Demissões, corporações e os rumos do bom e velho D&D

Embora ainda não tenham sido oficialmente anunciadas, as demissões feitas pela Wizards no início desta semana estão agindo como gasolina sobre a fogueira da discussão contínua sobre o sucesso do Dungeons & Dragons 4ª edição e a influência da gigante dos brinquedos Hasbro sobre os rumos do jogo. Vou compilar neste post o que alguns nomes importantes do universo do RPG, em especial do sistema d20, esreveram à luz da surreal demissão de nomes como Jonathan Tweet, David Noonan e Randy Buehler.

Começando pela resposta do Monte Cook a uma afirmação do usuário Piratecat no fórum da ENWorld sobre as possíveis conseqüências positivas das demissões, na qual o autor que definiu a 3ª edição aponta o que entende da situação atual da Wizards em relação aos seus funcionários:

Originally Posted by Piratecat
Major layoffs during the 3e era created some award-winning game companies: Green Ronin, Malhavoc Games, and quite a few more. I can only hope that layoffs during the 4e era do the same.

While I appreciate the good intent, I’m not sure how one might credit layoffs with the creation of Malhavoc Press. Neither Sue nor I were laid off, nor was our first major freelancer (Bruce Cordell). I suppose later on we used the talents of Sean Reynolds and Skip Williams, but we’d been around for a while at that point. I suppose you could say that some of the layoffs were indicative of the kinds of large changes that occurred at WotC which convinced me it was no longer a place I wanted to work at.

Not that I have any illusions about what would have happened had I stayed. I’ve no doubt that I would have been laid off. From a larger perspective than just yesterday, it’s become clear that WotC’s become a company that not only doesn’t value experience, it avoids it. (And looks at least somewhat disdainfully, rather than fondly, upon its own past.) You have to stretch your definition of “old guard” to even apply to anyone there anymore. (This is likely a bottom line issue, since the longer you stay, the more you get paid.) When I was there, I worked among people like Skip Williams and Jeff Grubb–with that kind of perspective at hand, I was always the new guy. Which was fine by me. I had much to learn and always appreciated the perspective they could provide. Now, most of the people working on D&D weren’t even there when I was there. That’s how much turnover and change there’s been. There’s a real danger of losing continuity with these kinds of layoffs. Dangers involving making old mistakes and not remembering what was learned in old lessons.

It’s a foolish and shortsighted management that lets people like Jonathan, Julia, and Dave go. Foolish. And a cold-hearted one that does it at Christmas. But this is not new outrage, it’s old, tired outrage. This is the company that laid off Skip, and Jeff, and Sean, and other people of extraordinary talent and experience. It’s par for the recent course.

Before I end this bitter ramble, let me just add that it’s hard not to laugh at the shocking and perhaps pitiable ineptitude of a company that makes role playing games that would lay off Jonathan Tweet, very likely the best rpg designer, well, period.

Sabia que eu não podia estar errado em considerar o Tweet um dos caras mais fodas do mundo do RPG… Mas mesmo assim, não sei até que ponto os caras da WotC teriam culhões para demitir o Monte Cook, nome que durante a 3ª edição se tornou sinônimo de Dungeons & Dragons. Nesta pegada de avaliar os efeitos da Hasbro sobre o que a WotC, e consequentemente o D&D se tornaram, Sean K. Reynolds, um cara que eu não acho dos mais brilhantes, mas que obviamente entende mais da lógica da empresa mais que eu, também mostrou seu ponto de vista no fórum da ENWorld:

Originally Posted by Moniker
Given some thought on this subject overnight, I believe this was inevitable. Not only because of the economy, but the push for WotC to reduce costs on material production by moving their share of effort into the digital market.

No, it was inevitable because Wizards does this every year around this time They lay off people, switch to using more freelancers, realize that they need more in-house people to help things run smoothly, hire more in-house people, then have a layoff when your projected budget starts looking wrong. It’s a crappy way to run a company, and a crappy way to treat your employees. I have friends there that have been laid off and rehired by Wizards two or more times now … Wizards just keeps repeating the cycle.

See, Hasbro is a dying company. They don’t produce anything new or innovative, they’re too “east coast” and set in their “old business” mindset. What they do is find interesting, profitable young companies, buy them, squeeze as much money as they can out of them, crush everything that is unique and innovative about them, and then discard them when they’re no longer profitable. As a former Wizards person pointed out to me, Wizards of the Coast (and other Hasbro acquisitions like Galoob) are “chemotherapy” to Hasbro. In a year where every division of Hasbro lost money except for Wizards, Hasbro had a company-wide flat headcount reduction, even for Wizards (still flush with money from Pokemon, Magic, and 3e). Hasbro started “fun alerts” in its daughter companies, pushing the employees to have fun at work (net result: “fun alert” Mr Potato Head posters popped up at the Wizards office), ignoring that people at Wizards were already having fun making great games. So when you see things like these layoffs, it’s corporate types saying, “making $8 million profit per year on this brand isn’t enough, you have to make $10 million profit,” and then letting go of the people who make your profit in order to cut costs (i.e., salaries) and give the appearance of extra profit. Far too many companies act this way, whether it’s cutting benefits, shipping jobs to cheaper workers overseas, etc. … it looks good on paper in the short term, but 1, 2, 5, or 10 years down the road you look at the ruins of your business and wonder why profits are still down and your employees have no loyalty.

You can be fair and responsible in your treatment of your employees and fair and responsible to the financial interests of your investors. You don’t have to maximize one at the expense of the other. Netting $8 million every year for the next 10 years is better than netting $10 million this year, $9 million the next, then $8m, etc., all the way down to $1 on the 10th year ($80 million vs. $55 million).

From time to time at TSR people would talk about forming a union of designers and editors. I’ve heard that Lorraine’s response was, “If you form a union, I’ll fire you all and replace you with college students happy to do this work for half the pay, or even free.” While she could do such a thing, the quality of your products would suffer (much like how the quality of the D&D minis has gone downhill), and that would alienate your customers, and that eventually makes up for the “savings” of hiring cheaper workers. It’s stupid and shortsighted.

And to repeat: this is an annual thing for Wizards. And doing this right before the holidays is especially sleazy.

Não sei até que ponto este lance da Hasbro ser uma empresa que “está morrendo” é real, aliás me parece que não é bem assim. Este artigo sobre o CEO da Hasbro fala o como o sucesso de Transformers foi essencial para a renovação da empresa e como ela aposta em sucessos semelhantes com o filme dos G.I Joe, e em nenhum momento cita a Wizards, Dungeons & Dragons ou Magic. Se a WotC fosse mesmo este oásis de lucro dentro da Hasbro, isso deveria aparecer não é?

Enfim, ainda neste tema mas levando ainda mais para dentro do D&D, Chris Pramas escreveu um post ótimo em seu blog, no qual toca em uma questão recorrente também no mercado brasileiro de RPG, que é a falta dos números de vendas e dados mais concretos para avaliar o sucesso de um produto, no caso, obviamente a nova edição do RPG mais famoso do mundo:

Since the announcement of the 4th edition of Dungeons & Dragons, there have been continuing flamewars about the game all over the internet. This is to be expected, but what I find interesting is the amount of time that’s also spent discussing whether 4E is selling well or not. Every gaming message board I visit has some variation of this topic right now. For most gamers, you wouldn’t think it would matter. Either they are playing and enjoying 4E or they not. How many others are playing it would seem largely irrelevant, but some people who hate 4E want to crow about its failure and some people who love 4E want to exalt in its success. The trouble with the game industry is that companies rarely share their sales data, and at large companies like WotC accurate data is not necessarily passed down the chain of command. It is thus the executives and the sales people who know what’s really going on at a high level and they of course are the least likely to talk about it. You may see vague and qualified statements, but almost no one provides real numbers.

Due to the GSL situation, Green Ronin isn’t doing much with 4E. Our one planned product, an update of our d20 System Character Record Folio to 4E, just went to print. I am looking forward to its debut because it will give me some direct and measurable data. The original folio was Green Ronin’s best selling product of all time, going through six odd print runs. It will be informative to see how the 4E version stacks up.

Now the anecdotes I hear are sometimes interesting, but I try not to read a lot into them. I had a retailer at the Alliance Open House in Las Vegas, for example, tell me he stopped carrying 4E because his customers tried it, didn’t like it, and went back to playing 3E. I can believe that happened in his store, but I don’t think such an extreme reaction is common. The only commentary I have taken seriously has come from the two halves of the distribution system: the game trade and the book trade. In separate conversations, an executive in the game trade and the former RPG buyer for a major chain of bookstores both told me the same thing: 4E sold in well but follow-up sales were slow. One of them told me that 4E supplements were selling at the same level as 3E supplements at the beginning of this year (i.e. 8 years into 3E’s lifecycle).

That is interesting info if true. Even so the picture might change as more supplements and support material comes out and new organized play programs have an effect. I’ve said previously I don’t think we’ll know what kind of legs 4E has until next summer. A year after release gamers will have had a chance to put it through its paces and judge the development of the line. While brand power is important (and D&D has plenty of it), it’s ultimately the play experience of the fans that will tell the story.

Yesterday’s layoffs at WotC add an interesting wrinkle, but it’s unclear what they signify (other than a shitty Xmas for the folks who were let go). It seems most of the layoffs were centered on WotC’s digital efforts and certainly their part in the 4E launch did not go as planned. It was surprising to see Jonathan Tweet and Andrew Finch, both long time employees I’d have thought immune to the seasonal layoff cycle, on the list. Their departure could be a cost saving measure, but it’s also possible they volunteered for the layoff. I’ve seen people who are ready to move on take bullets to spare others before.

What is unambiguous to my mind is that the third party market for 4E material is a shadow of its former self. By early 2001 you had publishers selling huge amounts of d20 product and more companies jumping into the fray every week. This time there is a trickle of product and no one is seeing the gangbuster sales of 3E’s heyday as far as I can tell. The GSL revision has yet to appear and the d20 diaspora continues to splinter. If WotC was serious about wanting the support of third party publishers, the GSL has been a strategic failure to date. If the goal was to cull the third party market though, mission accomplished.

Moving into 2009 the state of the biggest RPG in the industry is unclear, the RPG category in general continues to struggle in retail stores, and we are in a recession that may get much worse before it gets better. In this environment you can give up or look for opportunity. I have chosen the latter course and I’ll have more to say about that in the future.

Curti o cliffhanger no fim do post… Mas voltando a parte menos misteriosa, não sei até onde isso é birra do pessoal das editoras que lançam (ou lançavam) produtos d20 com o descaso da WotC e sua maldita GSL que não sai, mas é curioso perceber que nos comentários do post, ninguém menos que Erik Mona da Paizo e o já citado Monte Cook da Malhavoc também dizem que têm ouvido dos lojistas que a 4ª edição bombou no começo, em especial com os livros básicos, mas que a venda dos suplementos não tem sido boa, em alguns casos muito próxima do que se obtinha com os livros 3.5 nos últimos meses antes do anúncio da nova edição. Eu não sei até onde isso pode ser considerado como algo generalizado, aliás acho que nem pode, mas neste sentido tive uma conversa de buteco interessante com o Barbi e o Giltônio esta semana sobre as demissões. Falavamos especificamente sobre o D&D Insider, e o Giltônio perguntou com seu característico jeito de gordinho folgado:

– Cara porque a Wizards não divulga o número de assinantes do D&D Insider? Volta e meia a Blizzard fala que World of Warcraft tem não sei quantas centenas de milhares de assinantes, porque a WotC não faz o mesmo?

Claro que ele estava dizendo que a Wizards não faz o mesmo porque o D&D Insider têm fracassado em conseguir assinantes. Eu não sei. O motivo pode ser o número de assinaturas abaixo da expectativa? Claro que sim, mas também pode ser porque a parada ainda não está funcionando de maneira plena, ou porque não faz parte da política da WotC divulgar estes números. Mas o que eu sei, e tenho que concordar com o Giltônio parcialmente, é que quando eles não dizem quantos assinantes o D&DI possui, e ainda demitem quase um terço da equipe que trabalha nesta área, inclusive o Randy Buehler, principal responsável pela parada, eles não estão exatamente me transmitindo a mensagem de uma iniciativa digital bombante…

Voltando ao post do Pramas e seus comentários, outra coisa muito interessante é localizarem esta possível queda rápida nas vendas da 4ª edição ao fraco suporte que ela vem recebendo de outras editoras em comparação com o que ocorreu com a 3ª edição na véspera de seu lançamento, devido, obviamente a confusão com a Game System Licence que a Wizards arrumou, e cuja versão definitiva não saiu até hoje. Neste ponto eu concordo bastante, acho que embora competissem com os livros lançados pela WotC, os produtos de outras editoras também ajudavam a manter o sistema d20 em constante mutação, inclusive cobrindo nichos e lacunas que a Wizards não conseguia ou se interessava ocupar. E neste ponto eu acho que o Erik Mona ganhou o prêmio Área Cinza de mais sábio da semana ao escrever nos comentários o trecho abaixo, que vou usar para encerrar este post gigantesco, no qual articula a falha da GSL, a rejeição que ainda existe em relação a 4ª edição, e as saídas que cada editora teve que criar para se manter no mercado:

I do think that Wizards of the Coast missed a huge opportunity with all of the fuckery that went on with the GSL. It’s clear that there’s a lot of skepticism from the fans regarding the new edition, and if companies like Green Ronin and Paizo had been allowed to support the new edition in a meaningful way, I have to believe that transition would have been much more smooth.

Some of it was arrogance on behalf of the brains over at Wizards, but I think even more of it was the sheer madness of producing a new edition of “the world’s most popular roleplaying game.” Against that chaos, the powers that be simply decided that bringing third party publishers on board was not a high priority.

Whether or not that will prove to be a mistake for WotC remains to be seen, but it’s definitely made life a lot more interesting for the third party publishers. With no serious opportunity to support D&D, all of us have had to make our own decisions about what to do in order to survive. In many cases, that’s created direct competitors out of people who were looking forward to playing on the same team.

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