On the Shadow Catalyst (Part I)

Corporate 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 wish I were talking about Shadowrun instead of the company that produces it.

The Buzz

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.

The Track Record

Shadowrun is 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.

It's been 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.

Don't take my word for it. Take New York Times Bestselling novelist and game designer MikeStackpole's in his blog post Last Call II.

"I 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.

This is 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).

In 1996, 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.

By the 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.

In early 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 commercially.

A Tangled Skien

Enter Randal 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.

FASA didn't 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 by FanPro.

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.

Fanpro 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 them.

Loren L. Coleman
Don't look at me, he's the
one who put this picture on
the internet.
This wasn't 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.

In 2007, 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.

A Shadow Crime

Success! Right?
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. Right?

Well, they 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. . .

There were 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.

What do you do next? Well, if you're Loren Coleman, you just take some money out of the company:

"The 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?

Continued Tomorrow. . .

Hack & Slash 

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