Saturday, August 8, 2009

It all happened before and it will happen again

Wizards marketing/legal managed shoot off another toe with the released of their fan website kit. Technically it a license to allow you to use copyrighted images. The license is very restrictive and I can't see many people using it on their websites or blogs. The real kicker is that they managed to confused everybody into thinking it is a website policy as well. This is causing no end of the debate the kind a marketing department doesn't like to see happen.

You have to wonder what was the first time this happened. Not just for Wizards but for TSR as well. The company that owns D&D has a special prominence in our hobby. It turns out the answer is not the infamous 1990's TSR Internet policy. BUt involves a wargame company called SPI.


Greg Costikyan is a noted game designer (Toon, Paranoia, the Creature that eat Sheboygan, the 1st Star War) who wrote a essay on wargames and the SPI situations in SPI Died for our sins.

The recap of what happens is that SPI got caught in a cash crisis because of the early 80s recession, got a loan from TRS to meet payroll, TSR calls the loan in the minimum time, then manages to become the creditor with first dibs on SPI. Decides to seize the assets instead of the company.

To say this went over well with the rest of the industry is an understatement. Understand that while in crisis the peak of wargames was only several years in the past. There were a LOT of people who had and loved SPI games. Also SPI had a reputation for being a maverick, a maverick that made things better for the average wargamer by breaking Avalon Hill's grip on the market.

This even managed to work it way into USENET. Because of the small number involved it doesn't the reflect the sheer hatred this move caused but what there is still telling.

Newsgroups: net.games.frp
From: pyuxdd!abc
Date: Mon Jun 28 01:20:43 1982
Local: Mon, Jun 28 1982 1:20 am
Subject: gencon rumor

I haven't anything specific about gencon, but I heard that dealers
are mad at Gygax, and perhaps will flop. Gygax has apparnetly made
himself unwelcome and sponsors are reacting by not showing up.

Newsgroups: net.games.frp
From: ihldt!tmh
Date: Mon Jun 28 04:49:45 1982
Local: Mon, Jun 28 1982 4:49 am
Subject: re:Gencon

According to what I've heard the people who are pissed off at TSR and will be boycotting Gencon are not the dealers so much as the manufacturers. This is due to the problems caused by TSR buying out SPI and the date chosen by TSR for holding Gencon East. The countries game design companies are all members in a guild type organization and each has one vote for the location of Origins. When TSR bought SPI it thought it should have two votes not one. Needless to say the other companies disagreed and bad blood had resulted. The other problem and I am not sure if they are related is the Gencon East is close to Origins like one weekend or two before and same general location. Since Origins is the big con for the guild they are naturally peeved about the way TSR is acting. Personally I don't blame them since as you can see from SPI's folding that their's is a marginal business and the one thing the industry doesn't need is this kind of crap which is likely to drag all the companies down. Most of this information came from the last time I went down to see GDW and talked to Rich Banner who is currently guild president.

Tom Harris
Bell Labs
Indian Hill


I found this from a 1995 post it has some personal accounts of people's reaction.

5 comments:

Herb said...

Not to mention the huge storm over the S&T subscriptions, especially the lifetime which as liabilities TSR didn't assume (ditching the liabilities is why they took the assets not the company).

There was a lot of hatred for a long time over that.

Welleran said...

I know some old wargamers that still despise TSR for what happened with SPI. Mentioning D&D around them is a no-no!

Ragnorakk said...

I wanted to thank you for posting these USENET reads of yours. Interesting snapshot perspective.

John said...

I still despise the post-SPI TSR to this day and refuse to deal with them or purchase anything they ever made. That includes the SPI re-prints they did (fortunately I have originals)

Luke Sineath said...

My dad was a wargamer and I grew up playing wargames with him---SPI wargames. He didn't like TSR, I remember him mentioning the name in hushed tones.

It was impossible to get into D&D as a kid. I played Rolemaster instead.