On the Shadow Catalyst (Part II)

Living in the Shadows

One of the differences between Shadowrun and Dungeons & Dragons is that Shadowrun is a more difficult game to run. It's not because of the usual complaints about managing spotlight time between classes or Deckers overtaking the game. It's because fundamentally, you are playing someone who is not you; the primary way in which they are distinguished from you is that they are a criminal by definition.

It's actually one of the most poetic parts of Shadowrun. Every wage slave, every corporate employees is given a System Identification Number. It is this number that both allows them to live a life of slavery dominated by the corps and gives them their legal rights. However Shadowrunners by their very nature are SINless; it is how they can commit crimes and not be tracked.

Even though Shadowrunners are without sin, they are still, to put a fine point on it, hyper-violent criminals. But what is a criminal?

One of the most interesting things about research into criminal behavior is that from the criminals perspective, crimes are rational responses to the environment. Violent criminals often have personal space bubbles that are meters larger than non-violent people. Thieves believe that everyone steals and if they don't steal then they will be falling behind. They justify their illegal behavior due to a misperception of the reality of the situation. 

But the Shadowrunners (at least those that are alive and minimally competent) are supposed to represent the people on the outside, those who can act to make a difference. Meaning although they aren't simple criminals, they do vary somewhat on their moral reasoning ability. Most of us are instinctually aware of moral reasoning.

When you are very young, your moral choices are about what doesn't get you into trouble. As you grow and develop, you look at how your decisions can benefit you. Eventually you move forward into "fitting in" and moral behavior being about what's acceptable and what's not. Eventually most people move beyond that phase into moral authority. This is the law and it's the law because it maintains the social order.

Criminals usually have stunted moral reasoning. They aren't concerned about an abstract like social order. They are still reasoning based off of what they can get away with that meets their needs.

Conversely some people move beyond social order and begin to view morality as something that is part of what is owed for being human, or even basing their choices on ethical principles. You've seen this in a movies, where the rogue decides to leave, but eventually goes against his "better judgement" and puts himself at risk to help his friends because "it's the right thing to do".

This is what is challenging about running Shadowrun. The players have to all be on board with the possibility that the other player's characters are untrustworthy criminals. Of course, what goes around comes around. The need to have players being able to separate out the behavior of other players characters from the player is challenging in a way Dungeons & Dragons is not.

This little sidebar brings out the question though: If because of your job you had access to money, would you take it without the consent of your business partners? I can unequivocally answer for myself that I would not. Why? Because it's objectively wrong.

Like FASA and FanPro, Catalyst Labs frequently had cash flow problems, and didn't pay its bills. Catalyst didn't pay bills to single mother freelancers and people who had already done work for them. They didn't get paid. Would you take the money? Would you say "It doesn't matter, other people will get paid eventually." Or "Really, I'm entitled to it, it's my money, I'm an owner."? I can only speak to what I would do. I'd like to think about what you might do and why as we move forward.

The Buildup and Fallout of the Draws

This above is the core of the alleged crime, but the actual process of how it developed is a drama fit for a Greek play. We are going to go step by step through the process of how this all came about. In this story, you'll find heroes and villains, bad actors and whistleblowers, victims and martyrs.

InMediaRes was founded in 2003. The graphs indicate that the first large scale draws began in 2006. On January 3rd, 2010, Wildfire LLC terminated their relationship with Catalyst Game Labs primarily due to non-payment of royalties. Rumors about late payments to freelancers and printers, issues with restocking books, and other money issues had been going around before this point in time, but this is the first action anyone took.

Following this, an exodus of employees begins at Catalyst Game Labs. First Dave Stansel-Garner, Operations Manager left for unstated reasons in early March. Then Jennifer Harding resigned on the 15th. The reason for her resignation? I'll let her own words speak to that;

"As for myself, I left for the reasons I stated - I was told by Loren Coleman to hide foreign royalties from Topps. I was told by Randall that if I could not work with Loren, I should leave." -Jennifer Harding 

The following day, Frank Trollman posted the following, at which point the issue became public:
"OK, as you may well have been able to surmise from release schedules, Catalyst Game Labs is in a bit of a financial pickle, and it is somewhat unlikely that they will retain the license to make Shadowrun products. This is not because Shadowrun hasn't been selling enough to cover expenses, but merely because a significant quantity of money is missing outright. Reliable sources put this figure at roughly $850,000. Which sounds like a lot, and it is. It is roughly 40% of Catalyst's entire sales for last year, missing over a three year period. There will of course be lawsuits, and there are already people drawing up legal documents accusing Loren Coleman of having hired people to construct an extension on his house through the company as "freelance writers" and somehow reporting an estimated $100,000 of convention sales as $6,000. Whether that is actually true or not is - of course - a matter for the courts to decide. And decide they presumably will.

. . .

Many SR writers are quitting, have already quit, or have handed in notices contingent on demands which - word on the street - will not be met. And CGL does not even own Shadowrun, it leases the intellectual property from Topps. . . .

-Frank" Link to unedited version here.

Now the post is edited, because Frank Trollman (yes that's his real name) has a bit of an axe to grind with CGL. That said, he posted this and other information given to him by insiders knowing that it would mean being blacklisted. He said he had nothing to lose by doing so, and so made the sacrifice.

After this Adam Jury of Eclipse Phase fame quits Catalyst. Later, walking out became something of a habit apparently.

Now the secret is out, the public relations machine goes into overdrive. InMediaRes releases this statement on the 15th of March:

"For Immediate Release

Catalyst Game Labs recently completed a detailed financial review of the company. We learned that over the past several years the company has achieved dramatic growth in terms of demand, increased total revenues and strong sales with an increasing market share in the gaming industry, despite a lackluster economy. We are thrilled by that news and are eager to move forward with our upcoming original game Leviathans, along with our other new casual games. We also remain committed to plans for our beloved licensed games: Shadowrun, BattleTech, Eclipse Phase, and CthuluTech.

While we wish the review had only uncovered positive news, we also discovered our accounting procedures had not been updated as the company continued to grow. The result was that business funds had been co-mingled with the personal funds of one of the owners. We believe the missing funds were the result of bad habits that began alongside the creation of the company, which was initially a small hobby group. Upon further investigation, in which the owner has willingly participated, the owner in question now owes the company a significant balance and is working to help rectify the situation.

The current group of owners was presented with this information on Monday. Administrative organization for the company is under review, and accounting procedures have been restructured, to correct the situation and provide more stringent oversight. We feel the management team at Catalyst did the responsible thing by seeking this financial review and we will continue to restructure as needed. We are in discussions with our partners and freelancers to remedy any back payments that may also be due as a result of this review.

We are embarrassed that this situation did occur but we hope our eagerness to make these changes, along with our reputation for making great games, will encourage you to stand by us. We understand that for a few employees the news was too stressful and we wish them all the best in their new endeavors. However, the majority of the team remains and will continue to bring great entertainment to you all. We appreciate the support our friends, freelancers, and fans have provided us in the past and look forward to a successful future." -Source

What a spin, what a spin. It's pretty clear to me, observing these facts and posts that "being too stressful" was explicitly not the reason employees left. Aw, shucks, it's just bad habits, right? We'll get to minimizing that crime in a bit.

Once the news went public and the freelancers suddenly understood why they were not being paid, They pulled copyright from their works.

"Quite a few freelancers, from what other freelancers are telling me. Of the products I've heard from my freelance friends (because we all work together on these products), the list includes: Running Wild, Seattle 2072, Vice, Dusk, and Midnight. Ebooks might be affected, as well; I haven't heard yet about those. I've also heard a rumor about Unwired." -Jennifer Harding 

The logical response follows. CGL can no longer legally sell those books, so they pulled them from the market, ICv2 Reports

This sequence of events is all pretty straightforward and logical, but now things are about to take a left turn. More bad actors acting badly? What are the chances?

Continued Tomorrow. . .

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