This article originally appeared in Pyramid #8
In Praise of Older Game Companies
We're a society intrigued with novelty. We're in love with the new; the latest, the hippest, the freshest. If something's been around too long, it can't be any good. Or if it is still any good, it must have sold out along the way, gone mainstream.
We also love to think we're special, part of a small clique of people hip to some great thing that the general public knows nothing about. But as soon as that great thing gets too popular, watch out -- those fanatics that were there at the beginnin g will drop it like a hot potato. You see it a lot with alternative bands. A band develops an small, intensely loyal following; but as soon as they break out and have a hit or two, those early fans abandon them, accusing them of selling out. It wasn't the band's fault -- it was the unreasonable expectations of those fans.
Which brings me around to game companies. I hang out on the computer bulletin boards and the Internet, I go to conventions, I read the fanzines -- and I run into quite a bit of old game company bashing. It seems the more successful a company is, the more it is hated -- at least, by the "cool," cutting-edge types at the conventions and online.
And no company has it worse than TSR. The gripes are repeated almost daily -- They've never had a successful game other than D&D and, later, AD&D; Even that game was a hit only because it was first and got a huge shot i n the arm from some accidental negative publicity; They're run by lawyers and business-types who have no love for the hobby; They use their size to intimidate and drive competitors out of business; They sue at the drop of a hat; They are the personificati on of the triumph of commerce over art, hype over substance, mediocrity over passion; They are, in short, the embodiment of all that is evil.
I've never heard such a pile of crap in all my life.
Before I leap to my spirited defense of TSR (like they need one), I should lay my cards on the table. I am a former employee of theirs; I also did some freelance work for them when I was a free agent, trying to make a go of it beyond the security of regul ar employment. I'd like to think that my familiarity with the company and many of its people has not given me a positive bias, but simply removed a negative one it appears to me a number of other folks have. But that is ultimately for you to decide.
Has it ever occurred to these people that TSR sells a gazillion copies of AD&D because its a good game? Being first might have been an advantage at the very beginning, but the young people entering the market now don't know which one was first -- they're all new games to them. And they still pick AD&D, in overwhelming numbers. Yeah, nobody advertises like TSR does, but nobody can afford it like they do -- and that doesn't make them evil, just smart.
Has it ever occurred to these people that TSR is as successful as they are because they're run by smart businessmen and not hobbyists? TSR has wonderful distribution into bookstores and other retail outlets that no other adventure game company has, and they have those connections because they worked for them. TSR found out what those mass-market distributors want, and they provide it. TSR plans their entire release schedule -- over 100 products a year -- over a year in advance. You'd be hard presse d to find another company in the industry that knows what's coming out four months down the line. What's more, what TSR promises, they deliver. They never miss a ship date. Never.
And TSR is hardly a one-game company. I can't think of another company that wouldn't kill for the chance to sell as many copies of one of their titles as TSR has sold of Top Secret/S.I., Star Frontiers, or Amazing Engine. It's true that they've never had another hit on the level of AD&D -- but it seems hardly fair to make comparisons to the original 900-pound gorilla of gaming.
And most of these complainers should know better. If it wasn't for TSR (and other early pioneers like GDW and Flying Buffalo), we'd all be doing something else. They started the roleplaying industry; they gave it media recognition and mass-market acceptan ce.
So what is it with these guys? Most of it is jealousy, I suppose. And some of them have a few good points to make. The AD&D rules system is not really state-of-the-art anymore, though it seems to work just fine. And some of TSR's policie s can be called into question, perhaps. But every business has policies that some folks on the outside don't agree with, so what's the big deal?
Most of it, I think, is that TSR is the biggest and maybe the best -- and it just wouldn't be "cool" to like them.
Bigger and Better
It was just last issue that we made the jump from 72 to 80 pages. Well, we've jumped again -- this time to 88! I'm very excited about this, because it means we can provide more coverage of the industry, and do more of the things you want.
In addition to being our Electronic Gaming Issue, this is also our Origins Issue -- that is, the issue that will be current at Origins, the national game convention scheduled for July 7-10 in San Jose, CA. If you're in the neighborhood, drop by and say hi . Both Derek Pearcy and myself will be there -- hope you can make it, too.
-- Scott Haring
Article publication date: August 1, 1994
Copyright © 1994 by Steve Jackson Games. All rights reserved. Pyramid subscribers are permitted to read this article online, or download it and print out a single hardcopy for personal use. Copying this text to any other online system or BBS, or making more than one hardcopy, is strictly prohibited. So please don't. And if you encounter copies of this article elsewhere on the web, please report it to firstname.lastname@example.org.