Demon dialers, Dungeons Dragons, and the great $5 disposable suit.
He mastered chess at the age of six. As an adolescent, he blew the bulk of his allowance on miniature metal soldiers and staged battlefield maneuvers. Yet E. Gary Gygax, founder of TSR Inc., maintains that he was "not a nerd" -- just a kid who loved games and the myths and fairy tales with which his father had seeded his young imagination.
Nerd or not, Gygax's own permanent contribution to game-playing lore -- Dungeons & Dragons, the medieval quest game that took the country by storm five years ago (see INC., February 1982, page 68) -- has been a business fantasy come true. Although annual company revenues have crept forward cautiously over the past two years -- from $20.8 million in 1982 to $26.7 million last year -- Gygax, now 47, has come a long way since his days as an unpublished novelist ("God knows where the manuscripts are") and insurance underwriter.
D&D grew out of Gygax's childhood obsessions, $1,000 in working capital, and a partnership in something called The Tactical Studies Rules Association. TSR published its original role-playing game with a minimum of equipment: no game board, just some fancy dice, three operators' manuals, and the players' own ideas about pursuing exotic treasures in danger-ridden locales. Anticipating minimal sales, Gygax opened a full-time shoe-repair business on the side to support his family.
Almost immediately, however, D&D earned a fanatical following, mostly among college students. By 1978, sales had hit an eye-opening $2.2 million. Ploughing most of his earnings back into the company, Gygax saw revenues multiply more than tenfold by 1982. So popular was the game, in fact, that Trivial Pursuit, the next great fad to blitz the gaming marketplace (see INC., November, page 101), honored Gygax by transforming him into a "Sports & Leisure" question (Who invented Dungeons & Dragons?).
Gygax's current challenge is to develop new markets for D&D and new products for the role-playing market D&D helped create. He insists that the original game has as much to offer adults as it does young boys and girls (who now make up 15% of the retail customers). "Adults want to know, 'Where's the board? Where are the playing pieces?" says Gygax. "They don't know what to do with a game bound only by the constraints of the imagination. Adults rarely recognize the value of role playing -- except in bars, after a few drinks."
Gygax hopes to change that. With its consumer advertising budget almost doubled from 1983, TSR is promoting a Role-Playing Gamers Association to foster links between hobbyists (the first D&D fanatics) and massmarket buyers; a 25% research and development investment has also allowed the company to add new modules and game themes geared to broader audiences. Meanwhile, in pursuit of other quarry, Gygax turned his chief executive officer role over to Kevin Blume in June of 1983 and assumed the presidency of Dungeons & Dragons Entertainment Corp., based in Beverly Hills, Calif. Here he oversees the production of a Saturday morning D&D cartoon show, a natural grooming tool for future dragon-slayers. What's next? A feature film, perhaps; more games, surely. On Blume's list are "an antinuke game, a role-playing game based on an evening television series, a soap opera theme . . . very possibly even a game that role plays growing a business."