Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Wizards of the Coast Leaves RPG Industry

"We have never admitted this before, but we have lost money on every single RPG product we've published."

--Peter Adkinson, WotC founder and president, in an excerpt of a WotC press release published in Dragon Magazine #226.

Yeah, I was surprised, too, when I read that this morning while researching ideas for this blog. It comes from "The Current Clack," published in Dragon Magazine in February 1996, written by Allen Varney.

Back in 1996, I was kinda oblivious. I didn't play Magic: The Gathering or any other games put out by Wizards of the Coast. The article reports that WotC had laid off about 30 employees on Dec. 5, 1995. This happened despite having record sales with their card games. WotC cancelled Everway, and plans for a Magic: RPG. Ars Magica got cut just 10 days before going to the printer, and their entire book division went away. Even RoboRally, the game that helped WotC in the beginning, got put on hiatus, so that the company could focus more on its collectible card games.

I recall being a little sad that people had lost their jobs, but what did mean to me? I was a high school teenager who had a great time playing D&D. I bought TSR stuff whenever I had the extra cash.
While I had tried M:TG, I didn't play it anymore.

Of course, who'd have thought that WotC would buy out TSR from bankruptcy and save D&D about a year and a half later?  Hindsight gives us 20/20 vision.

Adkinson gave no indication of this. "I have come to the conclusion that if anyone is going to do something great and innovative with RPCs [sic], it'll probably be someone else. I bow from the field..."

I'm not accusing Adkinson or WotC of foul play or secrecy. A lot happened with TSR in 1996. The RPG industry reeled with TSR's almost too sudden demise.

There were, as always, doom prophets and naysayers predicting the crash of the RPG industry. In 1997, in my mind, their words seemed to be coming true.

My Dragon Magazine subscription abruptly stopped with issue #236, in December 1996. The Current Clack of that issue gave no indication that something was amiss. TSR continued to publish materials, though, if I recall, some of them were late.

I knew that CCGs were shaking up the industry but I didn't know how bad. This hit me like a bucket of ice water to the face when I got to college and people only wanted to play M:TG (more on this in an upcoming post).

Even in issue #237, which arrived late in 1997, said that while the RPG industry had been hurt by Magic: The Gathering, TSR was doing fine, even achieving double-digit growth and record sales of the Dragon Dice game.  This information, of course, was out of date by the time #237 made publication.

But since it was supposed to be published in January 1997, it gives a startling insight that really nobody but the top brass at TSR knew how bad things were.  Maybe they were pulling the wool over people's eyes. Who knows?

For me, it comes down to this: I didn't want D&D and TSR to go away. I had a lot of time and money invested in their products. And, at the time, I was disappointed that WotC did buy out TSR. This upstart company toppled the giant (but later I learned it was ailing and vindictive giant). I remember the fears that they would make D&D more like Magic: The Gathering. Of course, that didn't happen. But I didn't want my game to change into something I didn't want to play. I had a lot of time and money invested in their products and I didn't want them to become obsolete (and, yet, it a way they did...more on that in an upcoming post...).

I was surprised when WotC bought TSR. I mean, given the above evidence, they seemed to have no interest in RPGs any longer.

If you have the time and these old issue of Dragon Magazine, I encourage you to go back and look at columns like "Rumblings" and the "Current Clack." I'm sure you'll find some surprises there, and I encourage you to share them here.


  1. Haha, you really got my attention with that title! Very interesting, and I'm also interested to hear about your experiences with M:TG in college.

  2. I'll share my experiences in an upcoming post.


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