malfeasance and rumors of sabotage float through the air. Freelancers are shut
out of online data stores. Employees are extracted to other companies. Shadowy
corporate bigwigs commit alleged fraud and embezzlement. A duped public conned
into buying substandard product. Nearly 1 million dollars goes missing.
Ex-employees with axes to grind stir the fires on the matrix. Mysterious
industry 'Titans' coming forward to protect their own. All while corporation A
is engaged in intense license negations with Corporation B.
I were talking about Shadowrun instead of the company that produces it.
I wish I were
lying to you chummer. There's as many sides to this as there are to an insect
shamans eyes. We'll drill down into who did what with plenty of paydata and
direct links here in a minute. But in spite of the tale of enormity and woe,
this story isn't about that. This story is about my love of Shadowrun, the
power of the corporations, and what it means to be an industry outsider.
The cast to
this story is big, and it covers nearly 30 years of chaos, success, failure,
and drama, that I'm sure more than one or two people might like to stay buried.
But you're here for the inside scoop. And that's what you're going to get.
a great game. Created by FASA in 1989, set 61 years in the future after the end
of the Mayan calendar reintroduced magic in the world. The world is ruled by
corporations and players take the role of their pawns, shadowrunners; seeking
their place in the 6th world.
awesome since day one. Well, the setting anyway. FASA as a company only had the
license for the game from 1989 to 2001, covering the first to third editions,
and they did business like any small company might do business.
That isn't to
say that they made bad products. FASA didn't. They aren't villains. But
everyone has worked for or knows someone who works for "that kind" of
business. The kind that doesn't pay people it owes until they make a big deal
about it. The kind where the checkbook is managed by one person and records are
spread around a desk. The kind where the owner let's people use their own
personal electronic hardware to save a few dollars.
first started working with FASA on Btech novels in the summer of 1987, writing
on the Warrior trilogy. FASA is a game company, and “game company” is pretty
much synonymous with a company that is chronically underfunded and always in a
tight cashflow situation. FASA has always been slow to pay and throughout my
history with them has owed me money. When I needed money, I’d call and see what
they could send. Back in the early days, when I had no health insurance, no house,
no car payments, no IRA; getting $300 or $500 here and there was what I needed
to get by.
not to say that FASA did not, at other times, get me some money and, for a long
time, were diligent in getting me the advance money for books (without which
they would not have gotten the books).
when I needed money for the down-payment on a house, FASA did come up with
$6300 very quickly for me, but aside from that payment, I got nothing from them
between 1994 and 1999. By January of 1999, FASA’s own incomplete accounting of
what they owed me totaled just shy $90,000.00. [Ed. Emphasis added]
In fact, this total did not take into account foreign royalty payments that
would have put the total over $100,000.00. With the sale of FASA Interactive to
Microsoft, FASA did get a huge influx of cash and did wipe out the $90,000.00
debt they owed me.
summer of 1999, no royalties had been paid for book sales in the latter half of
1998. At that time I asked and was sent an accounting that showed FASA owed me
about $6,000.00. I was told a check request had been sent in to accounting for
payment. None was forthcoming; nor was there any word of explanation.
2000 I got royalty statements from FASA that, because of a computer glitch,
indicated that none of my books had sold a single copy in the whole of 2000. I
pointed out to FASA that I refused to believe this. At the same time I pointed
out that the royalty statements also did not cover foreign editions of
books–copies of which I had sitting on my shelves. . . ."
So this is
how the company ran. Part of the reason for this is Jordan Weisman, serial entrepreneur. You may be familiar with a recent kickstarted
game that raised 1.8 million dollars by the name of Shadowrun Returns. Not all of his endeavors have been successful. One of the
reasons money was so tight at FASA was how much money was being put into development of
the Battletech centers,which although were critical successes, did not achieve the same success
Bills and Loren L. Coleman (not the cryptozoologist Loren Coleman).
Are they con men or just two guys trying to get by any way they can? It isn't
for me to say. Let's look at how they enter our sordid tale.
say solvent for long. They eventually closed in 2001 and Jordan Weisman founded
Wizkids. Wizkids did great for a while! It focused on skirmish games with
miniatures that have clicky spinny bottoms. It didn't focus on role-playing
games. So those were licensed out to FanPro, a German publisher and subsidiary
of Fantasy Productions. Randal Bills, the Battletech line developer was hired
Living in the
here and now, you know that the future for clicky spinny bottom games wasn't
very bright. In 2003 Topps acquired Wizkids along with all of their licenses.
Eventually Wizkids was shut down in 2008.
released the somewhat well-received Shadowrun 4th edition in 2005, but soon had
some troubles of their own. They had few staff and used Fast Forward
Entertainment as a fulfillment company. Fast Forward entertainment went under,
in no small part to producing D20 books with trademarked information in them. Fanpro's parent company Fantasy Productions
had to sell of a lot of their properties (including The Dark Eye, a wildly
popular German RPG) and were in fact depending on FanPro Gaming stock to support
Loren L. Coleman
Don't look at me, he's the
one who put this picture on
all that was happening at the time, however. In 2003 Loren L. Coleman founded a new company called InMediaRes Productions with his wife
Heather Coleman, Randal Bills and his
wife Tara Bills, and Phillip DeLuca.
InMediaRes tried to buy FanPro right out from under Fantasy Productions. They
were turned down, and then threatened to leave; with the implicit message that
they would be bidding against Fantasy Productions for the licenses for
Shadowrun and Battletech. One year before Topps shut them down, Wizkids stepped
into mediate and allowed InMediaRes to acquire the titles. InMediaRes created
Catalyst Game Labs to handle their new RPG properties and immediately hired
Randal Bills as Managing Director.
And so the
property entered the hands of Catalyst Game Labs, under the control of Loren and Randal.
You and your
buddy just started a company with your wives and a friend and acquired the
rights to your favorite games. You've got income and you're living the dream.
certainly can't keep working out of Loren's home. His old home was turned into
the Catalyst offices and Loren got a new one. Several more employees were hired
and freelancers began producing materials. Everything seemed perfect, only. . .
issues with freelancers getting paid. Books that Catalyst was supposed to
provide were going out of print and the printers weren't printing any more,
because their wasn't any money. Yet the company was profitable. Sure it's just
a cash flow problem.
graphs are just visual representations of a long spreadsheet detailing all of
the "draws" (still using that term, since that's what it was billed
as by IMR) IMR claims were made by Loren L. Coleman. There were 15 positive
contributions in there as well, but the net was overwhelmingly negative (in
terms of draws vs. "deposits"). I could already picture the draws
this way, but to see it made me feel a bit angry and quite disgusted.
Understandable, I think, although I remain amazed at how little anger many of
the the other members expressed and especially at their continued support of
the Colemans and Randall N. Bills." (Link: )
Some of these
draws were paid to contractors working on the Coleman's new house and listed as
payments made to freelancers. Is this the full story?