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

GreyLord

Legend
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 sales figures at the end of each chapter.

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?

I added to the PS above.

I wasn't commenting on the article itself, just what was talked about here with the upcoming book. If it is based on partial information, it's hard to say if that's good to publish or not. It's good in that this is more information released then has been previously, but bad because partial information can give the wrong picture or impression.

I haven't read Jon's book, so I can't say how it looks or doesn't look. I took a look at financials many years ago (and I will say, that WotC actually did save TSR in some ways, people think D&D would have died if TSR died, that's not true. There were companies waiting to pick D&D up for a song, literally pennies once it was available. By buying TSR for what most would say was an absolutely overvalued price (TSR wasn't worth what they paid for it by any margin, or even close to it), WotC probably saved D&D from complete corporate control in the truest sense of corporate control), so it is interesting to see things that come out occasionally.

I was taking a look at the graphs and noting what I observed. If he doesn't have accurate numbers, there's nothing I really can say about it I suppose. Graphs look right overall in their pictures from my perspective, but I'm not a reliable source either as my information is not primary either so I don't have the full picture. Im not sure using partial information is the best way to go but if it's all one has...one does what they feel they need to do. I feel there are ways to get all the numbers, but the work involved to get them is probably not actually worth anyone's time to actually find and get. It would be more costly than you'd ever make back most likely, in time or money.

UNLESS, of course, as I said, they actually kept the full information from early on, which probably would be with the Gygax's or someone close to them, and later by Williams and their accountants (and I expect those accountants would be HIGHLY watched to make sure they keep their confidentiality, I don't ever expect that venue to be approved for release...but...I may also be VERY wrong as well).

PS: I think if Jon's book did go into depths on how the numbers came out and all that, it may be more interesting for me to look into, but probably far more boring for the target audience. An indepth numbers crunch with all the primary documents presented and how the numbers were derived and the formulas utilized could also be more useful for some, though, once again, probably not something that's going to sell that many copies.
 
Last edited:

log in or register to remove this ad

Mannahnin

Scion of Murgen (He/Him)
UNLESS, of course, as I said, they actually kept the full information from early on, which probably would be with the Gygax's or someone close to them, and later by Williams and their accountants (and I expect those accountants would be HIGHLY watched to make sure they keep their confidentiality, I don't ever expect that venue to be approved for release...but...I may also be VERY wrong as well).
I'm still confused as to why you think Gygax would have the records. He left in '86, he was very hands-off on the finance and accounting stuff, and when he left corporate continuity from the founding was perfectly uninterrupted. From the founding of TSR in 1973 to WotC's acquisition in 1997 there were a few shifts in incorporation status and organization, but only that one full acquisition, and it's not like there was a fire destroying records or something like that.

Jon says in that article that...

For some years, I couldn't always find the authoritative figures I wanted. In 1985, for example, the audited financials were so bad that TSR apparently suppressed them -- I've never seen a copy. But we can still arrive at numbers through other sources. During the last of the law suits that Game Wizards covers, Lorraine Williams testified on January 20, 1986 as follows:
tsr-1986-earnings-williams.jpg

I wouldn't really be sold on a data point like that, even in sworn testimony, without some way of corroborating it. By comparing the retained earnings of the 1984 audit with the figures for 1986 (an old cantrip employed by financial sorcerers), the precise sum my model derives for TSR's 1985 loss is $3,856,169.

So that seems clearly indicative that MOST of the major financial data is still perfectly intact.
 

GreyLord

Legend
I'm still confused as to why you think Gygax would have the records. He left in '86, he was very hands-off on the finance and accounting stuff, and when he left corporate continuity from the founding was perfectly uninterrupted. From the founding of TSR in 1973 to WotC's acquisition in 1997 there were a few shifts in incorporation status and organization, but only that one full acquisition, and it's not like there was a fire destroying records or something like that.

Jon says in that article that...


View attachment 253663


So that seems clearly indicative that MOST of the major financial data is still perfectly intact.

The charts go back to the 70s.

Lorraine Williams wasn't even there. That part you quote, is off a Friggen Testimony...that's not even an accurate financial record!

If you read the article, the entire REASON he used it was because he couldn't GET the accurate records from that year in the FIRST PLACE.

Anyways, I digress.
 

darjr

I crit!
The basic numbers were known before. See various interviews with TSR people, the latest with Stan! about it’s sales vs the Pokémon role playing game.
 

Mannahnin

Scion of Murgen (He/Him)
The charts go back to the 70s.

Lorraine Williams wasn't even there. That part you quote, is off a Friggen Testimony...that's not even an accurate financial record!

If you read the article, the entire REASON he used it was because he couldn't GET the accurate records from that year in the FIRST PLACE.

Anyways, I digress.
Yeah, the charts go back to the 70s. So do the paper records.

Jon shows us three pages of them in that article as examples.

The quote from the Lorraine Williams court testimony is an example of an exception, for 1985, where he couldn't get the exact figures from WotC's records, but was able to get a rough figure from court records, and confirm a more precise number "By comparing the retained earnings of the 1984 audit with the figures for 1986". So that shows he was able to look at the actual audit records for '84 and '86 (obviously among other years).

Lorraine Williams' contemporaneous testimony was only used as a source for a period when she was actually there, and her rough figure (which Jon specifically points out isn't as good as a real record, so I don't know why you're pretending to inform me of this) was improved upon by referencing audit records from the prior and following years.

It seems apparent, at least from from reading Game Wizards, that WotC has fairly complete original financial records from TSR. Not 100% complete, but extensive.
 
Last edited:

GreyLord

Legend
Yeah, the charts go back to the 70s. So do the paper records.

Jon shows us three pages of them in that article as examples.

The quote from the Lorraine Williams court testimony is an example of an exception, for 1985, where he couldn't get the exact figures from WotC's records, but was able to get a rough figure from court records, and confirm a more precise number "By comparing the retained earnings of the 1984 audit with the figures for 1986". So that shows he was able to look at the actual audit records for '84 and '86 (obviously among other years).

Lorraine Williams' contemporaneous testimony was only used as a source for a period when she was actually there, and her rough figure (which Jon specifically points out isn't as good as a real record, so I don't know why you're pretending to inform me of this) was improved upon by referencing audit records from the prior and following years.

It seems apparent, at least from from reading Game Wizards, that WotC has fairly complete original financial records from TSR. Not perfect, but extensive.

Because you are trying to argue that records exist and are what are being used (while I am saying, many do NOT exist, and if they do, who would probably have them available) and are as good as REAL financial records. Not even the writers are saying what you are saying.

Or at least, that is what is sounds like you are trying to state. Not sure why we are even discussing this to be honest.
 

Mannahnin

Scion of Murgen (He/Him)
Because you are trying to argue that records exist and are as good as REAL financial records. Not even the writers are saying what you are saying.

Or at least, that is what is sounds like you are trying to state. Not sure why we are even discussing this to be honest.
What do you think a "real" financial record is, if an audit record from the company in question doesn't count?

Jon Peterson clearly had access to extensive original, paper financial records from TSR when writing Game Wizards. If you haven't read the book, the article I linked you should make that perfectly clear. That's why I referenced it.

Given that such original paper records clearly do exist in WotC's corporate archives, Ben Riggs having gotten his hands on copies of other records doesn't seem implausible.
 

Yora

Legend
The perception that there were always a lot more AD&D books on the shelves and just one red Basic box and one blue Expert box might very well be correct.

But how would you know if it's always the same red and blue boxes you see every time you look at the store shelf? No clue how it was back then, but all the stores I've been to in the last 20 years always only have a single copy on the shelf.
If the Basic boxes need to be restocked every week, but all those AD&D book sit there for months, they could very well outsell AD&D.
 

Mannahnin

Scion of Murgen (He/Him)
The perception that there were always a lot more AD&D books on the shelves and just one red Basic box and one blue Expert box might very well be correct.

But how would you know if it's always the same red and blue boxes you see every time you look at the store shelf? No clue how it was back then, but all the stores I've been to in the last 20 years always only have a single copy on the shelf.
If the Basic boxes need to be restocked every week, but all those AD&D book sit there for months, they could very well outsell AD&D.
That's also just comparing what we see in a specialist hobby shop, right?

The boxed sets, even if they stopped being carried by Sears in 1985, were available in more retail venues, like toy stores and department stores, which wouldn't necessarily have carried the hardcover AD&D books.
 

GreyLord

Legend
What do you think a "real" financial record is, if an audit record from the company in question doesn't count?

Jon Peterson clearly had access to extensive original, paper financial records from TSR when writing Game Wizards. If you haven't read the book, the article I linked you should make that perfectly clear. That's why I referenced it.

Given that such original paper records clearly do exist in WotC's corporate archives, Ben Riggs having gotten his hands on copies of other records doesn't seem implausible.

I worked in business. I did finanacial research into companies. I am retired but STILL am involved with a company and it's board at times.

An audit is A financial record, but it is not ALL the financial records. For a company starting out, there aren't as many financial records at the beginning (such as when TSR first started out) as later.

In the early periods, most of the time you find that the owners or those who started the business are the ones who actually have the financial documents. These go over the actual NUMBERS that are coming in. This will depict sales, expenditures, income, gross, etc.

When you write up something, you want it based on the primary documents. You need the source document. If we are talking about historians, they talk about things called primary and secondary sources. You want the primary sources, not the secondary to have a stronger argument. The MORE primary sources you have, the stronger the argument.

What brought this up was information presented on this site. We have charts that depict these numbers from what we have seen. The question is WHERE is this information coming from...WHAT are the PRIMARY sources...aka...where are the primary documents that were sourced and can we see ALL of them.

An accounting WITHOUT the primary documents to source them is like an accountant coming up and saying..."You just have to trust me on this."

No one is just going to trust someone's word without the documentation (or at least those who work with keeping the stuff on the up and up). Much of this is because the GOVERNMENT doesn't normally just trust what we say without documentation. It's a good way to get in trouble.

The books claim to have numbers going back to the early 70s. The financial documentation when TSR started WAS NOT something Williams has ever presented as having, nor has anyone else...really The people who would have them were those who were actually RUNNING the business at the time and perhaps those that were their friends that they may have entrusted later. Those documents would be kept in some sort of filing system.

There are other ways to get documentation as well. I know some who HAVE some of these papers...personally. You know how many of these authors have approached them (at least that I am aware of). ZERO. NONE. NADA. NILCH.

Not that they would RELEASE the information, as there are certain ethical values there that would probably mean they would not...BUT...the very fact that no one has even requested them...

This is why I bring it up in question. If you knew who had some of these papers and KNEW no one was actually asking to see them...you might question where some of the information is coming from as well.


Anyways, I've been over this already. I am no being asked to repeat things I've already stated in the thread. I'm not a fan of talking in circles because what I already wrote and was being responded to is not being read and taken into account is leading to going in circles. I suppose I'll be done with this. I'll boil it down to this...

People say they want the information, but they don't want to know the sources it seems. That's okay, but this is where my questioning lies. Probably because, as I said before, a LOT of it is available, but to hunt it all down may take more time and money than it is actually worth to hunt down for any one person at this point.
 

CleverNickName

Limit Break Dancing
A lot of folks talking about how parents and older family members might have "accidentally" bought the Basic Sets instead of AD&D, but I think that might be overstated. Mine was anything but an accident.

I remember for my 12th birthday, mom asked me what I wanted as a gift. I told her I wanted the Dungeons & Dragons game, but that there were two versions and I wanted "the one in the red box." I remember telling her to avoid anything with the word "Advanced" on the cover, because my friends at school were playing Basic D&D, and Basic was the version that came with everything I needed to play (especially dice).

I was so worried that she got me the wrong version that I sneaked out to the car after everyone had gone to bed, popped the trunk of the car (where she always hid our gifts), and checked the bag to make sure. It was a huge relief when I saw the red box.
 

darjr

I crit!
I looked back at some of my game notes and I sometimes would note who was new to D&D and how if they’d tell me. And I didn’t take great notes, but I do recall a large number of those folks coming back to D&D after playing as a kid, many only a time or two. I wonder how many were Basic D&D kids?
 


Mannahnin

Scion of Murgen (He/Him)
An audit is A financial record, but it is not ALL the financial records. For a company starting out, there aren't as many financial records at the beginning (such as when TSR first started out) as later.

In the early periods, most of the time you find that the owners or those who started the business are the ones who actually have the financial documents. These go over the actual NUMBERS that are coming in. This will depict sales, expenditures, income, gross, etc.
Well yes, obviously. When a company is tiny and just starting out records tend to be more minimal, and they get more extensive as they get bigger, employ actual accountants, get more organized, etc. Before you hire an actual accountant, obviously the founders have all that documentation, because they're doing the accounting work.

But you're saying that AFTER a company has gotten bigger and started using professional accountants, you still expect the owners to personally retain all the earliest records, rather than giving them to the accounting and finance team once those are formed? I wouldn't be shocked if Gygax or the Blumes had retained copies, but the idea that TSR's actual legal and accounting departments wouldn't have the most complete records going back to the beginning seems highly implausible to me. Especially once they started overextending their credit and the banks got involved in oversight and putting people on the board in the early 80s.

And again, we've seen actual copies of some of these documents (like the original TSR publishing and royalties contract with Gygax and Arneson for D&D) in books like Game Wizards and places like Jon's blog.

When you write up something, you want it based on the primary documents. You need the source document. If we are talking about historians, they talk about things called primary and secondary sources. You want the primary sources, not the secondary to have a stronger argument. The MORE primary sources you have, the stronger the argument.

We have charts that depict these numbers from what we have seen. The question is WHERE is this information coming from...WHAT are the PRIMARY sources...aka...where are the primary documents that were sourced and can we see ALL of them.

An accounting WITHOUT the primary documents to source them is like an accountant coming up and saying..."You just have to trust me on this."
Yes, Peterson in particular is famous for his devotion to primary source documentation. He's been criticized more than I think is reasonable for not relying more on oral accounts in writing his books.

A lot of older fans have opined that he should do more just asking surviving TSR staffers and early creatives like Rob Kuntz. And it's clear that he has interviewed and spoken with most of those people, but that he strongly prefers to reference contemporaneous documentation in his books wherever possible, rather than relying on someone's memory forty or fifty years after the event.

Riggs I've only learned of recently, and I don't know if his standards are as rigorous, but the folks I know who've seen him speak at GaryCon and followed his podcast and material so far seem to think he's credible. I don't know for sure yet.

But I do know, based on reading Peterson's work and seeing the materials that he's shared, that original paper documentation for quite a lot of stuff clearly does still exist. And in places other than Gary Gygax's personal effects and records. In the hands of private collectors and, most especially, in WotC's collection of TSR documents.

The books claim to have numbers going back to the early 70s. The financial documentation when TSR started WAS NOT something Williams has ever presented as having, nor has anyone else...really The people who would have them were those who were actually RUNNING the business at the time and perhaps those that were their friends that they may have entrusted later. Those documents would be kept in some sort of filing system.
Yes, the files of TSR's legal and accounting departments. Which were overseen by Williams during the period when she was RUNNING the business, so I'm baffled by the idea that she wouldn't have access to the records of the company for which she was CEO. The period during which she could have just walked into those file archives and perused those records at will was more than ten years.

Anyway, leaving that aside, the copies of those records would, in the normal course of business and acquisition, have been handed over to WotC in 1997. And retained ever since. What makes you think they weren't?

There are other ways to get documentation as well. I know some who HAVE some of these papers...personally. You know how many of these authors have approached them (at least that I am aware of). ZERO. NONE. NADA. NILCH.

Not that they would RELEASE the information, as there are certain ethical values there that would probably mean they would not...BUT...the very fact that no one has even requested them...

This is why I bring it up in question. If you knew who had some of these papers and KNEW no one was actually asking to see them...you might question where some of the information is coming from as well.
Ok, so you're saying you know people who used to work at TSR (or friends thereof) who have retained copies of some of the financial records, but who are telling you that none of the folks writing books about TSR in the last few years have approached them.

Even if that is true, doesn't that make it MORE plausible that Ben Riggs could have met OTHER such people who ALSO retained records?

Anyways, I've been over this already. I am no being asked to repeat things I've already stated in the thread. I'm not a fan of talking in circles because what I already wrote and was being responded to is not being read and taken into account is leading to going in circles. I suppose I'll be done with this. I'll boil it down to this...

People say they want the information, but they don't want to know the sources it seems. That's okay, but this is where my questioning lies. Probably because, as I said before, a LOT of it is available, but to hunt it all down may take more time and money than it is actually worth to hunt down for any one person at this point.
Apologies if this feels like going in circles, but some of the assertions you've made honestly confuse and baffle me. Others seem to indicate that you didn't read or understand parts of what I shared with you, so obviously there's a disconnect happening.

Who ever said we don't want to know the sources? There's a difference between not CARING about the sources, and reading the author's words and acknowledging the reality that he claims he's protecting the confidentiality of his sources (like you're doing with yours). Whether or not we believe him, if he's stated that, badgering him for those sources is obviously not going to be a productive exercise.
 
Last edited:

CleverNickName

Limit Break Dancing
Now that I think about it, the included dice in the Basic D&D boxed sets probably did more to boost the sales of the game than anything else, even product placement or shelf restocking rates. Where I lived, polyhedric dice were very hard to find in the mid-1980s, and those of us lucky enough to own a set guarded them with our lives. We used them until the corners had worn completely down...not because we wanted to, but because we didn't have a choice.

If you had a set of the really fancy mail-order "Ice Dice" you were the envy of everyone else at your table (and their older siblings, and their neighbors).
 
Last edited:

el-remmen

Moderator Emeritus
I got my Basic, Expert (Moldvay for both), and about a year later Companion sets at a toy store that did not sell any hardcover books or modules, etc. . . They mostly sold LEGO and later G.I. Joes and baby dolls, etc. . . So I didn't even know about the Advanced stuff until later when I bought a copy of the AD&D Monster Manual at Toys R. Us for $8.95.

This would have all been in 1983/84.
 

South by Southwest

Incorrigible Daydreamer
Now that I think about it, the included sets of dice in the Basic D&D boxed sets probably did more to boost the sales of the game than anything else, even product placement or shelf restocking rates. Where I lived, polyhedric dice were very hard to find in the mid-1980s [...]
That's a very good point. I had forgotten about that, but what you say is true: the dice were awfully hard to find when first starting out in the game. Only after I was into it and getting copies of Dragon Magazine did I find a source for more gem dice where we could order them by mail. The local toy & hobby store had hardly anything and grievously overcharged for what they had.
 

CleverNickName

Limit Break Dancing
That's a very good point. I had forgotten about that, but what you say is true: the dice were awfully hard to find when first starting out in the game. Only after I was into it and getting copies of Dragon Magazine did I find a source for more gem dice where we could order them by mail. The local toy & hobby store had hardly anything and grievously overcharged for what they had.
I remember seeing sets of dice behind the counter at Arpegees, the local gaming store. (I say "local" but it was a 45-minute drive away in the next town.) Six opaque powder-blue dice in a tiny zip-seal bag, kept under lock and key, and they wanted $15 for them...in 1986. That's like $25 in today's money, and they weren't even nice-looking.

So we hoarded dice. We guarded them jealously, and we hissed with displeasure if anyone (anyone!) else even touched them. We learned fast that dice were rare and valuable, hard to replace, and absolutely necessary to play...which meant that we learned to buy more of them whenever we could, as often as we could. If you played D&D, you could never have too many dice.

Even to this day, I own dozens of sets of dice, and yet I still feel anxious letting someone borrow just one.

We are the OG Dice Goblins.
 

Nikosandros

Golden Procrastinator
A lot of folks talking about how parents and older family members might have "accidentally" bought the Basic Sets instead of AD&D, but I think that might be overstated. Mine was anything but an accident.

I remember for my 12th birthday, mom asked me what I wanted as a gift. I told her I wanted the Dungeons & Dragons game, but that there were two versions and I wanted "the one in the red box." I remember telling her to avoid anything with the word "Advanced" on the cover, because my friends at school were playing Basic D&D, and Basic was the version that came with everything I needed to play (especially dice).

I was so worried that she got me the wrong version that I sneaked out to the car after everyone had gone to bed, popped the trunk of the car (where she always hid our gifts), and checked the bag to make sure. It was a huge relief when I saw the red box.
Yes, when I got my copy of the Basic Set, I had very clearly informed my parents of what I wanted... no chace of a mistake there! :D
 


Dungeon Delver's Guide

An Advertisement

Advertisement4

Top