E Gary Gygax (aka Gary Gygax) is arguably the father of the role-playing game (RPG) industry. He was born in Chicago in 1938, dropped out of high school, and spent not much more than a year in college.
In the late 1960s Gygax belonged to a Wisconsin war gamer group called the Lake Geneva Tactical Studies Association. Gygax and Jeff Perrin co-authored Chainmail for the group, and a small company called Guidon Games published their rules. Gygax created a supplement to Chainmail that included fantasy creatures like elves and orcs.
In 1973, Gygax and Don Kaye formed Tactical Studies Rules to sell their fantasy role playing expansion to Chainmail. Gygax had originally approached Avalon Hill but they turned him down. However, he was confident of his game's success and figured they would sell 50,000 copies of his fantasy RPG. Tactical Studies Rules was set up as an equal partnership between Gygax and Kaye, joined in 1974 by Brian Blume, after which TSR's equity was divided evenly between the three. The first print run of Dungeons & Dragons was in January 1974 and it took roughly a year to sell the inventory. The second print run took three months.
I Could Have Had a D8!
While writing D&D, Gygax was investigating methods of generating different ranges of random numbers. One day he was looking at a catalogue for school supplies and saw a set of Platonic Solids for sale. He immediately knew they would make good dice.
Dave Arneson, a gaming buddy of Gygax, is legally credited with the development of D&D, although Gygax disputes his contributions. Gygax claims he wrote the vast majority of D&D's rules while Dave Arneson contributed to the game's initial campaign settings (namely Blackmoor, which was the first true role playing campaign).
TSR Inc is Born
In 1976, Kaye died of a heart attack and Gygax bought his shares from Kaye's widow. Tactical Studies Rules incorporated as TSR Hobbies Inc, but Gygax overextended himself in purchasing Kaye's shares and was forced to sell nearly half his holdings to Brian Blume and Blume's father Kevin. Near the end of 1976, Gygax held 30% of TSR's shares, with Brian and Kevin Blume controlling 60%. TSR, under Gygax, had its best year ever: in 1981, the company posted sales of $16.5 million dollars, with a profit of $4.25 million. Gygax was a big believer in acquiring only short-term debt. His rule of thumb was that debt should be no higher than a single month of sales.
In 1983, Gygax set up the California based Dungeons & Dragons Entertainment Corp, which created the D&D Cartoon Show and licensed the name Amazing Stories to Spielberg for his own TV production.
Gygax is Out
In 1985, the Blumes used their majority to reorganize the company. Gygax was nominally president but the Blumes controlled the actual operations. Under the Blumes, primarily Kevin Blume, TSR ran up larger and larger debts (amounting to $15 million). Gygax managed to get the entire TSR board to oust Kevin Blume for mismanagement.
The Reign of Terror
The Blumes eventually sold their shares to board member Lorraine Williams. In doing so, she acquired majority control of TSR. Previous to TSR, Williams owned the licensing rights to the Buck Rogers name. She inherited the rights from her grandfather Flint Dille, a newspaper man who controlled the original rights. Gygax, judging Lorraine Williams incapable of running a gaming company, sold his shares in TSR and left the company in 1986.
Williams had made no secret of her general hatred for her customers (ie, gamers) - she didn't feel they were her social equal. Despite her claims that she would show the gaming industry how it was done, she only managed to doubled the company's debt to $30 million. Facing bankruptcy, she sold out to Wizards of the Coast in 1997.
There's a rumour that Planescape's Lady of Pain is patterned after Williams. There's another rumour that Gygax lost control of TSR via divorce: his wife got half his shares and sold them to Williams. This, however, was not the case.
Gygax Takes a Dangerous Journey
After TSR, Gygax published a new RPG called Dangerous Journeys for Game Designers Workshop. The game was originally called Dangerous Dimensions (compare DD vs D&D). TSR quickly sued. After a court battle, TSR eventually agreed to acquire the rights to Gygax's game and pay legal costs.
Gygax Is in Again
One interesting outcome of the trial was that Gygax was allowed to write further novels in his Greyhawk universe. However, he was not allowed to use the names of D&D characters or monsters unless they appeared in the original two Greyhawk books he had written. In a neat case of what goes around comes around, Wizards of the Coast was eventually taken over by Hasbro which also controls Avalon Hill, the company that originally passed on D&D. These days Gygax is back writing a new paper RPG game called Lejendary.