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A History of Wizards of the Coast 58

Posted by Zonk
from the wotc-for-the-win dept.
HerderOfCats writes "Shannon Appelcline has written up an excellent independent history of Wizards of the Coast, the company that brought us Magic: The Gathering, eventually acquired TSR and D&D, transformed the paper RPG game industry with d20 and the Open Game License, and eventually was acquired by game giant Hasbro." From the RPGNet article: "Overall, Hasbro was looking to make Wizards meaner and leaner, and thus a better profit making machine. In 2001 and 2002 Habro also divested themselves of their conventions. Origins went to GAMA and GenCon to Peter Adkison. Around the same time they also outsourced their magazines by licensing Dungeon, Dragon, Polyhedron, and Amazing Stories to Paizo Publishing, who continues to publish the RPG magazines today. Two years later another pruning would come. Wizards had also been running 85 'Game Keeper' and 'Wizards of the Coast' retail stores, but in early 2004, Hasbro shut them all down. Together with selling the conventions, this relieved any concerns that Wizards might be developing a vertical monopoly, like that controlled by Games Workshop in the UK--and really such a monopoly wouldn't have made sense given the d20 strategy. "
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A History of Wizards of the Coast

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  • by creimer (824291) on Thursday August 03, 2006 @05:26PM (#15842887) Homepage
    Hasbro killed the Game Keeper! Those bastards!
  • Vast improvement (Score:5, Interesting)

    by urubos (562290) on Thursday August 03, 2006 @05:38PM (#15842965) Homepage
    I must say, Wizards did an incredible job improving D&D with the changes they made going from advanced to 3.0 and then eventually 3.5. I began to play advanced d&d only about a year before the 3.0 launch and got to witness the new life that was injected into the industry. A much more streamlined ruleset and (fairly) well playtested books made me into the RPG addict I am today.
  • by ChaosDiscord (4913) * on Thursday August 03, 2006 @05:41PM (#15842986) Homepage Journal
    In case anyone in interested in spring of 1997 I visited TSR on a business trip. This was just after the Wizard's of the Coast buyout. For the curious here's my writeup on visiting TSR during the final days [highprogrammer.com] in which you can hear my perception of the mood (poor, but improving since the buyout) and learn useless things (Peter Adkison really likes ketchup. And why 50th level Dwarven Paladins, an illegal combination in 2nd ed, was a major test case.).
  • No, no, no. (Score:5, Funny)

    by InfinityWpi (175421) on Thursday August 03, 2006 @05:43PM (#15842994)
    WotC is too young to have a 'history of' article. For god's sake, I wasn't -that- old when Magic first game out. It's still a young company, dammit! Get off my lawn!
  • by dR.fuZZo (187666) on Thursday August 03, 2006 @06:04PM (#15843132)
    I bought WotC's _The Primal Order_ back in the day. It was amazingly well-written. One of the few RPG books I ever read cover-to-cover. In the very back there was an appendix that listed out how to convert The Primal Order to other systems. That's what Kevin S. and Palladium were suing over -- just that one or two pages in the back of a book from a tiny little RPG company.

    I believe it was also around this time that I read about how Palladium had sent off some cease & desist letters to game magazines, asking them not to publish certain types of content for their games. (I don't even know of any independent RPG magazines these days -- not that I've been paying attention. Back in the day, it was normal for these magazines to publish adventures, characters, and other materials for various RPGs.) I recall one magazine editor wrote an editorial saying that since Palladium seemed to be so heavy-handed, they wouldn't be covering anything about Palladium games from then on.

    Reading Kevin's history of Palladium on their website is a bit disturbing. It's clear that this guy is very full of himself. And for what? He re-made D&D with renamed alignments, two types of hit points, and a larger number of classes.
    • by Anonymous Coward
      The sad thing about Kevin Siembieda's self-aggrandizing history of his own company is that it's so provably incorrect.

      On the generic front, Chaosium's BRP was out and supported by three very different systems (RuneQuest, Call of Cthulhu, Stormbringer) around the time that Palladium was publishing its first book.

      His claims to being the first cyberpunk game because he had cyborgs and robots are laughable. If you want to go via that (ridiculous) definition of cyberpunk, Champions was out in 1981, three year's
      • The Palladium system is a good system, but it is not a GREAT system. The worlds, though, say IP of Palladium is where it is at. Their system is NOT that far removed from D20. They should ditch the SDC/MDC, and make a D20 ruleset, and put their IP into it. I think it would bring out a LOT of new fans. One of the best worlds ever, is published by them. Nightspawn (oh, yea... they were sued, and had to change it to Nightbane). This industry is WAY too small to have so many sue-happy people. *sigh*

        But,
        • The Palladium system is a good system, but it is not a GREAT system.

          Whatever it is you're smoking, can I get a hit? The Palladium system is unadulterated crap. On the other hand, the game worlds Palladium comes up with are second to none. I love the Rifts world, and occasioanlly am willing to muddle through the shit system and even worse editing to play in it, but that is getting to be less frequent. I would love to see Rifts d20 (Mind you, I'm not sure how good d20 would really be for Rifts, but it
    • I never heard about the C&D's sent to magazines, but I do clearly remember Palladium threatening to sue the pants off of some outfit (the folks making Talislanta?) for daring to suggest that their supplements were compatible with the Palladium RPG. White Wolf had an interview with him, wherein that was touched upon, and he came off as the most amazingly whiny and arrogant prick in history.
  • Without a Future? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by TiredGamer (564844) on Thursday August 03, 2006 @06:07PM (#15843144)
    Sadly the published RPG is dying an agonizing death. Nobody wants to pay $30-$40 for a hardcover rulebook when they can pay that for a full-function CRPG (computer or console, take your pick). Add to this the unending supply of "optional" supplimental books and the industry just cannot survive the same glut that TSR produced in the 2nd Edition AD&D days. The promise of OpenGaming and d20 can't save an industry that relies on an ever-shrinking market of buyers and an ever-increasing price of entry. Further pressure is being exerted by decreasing literacy among teens, lower interest among young adults, and thus an aging tabletop gaming populace hemmoraging to real-life issues and other problems.

    Finally, Wizards has ensured the demise of their original cashcow, Magic: The Gathering, through an unending stream of expansions and rules changes & negations. This is further eroded by the fact that it attempts to be a game and a collectible object: you force consumers to pay repeated costs for the same game, both through randomized packs of cards, and by a continual "revision" of the game. Gamers must continuously pay money to Wizards and retailers in order to remain "tournament legal". Why pay $20-$30 per month to Wizards for a card game, when a kid can pay $15 a month to Blizzard Entertainment and still hang out and be cool with his friends?

    Electronic gaming in its various guises isn't just eating its grandfather's lunch, it's putting gramps in the home to die. The sad part about all of this is that companies like Wizards are willingly going.

    Pax Electronica.
    • $20-$30 a month? Man are you off. When I stopped playing (around 1998), People were dropping $100+ per month. The only reason I was able to keep up at all was because I started winning tounaments that had entire boxes of sealed boosters and starters as top prizes.
    • "Finally, Wizards has ensured the demise of their original cashcow, Magic: The Gathering"

      Yeah, people have been saying that every year for the past 12 years. But for some reason the product seems to just keep getting more and more popular every year. I don't understand it either, clearly someone is doing something wrong. Surely this is the year when the naysayers will get it right.

      -elf
      • Re:Without a Future? (Score:5, Informative)

        by StarvingSE (875139) on Thursday August 03, 2006 @08:02PM (#15843657)
        I think its because every once in a while, WotC comes out with a "stand alone" expansion pack. Its basically works out to a starting point for new players. Instead of playing with the core set where you'll get pwned in tournaments by people who have 15 years worth of cards collected you can play in a, lets say "Ice Age" only tourney (I use ice age cuz thats when I got off the crack^h^h^h^h card game). This works to help reduce the cost of entry, and allow new people a chance to catch up, or just play from that point on.
    • So long as there are players willing to devote the time and materials to a pen-and-paper RPG, then they will survive. Perhaps the big name companies will fall - WotC and White Wolf would be fatally hurt if a mass exodus did occur, not to mention the many other smaller companies - but there will always be some players who will want to continue with pen-and-paper, and new companies will be created to cater to that niche (or the old companies will adapt, or diversify). There are hundreds of computerised warga
      • Companies like RPGNow.com, DriveThruRPG.com, Indie Press Revolution, and even Lulu.com offer everything from OGL/d20 supplements to wholly new and innovative RPGs that someone running a business would never take a risk on. Lowering the barriers and eliminating middlemen does increase the amount of crap ... but then pen-and-paper gamers will rely on online reviews and well-known columnists instead of what Wizards of the Coast, Steve Jackson Games, White Wolf, or some other game company decides to push.

        Onlin
    • Re:Without a Future? (Score:4, Interesting)

      by Bieeanda (961632) on Thursday August 03, 2006 @08:06PM (#15843673)
      Sadly the published RPG is dying an agonizing death. Nobody wants to pay $30-$40 for a hardcover rulebook when they can pay that for a full-function CRPG (computer or console, take your pick). Add to this the unending supply of "optional" supplimental books and the industry just cannot survive the same glut that TSR produced in the 2nd Edition AD&D days. The promise of OpenGaming and d20 can't save an industry that relies on an ever-shrinking market of buyers and an ever-increasing price of entry. Further pressure is being exerted by decreasing literacy among teens, lower interest among young adults, and thus an aging tabletop gaming populace hemmoraging to real-life issues and other problems.

      I've been saying this for a while now, and think that the writing has been on the wall for at least ten years, if not fifteen. The absolute biggest problem with the gaming industry is treating it like an industry. No matter how many editions and point releases (point releases, for Chrissakes!) of a system there are, or how many different Revised Guides to the Jakes of Waterdeep are printed, games do not suffer from planned obsolescence. This is a major problem for publishers, because there is a distinctly finite market for their wares. Even if they do come up with entire new settings and flavour texts (see the proliferation-- nay, metastasis of Everquest and Warcraft D20 and their ilk) instead of repackaging the Compleat Guide to Elfs again, the publisher is still spreading itself and its profits thinner: not everyone will purchase setting-specific source material, or official setting material in the first place.

      Presentation and packaging is the absolute worst element of the industry now, by far, though. In my younger years, I used to collect RPG material, especially GURPS supplements and obscure titles. $20 CDN for a 128 page perfectbound book? Hey, that was good value to me. When prices crept up to more than $25 for the same material, my purchases slowed dramatically. Now, the few GURPS books that come out each year, priced at roughly $50 a pop, don't even get a second glance. They're filled with the ugly, glossy art and oversized print that D&D paved the way for with 3rd Edition, and Evil Stevie is wondering why his profits have been dropping. Oh, but hey! They're offering PDFs of the books now, that's got to be good, right? Well, aside from the fact that 1:1 scans of 8-1/2"x11" books are an incredible pain in the butt to read on a screen... and that they're selling those for $25 a shot, too.

      Palladium is screwed for the same reason that it's always been flirting with disaster: Its owner is an asshole with delusions of adequacy. This is the man that green-lit a tie-in game for the N-Gage of all platforms. The most popular books in his stable were written by people that have long since run to saner pastures, leaving him to erase their contributions through sheer mudflation.

      Wizards of the Coast... well, they're probably going to be the only outfit that survives the crash of this so-called industry, because they have diversified like nobody's business-- and they have done it in directions that do not suffer the pitfalls of an industry based on the end user's imagination. Just take a peek at the front page of their website: Pokemon, Magic, Neopets... all titles and games that have officiality and collectability stamped all over them. When was the last time that someone seriously tried trotting out a homebrew pokecritter or magic card? Sure, they're still grinding out D&D material and plastering it up on that turgid mess of a website, but I can guarantee that they're making much more money out of the games that you can get into for ten bucks, and keep yourself hooked on for the price of a pack of smokes whenever you go up to the cash at the comic shop or variety store.

      • Just out of curiosity, how long does "an industry" have to stick around before your "prediction of doom" is proven the bullshit that it is? What the hell can you possibly mean with the "writing on the wall" nonsense if people have been making money at it for a few decades, and continue to do so??

        Seriously, Palladium is "screwed"? They've been in business for 15 years at least! In a tiny little industry like paper and pencil games! How in the world does that equal "screwed" given any possibly definition
        • Re:Without a Future? (Score:3, Interesting)

          by Bieeanda (961632)
          Regarding Palladium, let's take it straight from the horse's ass [palladium-megaverse.com].

          SJG has massively scaled production and distribution back over the last three years. The warehousing they owned outside of Austin is gone. Their home-grown Ogre Miniatures and Macrotures line is dead, until such a time as someone can magically make it profitable. Their core lineup, the GURPS RPG system and its supplements, has dwindled from a steady flow of two or three books a month to two or three per year.FASA is long dead and its succes

      • games do not suffer from planned obsolescence

        But they *do* get new generations of customers. There's only a finite market if people stop having kids, or (more likely, sadly) those kids stop getting into roleplaying.

        Grab.
      • Just take a peek at the front page of their website: Pokemon, Magic, Neopets

        I believe it is time to update your copy/paste rant. WOTC lost the Pokemon license several years ago.

    • Except for Eberron, the last time I bought a D&D book was back in 2003, when the 3.5 updates to the three core rulebooks came out. That's maybe $120 in books, including the Eberron book I bought last summer. If I'd been playing WoW during the time since it came out (unlikely, because I run Linux), I'd have spent $495 in subscription fees.

      Instead, I've been enjoying plain ol' D&D, blogging [brew-masters.com] about it, writing [slashdot.org] stories [slashdot.org] about my characters, and even writing my own utility [citygen.org] software [slashdot.org].

      Maybe that makes me an
    • by GMontag451 (230904) on Friday August 04, 2006 @04:31AM (#15845175) Homepage
      Finally, Wizards has ensured the demise of their original cashcow, Magic: The Gathering, through an unending stream of expansions and rules changes & negations. This is further eroded by the fact that it attempts to be a game and a collectible object: you force consumers to pay repeated costs for the same game, both through randomized packs of cards, and by a continual "revision" of the game. Gamers must continuously pay money to Wizards and retailers in order to remain "tournament legal". Why pay $20-$30 per month to Wizards for a card game, when a kid can pay $15 a month to Blizzard Entertainment and still hang out and be cool with his friends?

      That's nonsense. The fact that they keep coming out with expansion is *precisely* what keeps the game alive. They come out with new cards, change up the tournament formats, and all of a sudden, the players have to actually design, build, and test new decks rather than using the same old Psychatog deck that they ran in Extended 4 years ago. This applies even in formats like Type 1 where you can use any card ever printed. Fundamentally, the fun of the game isn't in the game itself, it's in the metagame. Keeping up with the meta, finding ways to exploit and overcome the decks you expect to see at the tournaments, these are the things that keep people coming back to the game.

    • On the day that Cheapass Games, Steve Jackson Games, and Wizards of the Coast all simultaneously go out of business, please be sure to submit that story. But after ten, fifteen years of predicting the death of the non-electronic games industry, we're still waiting for the sky to hit ground. Yes, it's not a fad anymore, but neither is it necessarily unprofitable. People still play board games and card games, they still play D&D and GURPS, and judging by the massive crowd at the last prerelease tournam
    • Electronic gaming and rpg gaming have one thing in common - sticker shock. As a former game store employee, I'd see mom and dad take their kid on a shopping trip, the kid would get cranky, so mom and dad would say "If you behave, we'll stop by that store you like." And the kid would shut up - because unlike rpgs and computer programs, that retail for 25 to 50 bucks a pop, booster packs are well within most parent's buying threshold. You gotta figure the logic is something like: "I can read a paperback bo

    • Sadly the published RPG is dying an agonizing death.

      Ironically, this reminds me of Prince of Lies, a Forgotten Realms book: "The world was doomed, but it kept going anyway".

      Nobody wants to pay $30-$40 for a hardcover rulebook when they can pay that for a full-function CRPG (computer or console, take your pick). Add to this the unending supply of "optional" supplimental books and the industry just cannot survive the same glut that TSR produced in the 2nd Edition AD&D days. The promise of OpenGamin

  • by phantomlord (38815) <slashdot@@@krwtech...com> on Thursday August 03, 2006 @06:36PM (#15843294) Journal
    From the article:
    By most peoples' reading of laws, game companies can protect the actual text of the games via copyright, and they can protect the use of their system names for marketing via trademark. However, they can't actually protect the game systems themselves unless they file patents for them as inventions ... and very, very few game companies do. By that reading, a book like The Primal Order can be produced without permission from the original publisher, as long as care is taken in the use of the trademarks.

    Back in 2000, Ryan Dancey, the D&D Brand Manager for Hasbro, and to a lesser extent, Peter Adkinson himself, were involved in a rather large [google.com] multithread [google.com] debate [google.com] on rec.games.frp.dnd (there are a lot more threads), the TSR/WotC website, etc where Dancey pretty much explicitly stated that any creative work players produced in their AD&D games were derivative works of TSR/WotC and thus wholly owned by TSR, automatically invalidating any copyright that the actual creator had on the work and granting full copyright on their material to TSR/WotC even if the majority of the work was generic and made little reference to AD&D.

    At the time, I immediately pulled all of the material about the campaign world I created off the net. It basically only used the AD&D rules and involved new character classes, monsters, maps, new worlds, etc. Dancey went so far as to claim even using the rules (which weren't patented and even if they had been patented, would have already expired) made the work of campaigns like mine derivative of AD&D and thus the sole property of TSR/WotC.

    Needless to say, I never moved on to 3E and flat out refused to participate in anything like D20/OGL due to Dancey, because I refused to legitimize any of his stance. I have an entire three foot shelf of TSR books but I haven't bought anything in the last 6 years mostly because of what they tried to pull then. I find it rather ironic that when WotC was the small guy startup, they nearly died from the bigger fish suing them over the idea derivative works and less than a decade later, when WotC was the big fish in the sea, the same people took the exact opposite stance that got them off the ground.
    • lawl, j00 got 0wnt leik teh lvl. 1 n00b paally jj00 R.
    • by Anonymous Coward
      Needless to say, I never moved on to 3E and flat out refused to participate in anything like D20/OGL due to Dancey, because I refused to legitimize any of his stance. I have an entire three foot shelf of TSR books but I haven't bought anything in the last 6 years mostly because of what they tried to pull then.

      Wow, you're an idiot. What Ryan Dancey "pulled" was irrevokably Open Sourcing the most popular RPG ever. His stance was that people are going to create derivative works based on D&D no matter w

  • Even though I knew they were WOTC... Even though I knew Hasbro ate them... And knowing, deep in my soul, that all of them are really Beatrice (or Brenda if you are of the MOAV). But! I have been a DM and player on and off since the ancient days of graph paper, "The Judge's Guild," and your class being "Elf." The game has relentlessly improved and then fallen into decadence over and over, like the gaming Empire that it is. The quixotic and brilliant First Empire, with its luminaries and obvious litera
  • by teflaime (738532) on Friday August 04, 2006 @09:27AM (#15845919)
    The one problem with Hasbro shutting down all the game stores is that in alot of places, the WotC or Game Keeper store was the only game store in town. And a lot of people looked at these stores closing down and thought, "If they can't keep a branded store open, why would anyone open an indy store?" So these places lose a venue to get gamers together and encourage gaming as an activity and a hobby. Yeah, I know, you can buy anything you need to game off the internet. But it's getting harder and harder to find people for TT gaming if you want to get a game going in your living room. If anything is contributing to the decline of the gaming industry, it's that fact. Because for all our high tech nature and the potential geekiness of the people who game, gaming still thrives on face to face interaction. Another thing lost, with many of these little game shops closing down, is the last refuge for the geeks and misfits that we are in some very geek/misfit unfriendly parts of the country. Even the most anti-social amongst us still liked to go to the game store, if only too look over the latest game offerings and get an idea of what's coming down the pike (yeah, they would still go home and order it off the internet where it was probably cheaper). And for all of you who will chime in and say, "My local game store is doing fine," I'm happy for you. But I'll tell you, it was nigh impossible to find a gaming store in LA (lots of card stores, and the Games Workshop store, sure, but not a plain old gaming store). And now that I've moved back to Ilinois, the local gaming stores that used to be here have both closed. So I am reduced to searching the net for my games. Yeah, I can get in the car and drive, but it lacks both the convenience and the comraderie of a local game store, where you know the guy who runs it and you know a lot of the people who go there. I'll miss the local game store; it was often a fun place to be.
    • I'd just like to add that they gave those of us who worked as employees about 3 weeks notice that we were all out of a job. I know that the store I was the morning/closing manager for in downtown Cleveland was pulling in an extremely hefty profit per month as I was responsible for cleaning up the books at the end of each week. And nothing has gone in to replace us. Cleveland is lucky to have a few local shops, but they are all extremely cramped/overcrowded and generally not the greatest places to hang out.
  • This article left out the best parts of WotC history: the corporate retreats full of bongs and banging.

    See this article for more details:
    http://archive.salon.com/tech/feature/2001/03/23/w izards/index.html [salon.com]
    • That is seriously one of the most amazing articles I've ever read O.O;

      So let me get this strait (I'm a mild Magic geek on the side) the company that strays away from overly erotic art and has a firm policy of aiming for teens, and little kids with pokemon was a hippie free love commune?

      No wonder "strip magic" tended to catch on on the side. For the unfamiliar, strip magic was a sub format of magic that required stripping as you lost, I dont remember still if it was life point related or not. Sadly, the form
  • and supply us with good replicas of the original Robo Rally?
  • Before the buyout of WotC by Hasbro, Origins was a thriving game convention. Tons of vendors in the exhibit hall. A huge game auction that lasted almost as long as the convention itself. WotC took over Origins and killed the auction, much to the disappointment of many attendees. (Oh, there's still an auction but it's nowhere near as big or interesting now.) But at least there was a strong presence from Hasbro with its re-vamped Avalon Hill line and other products, and WotC had an unnecessarily large boot
  • It amazes me that the article didn't mention any of the internal struggles that had resounding repercussions felt by every Magic player over the years.
    In particular:
    * Vague references to an interpersonal conflict that resulted in the masterfece that was Homelands being released in place of Coldsnap, which didn't get developed and released until 10 years later.
    * The decision to quit paying artist royalties, which resulted in the loss of many of Magic's best artists, and the abysmal state the card art was

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