The Sale of FRPG to WOTC. HISTORY OF AEG #13

If you are following along….back in the history of AEG #8 the company we created to publish Legend of the Five Rings, Five Rings Publishing Group (“FRPG”) got investment money to run a fast paced condensed version of our CCG plan.  Our original idea was to grow the business to 3 CCG’s each with 3-4 releases a year. Basically one release every month.  

The investors liked the plan only they wanted the timeline drastically sped up.  So that is what we did.

Alderac ramped up development of Storyline CCG’s.  The team at FRPG started looking at partnerships and acquisitions of games ready to publish.  

And then, as requested, we started running the investors’ money towards the cliff.  In less than a year we went from publishing one CCG to active development on six collectible products including an expensive and hard to wrangle dice game.  

• L5R

• Legend of the Burning Sands (“LBS”)

• Dune CCG (Last Unicorn Games)

• Rage (licensed from White Wolf)

• Deadlands: Doomtown (licensed from Pinnacle Entertainment Group)

• Star Trek Dice Game 

Star Trek Dice

Let’s be clear.  FRPG’s CEO Bob Abramowitz believed in the “run your business at the cliff” concept with his whole heart and he was not afraid to throw money at a problem as long as it meant we were moving forward.  He was generous, ruthless, and fearless. We learned a lot.  

I still think it was a good plan but since we were running so fast we were making bad decisions and paying for them.  Plus we got some good sales results that caused us to make some bad decisions.

FIRST:  L5R Scorpion Clan Coup.  We took a standard 150 card set and made it three 50 cards sets to be released in 3 consecutive months.  The result was we sold 3X as many cards in the same time frame. This caused us to change the release schedule for Doomtown to a monthly model. 

SECOND: The Doomtown plan was to sell a different sized set each month.  Each package would pop up and become a different building in a little western town.  It was very cool and looked more like the LCG releases popular now but greed, overwork, and bad data caused us to just change each release into a 50 card monthly release.  Despite the horrible decision that we called Rolling Thunder (But became rolling blunder) Doomtown did well. 

THIRD- Legend of the Burning Sands-  An L5R spin off with similar but different mechanics.  Our assumption was we would grow the overall player base between the two games.  What we did was split the L5R player base in half. We took one healthy game and turned it into two struggling games. We struggled to find the right tone for this product during development but finally ended up in the right place IMO. 

FOURTH: We took on Dune and Rage.  One game past its prime and one game designed for the hard core gamer fan.  

Dune Card

FIFTH: We did the Star Trek dice game and I have no idea how much cash was sunk into this one but knowing what I know now about dice games and licenses it was a flaming metric buttload.  

During this phase of FRPG’s life, we operated on “hub & spoke” model. FRPG was the hub, which provided editorial control, managed production & logistics, and did all the back office stuff that was necessary to keep the company running (sales, marketing, legal, etc.) The spokes were the studios we hired to design the games we wanted under contract. FRPG had a contract with AEG to work on the L5R CCG, and the LBS CCG, and to make the situation more complex, AEG licensed back the rights to create the L5R RPG, and then we did a three-way deal to license the Deadlands intellectual property from Pinnacle Entertainment, and put AEG under contract to develop the Deadlands: Doomtown game.

We had a studio agreement in place with Last Unicorn games to do the work on Dune. We had a contract set up with Luke Peterschmidt to do the work on the Rage Relaunch game, which we licensed from White Wolf. We contracted the work on Star Trek Dice to Dan Verssen (before he had his own publishing company) and also did a lot of work with Ed Bolme on that game.

All of these games were in publication, development or playtest in the fall of 1996 less than six months after FRPG itself was created. We were spending money at a furious rate.

Needless to say one day I got the call just after the new year 1997.  “Come to Seattle we are about to run out of money. Again”  

Before we go into the crazy events of the next few months you should know that we had placed an escape hatch in the Five Rings Publishing Group (FRPG) deal.  If FRPG ever went out of business or stopped publishing L5R it would revert back to the original owners. I prepared my management team at AEG for the possibility of us taking on the L5R CCG moving forward.  

If any part of this story seems a little over the top to you.  Buckle up, because it gets stranger. I flew to Seattle and met with Ryan and Bob.  

The table was set for an epic spring. 

I was told we are about to run out of money and we cannot go back to our investors and ask them for more because we had reached the cliff and had failed to fly. 

I thought, incorrectly, that this is where we talk about closing down FRPG.  Not only did we go through all of the investment money. We had substantial printer debt and a significant overhead.  I was told.  

“We cannot ask for money to save the current business but we can ask for money to grow the business.  So we are going to buy TSR.”

TSR, the publisher of Dungeons & Dragons, the company and game responsible for both Ryan and I being a gamers in the first place.    Holy S%&$. Of course, why would I think that we would slow down. We weren’t failing. The stakes were just not big enough.  

It was by all accounts a short trip to Seattle.  Bob gave me a pat on the ass and said. “We need you to sell like crazy to keep this business open until we can close this deal.” 

And so I did.  I flew home, did my laundry, packed my bags for a big trip and hit the road.  I would hit every distributor in person. Help them promote our games and push as much product into the market as possible while Ryan began our due diligence on TSR. 

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