Roleplayer #19, April 1990

SJ Games Raided!

A Reality Check on GURPS Cyberpunk

by Steve Jackson

The stories you may have heard are true. On March 1, agents of the U.S. Secret Service raided our office and confiscated the GURPS Cyberpunk manuscript – causing a cash crunch that put our survival in doubt. In order to reduce rumormongering, I'm writing this article to tell everyone what is really going on. If it will help others avoid similar problems, so much the better.


1988 and 1989 were growth years, but they were unprofitable for a couple of reasons – mainly management problems. To put it in a very small nutshell, we had a couple of people here who weren't clear on what they were doing. We were spending too much money and selling at too low a discount. The financial officer was also failing to book or report a lot of perfectly legitimate debts.

As a result, we went into 1990 with about $90,000 worth of old debts which we had not known about until Sharleen Lambard physically searched the work area of the ex-financial officer. About $60,000 of these were IRS obligations! During January and February, rigid cash control and big year-end sales helped reduce the indebtedness. But, though the debts were getting smaller, they were also getting older, and we found ourselves on a cash basis with more and more suppliers. In late February of 1990, our cash flow became critically bad.

Your Tax Dollars at Work

Our last hope at this point was to release a top-selling product to bring in some desperately needed cash. This product was to have been GURPS Cyberpunk, set for a March release. But on March 1, our office was raided by the U.S. Secret Service, in conjunction with a data-piracy investigation. All current copies of GURPS Cyberpunk, in both hardcopy and disk form – along with the two office computers the manuscript was on – were taken. The home of the GURPS Cyberpunk writer was also raided, and his own computer taken. Also taken were the data files of playtest comments, and thousands of dollars worth of assorted hardware and software.

We have since been told that neither SJ Games nor the GURPS Cyberpunk manuscript was the object of the raids. However, we were never able to secure the return of the complete manuscript; the chief result of our efforts was a huge legal bill. The Secret Service at first flatly refused to return anything – then agreed to let us copy files, but when we got to their office, restricted us to one set of out-of-date files – then agreed to make copies for us, but said "tomorrow" every day from March 4 to March 26. On March 26 we received a set of disks which purported to be our files, but the material was late, incomplete and well-nigh useless.

I have now been told by a U.S. Attorney, verbally, that we will get our hardware and software back "soon." I have also been interviewed by a Newsweek reporter.

Survival Mode

In the aftermath of the raid, it became clear that our inability to ship GURPS Cyberpunk on time would cripple cash flow so badly as to threaten the company's future. On March 9, after an emergency meeting with our CPA firm, we made some very painful decisions. Eight people, out of a staff of 17, were let go, effective immediately. The production schedule was cut back radically.

To answer some of the obvious questions at this point:

"Are you going to survive?"

I think so. We're working as hard as we can to stay in business. Cross your fingers. Buy games.

"What happens to GURPS?"

Most of our 1990 releases will be for GURPS; as long as we stay in business, the system will be supported. However, for now, all these releases will be worldbooks or sourcebooks. In the past few years, we have produced many GURPS adventures, but the demand for these, at every level, has been much lower. We know that GURPS GMs tend to be older and more creative than the average GM – maybe they're making up their own adventures! During the best of times, adventures were only marginally profitable, and we can't afford to do any more right now.

We will continue to publish Roleplayer. See the back cover for our new product schedule.

"Will GURPS Cyberpunk ever come out?"

Yes. Essentially, we had to recreate GURPS Cyberpunk from very old backups, without access to any of the playtest notes. But the book is now at the printer.

The agents who raided our office grumbled loudly in my presence about the "manual for computer crime" that we were publishing, but (aside from holding our hardware and text files) they have taken no further action against the book. It's certainly the most realistic cyberpunk game ever published – it contains a great deal of real-world background information, including some supplied by genuine, expert "hackers" – but there is nothing in GURPS Cyberpunk that warrants government suppression. In fact, we're going to publicize the way the Secret Service has treated us, for two reasons. In the first place, focusing some public attention should make it a bit harder for anyone else to have their business destroyed by the gun-toting bureaucratic juggernaut. In the second place, quite frankly, we need all the sales we can get right now . . .

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