Death to the Minotaur

Readers respond to a two-part story on how Wizards of the Coast sacrificed its geeky idealism for Pokimon-size profits and Magic moola.

Published March 28, 2001 8:30PM (EST)

Read the story, Part One and Part Two.

I worked freelance with Wizards of the Coast for 10 months in 1995, while John Tynes was there. Though I never saw the promiscuity he describes -- must have been employees-only -- I can vouch for the company's stultifying reliance on consensus.

When I saw John the day he gave notice at Wizards, he said getting something done there was like pushing through gauze. I knew just what he meant. Over months of strenuous effort I had secured approval for my own project, a card set for Magic: The Gathering, from about eight or nine R&D designers, managers and marketers. My little set clawed its way onto the schedule; I saw Gantt charts and everything. But ultimately, mysteriously, it died. Some empowered entry-level Wizard, in some remote reach of the flattened Wizards hierarchy, objected to it.

In trying to make gaming as big as the movies, Wizards unwittingly mimicked the Hollywood movie-making process. 99.9 percent of screenplays never get produced; 90 out of every 100 movies that start filming never finish; complete films get shelved before release all the time. In movies, anyone at any time can say, "Let's not do it." At Wizards in its early years, nothing could happen unless everyone, including receptionists and mail clerks, approved.

A year or so after I left, though, things changed. Wizards CEO Peter Adkison put executives in place that could actually make decisions. I always admired Peter's ability to learn, and I don't know how well that ability comes across in John's fine article. Derisive gossip referred to Peter as Pooh-bear: bumbling aimlessly along, getting his head stuck in the honey jar, pulling it out, and resuming his amiable hum. But the guy managed to ride the Wizards tiger for years, took it from strength to strength and finally sold for $350 million. Meanwhile, the gossips are still trying to make rent.

-- Allen Varney

When Magic: The Gathering first came out, I ignored it as a gaming fad and considered "real role-playing" to be the geek purist's pursuit. I was wrong. If I had joined in the beginning heyday of the collectible card game revolution, I might have picked up some very valuable cards (collector-wise) and might have been able to field a solid "early" deck.

The game, for all its early (and late) flaws, has had a resounding effect on strategic nerds for the past decade; much like Dungeons & Dragons has done, and, like all of us, has had to grow up.

Was the gaming center profitable? Probably not, but it could have been made so with proper direction. Is Wizards of the Coast profitable? I would venture, without the aid of bar graphs and projections, yes. Are they going to experience massive growth in the near future? No. True geeks are few and far between, and catering to their needs and somewhat limited bank accounts is probably not what Hasbro had in mind when they invested in Wizards of the Coast in the first place. And this makes me sad.

-- Weston Tulloch

Card games suck. They limit storytelling rather than enhance it and put a choker collar on the imagination. Only role-playing games (true ones like Palladium's Rifts or, the granddaddy of them all, Dungeons and Dragons) encourage true role-playing, the kind you don't get at your local S/M club or your therapist's couch.

Card games are too linear, geared toward supposed storytelling as long as it's within the specified boundaries -- namely combat. If fighting was all I wanted, or if territory acquisition was my main motivation, I'd play Risk. Give me the blank canvas and paints of my imagination and let me decide "where I want to go today." Card games are for people who can't think outside the lines.

-- Rob Zorzi

As an online editor specializing in science fiction and gaming, I could see every bit of the commonality between Wizards' early gestalt and the dot-com lunacy. It would be nice for both industries to make the transition to the mainstream with their energy and passion intact; but I suspect those qualities are nearly always doomed to the fringe. They're vital for the creation of a concept, but not for the transformation of concept to property. They're just too alien to the middlemen to survive for very long.

-- Shane Ivey

I truly enjoyed reading the article by John Tynes. Both parts were well rendered and added a welcome well of knowledge to a company I used to support. I always wondered why I lost respect for Wizards of the Coast; now I know why. There was a change in ideals, and it showed in their products, long before the company joined on the Pokémon wagon.

-- Dawn Castner

By Salon Staff

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