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TSR's Amazing Accounting Department

The time is 1987 and I was the Vice President of the design and editors. It was a great job because TSR had amazing people doing the design and editing of product. I wasn't liked much by upper management at TSR after Gary left the company. I don't do well with authority figures that I do not believe know what they are doing. So I was fairly sure I didn't have long to work at TSR. However, I didn't count on the product schedule keeping me there for as long as it did.


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Note from Morrus -- this is the fifth of Jim Ward's series of articles here on EN World! Upcoming articles include SSI and AD&D Computer Games, and The Origin of Monty Haul! Please let us know in the comments about topics you'd like to hear, and don't forget to check out Jonathan Tweet's new column!


We, and I mean the company, got further and further behind in our release schedule because a great many of the managers and all of the upper management didn't know anything about roleplaying product and could care less. I was in the middle of things as Director of Product. The head of the company actually wanted TSR to do other things besides role-playing games that didn't include gaming at all. She had us doing things like Hollywood comic books and audio CDs instead of role-playing products.

Jack Morrisey was the head of sales and he was sharp. There wasn't anything about sales he didn't know. He always maintained that we needed to have covers and back cover text six months before the product released. This concept was because we needed retail stores and distributors to schedule our products in their monthly sales budget. At the time that type of TSR schedule wasn't coming even close to happening.

Against their better judgment, they made me a vice president of creative services and the schedule was my primary concern. I'm a goal-centered type of dude. Give me a goal and I'm on it like white on rice.

On this topic, I would like to give the product managers and Bruce Heard credit for doing the hardest part of the work. In those days we had product managers and a group of designers and editors for every one of the campaign worlds TSR produced. This means there was a Ravenloft product manager, an Al Qadim Product Manager, a Dragonlance Product Manager and so on. Most of my people were in at least two groups. They learned to love the products in their group and have a genuine desire to make an excellent product. I watched them like hawks, and they did the lion's share of the work. I did think of a great trick. I had all of the game designers from all the product groups, and we had a lot of them, give me their entire weeks worth of design work every Friday in a printout. I didn't have the time to read all of the material, but I could spend the weekend and read one of the efforts of a designer. However, none of them wanted to be judged as coming up short on their work. I would always hand back a review of that designer's material and tried hard to always be positive. You would be amazed at the volume of work that trick produced from the designers.

Eventually, thanks to everyone's efforts in about six months we had gotten ahead in the schedule and were six months early on the products and our department was very happy with the effort. Sales was ecstatic and orders went way up.

Then, horror of horrors, a new head accountant was hired.

At the time I was really happy with all the editors, designers, and artists at TSR. They are doing a great job in a timely manner. Bruce Heard was working great with the freelance people and doing a tremendous job of keeping them on schedule. When nasty events like a freelance designer falling off the grid; which happened all the time; Bruce was there with a good replacement. He and I argued a time or two, but I always respected his talents.

So, it was a happy and very satisfied “experienced and jaded James M. Ward” that walked into an officer's meeting. Unfortunately for me, Jack Morrissy wasn't working at TSR any more. We had a new sales guy that was an expert in mass market sales. Upper management really wanted TSR to crack the mass market sales area. It was a good idea, but TSR, in my mind, wasn't positioned with a product that would do that.

The new crazed head of accounting told me that TSR couldn't afford to be so far ahead in our production schedule. He tried to tell me it was costing TSR money to have products waiting to be sold for months at a time. He wanted to have the products finished exactly one month before the product was released.

People, I really couldn't believe what I was hearing. I appealed to the sales vice president about the timing of releases. He didn't back me up at all. I went through the design process and told them how truly difficult it was to create products with the typesetting, design, and art necessary in each one. The company was working on large boxed sets at the time and they took even more time. I talked about bumps in the schedule from designers and editors getting sick, to wrong estimates on how long some of the large projects would take.

It was all for nothing. I was sternly ordered to change the schedule so that releases were closer exactly one month before the due date. I walked out of the meeting shaking my head at the stupidity of upper management who knew nothing about the role-playing business and could care less.

I actually enjoy following orders if they make sense to me. This direction was totally against everything I had been doing for the last year and a half. The end result was that I never changed what we were doing. When asked about it at Vice President meetings I lied like a rug. The last two years of my stay at TSR the company made the most money they ever made on product schedules. The other vice presidents and the president of the company never noticed I didn't do what was ordered of me.

Although I didn't tell my people of that meeting, word must have leaked out somehow. I seemed to have earned a reputation as a Ranger protecting the Hobbits (designers and editors) from the Nazgul (upper management).

I don't feel bad about ignoring that order to this day.
 
Jim Ward

Comments

Sacrosanct

Slayer of Keraptis
I love me some Jim Ward, but it's "I couldn't care less", not "I could care less."

Sorry, it's a pet peeve of mine. Like nails on a chalkboard
 

lowkey13

Exterminate all rational thought
I love me some Jim Ward, but it's "I couldn't care less", not "I could care less."
Well, upper management could care less about it. They could care about it as much as they do about, say, the peons that worked at TSR.

Sorry, it's a pet peeve of mine. Like nails on a chalkboard
That ship sailed a long time ago.
 

dave2008

Adventurer
I love me some Jim Ward, but it's "I couldn't care less", not "I could care less."

Sorry, it's a pet peeve of mine. Like nails on a chalkboard
Well, your correction assumes he actually "couldn't care less." I have found myself thinking/saying: "I could care less...but not much!" ;)
 

AriochQ

Explorer
I love me some Jim Ward, but it's "I couldn't care less", not "I could care less."

Sorry, it's a pet peeve of mine. Like nails on a chalkboard
The article is written in a very informal conversational style. Utilizing the more common usage seems appropriate.
 
That head accountant’s mandate sounds like JIT (Just In Time) methodology. Which might work just fine for factory work, but here seems a bit misapplied.

When I was younger, I just assumed that TSR was this monolithic, infallible entity. But in hindsight it seems like, despite the golden years, it was actually always a few decisions or run of bad luck away from collapse.
 
I am struggling with the accounting justification (and I am a pretty good accountant). Cash flow I can see if people were paid on completion as you are putting cash our well before receiving any cash. Otherwise there is no P&L impact if you capitalize the development costs and amortize over sales.
 

AriochQ

Explorer
At first, TSR was run by gamers who knew very little about business. Later, TSR was run by business people who knew very little about gaming. Neither worked well.
 

Sacrosanct

Slayer of Keraptis
The article is written in a very informal conversational style. Utilizing the more common usage seems appropriate.
Even in common usage, it's not right. It's like using "irregardless." I don't meant to pick on him; I love his work. But that's just one of my pet peeves, like people who mix up "their" "there" and "they're".
 

Von Ether

Explorer
I am struggling with the accounting justification (and I am a pretty good accountant). Cash flow I can see if people were paid on completion as you are putting cash our well before receiving any cash. Otherwise there is no P&L impact if you capitalize the development costs and amortize over sales.
It seems the other guy was trying to reduce the overhead from storing something in the warehouse six months ahead - don't know if that's considered part of the development cost. As a project manager type, thought, I like the idea of the product wrapped up and waiting as the ramp up marketing phase gets the consumers ready.

Having ramp up marketing going on while the product is squeaking in under the wire sounds like too much of a gamble that deadlines get blown.

But over the decades, I've discovered that lots of private companies present a good facade to outsiders and the "grunts" on the bottom floor and then be a total teetering mess up at the top. And often the only clue anyone has is that one weird decision.

Even more bizarre the accountant made that demand and then never followed up the numbers and lading to see if that was actually getting done and how much it was saving the company. i.e. proof of his worth to the company. Where was TSR picking up these top-tier people?

I guess Ward was going for "Amazing" (those are air quotes) vs Amazing on that accountant's judgement call.
 
Last edited by a moderator:
It seems the other guy was trying to reduce the overhead from storing something in the warehouse six months ahead - don't know if that's considered part of the development cost. As a project manager type, thought, I like the idea of the product wrapped up and waiting as the ramp up marketing phase gets the consumers ready.

Having ramp up marketing going on while the product is squeaking in under the wire sounds like too much of a gamble that deadlines get blown.

But over the decades, I've discovered that lots of private companies present a good facade to outsiders and the "grunts" on the bottom floor and then be a total teetering mess up at the top. And often the only clue anyone has is that one weird decision.

Even more bizarre the accountant made that demand and then never followed up the numbers and lading to see if that was actually getting done and how much it was saving the company. i.e. proof of his worth to the company. Where was TSR picking up these top-tier people?

I guess Ward was going for "Amazing" (those are air quotes) vs Amazing on that accountant's judgement call.
If they were actually printing the books/boxes so far in advance, then I would have an issue as well. No need for inventory. I suspect “finished” means press ready in this case.
 

Sacrosanct

Slayer of Keraptis
I am struggling with the accounting justification (and I am a pretty good accountant). Cash flow I can see if people were paid on completion as you are putting cash our well before receiving any cash. Otherwise there is no P&L impact if you capitalize the development costs and amortize over sales.
It could probably be related to how carrying costs into the next fiscal year could be impacted. I.e., if all of your costs are in one year, and all of your profits in the next, it might screw with things. Also, it sounds like he or she was wanting to go to more of a Just-In-Time process that is very popular.
 
It could probably be related to how carrying costs into the next fiscal year could be impacted. I.e., if all of your costs are in one year, and all of your profits in the next, it might screw with things. Also, it sounds like he or she was wanting to go to more of a Just-In-Time process that is very popular.
If costs are all expensed when incurred (no capitalization), then maybe. If they are capitalized (and there is a good argument that they should be), then your point does not apply.
 

Azzy

Explorer
Even in common usage, it's not right. It's like using "irregardless." I don't meant to pick on him; I love his work. But that's just one of my pet peeves, like people who mix up "their" "there" and "they're".
I direct you here.

One of the best take-aways is:

"But if you are the kind of person who cries out against this abomination we must warn you that people who go through life expecting informal variant idioms in English to behave logically are setting themselves up for a lifetime of hurt."
 

Schmoe

Explorer
A company was working to build a revolutionary machine to build bridges. They spent a bunch of money designing and developing it until finally it was ready for the first field-test, but during the field-test the machine failed and fell into a chasm. So they rented a crane, drove it out to the chasm, winched up the machine, and then started to fix it at great cost and delay.

The CEO called a meeting and told everyone that this mistake was really costly, they needed to find a solution. The lead engineer said he thought he could fix it if they used higher-quality steel for the machine.
Several weeks later it was ready for the next field test, but yet again, the machine failed and fell into the chasm. So they rented a crane, drove it out to the chasm, winched up the machine, and then started to fix it at great cost and delay.

The CEO called another meeting and let everyone know that this was terrible, the company was in a bad situation, and they needed a solution. One of the software programmers spoke up and said that he felt the algorithms used to navigate across the chasm were faulty, and he would work on a fix. Several weeks later it was ready for the next field test, but yet again, the machine failed and fell into the chasm. So they rented a crane, drove it out to the chasm, winched up the machine, and then started to fix it at great cost and delay.

The CEO called another meeting, and he was livid. This was the last chance that they had, and if they couldn't fix it he'd have to shut the whole thing down. Everyone was silent as they racked their brains until finally, the head accountant spoke up. "I know what we can do! We'll buy our own crane!"
 

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