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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

Sabathius42

Villager
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
Perhaps much like it could be someone else's pet peeve to see people being called out for using that phrase in an area devoted to discussion of an entirely unrelated topic.

DS
 

Paragon Lost

Explorer
The insiders's history of these events are fascinating, looking forward to more. On the Monty Haul thing, we were using the term by 1979-80 as I recall for some DnD games. I also recall a comic strip with it at some point. Wikipedia "Let's Make A Deal" with Monty Haul for those of you who weren't alive back then. You'll quickly understand why it was a derogatory term for some DnD games/campaigns.
 

MechaPilot

Explorer
As an accountant, Just-In-Time (JIT) is popular and can result in reduced storage costs. However, it sounds like this guy missed one of the big rules of directing a company's accounting policy: you need to become intimately familiar with the nature and the workings of the business (and how it interacts with its distributors and customers). He seems to have fundamentally failed to have done this.
 

epithet

Explorer
At some point "I could care less, but it's not likely" became a popular phrase. People began using the first bit, with the rest being implied, more than the full phrase, and the next thing you know, "I could care less" became commonly used to say "I don't care very much."
 

Orius

Villager
The more I read about TSR's history the more I wonder just how it held together as long as it did.
 

Von Ether

Explorer
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.
I wouldn't be surprised if this guy thought "finished" in the production department meant there was already inventory in the warehouse, since, again, it's obvious that he didn't look over the spreadsheets to claim the glory of how much he saved the company.

Or even funnier, he made the assumption, pushed his point, and then took a peek to confirm after the fact that he had cut out all that non-existent overhead.

Some day, I'd like to hear about the Buck Rogers fiasco.
 
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Bruce Heard

Villager
<<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. >>

Your story is a bit misleading. I don't ever recall confronting such an absurd order (I agree -- it was patently unworkable). All the work was scheduled according to resources available. Period. That meant a significant number of projects were unavoidably completed well before the one-month deadline. That certainly was the case when I was director of production planning (perhaps this was after your time at TSR). After the nastiness of dealing with Lorraine's buddy, Mary Abel (you might not have had the pleasure of being acquainted with that character), my authority and responsibilities over the game division's scheduling matters remained essentially unchallenged until TSR went under.

By the way, it isn't an accurate statement that freelancers were late all the time. Many were not. Some of those who did blow their deadlines did so because of conflicting directives from in-house staffers. That did happen often. For that matter, there were a number of in-house staffers who missed their own deadlines as well. And yeah, I did have the unenviable job of cracking down on both sides when delays cropped up. Many of those mishaps weren't necessarily anyone's fault, but rather the result of changes in direction dictated by our upper management.

Bruce
 

Sacrosanct

Slayer of Keraptis
At some point "I could care less, but it's not likely" became a popular phrase. People began using the first bit, with the rest being implied, more than the full phrase, and the next thing you know, "I could care less" became commonly used to say "I don't care very much."
This is the last I'll comment on this because I don't want to derail and I'm the one who originally brought it up. No, this isn't true. Just because many people used it wrong doesn't suddenly make it an acceptable phrase. "I could care less" means you do care on some level. Every time someone uses it, the context was "I don't care at all". They meant the correct phrase "I couldn't care less." It's just like because many people say "irregardless" doesn't suddenly make that accurate. Or how when lots of people say "with baited breath" it doesn't make it suddenly correct when it's actually "bated breath". Or "slight of hand", or "beck and call", or "proof is in the pudding" or "for all intensive purposes" or any other number of cases.

Just because a lot of people make a mistake doesn't mean they are correct, or that our language suddenly changed to make it accurate.
 

Azzy

Explorer
This is the last I'll comment on this because I don't want to derail and I'm the one who originally brought it up. No, this isn't true. Just because many people used it wrong doesn't suddenly make it an acceptable phrase. "I could care less" means you do care on some level. Every time someone uses it, the context was "I don't care at all". They meant the correct phrase "I couldn't care less." It's just like because many people say "irregardless" doesn't suddenly make that accurate. Or how when lots of people say "with baited breath" it doesn't make it suddenly correct when it's actually "bated breath". Or "slight of hand", or "beck and call", or "proof is in the pudding" or "for all intensive purposes" or any other number of cases.

Just because a lot of people make a mistake doesn't mean they are correct, or that our language suddenly changed to make it accurate.
I could care fewer.
 

Sacrosanct

Slayer of Keraptis
If we could travel back in time and introduce Agile and Lean methods, it sure seems like they would've helped TSR.
If we could travel back in time and introduce Agile and Lean methods, it sure seems like they would've helped TSR.
Double posts aren't unusual. But 12 minutes apart? LOL.

Also, I hate Agile. I can see the benefit of Agile, but in my experience using it (I am a project manager for a large company), the actual amount of work you get done compared to waterfall is much less. Spending so much time talking about backlogs and burn down charts and stand up meetings, that you have less time to actually work on your project. Sprint planning never goes as planned or is finished on time, which causes delayed sign off, and people keep trying to change the acceptance criteria after user stories have been signed off. People seem to think that because there is no formalized and approved FSD or BRD, that means requirements are fluid and can change at any time, even after the QA process has begun. It's frustrating. But it's the big thing right now. Like Six Sigma (also garbage for any non-production line environments) was 15 years ago.
 

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