So, in sorting though some old gaming magazines, skimming before discarding, one thing that strikes me are the number of companies that thrived back then that have long since vanished from the shelves at hobby stores. I suspect many have vanished from the memories of gamers as well. Certainly I assume most younger gamers (e.g. those who came into the hobby at the time of 3e/d20 or since) may have heard of these older game companies (e.g. Judges Guild, FGU) and early games but have never actually played them.
This made it an interesting experience to read through an issue of CHALLENGE (#65, October 1992), published by the once-mighty GDW. If I had at the time been guessing which of the major companies of that era wd still be around three decades later I might well have picked GDW (Game Designers Workshop) as a likely candidate. After all, they were among TSR's very first competitors (EN GARDE came out not long after the original three-book set of D&D) whose TRAVELLER was the most successful of all science fiction games, holding its own against all comers, until it was eventually unseated by STAR WARS.
In retrospect three events suggest bad judgment may have played a bigger role than bad luck. The first was the publication of SPACE: 1889. Roleplaying games were not exactly known as a bastion of progressive thought, but even so the years of the run-up to the celebration of Columbus's 500th anniversary were marked by a lot of re-evaluation that you wd have thought wd make a company think twice before launching a celebration of colonialism.
The second came from their decision to blow up their world -- specifically, to make a new edition of TRAVELLER, their iconic game, starkly different from the game their fans had known and loved for years by radical shifts in the setting. Lord knows we fans of 1st edition AD&D complained bitterly over the changes made to create 2nd edition, but in retrospect the changes were relatively minor and, importantly from TSR's point of view, the new edition sold extremely well. Whereas I get the sense that MEGATRAVELLER, as it was known, failed to capture most of classic TRAVELLER's fan base.*
The third is the weirdest: the decision to publish Gygax's new D&D-ish fantasy rpg, despite the fact that Gygax's previous game (Cyborg Commandoes) had conspicuously bombed and the company that put it out (New Infinities) sued out of existence by the notoriously litigious TSR. Who promptly sued GDW over DANGEROUS JOURNEYS, forcing the game off the market and stalling out the planned further releases in the line (including a GAMMA WORLD clone); the whole mess ended with GDW turning over its entire unsold stock to TSR, who buried them in its warehouse.
As I said, weird. But I can say that the Powers That Be at TSR had a healthy respect for GDW's creative team's talent, hiring away Tim Brown, Bill Connors, Rob Lazzaretti, Julia Martin, and Lester Smith (who had been Gygax's editor on DANGEROUS JOURNEYS).**
*again, it didn't help when they came out with third edition TRAVELLER a few years later and decided to rename it, leaving the all-important word 'Traveller' out of the game's name, instead redubbing it 2300 AD.
**just as several years later (circa 1995) they hired away quite a lot of West End Games' staff
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