The Most Dangerous Column in Gaming
Questions You May Have Asked
Open Gaming Interview With Ryan Dancey
Cradle to Grave: The life of a tabletop RPG product Part II
Cradle to Grave: The life of a tabletop RPG product Part I
What the heck is a Business (Category) Manager?
What the Heck is a Brand Manager?


The Most Dangerous Column in Gaming
What the heck is a Business
(Category) Manager?

By Ryan S. Dancey

This 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 to sell.

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 what products.

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 wasn’t 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 you’re talking to, the leaders of these lines of business may refer to themselves as category managers or business managers; as a company, we haven’t 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 Wrestling.

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 we’re working on. Right now, he has one Associate Business Manager in Anthony Valterra. We’re 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 they’ll be released, what they’ll cost, and when we’ll stop making them. Those decisions are based on a very detailed model of the business that we’ve 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. They’re 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 manager’s 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.

That’s about it for business managers. Thanks for listening! Next column, I’m going to talk about the process a product goes through from "great idea" to "on sale now!"

Ryan Dancey, formerly Dungeons & Dragons brand manager,
is the founder of the Open Gaming Foundation.

 





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Wizards is headquartered in Renton, Washington, PO Box 707, Renton, WA 98057.


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