Life After Wizards (Again)—Part 3: Repercussions

Life After Wizards (Again)—Part 3: Repercussions

Life After Wizards (Again)—Part 2: The Tough Stuff
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Over the last couple of days, I’ve talked about how it was I came to be a contract worker at Wizards of the Coast ten years after I was laid off from my previous job there, and how their attempt to hire me full-time again ran into difficulties over the Creative Rights terms their package included.
It should be no surprise at all what happens at the end of the tale, but I’m going to tell it anyway, if for no other reason than it will allow me to thank people who have done me good turns, and show that I really bear no ill will over the matter (though I am somewhat vexed by it).
The CEO had decided that the company was not willing to allow me any exemptions to the Creative Rights terms of their Non-Compete clause. Now I had to decide whether this was a point over which I was willing to reject their job offer. And, as easy as the principle of the matter was to decide, making a real-life decision based on that . . . turning down a regular paycheck and good benefits over a principle . . . that was a more complicated matter.
In the end, I decided it definitely WAS the right decision for me. I have too many projects, concepts, and stories I want to create, and they are there regardless of whether Wizards is paying me or not. And while they may amount to nothing more than the musings of a creative hack . . . they might be “the next big thing.” Either way, they’re MINE, not Hasbro’s.
So I exercised my rights, and turned down the job offer.
I had individual meetings with both my managers and the V.P. of R&D, and explained to them what my thinking was as well as what my final decision was. They all were completely understanding and, if anything, supportive. To a one, they had endorsed me getting the exemptions I’d requested. We had good conversations, and expressed our mutual feelings that if the opportunity to work together again arose, we’d be happy to make that happen.
However, because of the previously mentioned “permatemp” laws, my contract was about to expire . . . and because of corporate policy, I was not allowed to do ANY work for the company of ANY kind for a term of 6 months.
I shared this information with the other members of the D&D Team and, on October 19, packed up what few personal items I had at my desk and ended my second term of employment in the Wizards of the Coast offices.
I started the contract with some reservations—they say “you can’t go home again,” and I’d spent a good deal of the formative years of my career working for TSR and Wizards of the Coast. I knew a few of the key people on the D&D team, but not most of them—and they all seemed so young. Would they care what this “TSR dinosaur” (to steal Jeff Grubb’s phrase) had to say?
Well, here three four-month contracts later, I can see that my worries were for naught. I had a great time, made new friends, reconnected with old friends, and got to spend a year working on D&D again. There isn’t anyone I worked with over the past twelve months that I don’t respect and that I wouldn’t work with again if the opportunity arrises. In fact, if after my 6-month hiatus is done, they were to offer me the chance to go back again . . . I absolutely would!
But only as a contractor. Unless the company itself learns to be more flexible when dealing with creative staff.
The current policy regarding outside creativity is not just bad for me—it’s bad for Hasbro. It represents old-school thinking, and it is at odds with what most of the very successful modern game companies (like Blizzard, Bioware, and other big digital game producers) are doing. Indeed, people FROM those teams often work as freelancers for Wizards (particularly doing art for Magic and D&D), and it in no way weakens the corporations themselves.
When you have creative people working for you, they will want to stretch their creative wings in ways that are not appropriate for the main company. If you do not allow them this freedom, they will either grow frustrated and leave, or they will grow stagnant and their work and attitudes will suffer. NONE of these things are in the interests of the company.
All the current policy really says is that “we place no value on nor have any need for experienced creative people with broad experience—we are only interested in raw, fresh creatives whose every thought we can control and own.”
I HOPE that Hasbro/Wizards changes that policy . . . not merely because I’d like to work there again. Mostly it’s for my friends (old and new) who continue to work there. THEY deserve the freedom to explore their own boundaries of creativity in their free time AND to retain the rights to whatever they discover out there on the edge. And the company would benefit GREATLY from giving them that freedom. I think it would be surprised at how much it would actually be reflected back into even BETTER work on the creators’ “day job.”
So, I guess I was VERY wrong about not having much to say on this subject. I bet I could rattle on even more . . . but not in an interesting way.
Besides, I’ve got this Kickstarter thing going on. Again, if you can help me spread the word, I’d be very thankful. In the meanwhile, I’ll try to come up with something maybe a little less controversial to talk about tomorrow.

Comments: 13
  • Jeff November 15, 2012 5:51 am

    Very educational account, Stan. Thank you for sharing this. As someone who’s worked with you (albeit briefly so far), I can only shake my head at the policies and be glad that you took the right road for you. And then I hope we can work together again and that you do keep coming back.

  • Stan! November 15, 2012 10:44 am

    Thanks, Jeff. Happy to share my opinions (indeed, it’s generally difficult to stop me doing so). I hope for those things, too.

  • Dan H. November 15, 2012 10:49 am

    As one of the young(er) WotC crew who got to finally meet you, Stan, I have to say that you have left some mighty big shoes to fill. Working with you has been an absolute pleasure and I hope we get to work together soon in the near future. I feel that it was a mistake to let you go, but I hope you take another gig here once your time in Contractor’s Purgatory is over and done with. You rule, sir!

  • Steve Winter November 16, 2012 4:59 pm

    Rudyard Kipling wrote about this situation all the way back in 1888, when he observed how two men working for the East India Railway invented a revolutionary sleeper berth. The EIR laid claim to it, along with every other invention that ever would come out of their workshops — and lo and behold, even though the EIR employed the most experienced and talented machinists in all of East India, nothing of value was ever again invented or patented in their workshops.

  • Rone Barton November 18, 2012 12:26 pm

    Thanks for taking the time to so thoughtfully share this. I learned something.

  • Alphastream November 18, 2012 12:30 pm

    Thanks for sharing, Stan!, and thanks for being such a great asset. It was so clear how beneficial you were to the D&D team and as a freelancer I really enjoyed every interaction with you.
    I’m a corporate environmental consultant in my ‘real’ job, so I know all about harsh and restrictive contracts. It is antiquated thinking, mostly, but I think with enough infrequent but important gray areas that companies often want to clamp down on any lost revenue. That next ‘big thing’ could potentially be channeled to be a benefit to your employer rather than to you, for example. But, as you wrote, freedom of creativity means more creativity and better results for the company. I can see both sides.

  • Wes Schneider November 24, 2012 12:19 pm

    Fascinating read Stan, and a lot for those of us at small creative shops to mull over. Thanks so much for being so candid yet reasonable with this–it never once read like a tirade. All the best with the new Kickstarter!

  • Stan! November 24, 2012 12:56 pm

    Thanks, Wes … on all counts. I tried very hard to be sure I checked my lingering displeasures at the door when writing those articles. There was NOTHING unethical or improper in the way Wizards handled the situation, and I wanted to be clear on that point–I simply think that their policy is a bad one (for THEM as much as for me personally).
    And thanks for the help spreading the word about my Kickstarter. That is VERY much appreciated, too!

  • Sean P Kelley November 24, 2012 6:17 pm

    Thanks for sharing Stan!
    I work in HR as an IT recruiter. The permatemp thing is the same thing as what we refer to as ‘co-employment’. You can bet there’s some legalize behind it all. Essentially ensuring a company can’t be sued by a contractor/temp in an effort to say “hey, I’m really as close to an employee as you can get, but I don’t get benefits. So, now I want them.” The break is often 6 months to ensure this does not happen. Just some insight.
    It’s an unfortunate policy they have. Makes me think of the app/web developers I staff and saying, “hey, sorry, you can’t do any development for yourself or another party without it being a part of our IP.” which would stifle one’s skills. I want them to develop. I want them to explore different platforms, etc. Makes them even more valuable as an employee of our IT staff. I see both sides, but opt for the one that allows for more creativity that does not conflict with interests of the company, but actually helps it.

  • Thadeous November 24, 2012 10:02 pm

    Stan, without naming names many of the people I have had relationships with inside WoTC have expressed the same distaste for creative rights clause in their contracts. No one can, or at least, should fault you for making a decision based on what you want for your future.
    I really hope to see the next big thing with your name on it! And if you ever want any help with it drop me a line. I’m pretty free these days!

  • Trampas Whiteman November 25, 2012 9:31 pm

    Stan, just wanted to wish you the best. I think you made the absolute best decision for you. I’m glad this was on your terms too.
    I remember when WotC laid off Jeff Grubb. I was in shock that they would let go of such a creative talent whose hand had helped to shape so many D&D worlds. While the situation is different, especially in the manner of leaving, the sentiment that experienced game designers were not appreciated.
    Anyway, best of luck.

  • benensky November 30, 2012 9:37 am

    My brother-in-law is a lawyer and I once was worrying about signing one of those agreements and he said, “go ahead and sign it, unless you are outright stealing ideas from the company I can take it to court and beat one of those contracts if needed.” He says it puts you under an undue burden to be threatened to lose your job or kept from working because you will not become their intellectual slave. It restricts your freedom to work.

    • Stan! November 30, 2012 9:44 am

      Thanks for those details. They match pretty well with what I’d already heard. The real problem, when one digs deep, isn’t actually whether Hasbro/Wizards could win such a fight in court—it’s that, based on Hasbro’s past, they ARE likely to litigate, and I don’t have the monetary resources (or as legally-skilled a brother-in-law) to fight the litigation, no matter how likely I would be to win in the end.
      So no matter how untenable their claim is, I am unwilling to risk having to get into that fight.

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