be the point of such a group picking up TSR unless they understood the business? How could you possibly turn a profit on an acquisition otherwise? Were there assets that they could sell off for a profit? A customer base they could leverage for more profitable purposes? No.
 

MGibster

Legend
Any investment group that picked up TSR would've had to have had a good understanding of RPGs, the RPG industry, and RPG players to make a good go of it and I don't find that a likely possibility.
From many accounts, it doesn't look like TSR had a good understanding of RPGs, the RPG industry, or RPG players and they managed to be fairly profitable for a number of years.
 

Hussar

Legend
From many accounts, it doesn't look like TSR had a good understanding of RPGs, the RPG industry, or RPG players and they managed to be fairly profitable for a number of years.
To be 100% fair to everyone involved though, no one had a good understandings of the "industry" in the 80's. Most of this stuff was completely new and there just wasn't any experience to rely on. And, it doesn't help either that the "industry" was changing practically daily. We're talking the boom of the console wars in the same time, which was also driving D&D as well. It was pretty much blind man's bluff all the way along.
 


MGibster

Legend
To be 100% fair to everyone involved though, no one had a good understandings of the "industry" in the 80's. Most of this stuff was completely new and there just wasn't any experience to rely on. And, it doesn't help either that the "industry" was changing practically daily. We're talking the boom of the console wars in the same time, which was also driving D&D as well. It was pretty much blind man's bluff all the way along.
Don't get me wrong, I don't mean to single out TSR as being spectacularly incompetent. They caught lightning in a bottle and that can't be easy to manage.
 



Tsuga C

Explorer
That doesn't make sense to me. An investment group/venture capitalist only picks up businesses they can turn a profit on, for sure. What would be the point of such a group picking up TSR unless they understood the business? How could you possibly turn a profit on an acquisition otherwise? Were there assets that they could sell off for a profit? A customer base they could leverage for more profitable purposes? No.
Investment groups often THINK they know enough about a business to turn it around and manage it profitably, but this is not always the case. Egos and ignorance play a role here, just as they do most everywhere else. When it turns out that the investment group bit off more than they could chew, it's not unheard of for the entity they purchased to be scrapped--physical assets liquidated, intellectual property sold off.
 

Ulorian

Explorer
Investment groups often THINK they know enough about a business to turn it around and manage it profitably, but this is not always the case. Egos and ignorance play a role here, just as they do most everywhere else. When it turns out that the investment group bit off more than they could chew, it's not unheard of for the entity they purchased to be scrapped--physical assets liquidated, intellectual property sold off.
Depends on the 'quality' of the investors, absolutely. In a niche industry such as RPGs, especially one in its infancy as was the case in the mid-80s, you're more likely to attract an investment group consisting of fans with money rather than a more experienced venture capital outfit (i.e. one that doesn't make these sorts of errors and reaches). So point conceded!
 

Kinda related. . . I just found this TSR job ad in the May 1986 issue of Dragon Magazine (#109)

Definitely written in a "dang, these nerds are exhausting" tone :p

Exhausting is probably the right word. I imagine any job posting from TSR in Dragon would have been prone to getting hundreds, if not thousands, of completely unqualified applicants who dreamed of getting their "big break" in the games business by appling to anything that popped us. And back in those days some poor schlub in HR would have been tasked with physically opening and reading every incoming letter, one by one, to sift through them and find the real applicants. I feel for that person.

Investment groups often THINK they know enough about a business to turn it around and manage it profitably, but this is not always the case. Egos and ignorance play a role here, just as they do most everywhere else. When it turns out that the investment group bit off more than they could chew, it's not unheard of for the entity they purchased to be scrapped--physical assets liquidated, intellectual property sold off.

I'd also posit that consumers often have no idea what's actually profitable. Just because a company is shrinking or their product quality is dropping doesn't mean they aren't making money. Lots of investment groups work because they know how to properly manage the fall of a product/company properly, instead of the rise of it.
 


el-remmen

Moderator Emeritus
Exhausting is probably the right word. I imagine any job posting from TSR in Dragon would have been prone to getting hundreds, if not thousands, of completely unqualified applicants who dreamed of getting their "big break" in the games business by appling to anything that popped us. And back in those days some poor schlub in HR would have been tasked with physically opening and reading every incoming letter, one by one, to sift through them and find the real applicants. I feel for that person.

Sure, but ALL-CAPS IN ITALICS WITH AN EXCLAMATION MARK! does not exactly read as professional either. :p
 

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