Pyramid Interview: Scott Palter

by Scott D. Haring

Pyramid Interview: Scott Palter Feared dead and buried by its many fans, West End Games has made quite a comeback the last few months, culminating with their announcement the last day of the GAMA Trade Show that they had sealed the deal to do an all-new DC Universe roleplaying game.

The new West End is affiliated with a French company called Yeti. A recent press release explains, "WEG / Yeti is a brand new corporation which will produce new fun stuff. WEG / Creative Design Group is a bankrupt corporation liquidating inventory to pay off its debts under court supervision. Separate assets, separate check books, separate bank accounts. Continuity from a creative standpoint." Yeti is described as a company that "has produced over 50 choose-your-own-ending books published in France by Hachette. Originally a graphic design house that still works on books, cartoons, and multimedia, their decision to become a game publisher last year led them invariably to the doors of West End Games."

We caught up with West End Games President Scott Palter at the GAMA Trade Show (the day before the DC Universe announcement), and this is what he had to say.

Pyramid: Let's talk about the new West End Games. You have a partner, a French company?

Palter: Yes, the exact legalities are still being worked out, but basically we are in a partnership with Yeti, which is a French company that does roleplaying and cards.

Pyramid: Are any of their products currently available in America, or are they strictly French-language, in France?

Palter: French language, in France. They haven't even (tried to crack the American market) in a proper way yet. That's part of what they're looking to us for.

Pyramid: Are you going to be bringing their products over to America in addition to creating new games?

Palter: Yes. Not every product of theirs will come here, not every product of ours will go there. Part of what we're trying to do is, to pick what will work in what are two different but still similar gaming cultures.

Pyramid: Your first new product is a card game?

Palter: It's a card game called Zoon. It's a very simple strategy card game. You get a 33-card deck: two 16-card armies and one card of rules. You line them up in two rows of eight, you play them against each other until one side or the other is eliminated. Each army has their own cute little special features, and we're coming out with four armies at a time, roughly quarterly.

Pyramid:So the cards don't mix and match?

Palter: You can create multi-race armies if you want. But if you're buying Deck A, it is these 33 cards. If you buy Deck B, it has these (other) 33 cards in it. We are not touching the collectible market.

Pyramid: So there is some strategy in deck building and deck tuning, but it's not a collectible game.

Palter: Think Cosmic Encounter and the expansion sets. Each expansion had different things, but if you bought Expansion #6, every Expansion #6 is the same.

Pyramid: And that's the first product from the "new West End" . . .

Palter: Yes, that will come out roughly the fourth week of May.

Pyramid: And what else is on the drawing board?

Palter: For late June or early July, you'll have Paranoia, Third Edition, followed roughly eight weeks later by a new Paranoia book, Bug Sector. There's also going to be another major roleplaying line, but we can't announce it yet. (This turned out to be the aforementioned DC Universe game.)

Pyramid: Paranoia was the property of the old West End, right? How did you free it up?

Palter: We have purchased, through the bankruptcy court, the intellectual property, certain specific license contracts, and the trademark.

Pyramid: So it's all been signed off on by the courts.

Palter: Again, it's still within a certain appeals period, but so far the secured creditor, who's the only one paying any attention, has signed off on the deal.

Pyramid: I heard that there were some glitches in the bankruptcy proceedings because of some confusion over financial transactions between West End and its parent company (shoe importer Bucci Retail Group). Anything to that?

Palter: It's a completely correct misreading of what happened. First, the Chapter 7 rumor was not a rumor. We had one attorney for the shoe bankruptcy and the game bankruptcy. The U.S. Trustee, after six months, changed her mind and decided that there was a conflict of interest. So we acquired a second attorney. The second attorney got into what amounted to a spitting contest with the U.S. Trustee's Office, they threw us into Chapter 7 for a week, and at the request of our attorney and the only secured creditor, we were taken out. Part of the reasoning of the Trustee's Office for why there should be separate attorneys was that there were multiple, very large dollar transactions between the shoe company and the game company which we disclosed to the court. Our argument for why it wasn't a problem is that the vast bulk of the money, for the last year -- which is the contestability period -- went shoes to game. The shoe creditors have signed off on it, treated it as a zero asset, and dropped all their claims to it. So by our logic, as the game company would have to refund hundreds of thousands of dollars, and the shoe company's creditors had agreed they didn't have to, there was no conflict. The court didn't agree, and wants a further review of it. They've appointed a separate set of accountants that will audit the books. I welcome it; I've got nothing to hide. We're the ones who alerted the courts to it. I may have done a lot of stupid things; I may have done a lot of foolish things; but I didn't do anything illegal.

Pyramid: Can you describe the relationship between West End and Bucci?

Palter: We had about 11 companies that owned pieces of each other. Trust me, you don't want to know the corporate structure.

Pyramid: So Paranoia has been rescued from the old West End . . .

Palter: Paranoia has been purchased; the original designers (Greg Costikyan, Dan Gelberg, and Eric Goldberg) are still contesting that.

Pyramid: But you plan to have it out this summer?

Palter: Let's put it this way: There is yet to be a hearing on their claim. I don't think there's any validity to their claim. Per the court, we can continue to act on this, subject to further review. The worst that may happen is that if what I regard as bizarre legal theory holds any water, we may have to give them back further money. But it's all being done with notice to Eric and Greg and to their attorneys.

Pyramid: You're moving forward with Paranoia. How many of the other old West End properties would you like to rescue and bring back out?

Palter: We did not move any of what people think of as our licenses. Star Wars, Xena, Indiana Jones, all of that stays in the old company. The only so-called licensed product (we're bringing over is Paranoia) -- and I think only industry insiders know that Paranoia was a license from three outside designers, two of whom happened to have been working for the company at the time, one of whom it also happens was president of the company at the time. We are pursuing with the new company several brand new licenses. The legal mess of trying to move one of those license contracts . . . trust me, you don't want to know.

Pyramid: So, going down the list of famous great West End products, from Star Wars to Xena to Shatterzone . . .

Palter: No, Shatterzone moved. It was not a license, it was an internal. Torg moved, it was not a license, it was an internal.

Pyramid: Ghostbusters.

Palter: Ghostbusters -- we don't own the license, it reverted to Columbia some years ago. Bloodshadows moved. Everything else in terms of roleplaying stayed put, but the systems -- D6, Masterbook, Torg, etc. -- moved.

Pyramid: Will you be doing new Torg, Bloodshadows, or Shatterzone stuff?

Palter: We have no intention of doing Bloodshadows or Shatterzone. We have spoken to some people about licensing it out, because there are a few fans out there who want to do it. We will do a Torg Second Edition for GenCon for the year 2000, a 10th anniversary. The main reason for continuing to do that one and not the other two: When he dived down a rabbit hole last summer, with our whole 40-some-odd dollars in the bank, we did a frantic Internet sale. Previous to that sale, our sales were 90% Star Wars and Xena. We were amazed at how much Torg selling there was, and we discovered that it still had a fan base that we thought was big. We did not find the same for Bloodshadows or Shatterzone, regardless of how deep we cut (the price). I've been told by several of my ex-employees that I'm living in a dream world on Torg, that it was the same 300 people filling in their collections. Maybe. I've been wrong before. However, we own a ton of it, I have a duty to the creditors to try to help sell it off; if you don't freakin' advertise new (product), there's no way anyone's going to buy it. We've had eight months since there's been a West End ad anywhere; this is the first convention we've attended since GAMA last year. Without public visibility, without new product, without Torg demos, without anything, you can basically throw the remaining inventory in a dumpster and the creditors will get nothing. That might be convenient, but it's not morally correct.

Pyramid: Do you see the new West End as primarily still a roleplaying game? How many different genres are you going to try to get into?

Palter: We were never a miniatures company. We did Star Wars miniatures because it was something our players wanted. If we ever had a license of that size, I could see doing miniatures because the players like having little figures. But if you look at how we handled Star Wars, he never handled it as a true miniatures line; it's not our forte. Boardgames, we have one project we will probably do, which is Kings & Things. The main reason we're going to be doing it is because our French -- whether you want to call them affiliate, partner, I don't want to trip over the legalities until the last comma is in place, but our French associates -- are going to be printing it in French. Given that, with a few black-plate changes, we can create a few thousand copies in English.

Pyramid: Junta? You guys still own that?

Palter: Yes, we're still selling that.

Pyramid: It's in print?

Palter: It's been in print for two years. Now try to get a distributor to take it. We currently have about 1,500 copies; we currently sell about five a month. The only reason we hold on to the license is that the foreign language editions pay the minimum.

Pyramid: Have you had any trouble convincing the distributors and retailers to come back to you?

Palter: Actually, they've been very supportive. Far more than we probably deserve. And all I can say is, "thank you thank you thank you."

Pyramid: Maybe they will start buying some Junta.

Palter: The problem with Junta is that the whole industry is so against backlist that they don't understand it anymore. This is an industry geared to a comic book mentality of clear the shelves out every month. And that works if you're trying to sell a certain sort of popular, of-the-moment stuff. No one in the industry -- I shouldn't say no one, (but) very few left -- seem to remember how to sell perennials.

Pyramid: What's the solution to that? Can individual manufacturers take on the mission of education? Is that something GAMA needs to do more of?

Palter: I don't think the solution is either one. I think the solution is selling directly to those retailers who've been told it's out of print, which back us into a corner we'll do, and selling over the web, which is where four out of the five go. It's unfortunate, but it's a fact. Magic has done wonderful things for our industry, but it's very much increased the whole frontlist emphasis. And it's not just in terms of mentalities, it's in terms of the capital it absorbs. It's a cycle -- a Magic, one of the Decipher space games releases a new thing -- it soaks up so much of the retail and the distributor dollars, there just isn't an energy focused there for the rest of it. And to be blunt, if it was my money on the line, I wouldn't do anything differently than they would. We have to find ways to work around their economic realities, because the reality is that the cash term runs the other way.

Pyramid: Despite those realities, obviously you're still optimistic about a future in the adventure game business. You could have run off and gotten a day job somewhere, but you stuck around and are doing some very difficult things to get back into the business.

Palter: I believe the consumer's still there. I believe that the Internet sales we've had these last eight months prove it. We did nothing for advertising, we have a website that isn't on any search engine and you have to work hard to find, and on top of that, some place in Florida has, so we're .net. Despite it, we're still alive, more than half due to web sales. So there is a way around it. And it's not to denigrate what the distributors do, I'd rather go back to the way it was four years ago, but none of us have that option.

Article publication date: April 16, 1999

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