10 Years! Anniversaries are the perfect time to look back and we’ll do just that with Peter Adkison, former Wizards of the Coast President. Peter took a few moments out of his busy day to discuss the tumultuous history of V:TES.
Robert Goudie: What kinds of memories do you associate with the early days at Wizards of the Coast when Jyhad was being developed?
Peter Adkison: The crazy thing then was having no idea how “legitimate” the TCG category would become. Now we take for granted that TCGs are a legitimate game category, that there are entire companies that have sprung up just based on the idea of publishing TCGs, or reselling TCG products. But at the time we never envisioned that TCGs would ever be a market that’s comparable in size to RPGs. We figured that we would be the “TCG Specialist,” the company that would do all these small little TCG products that the big RPG companies wouldn’t get around to doing. That’s why we pursued licenses to publish TCGs for various RPG properties (specifically, Vampire: The Masquerade, Cyberpunk 2020, and Battletech). Of course the reality turned out to be very different!
Goudie: What aspects of the original Jyhad design appealed to you the most?
Adkison: I think the game captured the political intrigue that’s so integral to the genre. This is very hard to capture in a game, especially a card game, but I feel Richard really captured it.
Goudie: Are there any elements of the original game that you championed or designed?
Adkison: Not really. At the time it was being designed I was so overwhelmed with the challenges of managing a fast-growth company I couldn’t see straight. I pretty much just trusted Richard and the rest of the R&D staff to do a good job. I got to play/review versions of the game at various stages of completion, but I don’t recal having a meaningful impact on any particular game design. I do recall that there was an earlier version of the game that Richard didn’t like, which he showed me and we agreed to scrap that version altogether. But then he came up with the core mechanics for the game as you know it now and we were both really happy with it.
Goudie: Do you think that V:TES was disadvantaged by being released back before anyone knew the value of pre-constructed starters, beginner sets with basic rules and pre-arranged cards, playmats, etc.?
Adkison: Perhaps. But it was *advantaged* too. Because Jyhad was the second TCG released by WotC, and the 3rd or 4th TCG released by anyone (I can’t recall if Illuminati and Spellfire came out before Jyhad or not–the memory’s getting pretty rusty!) it came out before the “TCG bubble” burst. The first print run was something like 170 million cards. I don’t think any TCG since has sold at that level except Magic, Pokemon, and Yu-gi-oh. This meant it got a TON of exposure.
Goudie: Are you surprised by the resilience of the game?
Adkison: Not really. I think Richard designs great games, and I think the genre is very resilient itself. WotC quickly got into a position where we weren’t able to support it well. I was relieved to see it go back to White Wolf, to a company that would be in a better position to support it.
Goudie: The complexity and game length was a big departure for WotC. Was there any concern about those things?
Adkison: Jyhad/V:TES was criticized by some people within Wizards (and within White Wolf) for being too complex. It was felt that goths wouldn’t want a game this hard. But I think that in the hobby games industry, it’s the games with depth that get supported in the long haul, so I feel that this turned out to be a good call. Maybe a simpler, faster game would have sold better in a broader market, but then it probably would have died. I’m glad we kept to the more complex design.
Goudie: Actually, they may have had a point. I don’t think there’s ever been much cross-over between the V:tM role-players and the TCG. If anything, some of the V:TES players have learned a little more about the World of Darkness because they like knowing a little more about the background of the card game.
Adkison: Interesting. I didn’t realize there wasn’t much cross-over.
Goudie: Does the perseverance of the game give you a feeling of vindication that, despite the lack of magic-like commercial success, that you produced a unique, high-quality, product?
Adkison: I guess. Vindication is kind of a dark word to use–but this is a dark genre, so I guess that’s okay. I guess where I feel particularly vindicated is in defending Richard Garfield’s choice as a designer. There was some question as to whether Richard could design for the Vampire genre, whether he “got it”. Hell, there was a question as to whether WotC “got it”. I think we proved we did, not only with the game design, but also with the art–which I think was fabulous.
Goudie: Yeah, the art was a big departure from anything that anyone had produced up to that point. Some have said that created problems for WotC. Ryan Dancey once remarked that WotC didn’t get the rights to the world’s most valuable licensed property because WotC was also producing Jyhad. Did the game’s dark content create trouble for you and WotC?
Adkison: Not significantly. I’m not aware of any licensing deals we lost due to our association with V:TES. At one time we seriously contemplated having a “closer relationship” with White Wolf / V:TES and there was significant resistance to *expanding* on this relationship due to the graffic nature of the genre. Vampires and blood sucking never bothered me, but hey.
Goudie: One of the most controversial decisions in the history of this game was the change of the name from Jyhad to V:TES. Was that really necessary?
Adkison: No. I think it was a bad decision. I’m very sensitive to the political correctness issues of the day. The game should never have been called Jyhad in the first place. But given that we made the mistake of calling it Jyhad and printed the name on the card’s back, it was silly to try and fix it millions of cards later.
Goudie: In some early interviews, you mentioned that you understood that Jyhad would have more of a specialized appeal. Did WotC’s success as a business ultimately interfere with the ability to produce games you knew ahead of time couldn’t possibly be major commercial successes?
Adkison: Yes. It took me a long time to figure that out, though. Throughout the 90s I regularly made business decisions “for the love of gaming” that, in hindsight, were not the best for Wizards’ shareholders. Of course we sold Wizards for tons of money so the shareholders ended up quite happy anyway. But it took me a long time to get to the point where I understood how a company that has one product line that sells $100 Milion a year can’t effectively support a product that only sells $1 Million a year.
Goudie: V:TES has had several years of poor treatment at GenCon Indy. We’re hoping that your new ownership will make things better for us in the future. Unfortunately, we’re at the end of our collective rope! Rumor has it that you guys will have us in the main CCG hall this year. Is that correct?
Adkison: If White Wolf gets its event submissions in on time, yes, it will be in the main TCG hall. I’m really frustrated that we’re being blamed for these problems. There are two sides of this story. I’m not going to say anything inflamatory about one of my favorite companies. I’ll just say this, we love White Wolf and we’d love to host as many of their events as they’d love to run and we’d be happy to provide premium location for their events. And we also ask that their events be submitted to us in a timely fashion and that they work with our program manager, Jonni Emrich, to insure that all their events run smoothly.
Goudie: Thanks Peter, for your time and for producing a game that’s provided 10 years of great gaming.
Adkison: Thanks! And you’re welcome!