The above model, drawn from the narrative of Game Wizards, shows roughly how many people TSR had on staff between 1976 and 1985. Obviously, staffing fluctuated over a given year, and these plotted points are not anchored to any particular date on the calendar, but they impart a general sense of TSR headcount across its peaks, midpoints, and valleys. At the macro level, staffing ramped up steadily after the Egbert incident, accelerated recklessly in 1982, and then plummeted sharply thereafter. But this isn't the way that Gary Gygax remembered it... and that warrants a bit of explanation.
Building models like this is always tricky, and TSR's external reporting about its staffing, as with its finances, was kind of all over the place. I found that the monthly-updated employee telephone directories circulated at the company headquarters do an especially good job of showing when particular clusters of people exited. But of course, TSR had remote offices, including its entire TSR UK subsidiary, that are not always reflected on these lists, and I've adjusted the numbers just a bit for that. So I give my familiar caveat: this is a model, one grounded in the best data I could find.
The model's estimate of peak TSR staffing at nearly 400 can be reconstructed from the last "official" communication about staff size, in the March 1983 issue of the TSR internal newsletter Random Events (and this apparently reflects a February 14 tally of staffing):
That figure does not however include the TSR UK subsidiary, which had around 25 employees at the time. And staffing would not peak until June: as the Wall Street Journal helpfully reported later in the year, "10 new people were hired in April, 18 more in May, and 25 in June." Add these all up, and you get a number nearing 400 for the midpoint of 1983.
To track the precipitous decline in TSR staff after Kevin Blume took over as president at the end of June 1983, you need to take into account both large-scale layoffs and more staggered firings, as well as attrition -- no small number of employees who sensed TSR was circling the drain left of their own accord. The big layoffs weren't swept under the rug: TSR actually issued press releases announcing them. Those external communications were summarized in gaming zines like Space Gamer and The Insider, and even picked up by the local weekly Lake Geneva Regional News. Basically, the Game Wizards model relates the headcount drop as follows:
- First Big Cut (June 24, 1983): "TSR Reorganizes", LGRN June 30, 1983 notes "termination of about 40 jobs." Space Gamer #65 relates that TSR "released in excess of 40 employees -- including vice president Duke Seifried." The Insider #7 hints that this is just an initial installment, that "the final tally will be more than 70 individuals. Prior to this the total TSR employee count was rapidly approaching 400."
- First Big Cut (Part II): Throughout July, deeper cuts happened that were quieter on the press release front, but news of them still leaked. The Wall Street Journal reported "in July, [TSR] laid off 100 people." The Insider #8 said: "More firings continue at TSR... this brings the employee count to nearly 260 people, a reduction of almost one third of their staff." Basically, TSR's bank required them to shed 30% of their staff before advancing any more money, which took a month's worth of layoffs to achieve.
- (Attrition and gradually squeezing brings headcount down to around 225 by March 1984 - mostly cuts included severing the "white metal" miniatures team and slashing the assembly staff).
- Second Big Cut (April 4, 1984, "A Day that Will Live in Infamy"): "TSR Reduces Work Force", LGRN April 12, 1984 (56 cut). The Insider #11 reports "Jim Ward, Ed Sollers, Mike Roller, and some 50 others have been given their walking papers. This cuts staff by 25%." Space Gamer #69 reports "TSR Lays off 56." I count around 170 afterwards (some news reports give 220, which seems to be the number before the cut).
- (Squeezing and attrition continues, and by January 1985, we see around 120 - miscellaneous cuts included the last vestiges of the miniatures business, and a tranche of finance people.)
- Third Big Cut (March 8, 1985): "TSR Lays off 36 Employees", LGRN March 14, 1985. Space Gamer #74 also reports "TSR has laid off 36 employees from all areas of the company except the design department." The LGRN tells us that "TSR still has about 95 employees on its payroll." My count in the months after the layoff bounces around 85.
We won't really be able to properly and critically examine the history of gaming from the 1970s through the 1990s until we have demolished the hagiography surrounding Gary Gygax.ReplyDelete
312 people in TSR US! That sounds like a lot for an rpg publisher. What did all these people do? And how would this compare to other companies in the field, both back then & now?ReplyDelete
Another case of Gygax's Distorting Lens (Illusion/Phantasm).ReplyDelete
Memories are tricky at the best. It's great to have models and data to compare and understand better that years.ReplyDelete
Interesting peek behind the rise and fall. Seems like a fairly typical mistake of small niche companies that grow rapidly. So fascinating to wonder: What if TSR had simply stuck to its core AD&D business, and then hired appropriately to handle a steady output of new content to support it?ReplyDelete
Great work...I'm glad someone like you is willing and capable to do this level of research.
As usual, this is all interesting stuff! It's just too bad that some folks (including at least one commenter here) don't seem to get the simple truth that artifacts do not necessarily relate facts. They may point to them or give us different ways of looking at events, but they do not themselves prove anything. Events may not have occurred as they are represented by such bits and pieces, so they must be taken for what they are, and the interpretations coming from them must be taken with a grain of salt. Are the artifacts reality? Or is reality the perception of people involved in these events? The answer is: neither, the reality is found somewhere between. And despite all of the artifacts and all of the personal testimony, we will never know the actual facts. Folks shouldn't be so hasty to treat any artifacts or anecdotes as factual representation of the events as they truly happened. This is lost to history, and even the people involved in them probably do not know the whole truth of events as they unfolded. As with most of life, this should all be taken in with an open yet critical mind. I think this is something you try to relay fairly often in your writings, Jon, that people just seem to ignore or maybe don't understand.ReplyDelete