Synnibarr vs WotC

White Wolf pouring gasoline all over itself and setting itself on fire at the turn of the century is both very meta and incredibly weird. To this day, I'm not 100% sure what they were thinking.
Fundamentally this same scenario has played out with ALMOST every RPG company, including TSR! You get a bunch of game enthusiasts, generally with little business acumen. They get into an industry where making ANY money at all is ALMOST impossible, and being successful, like REALLY successful has happened about 3 times, ever.

So, you bust your butt, you build the game that was in your heart, and then you start losing money. Heck, maybe you actually strike gold and FOR A WHILE you make money, but inevitably the 20 hour days, limited pay, and necessity to chose between what will sell and what you would actually like to do (which usually only overlap a little bit) grinds you down. Then you figure out that your business dealings are basically a shambles and selling that mess is a giant swamp. If some other nerd hasn't backstabbed you by that point, you just basically walk away. This is the Circle of Life RPG Game Company Version. WotC and Games Workshop are pretty much THE ONLY shops that ever escaped that, along with SJG. Literally nobody else has done so, though a few shops are still muddling along at any given moment. Some have come close, WW, GDW, FGU, Flying Buffalo, Chaosium. Close, but no cigar!
 

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darjr

I crit!
Fundamentally this same scenario has played out with ALMOST every RPG company, including TSR! You get a bunch of game enthusiasts, generally with little business acumen. They get into an industry where making ANY money at all is ALMOST impossible, and being successful, like REALLY successful has happened about 3 times, ever.

So, you bust your butt, you build the game that was in your heart, and then you start losing money. Heck, maybe you actually strike gold and FOR A WHILE you make money, but inevitably the 20 hour days, limited pay, and necessity to chose between what will sell and what you would actually like to do (which usually only overlap a little bit) grinds you down. Then you figure out that your business dealings are basically a shambles and selling that mess is a giant swamp. If some other nerd hasn't backstabbed you by that point, you just basically walk away. This is the Circle of Life RPG Game Company Version. WotC and Games Workshop are pretty much THE ONLY shops that ever escaped that, along with SJG. Literally nobody else has done so, though a few shops are still muddling along at any given moment. Some have come close, WW, GDW, FGU, Flying Buffalo, Chaosium. Close, but no cigar!
I hate how true this is.
 

Blue Orange

Gone to Texas
Fundamentally this same scenario has played out with ALMOST every RPG company, including TSR! You get a bunch of game enthusiasts, generally with little business acumen. They get into an industry where making ANY money at all is ALMOST impossible, and being successful, like REALLY successful has happened about 3 times, ever.

So, you bust your butt, you build the game that was in your heart, and then you start losing money. Heck, maybe you actually strike gold and FOR A WHILE you make money, but inevitably the 20 hour days, limited pay, and necessity to chose between what will sell and what you would actually like to do (which usually only overlap a little bit) grinds you down. Then you figure out that your business dealings are basically a shambles and selling that mess is a giant swamp. If some other nerd hasn't backstabbed you by that point, you just basically walk away. This is the Circle of Life RPG Game Company Version. WotC and Games Workshop are pretty much THE ONLY shops that ever escaped that, along with SJG. Literally nobody else has done so, though a few shops are still muddling along at any given moment. Some have come close, WW, GDW, FGU, Flying Buffalo, Chaosium. Close, but no cigar!

And notably, GW and WotC frequently get accusations of being too greedy. Steve Jackson, I don't know. They seem to have just faded into the distance without imploding spectacularly. Maybe the old Texas libertarian invested well (got into crypto early?) and didn't have to push things.
 

darjr

I crit!
And notably, GW and WotC frequently get accusations of being too greedy. Steve Jackson, I don't know. They seem to have just faded into the distance without imploding spectacularly. Maybe the old Texas libertarian invested well (got into crypto early?) and didn't have to push things.
What? No.

The GURPS line did OK, great for an RPG.

The other side of the business did better, especially Munchkin. Munchkin is huge.
 



And notably, GW and WotC frequently get accusations of being too greedy. Steve Jackson, I don't know. They seem to have just faded into the distance without imploding spectacularly. Maybe the old Texas libertarian invested well (got into crypto early?) and didn't have to push things.
Steve was never solely dedicated to RPGs. In fact he was more of a wargamer and general game designer, although he was certainly into the RPG scene. Most of his products in the last 20 years have been more family oriented humorous games and such. I mean, GURPS still exists, but very little has been done with it in the last 15 years. SJG has pretty much ruled out any new support for the system or a 5th edition, etc. So that was his formula for surviving, was to be a more general game/entertainment company and not focus on the RPG market. GW and WotC basically do the same thing, having Warhammer and M:tG properties that make most of their actual revenue. Other companies that have had some success like Paizo also, at least initially, were focused on things other than publishing RPGs. Lou Zocchi took Gamescience in a bit different direction, publishing a couple of minor wargames, one RPG, and focusing on dice, miniatures, and selling various game-related products online and at cons.

So it could be said that a pure-play RPG company is literally 100% a non-viable concept, based on the objective evidence, though the strategy of leveraging IP centered on an RPG as part of a wider set of offerings is maybe a bit more viable.
 

Jaeger

That someone better
In the mid 1990's, WotC was buying up, and then shutting down, a number of RPG lines from various smaller publishers. If WotC bought your game, odds are it was going to be killed off. (Which is part of why the FTC was paying such close attention to the TSR purchase...)

This is the reason I can't find a copy of CUTTHROAT: The Shadow Wars RPG - Literally mission impossible.

Lots of indie proto d20 systems went away never to see the light of day again...

I wonder why they don't put them out as PDF's? What harm could it do at this point...


...GW and WotC basically do the same thing, having Warhammer and M:tG properties that make most of their actual revenue. ...

To this day MtG brings in twice the coin that D&D does to WotC. It's crazy money.

RPG's have always been a hobbyist cottage industry. D&D has always been an outlier from the general hobby. There was a brief moment in the 90's when Vampire was a worthy #2. But then they imploded with the second edition.

Which is the story of most of D&D's so-called "competition". They hit decently, but never stick the follow-up, and mismanage themselves into also-ran status.
 

This is the reason I can't find a copy of CUTTHROAT: The Shadow Wars RPG - Literally mission impossible.

Lots of indie proto d20 systems went away never to see the light of day again...

I wonder why they don't put them out as PDF's? What harm could it do at this point...




To this day MtG brings in twice the coin that D&D does to WotC. It's crazy money.

RPG's have always been a hobbyist cottage industry. D&D has always been an outlier from the general hobby. There was a brief moment in the 90's when Vampire was a worthy #2. But then they imploded with the second edition.

Which is the story of most of D&D's so-called "competition". They hit decently, but never stick the follow-up, and mismanage themselves into also-ran status.
Right, but EVEN D&D managed to do that once! So, as you point out above, M:tG is still 2/3 of WotC's revenue. Without that its possible D&D would have died a couple times over at WotC too. Its amazing that D&D is actually kicking some butt right now, and it certainly is the 900lb Gorilla of RPGs. Look at Paizo these days with PF, clearly its fading. I live just down the road, from Redmond, its pretty clear they can't pay even a living wage effectively. I'd be surprised if they're still in business in a couple more years, at least in their current form. That's basically the 3rd most successful current RPG company today after WotC and GW.

But to tie it all back to the original topic: Its preposterous to imagine that WotC would have ever thought any other RPG company, GW aside, ever constituted a serious threat to them that would have even raised their notice, let alone lead to them burning money on buying it out! All you have to do is wait a couple years. Nor IMHO did WotC buy very many such, just a couple games that some people's friends wrote, basically.

Which of course wraps it all back to Synnabarr and the sheer ridiculousness of the idea that Peter even noticed its existence in a business sense. He may well have liked some of the material, it has some interesting bits to it here and there. I bet Ryan's campaigns were/are a lot of fun too. If, for some reason, I was really determined to use some of the material I would convert it to something else though, immediately. Some sort of a PbtA or something might work. It would certainly be a good bit different from other games of that ilk, but it would probably work. I am pretty sure it would work 20x better than the game's actual rules, which are pretty close to unintelligible and purely arbitrary IMHO.
 

Staffan

Legend
Look at Paizo these days with PF, clearly its fading. I live just down the road, from Redmond, its pretty clear they can't pay even a living wage effectively. I'd be surprised if they're still in business in a couple more years, at least in their current form. That's basically the 3rd most successful current RPG company today after WotC and GW.
One of Paizo's employees (I think it's Michael Sayre) recently posted a "thank you" note to Reddit where he said that events of the last few years have been really hard on Paizo (Covid, supply chain issues, losing a lot of people to better-paying jobs at Wizards and other places), but even so PF2 is selling better than PF1 ever did.

As I mentioned in another thread, just because Paizo have lost "ranking", that doesn't mean they've lost sales. The RPG market is vastly bigger now than when 5e was released, and that means that even if you get a smaller percentage the size of the pie is growing so much that you still get more pie.

That said, their people are still underpaid and should be paid more.
 

Snarf Zagyg

Notorious Liquefactionist
What? No.

The GURPS line did OK, great for an RPG.

The other side of the business did better, especially Munchkin. Munchkin is huge.

When I think of Steve Jackson, and SJG, I remember the Texas connection that led to Origin Systems making Autoduel based off of Car Wars. That was a classic early CRPG (kinda sorta), and I loved the original Car Wars.

And, on a related note, the guides written for the Car Wars supplements for GURPS later on were entertaining at the time, although they may not have aged well.
 

But to tie it all back to the original topic: Its preposterous to imagine that WotC would have ever thought any other RPG company, GW aside, ever constituted a serious threat to them that would have even raised their notice, let alone lead to them burning money on buying it out! All you have to do is wait a couple years. Nor IMHO did WotC buy very many such, just a couple games that some people's friends wrote, basically.

Is it possible that WotC is taking the heat for some of TSR's actions (before the acquisition)? TSR used the buy-to-kill business plan with SPI.
 

Jaeger

That someone better
Right, but EVEN D&D managed to do that once! So, as you point out above, M:tG is still 2/3 of WotC's revenue. Without that its possible D&D would have died a couple times over at WotC too.

D&D has been "bailed out" no less than 3 times:

There was the Williams takeover - she evidently brought cash with her.

There was the WotC takeover, because even under Williams TSR did not change its fiscal ways enough.

Then there was the flip from 4e to 5e. Which was crazy. Because 4e did make money, but it also was starting to get slightly outsold by a clone of the previous edition; which was an unacceptable situation for D&D. So they stopped a profitable game line and switched to develop a new game. That took big $$$.

But as the market leader D&D has been in the position to benefit from those sorts of things...
 

Bill Zebub

“It’s probably Matt Mercer’s fault.”
Maybe Paizo can make a bunch of money porting their adventure paths to 5e. At least, I'm hoping they try because I keep hearing great things about them. And if they're so good at it, maybe keep cranking out new ones. (But I guess Age of Worms has some copyright entanglements?)
 

darjr

I crit!
There is still something here though. A story as yet untold. At least it bugs me that there might be.

Richard Garfield wrote for the latest version of this game. Ya know the guy who invented Magic The Gathering.

What happens there? There are ties I think we don’t know yet. And I don’t trust more McKrackens telling.
Maybe it’s nothing.
I’m intrigued.
 

Mannahnin

Scion of Murgen (He/Him)
Yes 91 was too late. But that was the version 1 print. It was his argument that it was released ten years earlier in a sort of beta that had me intrigued.
Back in the '70s and '80s there was a lot of that sort of thing. Actually publishing a real book/game product was no easy feat! TSR and other early publishers, and even those up into the mid-80s had the virtue of there being very low production standards simply because it was a new sort of thing and there's not a lot of money in it, generally speaking. So, for instance, we had our own 'RPG' back around '75-77 or so because it was hard to get (as a younger person) the official books, and they were in short supply. So I had a notebook in which I either hand copied or sometimes photocopied bits and parts of various books, added my own stuff, and pasted it all together. Then I would make a copy and give it to someone maybe. It was certainly NOT a 'game', but there was a lot of stuff like that floating around. Arduin Grimoire was of this sort as well, though it rose up to being a bit more substantive.
Yup. And this is the context in which Raven's claims make more sense.

Evidently his first self-printed and locally-distributed with his friends (like your first RPG from the 70s) was around 1980. This new "3rd edition" he's just put out is the ninth version he's put in print, by his account. I've personally owned four. Wiki accounts for the 1991 (Dameon Willich cover) and 1993 (Posada brothers cover) versions, and mentions the 2012 Kickstarter for a reboot, but I bought an earlier edition which he was printing and selling locally (and, it appears, by mail with ads in Dragon Magazine) in either 1990 or early '91, before the DW cover edition came out. I don't know if the versions from the 80s were as complete a game as that one, or if they were more patchwork kit like Arduin. But based on my experience with the system, I'd lean more toward the former.

So Raven's claims, while hyperbolic and maybe a bit self-deluded, aren't as crazy as they seem at first glance and wiki check.

Not to say that cross genre didn't already exist prior to that, but (and I haven't seen it personally to confirm) if his first version had anything like the later editions' mix of fantasy, sci-fi, and superheroes all together all at once back in 1980, then he really did something different than earlier publications like Arduin, Tekumel, or Superhero: 2044, and he did precede Rifts by 10 years or so.
 
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Is it possible that WotC is taking the heat for some of TSR's actions (before the acquisition)? TSR used the buy-to-kill business plan with SPI.
Well, specific questions/comments about things that WotC people, not TSR people, were made. I would say 'no' in the specific case cited. Beyond that I disagree that TSR ever bought another company with the sole aim of 'killing' it. SPI in those days was a rather prolific wargame publisher. RPGs were its demise, as their 'Universe' RPG really didn't set anyone on fire. I honestly never even read it, but I don't know anyone who did, so I'm pretty sure it landed with a profound 'thud' and was pretty much stillborn. Traditional wargame companies had very little luck with RPGs, tending to produce elaborate complex mechanical games with little attention to tone or overall play experience. RPG people by 1981 weren't wargamers primarily anymore, so SPI put out a dud. Then they published the Dallas RPG, which was equally poor market targeting, as I doubt anyone in the RPG world was a huge Dallas fan, or few at any rate. That was also really more of a 'party game' in a sense, as the roles and characters were limited to a pretty small fixed set. It actually was a pretty innovative RPG in many ways, but it would have been much better done using a fantasy or similar theme and not tied into an expensive but pointless TV IP.

TSR, remember it had roots as a wargame company as well, seemed to want to take over at least some of SPI's product line. I will hand it to Gygax though, the way he shafted them and left them with all the company's debt was at the very least ruthless and tone deaf. It shows that he really could be a jerk, at best.
 

Yup. And this is the context in which Raven's claims make more sense.

Evidently his first self-printed and locally-distributed with his friends (like your first RPG from the 70s) was around 1980. This new "3rd edition" he's just put out is the ninth version he's put in print, by his account. I've personally owned four. Wiki accounts for the 1991 (Dameon Willich cover) and 1993 (Posada brothers cover) versions, and mentions the 2012 Kickstarter for a reboot, but I bought an earlier edition which he was printing and selling locally (and, it appears, by mail with ads in Dragon Magazine) in either 1990 or early '91, before the DW cover edition came out. I don't know if the versions from the 80s were as complete a game as that one, or if they were more patchwork kit like Arduin. But based on my experience with the system, I'd lean more toward the former.
Oh, I entirely believe that he was publishing stuff, for some possibly loose definition of publish, going all the way back to the early '80s or honestly even earlier. It would be utterly plausible. 100's of people did that in bigger and smaller ways. AG was one of the more prominent, but I've heard tell of some incredible GMs, some guy in Atlanta, another in Chicago who had some sort of 'matrix like' campaign that actually freaked out the players so much it finally imploded because it was spilling over into RL! Mostly they just photocopied stuff for people that played with them, or asked them for material.
So Raven's claims, while hyperbolic and maybe a bit self-deluded, aren't as crazy as they seem at first glance and wiki check.
I mean, I don't think his basic assertion that he was publishing a game is nonsense at all. I think assertions that there was any sort of activity against him, or anything like that, or that someone genuinely conspired against him is a bit different though. I'm open-minded, evidence would convince me. Tall tales are merely that however and probably remain forever within the realm of unverifiable story.
Not to say that cross genre didn't already exist prior to that, but (and I haven't seen it personally to confirm) if his first version had anything like the later editions' mix of fantasy, sci-fi, and superheroes all together all at once back in 1980, then he really did something different than earlier publications like Arduin, Tekumel, or Superhero: 2044, and he did precede Rifts by 10 years or so.
Eh, I just don't think strict genre adherence was so much of a thing back in the early days of RPGs. MA/GW was CLEARLY just someone hacking on D&D to make a campaign with Sci-Fi stuff in it, for example. Clearly those games WERE mixed with D&D, as Expedition to the Barrier Peaks amply demonstrates. I'm not sure you can discount EPT so easily either, it really IS a cross-genre game! A lot of people may have played up the fantasy side of Tekumel, but it has plenty of both! Also, while RIFTS itself dates from about the same period as the actually released 'pro' version of Ryan's game, Kevin was putting out a stream of crazy stuff at Palladium going all the way back to the early days, and it all pretty much tied together into a somewhat mushy 'system'. I admit, pre-RIFTS he didn't publish an 'everything in a blender' explicitly, but I've always seen RIFTS as him just making totally explicit what was ALWAYS a fundamental aspect of his work, that it all was just craziness and you could mush it all together, and were encouraged to do so.

So I find Ryan's assertions that he pioneered this kind of play and that his system is its first manifestation a bit much. Basically c. 1979 if you went to a game con and threw a 20 sided die in some random direction, it was likely to hit a GM who was doing something extremely similar. Albeit maybe they didn't ever publish a book, but it was really a pretty common trope, the 'kitchen sink RPG', almost invariably based on some flavor of D&D, though sometimes perhaps owing more to Champions or something like that.

In fact we, in '78-'79 playtested some stuff that was written up by guys that were in Steve Jackson's 'crew'. They would come up to The Bunker, where we had around 200 active gamers, and hand around copies of their TFT (or at least proto-TFT) based stuff. There was 'T.H.E Fighter', 'T.H.E. Mage', etc. and there was a bunch of cross-genre stuff in there. I guess it didn't lead anywhere maybe, or it all got mushed into what eventually became GURPS, I'm not sure. I don't think Steve himself was directly involved, or at least he never made the trip up to see us. That was still back when Metagaming was a thing, so it may have all been a bit wrapped up in that.

In any case, I would agree that really explicit "all genres are here" wasn't a mainstream RPG supported kind of thing, explicitly, before about 1990, but it existed. My feeling was always that stuff like that was pretty much how people played, and the published genre-specific RPGs were sort of just the raw material. That was one reason why universal systems like GURPS and URP (SPI's attempt) were seen as desirable, because they made the mashups a LOT easier!
 

Alzrius

The EN World kitten
I will hand it to Gygax though, the way he shafted them and left them with all the company's debt was at the very least ruthless and tone deaf. It shows that he really could be a jerk, at best.
I question how much of that can be laid at Gary's feet. The acquisition happened in 1983, at which point in time he had been sent out to California to try and turn TSR properties into multimedia franchises. While he wasn't completely out of the loop, by then the Blume Brothers were very much in the driver's seat of TSR.
 

I question how much of that can be laid at Gary's feet. The acquisition happened in 1983, at which point in time he had been sent out to California to try and turn TSR properties into multimedia franchises. While he wasn't completely out of the loop, by then the Blume Brothers were very much in the driver's seat of TSR.
Yeah, its hard to say for sure, to be honest. He COULD have had almost nothing to do with it, or perhaps they told him he just had to approve them buying SPI or something that wasn't quite the actual truth. I doubt we'll ever know at this point, unless one of the TSR historians has really laid it all out, and I can't say I've studied the subject in much detail. I do recall that TSR Sues Regularly was definitely a meme in the '80s.

One might almost imagine that the principles in the company were ROLE PLAYING BEING RUTHLESS BUSINESS TYCOONS, lol!
 

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