Pop Culture Uncovered on TSR's boxed sets

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Pop Culture Uncovered on TSR's boxed sets

Post by Big Mac » Thu Jun 14, 2018 5:01 pm

I just saw an interesting article, called Tabletop Tuesday – Thinking Inside TSR’s Box Sets over at Pop Culture Uncovered.

It looks like The Guy in the Hat (not to be confused with The Man in the Funny Hat ;) ) is under the impression that the boxed set format is uneconomical and that hardbacks for campaign settings would be more economical.
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Re: Pop Culture Uncovered on TSR's boxed sets

Post by shesheyan » Thu Jun 14, 2018 5:42 pm

Big Mac wrote:
Thu Jun 14, 2018 5:01 pm
I just saw an interesting article, called Tabletop Tuesday – Thinking Inside TSR’s Box Sets over at Pop Culture Uncovered.

It looks like The Guy in the Hat (not to be confused with The Man in the Funny Hat ;) ) is under the impression that the boxed set format is uneconomical and that hardbacks for campaign settings would be more economical.
Well, a single hardcover book with a detachable poster in the back probably is less costly than producing 2 softcover books (DM+Players), a map and a box to put them in. It means having 3 front covers and 3 back covers instead of one of each. Usually art on covers cost more because you want better art.

Putting a boxed product together is also costly. Its either done by hand or with a machine. Its an extra step in the process on top of binding. And then you have to shrink wrap the box. Something you don't need to do for hardcover books. Also, a boxed set usually has a filer box (or tray) inside to stop content from moving around to much which is another cost to take into account.

Shipping to distributers a book takes up exactly the same space as its content. A boxed set is usually larger then its content. When calculating shipping prices size matters on top of weight. Shipping «air» is usually not a good idea.
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Re: Pop Culture Uncovered on TSR's boxed sets

Post by RobJN » Thu Jun 14, 2018 6:31 pm

I seem to recall seeing from various old guard TSR folks that they did, indeed, lose money on each boxed set as a general rule. Still, the red box Mentzer Basic Set is the all time most best selling set in the history of the game. So there's that, too.
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Re: Pop Culture Uncovered on TSR's boxed sets

Post by Cthulhudrew » Thu Jun 14, 2018 7:58 pm

Price point definitely matters, too. I know the Paizo folks have mentioned on more than one occasion that their Core Rulebooks are actually loss leaders at their price, but they continue to produce them because a) they sell so well, and most importantly b) they tend to result in the purchases of more supporting materials such as campaign sourcebooks and things (including .pdfs) that result in more than covering those margins. The TSR model tended to place, IMO, more focus on the "big" products that weren't as profitable, and less on the smaller products that could help make that up.
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Re: Pop Culture Uncovered on TSR's boxed sets

Post by Coronoides » Thu Jun 14, 2018 9:48 pm

When money got tight TSR actual did re-release Council of Wryms as a single book. This might mean Council of Wryms will be print on demand before other more popular boxed sets of 2e
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Re: Pop Culture Uncovered on TSR's boxed sets

Post by Big Mac » Thu Jun 14, 2018 9:50 pm

shesheyan wrote:
Thu Jun 14, 2018 5:42 pm
Shipping to distributers a book takes up exactly the same space as its content. A boxed set is usually larger then its content. When calculating shipping prices size matters on top of weight. Shipping «air» is usually not a good idea.
Sounds about right.

I've seen a few collections of RPG books in fairly tight slip cases (so there is not much air being shipped). But having to collate things must be more expensive than just making a bigger book.

I figure that if people really want to buy boxed sets, it might be cheaper to print all the bits separately, ship them to the customer separately, and include an instruction sheet that shows people how to fold and assemble the box. :)
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Re: Pop Culture Uncovered on TSR's boxed sets

Post by shesheyan » Thu Jun 14, 2018 9:58 pm

Big Mac wrote:
Thu Jun 14, 2018 9:50 pm
shesheyan wrote:
Thu Jun 14, 2018 5:42 pm
Shipping to distributers a book takes up exactly the same space as its content. A boxed set is usually larger then its content. When calculating shipping prices size matters on top of weight. Shipping «air» is usually not a good idea.
Sounds about right.

I've seen a few collections of RPG books in fairly tight slip cases (so there is not much air being shipped). But having to collate things must be more expensive than just making a bigger book.

I figure that if people really want to buy boxed sets, it might be cheaper to print all the bits separately, ship them to the customer separately, and include an instruction sheet that shows people how to fold and assemble the box. :)
:lol: :lol: :lol:

I'm certain WOTC is not making money on the D&D5E starter box... but it must lead to other sales (3 core books) otherwise they would stop doing it.
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Re: Pop Culture Uncovered on TSR's boxed sets

Post by RobJN » Fri Jun 15, 2018 7:44 am

shesheyan wrote:
Thu Jun 14, 2018 9:58 pm
I'm certain WOTC is not making money on the D&D5E starter box... but it must lead to other sales (3 core books) otherwise they would stop doing it.
Typically, yes. Known as a loss leader. WotC also did this with the 3.0 PHB, when they sold through the first printing at $10.00 off the cover price during the launch. They make up for starter set sales with sales of the Big Three books (or, in the case of 3.0, the Other Two)
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Re: Pop Culture Uncovered on TSR's boxed sets

Post by Big Mac » Fri Jun 15, 2018 8:16 am

RobJN wrote:
Thu Jun 14, 2018 6:31 pm
I seem to recall seeing from various old guard TSR folks that they did, indeed, lose money on each boxed set as a general rule. Still, the red box Mentzer Basic Set is the all time most best selling set in the history of the game. So there's that, too.
It wasn't quite that simple. Some boxed sets (and other products) lost money and others were profitable. The problem came down to the designers having information withheld from them.

There was a very interesting panel, called Secrets of TSR where they had a bunch of different D&D designers who spoke about design during the era leading up to WotC taking over.

Al-Qadim is an interesting example, because they wanted it to look good, but Jeff Grubb also didn't want it to slide below profitability.

So, he added some gold trim to the design (to make it look awesome) and he also built in a natural "self-destruct" mechanism, that would allow the line to stop after two or three years, without seeming to be unfinished.

And, because Jeff Grubb had been given good access to the numbers of things (like how much it costs to make a boxed set) he was able to make Al-Qadim make more money, per unit, than Dark Sun made. (And Dark Sun had a much bigger budget for design and promotion.) Al-Qadim proves that TSR could make things for a niche market and still earn money.

On the other hand, one of the Dragonlance SAGA designers spoke how they were going through the same sort of process. He had been asking for feedback from the people making the units and had been give no sign that there were any problems. They had gone through a couple of years, where the product had sold really well and were going into a meeting to talk about what to do for the next year. One of the things he was given as he was gearing up for talking about what to do next was the cost figures that had not been sent to him. He took one look at them and said: "We need to shut this product line down immediately".

That was the end of the Dragonlance SAGA line, but the "too many settings killed TSR" mantra that came out in the begining of the 3rd Edition Era is far too simplistic. Dragonlance SAGA was not a failure because it cost too much. It was a failure because the design team did not get the same support that Jeff Grubb got for Al-Qadim. If someone had given the designers the proper feedback, they would have gone back to the drawing board and come up with another way to make SAGA. That might have worked, or they might have come to the conclusion that the idea was not viable, but they would not have sold a ton of product at a loss. And - without that economic mistake - I'm told that the Dragonlance SAGA product line actually had some success. So if Print on Demand was able to handle the format (it's part CCG, from what I understand, and I believe that DriveThru also has a Print on Demand card store) it could be possible to bring it back into print and have new fans buy into it at a price that works.

And here is where I think that WotC can bring back all the out of print campaign settings, but have to use a different business model that takes the popularity of each one into account.

Big selling lines, like Mystara, Dragonlance and Greyhawk would probably work with the sort of thing that WotC are doing for products like Storm King's Thunder. WotC can find a story that works in that setting, build a book that is part gazetteer and part adventure and D&D Adventurer's League could build some low cost adventures that expand on the main concept. So the question would be: "What is the big story that each campaign setting has to tell us?" Maybe, with Mystara, it could be something to do with the Princess Ark. Maybe, with Greyhawk, it could be something to do with a fight between the Begger's Union and the Theives Guild in the City of Greyhawk. Maybe, with Dragonlance, it could be something to do with the dragons wanting to deal with the people using their eggs to create draconians. Those are just ideas off the top of my head and might not be viable. But I think that's the sort of "hook" that WotC has to find for the big settings.

For the smaller settings, I think that WotC needs to go to Kickstarter (or build their own internal crowd funding platform). If they talk to the original designers and see if those designers are interested, they could work out the price of building a 5e Jakandor, Council of Wyrms, Tale of the Comet or whatever product. Then, after getting those numbers, they could just lay out the proposal to the fan community. The fans would either buy into the concept or turn it down. If the fans bought into it, they would pay for the R&D and the initial print run. There would be substantially less risk to WotC and the fans would get what they were prepared to buy. The initial run would be a success and then it could switch to Print on Demand format via DMs Guild.
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Re: Pop Culture Uncovered on TSR's boxed sets

Post by Big Mac » Fri Jun 15, 2018 8:28 am

Coronoides wrote:
Thu Jun 14, 2018 9:48 pm
When money got tight TSR actual did re-release Council of Wryms as a single book. This might mean Council of Wryms will be print on demand before other more popular boxed sets of 2e
The hardback version of Council of Wyrms, also includes some content that was not in the original boxed set.

I've been trying to decide between the new content...or having the posters.

If DriveThru started providing a Print on Demand service for posters, and put all the old TSR maps up, that would give everyone the best of both worlds. A CoW hardback, and a set of boxed set posters would be something I could see a significant number of fans going for.
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Re: Pop Culture Uncovered on TSR's boxed sets

Post by Sturm » Fri Jun 15, 2018 10:38 am

The reason why boxed sets were used back in the days is that it was the standard for boardgames, and TSR wanted its games to look like boardgames, not books. It was a sound marketing decision for the times.
Any idea that boxed sets or settings damaged TSR are completely wrong, in my opinion. It is quite obvious looking at the history of D&D that any person who walked out of D&D (Blumes, Williams and probably Gigax too, even if not willingly) walked out with a very big bag of money. TSR was damaged by hazardous speculations which ultimately shifted the loss to the company to preserve the gains for the shareholders, as it always happens with all companies. Tipically however shareholders do not want the public to know that and lie about it, saying things like "we had to sell at a loss", "we had to fire people to limit losses". That is almost never true, and it can be usually verified easily by taking a closer look, a thing that most journalists do not do properly and believe me I know because I worked among them.
The true error of Gygax TSR was to let what it should have been run as a family business grow too much and too fast, because Gigax was probably in part intoxicated by the success D&D had and did not consider well the cost and the fluctuation of such a success.
In the case of Williams TSR it is instead a different story, she just managed to squeeze all the money she could out of it, because she did not care at all about the IP, the people or the customers. And she succeeeded perfectly in her objectives.
It is perfectly reasonable that the game itself and settings have strong fluctuations in sales. A prudently run business could have survived easily through all the market fluctuations, but it was not run so.
As for now, Wizards could still make money with minor setting using a Kickstarter-like system, as Calidar and much others prove. But probably Hasbro does not care enough for the minimal part of their business which Wizards is. Also the managers did not know the minor setting ever existed.

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Re: Pop Culture Uncovered on TSR's boxed sets

Post by Coronoides » Fri Jun 15, 2018 1:01 pm

Big Mac wrote:
Fri Jun 15, 2018 8:28 am
Coronoides wrote:
Thu Jun 14, 2018 9:48 pm
When money got tight TSR actual did re-release Council of Wryms as a single book. This might mean Council of Wryms will be print on demand before other more popular boxed sets of 2e
The hardback version of Council of Wyrms, also includes some content that was not in the original boxed set.

I've been trying to decide between the new content...or having the posters.

If DriveThru started providing a Print on Demand service for posters, and put all the old TSR maps up, that would give everyone the best of both worlds. A CoW hardback, and a set of boxed set posters would be something I could see a significant number of fans going for.
I went with the boxed set.The hex map poster is glorious and the cards of encounter tables are useful
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Re: Pop Culture Uncovered on TSR's boxed sets

Post by shesheyan » Fri Jun 15, 2018 1:06 pm

Sturm wrote:
Fri Jun 15, 2018 10:38 am
The true error of Gygax TSR was to let what it should have been run as a family business grow too much and too fast, because Gigax was probably in part intoxicated by the success D&D had and did not consider well the cost and the fluctuation of such a success.
IIRC from an interview I read, Gygax said after the Blume family invested in TSR they started hiring family members and friends. A clear case of nepotism according to him. Gary considered there were too many employees at TSR during that era. It hurt the profit margin.
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Re: Pop Culture Uncovered on TSR's boxed sets

Post by Sturm » Fri Jun 15, 2018 1:20 pm

Blume yes they probably are the most likely culprits of the financial difficulties, and still I think they walked away with quite some money.
Gygax IMO made his errors as he rode with this exponential growth looking at movies and such while he probably should have been a lot more prudent but obviously "the wisdom of tomorrow" as we say in italian (i.e. in hindsight is easier to be wise :)

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Re: Pop Culture Uncovered on TSR's boxed sets

Post by Dread Delgath » Fri Jun 15, 2018 5:30 pm

I'd only heard that the boxed sets was a bloodletting loss for TSR, and one of the major reasons they went under. Well, that and the POG running things into the ground because she hated RPGs, D&D and anyone who played. :roll:

But, the boxed sets were very utilitarian; they had cards, fold out poster maps, 2-3 softcover books, and sometimes punch-out chits or counters. TSR very likely kept the game-in-a-box concept since board-games were first designed. They must have been profitable up to a point in each game company's market, because many of those board games are still being produced. (Albeit, games like Monopoly have never changed, and the creator(s) are probably long gone now, so they can only make money on new designs...)

If the hardbacks they produce now all had fold-out poster sized maps and the occasional perforated cards in the middle, I'd be more than okay with never getting another boxed set.
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Re: Pop Culture Uncovered on TSR's boxed sets

Post by RobJN » Fri Jun 15, 2018 6:34 pm

The thing of it is, every fold-out-map-in-a-book I've ever gotten has either a) ruined the map, tearing it in an attempt to either remove it from the book, b) ruined the book in trying to remove the map, tearing the rear flyleaf in an attempt not to tear the map, or c) torn both. ;(
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Re: Pop Culture Uncovered on TSR's boxed sets

Post by RobJN » Fri Jun 15, 2018 7:01 pm

Big Mac wrote:
Fri Jun 15, 2018 8:16 am
RobJN wrote:
Thu Jun 14, 2018 6:31 pm
I seem to recall seeing from various old guard TSR folks that they did, indeed, lose money on each boxed set as a general rule. Still, the red box Mentzer Basic Set is the all time most best selling set in the history of the game. So there's that, too.
Some boxed sets (and other products) lost money and others were profitable. The problem came down to the designers having information withheld from them.

There was a very interesting panel, called Secrets of TSR where they had a bunch of different D&D designers who spoke about design during the era leading up to WotC taking over.

Al-Qadim is an interesting example, because they wanted it to look good, but Jeff Grubb also didn't want it to slide below profitability.

So, he added some gold trim to the design (to make it look awesome) and he also built in a natural "self-destruct" mechanism, that would allow the line to stop after two or three years, without seeming to be unfinished.

And, because Jeff Grubb had been given good access to the numbers of things (like how much it costs to make a boxed set) he was able to make Al-Qadim make more money, per unit, than Dark Sun made. (And Dark Sun had a much bigger budget for design and promotion.) Al-Qadim proves that TSR could make things for a niche market and still earn money.

On the other hand, one of the Dragonlance SAGA designers spoke how they were going through the same sort of process. He had been asking for feedback from the people making the units and had been give no sign that there were any problems. They had gone through a couple of years, where the product had sold really well and were going into a meeting to talk about what to do for the next year. One of the things he was given as he was gearing up for talking about what to do next was the cost figures that had not been sent to him. He took one look at them and said: "We need to shut this product line down immediately".
Yes, I saw that panel on the YouTubes, and also listened to various and sundry podcasts. True, some of the boxed sets were able to make money, but I get the feeling that they were the exception, rather than the rule -- as the SAGA catastrophe illustrates. (Also, I'll add, Dragon Dice. "We need half a dozen proposals for ways to tie Dragon Dice in with this product....")
That was the end of the Dragonlance SAGA line, but the "too many settings killed TSR" mantra that came out in the begining of the 3rd Edition Era is far too simplistic.
Too simplistic, but more or less the "company line" that was passed down from the suits On High. Each setting had its fandom, and a Dragonlance fan was not very likely going to buy a Forgotten Realms or Dark Sun product, just as a Birthright or Spelljammer fan wasn't likely to by anything with the DragonLance logo on it (Krynnspace aside... :P ). I would much rather they went the setting-agnostic of 3.0/3.5/4.0 than the Realms-centric material that is being churned out. Far from the "too many settings" "problem," the fact that WotC aren't putting out anything for other settings is what's keeping me from buying into their "storylines." :roll:
Big selling lines, like Mystara, Dragonlance and Greyhawk would probably work with the sort of thing that WotC are doing for products like Storm King's Thunder. WotC can find a story that works in that setting, build a book that is part gazetteer and part adventure and D&D Adventurer's League could build some low cost adventures that expand on the main concept. So the question would be: "What is the big story that each campaign setting has to tell us?" Maybe, with Mystara, it could be something to do with the Princess Ark.

I keep pushing for WotC to do X10: Red Arrow, Black Shield: The war against the Desert Nomads and rallying of the countries of the Known World to form an alliance against the Master is the perfect vehicle to introduce the various countries, and tons of NPCs from therein. It'll have plenty of opportunity for role playing and fight-y encounters, and they could introduce a 5e mass combat system for the playing out of the War itself. Bonus "prequel" Adventurer's League or DM's Guild adventures rehashing X4 & X5: The Master of the Desert Nomads and Temple of Death.
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Re: Pop Culture Uncovered on TSR's boxed sets

Post by Big Mac » Fri Jun 15, 2018 9:06 pm

Sturm wrote:
Fri Jun 15, 2018 10:38 am
The reason why boxed sets were used back in the days is that it was the standard for boardgames, and TSR wanted its games to look like boardgames, not books. It was a sound marketing decision for the times.
I've heard that before. From what I recall, someone said that it was hard to get toy distributors to send books to toy shops, but easier to get them to send boxes to toy shops.

If that is true then boxed sets would obviously be a logical way for TSR to build a customer base for a market that didn't exist. We have roleplaying stores now, but there was no such thing before TSR started making D&D.

However, I do remember, from that Secrets of TSR video, that Jeff Grubb said that he was told that he had to include a number of sheets of card in the design of the Spelljammer boxed set. The ship cards with deckplans on the back were actually pretty good, but a book could have done the job just as well.
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Re: Pop Culture Uncovered on TSR's boxed sets

Post by shesheyan » Fri Jun 15, 2018 9:51 pm

Big Mac wrote:
Fri Jun 15, 2018 9:06 pm
Sturm wrote:
Fri Jun 15, 2018 10:38 am
The reason why boxed sets were used back in the days is that it was the standard for boardgames, and TSR wanted its games to look like boardgames, not books. It was a sound marketing decision for the times.
I've heard that before. From what I recall, someone said that it was hard to get toy distributors to send books to toy shops, but easier to get them to send boxes to toy shops.

If that is true then boxed sets would obviously be a logical way for TSR to build a customer base for a market that didn't exist. We have roleplaying stores now, but there was no such thing before TSR started making D&D.

However, I do remember, from that Secrets of TSR video, that Jeff Grubb said that he was told that he had to include a number of sheets of card in the design of the Spelljammer boxed set. The ship cards with deckplans on the back were actually pretty good, but a book could have done the job just as well.
In our area the first stores to sell D&D were hobby shops that sold trains, RC planes et model kits of cars, trucks, WWII stuff, and model rockets by Estes. It brought in a younger crowd into what was a gentlemen's club. They were already selling painting guide books for modelers. I guess rpg books didn't seem as strange to them as in a classic child toy store. The son of the owner was disappointed when I switched from rockets to rpgs. He said I would become obsessed the D&D and never buy rockets again. He was right but it was a good thing. Launching rockets is difficult because of air regulations, while playing rpgs can be done 365 days a year...!
Last edited by shesheyan on Fri Jun 15, 2018 10:47 pm, edited 2 times in total.
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shesheyan
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Re: Pop Culture Uncovered on TSR's boxed sets

Post by shesheyan » Fri Jun 15, 2018 10:00 pm

Double post sorry
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Re: Pop Culture Uncovered on TSR's boxed sets

Post by willpell » Fri Jun 15, 2018 11:27 pm

RobJN wrote:
Fri Jun 15, 2018 7:01 pm
Also, I'll add, Dragon Dice. "We need half a dozen proposals for ways to tie Dragon Dice in with this product...."
Boy, I haven't heard that name in a while....

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Big Mac
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Re: Pop Culture Uncovered on TSR's boxed sets

Post by Big Mac » Sat Jun 16, 2018 10:02 am

RobJN wrote:
Fri Jun 15, 2018 6:34 pm
The thing of it is, every fold-out-map-in-a-book I've ever gotten has either a) ruined the map, tearing it in an attempt to either remove it from the book, b) ruined the book in trying to remove the map, tearing the rear flyleaf in an attempt not to tear the map, or c) torn both. ;(
I once spent about a month attempting to cut a folded up map out of the back of a 3rd Edition book. (I think it was a Blackmoor map.) The problem is that if they just stick them in with a couple of blobs, people can pull them out in the shops.

Print on Demand maps is the way forward. If you buy an original D&D book, and the map is missing, it would be simplicity itself to order a replacement map from DMs Guild. DriveThru needs to sort out the right partnership for this and then get to work on scanning all the maps.

And seriously, with all the delays of getting the D&D books scanned at PoD quality and put onto DMs Guild, WotC and DMs Guild should just accept that they need help with this and run a Kickstarter to fund the conversion process.

If Bones can pull in people who pay for minis to be converted to new molds, I'm sure that old school fans would sign up to a Kickstarter where you could preorder entire ranges of PoD books (and PoD maps).
David "Big Mac" Shepheard
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