SPI merge into TSR (was: AVALON HILL)

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John_Da...@cup.portal.com

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Jul 26, 1995, 3:00:00 AM7/26/95
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Bill Tricomi <btri...@ae.agecon.wisc.edu> wrote:

>Are you kidding? As a lifetime subscriber to S&T when TSR took over, I
>was informed that as, a "former" lifetime subscriber, I'd get a free
>one-issue extension when I resubscribed.

>Apparently customer good will was not the first thing on their minds when
>they came up with that slap in the face.

TSR didn't buy SPI to gain new products; TSR bought SPI as part of the same
policy of "if ours isn't the best product, we'll either buy the competition
or have our lawyers shut it down" under which they tried to buy the entire
field of role-playing games. Remember Judges Guild? Spelljammer? etc.

TSR is the Microsoft of gaming.

John David Galt

Bill Tricomi

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Jul 27, 1995, 3:00:00 AM7/27/95
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>TSR didn't buy SPI to gain new products; TSR bought SPI as part of the same
>policy of "if ours isn't the best product, we'll either buy the competition
>or have our lawyers shut it down" under which they tried to buy the entire
>field of role-playing games. Remember Judges Guild? Spelljammer? etc.
>
>TSR is the Microsoft of gaming.
>
>John David Galt


I've always had a dark suspicion (my own conjectures now, absolutely no proof)
that part of the driving force of TSR's takeover of SPI was motivated by revenge.
Remember the days when AH and SPI joined forces to put on the first Origins?
TSR was livid that Origins was being called _THE_ game convention of the season.
Great arguments took place vis a vis Origins vs GenCon, but eventually an uneasy
truce took place, since GenCon was located in the Midwest while Origins jumped
from east coast to west coast and back again.

But all the anger issued forth again when it was announced that Origins 77 would
be held in Michigan (GenCon's back yard, so to speak). I can understand TSR
being upset. After all, with a major convention being held in Michigan in June, how
many less would be willing to travel to Wisconsin the following August? I'm sure
they saw this as pulling gamers away from GenCon, but what they did next was
certainly despicable.

I was walking the dealer's area at GenCon in 1976 when I noticed that one
miniatures rep seemed very preoccupied and very upset, pacing back and
forth and talking to himself. I said something like, "Hey, you seem on edge"
and he said "Let me tell you just what happened..."

According to this guy, the TSR legal staff had gone to the dealers that morning to
inform them that, if they attended Origins 77 in June of next year, there would be
no place for them in the dealers' area at GenCon the following August. Well,
companies like SPI and AH could laugh, but smaller dealers, especially those
(like this guy) who do a large business selling fantasy miniatures, were outraged.

My informant told me he had just returned from a quickly-called meeting of dealer
reps, who had decided to go to TSR en masse and tell them that, as a group, they
were choosing Origins.

They had called TSR's bluff, and TSR had no choice but to back down (or else have
a very empty dealers' area next year). But TSR wasn't finished. They started their
now-familiar policy of jealously protecting their trademarks and logos "against
infringement". For Origins 77 and many years after, such phrases as TSR and D&D
were conspicuously absent from Origins-related publications. I still remember
perusing the role playing sections of the event books back in those days. Again
and again I'd read "This event is based on a very popular set of RPG rules."
What a joke!

I've always felt that the SPI takeover was motivated _in_part_ by a need
to get even for the humiliation TSR suffered back in the late 70's. It just made
the downfall of SPI all that much sweeter.

Kevin Maroney

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Jul 27, 1995, 3:00:00 AM7/27/95
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In article <3v89kd$19...@news.doit.wisc.edu>,
Bill Tricomi <btri...@ae.agecon.wisc.edu> wrote:

>I've always had a dark suspicion (my own conjectures now, absolutely no
>proof) that part of the driving force of TSR's takeover of SPI was
>motivated by revenge.

I, on the other hand, am genuninely convinced that Gary Gygax gave SPI
the loan out of the goodness of his heart, and for the good of the
industry, and felt personally betrayed when he discovered that SPI could
not, under any circumstances, hope to repay the loan.

I base this belief on conversations with Gygax shortly after the
"takeover". His upset over the entire situation-- and his anger at the
people at SPI who "took the money and ran", as another poster put it--
seemed completely genuine and completely understandable. TSR was not a
wargame company in 1980; they had shown no evidence of wanting to be a
historical wargame company before, during, or, really, after 1980.
(Compare the publicity, development money, and effort TSR put into
TSR/SPI compared to TSR product.)

I don't think TSR wanted SPI; I think that they (wrongly) felt entitled
to SPI's assets as collatoral for the loan; and I think they had no idea
what to do with SPI once they ended up with it. Many of TSR's actions in
the takeover were awful, even inexcusable; but I don't think it was their
intention to kill the industry.
--
Kevin J. Maroney|k...@panix.com|Proud to be a Maroney|Proud to be a Yonker
At night, the ice weasels come.

Bill Tricomi

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Jul 28, 1995, 3:00:00 AM7/28/95
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In article <3v9m3r$d...@panix2.panix.com>, k...@panix.com (Kevin Maroney) says:
>
>
>I, on the other hand, am genuninely convinced that Gary Gygax gave SPI
>the loan out of the goodness of his heart, and for the good of the
>industry, and felt personally betrayed when he discovered that SPI could
>not, under any circumstances, hope to repay the loan.

Sorry, Kevin, but I must disagree. First, I do acknowledge that GG can talk a
good line. I well remember the days before D&D made it big when you could
drive down to Lake Geneva, pop into GG's office and talk for hours with the
guy. Then D&D went big time...

>I base this belief on conversations with Gygax shortly after the
>"takeover". His upset over the entire situation-- and his anger at the
>people at SPI who "took the money and ran", as another poster put it--
>seemed completely genuine and completely understandable. TSR was not a
>wargame company in 1980; they had shown no evidence of wanting to be a
>historical wargame company before, during, or, really, after 1980.
>(Compare the publicity, development money, and effort TSR put into
>TSR/SPI compared to TSR product.)

No flames intended or desired in return but.... "no evidence of wanting to be
a wargame company"?

Kevin, you are wrong! Before "D&D went big time", TSR was
_very_much _ a wargame company. Just off the top of my head I can recall
boardgames on the battle of Little Big Horn, the Battle of Hastings, and
one based on Tolkein's the Battle of Five Armies. They published Divine
Right and Fight in the Sky. They published the miniatures rules for Tractics, Cordite
and Steel, Don't Give Up the Ship, and Chainmail, a small fantasy section of which
had grown into the D&D phenomenon. (Ever wonder where D&D's armor class
system came from?) But with all this, TSR could never break into
the wargame market that AH and SPI cornered. Gygax was always upset by that.
He wanted TSR to be more than a fantasy game company. All this took place in the
mid- to late 70's when D&D started showing some market potential.

As far as giving money to SPI out of the "goodness of his heart", you don't know
how many Wisconsin old guard gamers would laugh at that. TSR _never_
did _anything_ out of the goodness of it's heart. The $$$ on the bottom line
was all that mattered.

Example: Back in the 70's and 80's, my friends and I would pool our
money together and submit a multi-hundred dollar order to various wholesalers
to get games at the wholesale price. We never ordered TSR products this way and
you know why? Because TSR was the _only_ company that insisted their products
had to sell retail. You could not get a wholesale discount on a TSR product.
A company with such a policy does not suddenly loan out several hundreds of
thousands of dollars "out of the goodness of its heart" (although they could
always _claim_ this as their reason).

TSR and GG were not altruists. How many RPG publishers found themselves in
court if their product included such things and "armor class", "hit points" or
"experience levels"? Was this for the "good of the hobby")

The financial problems of SPI presented TSR with that entry into the wargame
market they had been wanting for a long time. They saw their chance and took it.
(And as I posted earlier, at the same time putting "paid" to SPI's
involvement with founding Origins.) Like another poster on R.G.B. has said, it
may have been unethical, but is was an effective business move. Unfortunately
for TSR, it never materialized into the market sales they had hoped for.

Elliot Wilen

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Jul 28, 1995, 3:00:00 AM7/28/95
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In article <3v9m3r$d...@panix2.panix.com>, k...@panix.com (Kevin Maroney) wrote:

>I don't think TSR wanted SPI; I think that they (wrongly) felt entitled
>to SPI's assets as collatoral for the loan; and I think they had no idea
>what to do with SPI once they ended up with it. Many of TSR's actions in
>the takeover were awful, even inexcusable; but I don't think it was their
>intention to kill the industry.

Either they wanted SPI for its assets, which they then managed
incompetently (starting with pissing everyone off and continuing with
TSR-ifying whatever SPI products they did publish), or they acquired SPI
accidentally and made a half-hearted effort to get what they could out of
it.

There's also the anti-competitive theory. SPI had published a few science
fiction games in the 70's, but they generally took a fairly "hard SF"
approach-- Battlefleet Mars, Starfire, Outreach--which only appealed to
wargamers. Around 1980, they began producing games with nicer graphics and
more fanciful motifs; the centerpiece of the marketing was Ares magazine,
a kind of S&T for science fiction and fantasy, which included a game in
each issue as well as fiction, SF&F-related nonfiction, reviews of games,
books, and movies, and modules for Dragonquest, SPI's fantasy roleplaying
game. Games which SPI produced in this era included Time Tripper, The
Creature that Ate Sheboygan, Freedom in the Galaxy, Universe (an SFRPG),
and Dragonslayer (a movie tie-in). They were also publishing modules and
planning expansions for Dragonquest. In other words, the "Ares division"
of SPI (I don't know if there was such a thing in the formal sense) was
growing into quite a nice SF&F game company, marketing to essentially the
same audience as TSR/The Dragon. This was at a time, remember, when TSR
was big but not nearly as dominant as they are today. When TSR acquired
SPI, it killed off what might have become a major competitor on its home
turf.

In general, I think TSR was bent on dominating the industry and molding it
to their image. They didn't necessarily want to kill the industry, but as
someone else pointed out, they've pursued a Microsoft-like policy of
buying their way into markets they can't compete in on their own, killing
off competitors on their home turf, and establishing vertical markets
through product linkage and aggressive marketing.

--Elliot Wilen

cerebral

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Jul 28, 1995, 3:00:00 AM7/28/95
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I have no quarrel with the aspects of the loan and subsequent bankruptcy.
My problem is with what TSR did immediately afterward. In particular, SPI
was pulled out of that year's Origins about one month prior to the event
-- after all the events were set and after the "on-site" booklet was
printed. Most companies decide to lie low and watch and learn when
dealing with an unfamiliar industry, but TSR decided to take the high
handed approach. _That_, I think, is what really set people off.

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