Most Dangerous Column in Gaming
the heck is a Business
By Ryan S. Dancey
is a companion to my first column, titled What the Heck is a Brand Manager.
You may have seen people from Wizards of the Coast identify themselves
as Business or Category Managers. This is a fairly new evolution in our
structure, and explaining who these people are will also reveal some of
the processes we go through to make decisions about the products we decide
In the beginning,
Wizards of the Coast made trading card games. (Actually, if you go back
a few years before Magic, Wizards started out making roleplaying "cap
systems," products designed to be cross compatible with several RPG
systems at once!) When pretty much everything Wizards made was a trading
card game or an auxiliary product designed to sell more trading card games
(like magazines), it was pretty easy to figure out who was in charge of
When Wizards acquired
TSR in 1997, things got a lot more complicated. Or, depending on how you
look at it, they were already getting complicated but nobody noticed at
the time. Adding TSR, especially the tabletop RPG and novel businesses,
made it obvious that the "Wizards makes trading card games"
philosophy wasnt going to work going forward.
Late in 1998, Wizards
reorganized itself to address these expanded areas of business. After
the reorganization, the brand managers were made responsible for looking
out for their brands across all the products that Wizards produced. "Business"
or "Category" managers were assigned to oversee the actual lines
of business themselves. Wizards of the Coast has eight current lines of
business: sports and entertainment trading card games, Magic trading card
games, tabletop role playing games, miniatures & miniatures games,
"family" games, novels, periodicals, and software. Depending
on who youre talking to, the leaders of these lines of business
may refer to themselves as category managers or business managers; as
a company, we havent standardized on a formal title yet.
Confusing things somewhat
is the connection of the three brand teams (my team, plus Magic and sports
and entertainment) with some of the categories. My area of personal responsibility
is both the various brands inherited from TSR (including Dungeons &
Dragons and Alternity) and the tabletop roleplaying game business. The
Magic brand team oversees the Magic trading card game business, and the
sports and entertainment brand managers also oversee trading card games
like Pokemon, Major League Baseball, Legend of the Five Rings and WCW
To make this division
of roles more clear to the rest of the organization and to the public,
I divided my team into two parts. The brand managers got their moment
in the sun in this column last week. This week, I want to look at my Business
Management team that oversees the tabletop RPG business.
Business Manager Keith
Strohm heads that group. He has a team that reports to him that fluctuates
based on the amount of products were working on. Right now, he has
one Associate Business Manager in Anthony Valterra. Were adding
some Assistant Business Managers in the near future to accommodate growth,
specifically Star Wars and a few other licensed products.
Keith and his team
are the real heart of the decision-making process for tabletop RPGs. They
decide what products we make, when theyll be released, what theyll
cost, and when well stop making them. Those decisions are based
on a very detailed model of the business that weve been developing
since Wizards acquired TSR in 97.
The business managers
lead a "cross functional team"; a group comprised of representatives
from all the parts of Wizards that have to work together to design, produce,
market and sell an RPG product. The business managers work very closely
with a group of people in R&D called "Creative Directors".
The business managers have very broad-based objectives that they need
products to fill. Such an objective might be "An adventure designed
for characters levels 1-3, set in a city, featuring undead monsters."
That instruction is passed to a Creative Director, who works with the
R&D team to determine who will design the product and edit the resulting
design. The designer is then guided towards creating a description of
what the product will be based on the input from the business manager.
Sometimes a cross-category
initiative involves more than one line of business. For example, in 1999,
we created a series of interlinked products set in the Forgotten Realms
campaign setting for Dungeons & Dragons. The novel department developed
a series of books based around underwater adventures and the Sea of Fallen
Stars. The tabletop RPG department created a source book for the Sea of
Fallen Stars and an adventure that took place in and around that area.
A brand manager coordinated all that activity to make sure that the overall
objective of the brand was being met by all the different products, but
the business managers in the book and tabletop RPG departments figured
out how to implement that brand strategy. It was up to the novelists and
game designers to take that skeleton and create the fully fleshed out
products that eventually made it to your local store shelves.
Every gaming product
has a lifecycle. Some are quick; things that go on sale, appear for a
few months, and then vanish. Others sell for years, becoming constant
restock items that never seem to go out of style. The business managers
are responsible for figuring out which category a given product falls
into. Theyre also responsible for deciding when to "discontinue"
a product--remove it from our warehouse and cease selling it to distributors.
The decision to do so is not taken lightly; the company has invested tens
of thousands of dollars in each item we sell. When a product is "discontinued",
the company stops recouping that investment or showing a profit. However,
there are a lot of factors, including space, bandwidth, retailer store
shelving, and consumer interest, that all have to be considered when deciding
how long a product should remain available. While the "fun"
part of a business managers job may be deciding what cool new product
to put into development, the more important part may be the decision of
when to take that product out of the mix.
it for business managers. Thanks for listening! Next column, Im
going to talk about the process a product goes through from "great
idea" to "on sale now!"
Dancey, formerly Dungeons & Dragons brand manager,
is the founder of the Open