Ya Basic! Trying To Understand the Perception of AD&D and the Sales of Basic

Nikosandros

Golden Procrastinator
This description certainly matches my own personal experience. I began with Mentzer's Basic, but having previously heard (but not having played) about AD&D, I was disappointed by the lack of paladins, druids and gnomes (as I recall, it's been quite some time). I jumped very quickly into AD&D and used Basic as training for new groups before moving them to AD&D. OTOH, the Mentzer line was incredibly popular in Italy and many groups stuck to that and mantained the flame long after the line had gone out of print.
 
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grimslade

Krampus ate my d20s
It is bizarre to look at now. I started with Basic at a summer library program in 3rd grade. I asked for the B/X set the following Christmas, but my older friends were getting the PHB. I had dice and modules and used their books until I could get my own for my birthday and using paper route money off-ramped into AD&D exclusively. Basic and B/X were a game in a box. You had all you needed to run a game like the starter sets now. AD&D needed multiple books, dice, and modules all purchased separately. Sometimes dice weren't stocked in the department stores. The box sets were just a better value.
The interesting thing is what WotC learned from all this data. For 3.X and 4E, they did not provide a starter set in the beginning. The essentials kit for 4E was mid-cycle. The Starter set was a return to the spirit of the Basic set, and it still frequently sells out. We will see how the new starter set, Dragons of Stormwrack Isle, does when it releases next month in Target. I assume it will continue to sell out.
 

I will say that my first intro to D&D was the basic set my parents bought Christmas 1979. I also had B2 and X1 in my first batch of adventures. But, almost immediately, I bought the 1e Monster Manual and Players Handbook and DMG the following year. Unless I bought a module that happened to be B/X, I don't think I ever actively sought out anything in the B/X ruleset after the initial box set.
 

Mezuka

Hero
Received the Basic Moldvay box set at Christmas in 1980. In 1981 I recall buying just the Expert rulebook (Cook&Marsh) because I could not afford the full box set with the X1 module. That was at a train hobby shop in Quebec, Canada. The AD&D books and some early AD&D modules were available.

Basic felt like a scam with only 3 levels when compared to AD&D with all 20ish levels in a single PHB book. By 1982 we were playing AD&D. We were 14-15 year old and Squad Leader players so thick rule books were a quality, not a deterrent.
 
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Sacrosanct

Legend
I said this in the other thread, but I think marketing had a lot to do with it. By marketing, I'm not just talking about ads (which do count; see below), but product placement on the shelves. I distinctly remember seeing in pretty much every store, especially the toy stores, that the boxed basic sets were more visible than the books. Not just because they were larger and brighter, but because they were placed where you easily saw them. So all those parents and aunts and uncles who knew a kid who played? They picked up the basic set.

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GreyLord

Legend
The information doesn't jive exactly with what I've seen in the past. The graphs look about right in shape and form, but the numbers differ somewhat from what I've seen.

That said, there may be some gaping holes in the information he has gotten. I don't think he has access to some of the papers as I don't think he's gone to the actual sources with the hardcopy with the paperwork (that's not to fault him though, even WotC and their reports I think we off of small indications and minimal accounting papers, but not the actual financial paperwork done at the time, at least prior to the early 90s???). I don't think he's even asked most of those who were involved with the early days paperwork and accounting (doesn' t mean he has not, just it doesn't feel he has or the numbers presented may be somewhat different). The other question is if these papers even still exist. Last I heard (and that would be hearsay I suppose), some of them were piled up in white file/book boxes in a place that definitely was not a good area for storing things.

Places that COULD be looked at for some solid numbers of sales of them if he could access their databases...KB Toys database for actual sales of books, WaldenBooks and B. Dalton books for actual sales numbers, Toys R Us for sales numbers....and several other outlets that carried the books and sets. Many of these companies are now defunct and getting that information would be...difficult, but maybe less so than those that are still holding onto privacy concerns in relation to law and legal obstructions. It may also require a LOT more research and going after that information than he wants to spend (Especially in costs vs. what is expected in sales for his book).

For early days, I would think you would HAVE to have an in with either the Blumes or Gygax's (if they even kept that type of paperwork) or those who did their financials (which probably were the Blumes or Gygax's themselves, but if not, whoever it was that did it, though good luck getting it from an accountant in that situation). I don't think that information was ever given out beyond their small circle. If that's his source, I'm not sure how other sources would feel about him going to them. That could be an antagonistic conflict of sources right there. I suppose Mentzer might have been in with the knowledge of at least some of it. MAYBE Kuntz? If he was approached he probably could tell us as he is on these forums.

If they weren't asked, I'm not sure where he could be getting his information on early sales and be accurate...but maybe there is some super secret source we've never heard of that was there (and actually was close enough to the gygax's to be granted a look at the actual numbers...not sure who that would be though)?

PS: AS for the Red Box and Basic, it was a Mega seller from what I understand. Millions of copies sold if I remember right. Mentzer has mentioned the numbers on that previously (though, I think in other locations). I don't want to say the exact number that's been stated, as I may be remembering wrong, but it was a LOT of copies. That would not be the Red Box in general I think but specifically the BECMI version? AT least that's the impression I was under, the graphs present much lower numbers than what I've heard from those who were there...which is...interesting???

PPS: As far as the chart goes, from the mid to late 80s you can see that the sales of AD&D were greater than Basic, if you go just by the chart. For later, that is only 1e, not 2e. After 2e's release you can see low sales of 1e in relation to the Basic sales. That shouldn't be that hard to figure out why that would be. Eyeballing it though, the sales numbers seem a bit lower than what has been talked about in the past from those who were there....

Could it be because it's not taking into account ALL the sales that were done? I'm not sure. It's not looking exactly right from my perspective from a numbers game though. Graphs probably look good overall in shape, but numbers seem to be off??? or something???
 
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GreyLord

Legend
It is bizarre to look at now. I started with Basic at a summer library program in 3rd grade. I asked for the B/X set the following Christmas, but my older friends were getting the PHB. I had dice and modules and used their books until I could get my own for my birthday and using paper route money off-ramped into AD&D exclusively. Basic and B/X were a game in a box. You had all you needed to run a game like the starter sets now. AD&D needed multiple books, dice, and modules all purchased separately. Sometimes dice weren't stocked in the department stores. The box sets were just a better value.
The interesting thing is what WotC learned from all this data. For 3.X and 4E, they did not provide a starter set in the beginning. The essentials kit for 4E was mid-cycle. The Starter set was a return to the spirit of the Basic set, and it still frequently sells out. We will see how the new starter set, Dragons of Stormwrack Isle, does when it releases next month in Target. I assume it will continue to sell out.

I'd have to look at the dates, but for 3e, didn't they release the Adventure begins here? It had several premade characters (at least two wizards and Rogues in the mix as well), as well as rules for gaming in it.

It was the Dungeons and Dragons Adventure Game : The Adventure Begins Here. copyright-2000

4e had the Dungeons and Dragons Starter Set, though I think that was released in Oct. 2008.
 

Mannahnin

Scion of Murgen (He/Him)
For early days, I would think you would HAVE to have an in with either the Blumes or Gygax's (if they even kept that type of paperwork) or those who did their financials (which probably were the Blumes or Gygax's themselves, but if not, whoever it was that did it, though good luck getting it from an accountant in that situation). I don't think that information was ever given out beyond their small circle. If that's his source, I'm not sure how other sources would feel about him going to them. That could be an antagonistic conflict of sources right there. I suppose Mentzer might have been in with the knowledge of at least some of it. MAYBE Kuntz? If he was approached he probably could tell us as he is on these forums.
You should probably read Riggs' stuff and/or check out his podcast to see what he's saying his sources are. We know from Peterson's Game Wizards that most of TSR's official sales records are still retained by WotC, and as I recall those archives (as well as court records, and correspondence held by private individuals) were one of his primary sources.



Could it be because it's not taking into account ALL the sales that were done? I'm not sure. It's not looking exactly right from my perspective from a numbers game though. Graphs probably look good overall in shape, but numbers seem to be off??? or something???
Which "all sales"? He's clearly labeled what he's counting on the charts. For the Basic/AD&D comparison, as discussed, Riggs is comparing all the editions of the Basic set to sales of the AD&D PH & DMG from '79 to '95.
 

GreyLord

Legend
You should probably read Riggs' stuff and/or check out his podcast to see what he's saying his sources are. We know from Peterson's Game Wizards that most of TSR's official sales records are still retained by WotC, and as I recall those archives (as well as court records, and correspondence held by private individuals) were one of his primary sources.




Which "all sales"? He's clearly labeled what he's counting on the charts. For the Basic/AD&D comparison, as discussed, Riggs is comparing all the editions of the Basic set to sales of the AD&D PH & DMG from '79 to '95.

That's the thing. WotC CLAIMED that, but they didn't have all the information, ESPECIALLY of the early days from what I know. That wasn't kept overall in the main offices.

We have accounting information and invoices of sorts from some of those who were working at the time, but they didn't have the accurate records at TSR as of 1985, and probably thus did not magically gain them later from what I know. Much of it was reliant on the memory and some information that some of those in the financial department have posted or put out in other locations.

Even in the 90s it wasn't what I would say was the best kept set of records. That's probably a BIGGER factor in the TSR bankruptcy than many would think. A reason they were spending more than taking in at times was because of ignoring blatant things on the record sheets...but also some of those things just weren't making it anywhere and sometimes one could say some of them just magically...disappeared. Who knows where they went by the mid 90s.

I've seen records where in the early 90s TSR actually broke 100 million gross income, and right before that it was around 90 million (give or take one or two million I think) in gross income (a fact bragged about, I believe by Williams at some point, which also shows the growth as well as drastic change from TSR in the 80s, which at a high I believe took in around 26 million).

Now, if his numbers don't JIVE with those...something doesn't JIVE between what those who have stated things previously about working there and various numbers, and what he has found. Of course, those numbers didn't jive at times with what WotC said when they were trying to tear down TSR and show they were much better than TSR either.

The early records weren't held by the Williams I don't think. If I had to guess, they were directly held by the Gygax's and their fellows. I don't think Arneson was invested enough at the time (in tracking the actual financial records and paperwork, even if he was interested in the money, he was more an idea guy from what I gather) to really bother with the record keeping, thus it was mainly on Gygax's side of things. It could be that Kuntz is helping him and is the source. There ARE other sources that may be able to supply the information (though I think it may be ethically questionable, if not blatantly illegal, and in that case, they probably would NOT want to be stated as a source out in the open) that is somewhat reliable. How he convinced them to relay that information is...well...WOW.

The VERY LEAST I'd expect to see on his sources are requests from the SEC for the old tax filings of TSR, if nothing else. At least see if he attempted that, and if he got lucky, those documents themselves. That would be legal. Official sales records from the various companies selling the game at retail would be good sources of information. (Maybe he has gotten them...the things I am seeing though that are red flags are that the numbers he has posted don't match up to previously stated numbers from what I would consider rather reliable statements. Someone said he didn't have sales numbers for international sales, which could be where the discrepancy comes in, but if that's not a factor, something doesn't match up in regards to the numbers. Graphs look fine without the numbers in their representation for what I know, but the numbers is where my eyebrows are raising).

Maybe he got the gold mine of all gold mines, but that's something not even WotC got from what I saw. It's why it has been so hard to piece together some of the early financials of the days at TSR, because they LITERALLY could not be found by the normal means (or at least legal means...there WERE some paperwork...and I believe that's what WotC looked over, but it's not ALL the paperwork from what I know).

PS: Good article by the way. External Audit is a good source...as long as...once again...he got it from the OFFICIAL sources. I think that would be the SEC that could release it if they wish, otherwise there would probably still be needed a Gygax or someone close to them to authorize the release, at least ethically if I understand the standards of personal information of audits vs. that sent to the SEC.
 
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Mannahnin

Scion of Murgen (He/Him)
Maybe he got the gold mine of all gold mines, but that's something not even WotC got from what I saw. It's why it has been so hard to piece together some of the early financials of the days at TSR, because they LITERALLY could not be found by the normal means (or at least legal means...there WERE some paperwork...and I believe that's what WotC looked over, but it's not ALL the paperwork from what I know).
I'm still a bit confused about what you're contesting.

We've got two recent sources of more comprehensive sales data from TSR than were previously publicly available. Jon Peterson's book Game Wizards, from last year, and Ben Riggs' upcoming Slaying the Dragon, which comes out next week.

Jon, to the best of my understanding, used actual TSR records from WotC. The numbers he put in the book were pretty high-level, though, as he wasn't interested in filling the books with numbers and charts, more in tracking how TSR did and what decisions people involved made. He gives summary revenue and profit figures at the end of each chapter, for each year. That article I just shared with you has images of three different internal documents from TSR- one showing income statements for '78 and '79, one showing unit sales for Q3 1979, and one showing unit sales of the top 39 modules in calendar year 1983.

Ben says, if I understand correctly, that he got his figures from at least one anonymous source, likely a former TSR staffer, and that they've been corroborated by other inside sources. He's openly STATED that he only has partial data. For example, he's got numbers for sales of AD&D hardcovers, but not for the modules.

So are you claiming that Jon's lying, or that Ben has incomplete data (which he's openly stated), or something else?
 
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