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Fact check: Lorraine Williams destroyed, not created, TSR

Gaming RPGs

(UPDATED: The Web page in question has been corrected so that it no longer says Lorraine Williams created TSR.)

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Lorraine Williams is a name reviled by many Dungeons & Dragons fans.

One reason is that she sold TSR, the original company that produced the tabletop roleplaying game, to Wizards of the Coast, the makers of the collectible card game Magic: The Gathering. Wizards still produces the game and last year launched its 4th Edition, but many people say D&D hasn’t been the same since the sale.

More than 10 years earlier, Williams had gained control of TSR through a hostile takeover that forced D&D creator Gary Gygax out of the company.

Another black mark against Williams: She supposedly looked down on gamers and even banned the playing of games withing the company’s walls, forcing designers to conduct underground playtests, if any, on products released under her tenure.

So, even though Williams was a financial planner who got TSR out of debt and generating profit, gamers have many reasons to hate her. And here’s another: Buck Rogers and gohero.com.

See, Williams is the granddaughter of John F. Dille, the newspaper magnate who in 1929 brought the character of Buck Rogers out of the pages of Amazing Stories magazine and into syndicated comic strips and eventually film and television. When she led TSR, Williams added Buck Rogers to the company’s RPG line and expanded its scope to include the production of magazines, novels and comic books featuring that character and others.

Buck Rogers looks to be a rising property once again, with Frank Miller (Sin City, 300) reportedly slated to write and direct a new film.

More to the point: gohero.com hosts the “Official Site of Buck Rogers in the 25th Century,” and after clicking the “About The Dille Family Trust” link there you can read this informative bio:

Official Website of the Dille Family Trust:

The Buck Rogers legacy continues today with Flint Dille and Lorraine Williams (Dille), the grandchildren of the original creator John F. Dille.

Fans will know Flint from his extensive work on the original Transformers cartoon, GIJOE, (for which the character Flint is named), and adapting popular action films to video games. (Including Batman Rise of Tsin Su [sic], Frank Miller’s 300, Transformers Movie, and Sin City.) Lorraine created the company TSR, makers of Dungeons & Dragons, the preeminent role playing game. Together they draw from their extensive experience and their inherited 80 years of sci-fi, comic, and pop culture history to carry on the family business of this international icon.

Whoa — hold the phone, Buck. Lorraine Williams didn’t create TSR. She may have saved it from financial ruin — but she also ultimately destroyed the company by selling it to Wizards of the Coast (which is now itself owned by games conglomerate Hasbro).

(UPDATED: The Web page in question has been corrected so that it no longer says Lorraine Williams created TSR.)

Whatever you may think of the current regime behind D&D, it is no TSR. The glory days of gaming are gone, and Williams should be remembered more for ending them than creating anything.

Source: Found on the EN World forums

See also:

Saturday is Worldwide D&D Game Day

Zero hp: Gary Gygax, 1938-2008

RISK-y business: What is Hasbro thinking?

Here and there ...

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Jayson Peters
Digital, social and print media pro. Nerdvana's founder, curator and editor.
http://jaysonpeters.com

4 thoughts on “Fact check: Lorraine Williams destroyed, not created, TSR

  1. As someone who was employed at TSR in the final years leading up to the sale of Wizards of the Coast, I feel compelled to offer a few clarifications:

    “Another black mark against Williams: She supposedly looked down on gamers and even banned the playing of games withing the company’s walls, forcing designers to conduct underground playtests, if any, on products released under her tenure.”

    Lorraine never banned playing games. In fact, all of us played games daily at TSR and conducted playtesting of upcoming products. That includes all the members of R&D (from the VP down to the newest editor or designer), sales, marketing, warehouse staff, and more.

    “She may have saved it from financial ruin — but she also ultimately destroyed the company by selling it to Wizards of the Coast (which is now itself owned by games conglomerate Hasbro).”

    When a company fails, you have two choices: Sell it to the highest bidder on terms you influence, or watch your assets be broken up and sold in bankruptcy proceedings to the highest bidder.

    Bankruptcy ensures that all of your institutional knowledge goes away–the employees that know how to get the work done go find other jobs. It also would have ensured that every brand under TSR would have been spliced and diced among a large number of different companies (some to Hollywood, some to other game publishers, some to book publishers).

    Wizards of the Coast came in and paid (in most people’s estimation) more than TSR was worth to both preserve the employee knowledge and to ensure that D&D would continue. Personally, I can’t think of a better steward for TSR than Peter Adkison (CEO of Wizards at that time). He was (and still is) a gamer at heart.

    -Jim Butler

  2. As someone who was employed at TSR in the final years leading up to the sale of Wizards of the Coast, I feel compelled to offer a few clarifications:

    “Another black mark against Williams: She supposedly looked down on gamers and even banned the playing of games withing the company’s walls, forcing designers to conduct underground playtests, if any, on products released under her tenure.”

    Lorraine never banned playing games. In fact, all of us played games daily at TSR and conducted playtesting of upcoming products. That includes all the members of R&D (from the VP down to the newest editor or designer), sales, marketing, warehouse staff, and more.

    “She may have saved it from financial ruin — but she also ultimately destroyed the company by selling it to Wizards of the Coast (which is now itself owned by games conglomerate Hasbro).”

    When a company fails, you have two choices: Sell it to the highest bidder on terms you influence, or watch your assets be broken up and sold in bankruptcy proceedings to the highest bidder.

    Bankruptcy ensures that all of your institutional knowledge goes away–the employees that know how to get the work done go find other jobs. It also would have ensured that every brand under TSR would have been spliced and diced among a large number of different companies (some to Hollywood, some to other game publishers, some to book publishers).

    Wizards of the Coast came in and paid (in most people’s estimation) more than TSR was worth to both preserve the employee knowledge and to ensure that D&D would continue. Personally, I can’t think of a better steward for TSR than Peter Adkison (CEO of Wizards at that time). He was (and still is) a gamer at heart.

    -Jim Butler

  3. I’ve never worked at TSR, never wrote a published game of my own, and the closest I’ve gotten to game design is some playtesting for ADG. I can only speak from the customer angle, so please consider this just the opinion of an old gamer that remembers Divine Right and the old beige box.

    When I first got into the hobby, I was hungry to get any TSR stuff I could find and afford. That, I think, was the TSR glory days – they created a market that never existed, and initially could do no wrong inteh eyes of its fans. Inevitably, though, I had enough books to run my own games, enough modules, enough supplements – I wasn’t really interested in buying much TSR stuff anymore. The market that old gamers like me represented was mostly tapped, and TSR lost money.

    I remember the old Dragon Magazine and the “One True Way” of Gygax. Back then, before he’d become a legend to gamers, people openly criticized him and his management style. Back then, he was the “villain” to more than a few gamers, despite all his contributions. When Lorraine Williams took over TSR, there were likewise more than a few people happy that Gygax had “gotten his comeuppance”.

    During Williams’ tenure, the novels started to come out in force, including the very successful Dragonlance novels. I didn’t buy any of them, but plenty of new people to the hobby did. Again TSR had found an untapped market and made lots of money in it, but inevitably that market became flooded too. TSR started to lose money again.

    Now Wizards of the Coast has it, buying it with money from tehri very successful Magig: The Gathering card game. I remember when this collectible card craze started, and predicted that the whole thing would be a quick fad that would wash out. Apparently I was totally wrong on that one, but I think it’s mostly because that card game appealed to the next wave of gamers. Those are the people who are buying the new TSR stuff, including the computer games (and that’s something I’ve been participating in myself).

    The old game wasn’t killed off. People still play first and second edition D&D, and if you want new material on it you can find it on the Internet easily enough, much of it free (you can try dragonsfoot.org as a start). The old edition of the game was great, better in my opinion than anything that’s come since – but that’s just my opinion. I grew up with the old AD&D. It’s part of my youth, part of who I am as a person today. I know it’s never going to come back the way it was, no more than I’m ever going to be 15 or 20 or 25 years old again. The newer stuff is designed to appeal to the younger gamers, and from what I’ve seen of the hobby these days, there’s plenty of them who’d disagree with my preference for the older rules.

    I’ll never fully enjoy D&D like I once did. That’s not the fault of E.G.Gygax, or Lorraine Williams, or Wizards of the Coast. It’s because the world has changed, and I’ve gotten older, and because time travels forward instead of backwards. Not that I don’t get in some convention play now and then. Not that I don’t see quite a few old players running games with the new rules versions, mentoring the next generation of gamers into the hobby. The hobby might have morphed into forms old fogies like me don’t easily recognise or identify with, but it’s still vibrant and strong.

    For me, the glory days of gaming are in the past – and glorious they were – but that’s not at all true for the thousands of new gamers entering the hobby. For them, their glory days of gaming are just beginning.

    Just two cents from an old gaming grognard, for what it’s worth.

  4. I’ve never worked at TSR, never wrote a published game of my own, and the closest I’ve gotten to game design is some playtesting for ADG. I can only speak from the customer angle, so please consider this just the opinion of an old gamer that remembers Divine Right and the old beige box.

    When I first got into the hobby, I was hungry to get any TSR stuff I could find and afford. That, I think, was the TSR glory days – they created a market that never existed, and initially could do no wrong inteh eyes of its fans. Inevitably, though, I had enough books to run my own games, enough modules, enough supplements – I wasn’t really interested in buying much TSR stuff anymore. The market that old gamers like me represented was mostly tapped, and TSR lost money.

    I remember the old Dragon Magazine and the “One True Way” of Gygax. Back then, before he’d become a legend to gamers, people openly criticized him and his management style. Back then, he was the “villain” to more than a few gamers, despite all his contributions. When Lorraine Williams took over TSR, there were likewise more than a few people happy that Gygax had “gotten his comeuppance”.

    During Williams’ tenure, the novels started to come out in force, including the very successful Dragonlance novels. I didn’t buy any of them, but plenty of new people to the hobby did. Again TSR had found an untapped market and made lots of money in it, but inevitably that market became flooded too. TSR started to lose money again.

    Now Wizards of the Coast has it, buying it with money from tehri very successful Magig: The Gathering card game. I remember when this collectible card craze started, and predicted that the whole thing would be a quick fad that would wash out. Apparently I was totally wrong on that one, but I think it’s mostly because that card game appealed to the next wave of gamers. Those are the people who are buying the new TSR stuff, including the computer games (and that’s something I’ve been participating in myself).

    The old game wasn’t killed off. People still play first and second edition D&D, and if you want new material on it you can find it on the Internet easily enough, much of it free (you can try dragonsfoot.org as a start). The old edition of the game was great, better in my opinion than anything that’s come since – but that’s just my opinion. I grew up with the old AD&D. It’s part of my youth, part of who I am as a person today. I know it’s never going to come back the way it was, no more than I’m ever going to be 15 or 20 or 25 years old again. The newer stuff is designed to appeal to the younger gamers, and from what I’ve seen of the hobby these days, there’s plenty of them who’d disagree with my preference for the older rules.

    I’ll never fully enjoy D&D like I once did. That’s not the fault of E.G.Gygax, or Lorraine Williams, or Wizards of the Coast. It’s because the world has changed, and I’ve gotten older, and because time travels forward instead of backwards. Not that I don’t get in some convention play now and then. Not that I don’t see quite a few old players running games with the new rules versions, mentoring the next generation of gamers into the hobby. The hobby might have morphed into forms old fogies like me don’t easily recognise or identify with, but it’s still vibrant and strong.

    For me, the glory days of gaming are in the past – and glorious they were – but that’s not at all true for the thousands of new gamers entering the hobby. For them, their glory days of gaming are just beginning.

    Just two cents from an old gaming grognard, for what it’s worth.

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