(This is the first part of our very long interview with Andy Collins and Scott “The Rouse”. In this installment, we cover how they came to Wizards and what their job entails, along with a few other personal matters.)
Critical-Hits: How did you get started at Wizards?
Andy Collins: I started about 13 years ago in Events, where we managed cons like this. I’ve been playing D&D since 1984. When I found out that Wizards was buying TSR, I said, “well, time to update the resume!” Because I always wanted to work on D&D, I figured I’d start at Wizards for a few years then move to Lake Geneva to join TSR. Then it turns out I didn’t have to.
CH: That was nice of them. (At this point, we were joined by Scott Rouse, who we introduced ourselves to and handed our business cards out.)
AC: Ah, Critical Hits. No longer necessary to confirm you.
CH: Yes, we were quite happy to see those rules being previewed, of all the possible rules to showcase.
AC: It all falls under the idea of having more fun. We can make it faster, and take away a bit of the “darn”.
Scott Rouse: It removes that feeling of rolling a 20 and being disappointed.
AC: Exactly. Rolling a critical hit should be, everybody throws their arms up in the air, “Yes!” And not be, “now I have to do something else for it to be ‘Yes!’ ”
CH: And that goes along with getting rid of monster immunities and being immune to critical hits.
AC: Right. Why go out of our way to take away character’s fun options? Give people tactical reasons to use certain things against certain monsters. A monster can be a little resistant to a type of attack, but we don’t need the laundry list of monsters immune to fire in 3e. How is that fun for the wizard throwing fireballs? Particularly in 3e where that might be his only fireball, and he threw it, and “well, that sucks.” We can afford to let people hit monsters more and do more cool things, and it doesn’t break the game. It’s more fun to let people hit a monster with a sword ten times, than “miss, miss, immune, no effect, miss, hit it once and it’s gone.” That’s like flipping coins. No strategy to that.
CH: Can you illustrate what you do on a day to day basis?
AC: I am the manager of Design and Development for D&D. So D&D D&D is what I do. I’m Rob [Heinsoo]‘s boss, 8 people work for me. I have 4 designers and 4 developers. I make sure they stay on task, and provide them with the resources they need to do their jobs. I’ve only been doing it for little under a year. Before that, I was the Lead Developer for Dungeons & Dragons and part of the 4e design team. The opportunity to move up into a managerial position came along, and I asked myself “you just designed Dungeons and Dragons fourth edition, what are you going to do next? How am I going to be able to do just another book after this?
SR: (whispering) It turns out he’s very good at this, by the way.
AC: Why, thank you. So I decided I want to pass on my 8-9 years of R&D experience. I heard a story about how in WWII Americans took their best fighter pilots off the front lines to teach. Other countries would put their best flying the planes, but then if they got shot down, would just lose that knowledge. It felt like that, and I wanted to give a chance to someone. I’m really good at developing this game, and I enjoy it, but I need to be in a position to teach this to a new generation of developers. It really gave a chance for talented developers like Mike Mearls to spread his wings and fly. When I moved out of my job and promoted Mike into it, it was amazing to see him grow into that role and become a really self-confidant and talented lead developer for the game. I look back now and say, “He’s really good at this.”
SR: He really is good. I’m in charge of the business and marketing of D&D. I have 4 other brand managers who report to me. Marketing, product development, and licensing are our three functional areas. We take Andy’s vision of products and make it a reality. There’s a whole huge support team of designers and production people that help. We try to make sure the products make sense from a business standpoint- something consumers want, something the market can support.
AC: Scott’s job is basically making sure that the books we make get into the hands of people.
SR: Right. I joined the D&D brand team in 2005 early on in “Orcus”. In two years, we’ve taken fourth edition from ideas to reality, and we’re on the doorstep of that. I’ve been at Wizards for 8 years. I worked on Magic: The Gathering as well as some other games we’ve developed that weren’t successful. Duel Masters, which is succesful in Japan but didn’t take off in the US. I worked on a GI Joe game, and in our new business group thinking about what other products we could potentially make. And then I joined the D&D group.
It’s been fantastic. The most rewarding, somewhat stressful, job I’ve had.
AC: You definitely joined at an interesting time. (laughs) “Welcome to the D&D Brand Team. By the way, you’re going to need to sell fourth edition to people.”
CH: It’s interesting because many people see you as the face of Wizards, between the community and the company.
SR: It looks that way. I’ve taken on that role.
AC: You’ve done it well too. I’m glad you’ve taken it on so I don’t have to.
SR: It wasn’t necessarily by design. The message boards were always something of an intimidating place to be. There are people whose D&D-fu is way greater than mine. I played a little bit in the early 80′s in the first edition. I left it for other things like many people did. When I came to Wizards, I wasn’t a gamer. I was a lapsed gamer. I immediately tapped into my “inner geek” and it’s been the best thing, in terms of a career. I never would have imagined I would have come to this point.
AC: While I dreamed about this when I was 10 years old.
SR: What really consumed me back in the day, what I was a geek about, was snowboarding. It used to be quite fringe. I saw snowboarding in James Bond, “View to a Kill.” Tom Sims takes a snowmobile and jumps up, and takes the bad guys out, I was like “Oh my god, I want to do that.”
In fact, I had my 20 year high school reunion last summer, and we had written where we saw ourselves in the future. I wrote that I saw myself being a guy who designs snowboards. And I actually did that for a long time. And it sucked because tt killed my passion for snowboarding. Just a few weeks ago was the first time I had snowboarded since I joined Wizards 8 years ago. It consumed my passion for snowboarding, chewed it up, and spit it out. Now I have a passion for D&D, but it’s different. I came into it as a job, then found it, instead of taking a passion and making it a job. And it’s been awesome.
ENWorld has been interesting. On our boards, people are a bit more fiery. That’s the nature of them. But that’s what makes the game great. People’s passion for D&D has made the game what it is for 34 years. If it weren’t for that love of the game becoming part of their DNA, the game would not be around.
AC: As frustrating as it is to read somebody’s rant about what I’m doing wrong, or how I’m ruining things, it would be way worse to not read that at all. There are plenty of games and entertainment properties who don’t have anybody to come and declare “this is what I think should be done with the game.” Whether the message is positive or negative, it’s still enthusiasm. Without that enthusiasm, the game doesn’t exist. The industry has seen plenty of games come and go that never sparked that.
SR: For every person who flames me on the boards, I get 10 private message that are “thank yous”, notes of encouragement, suggestions, constructive criticism. That’s fun.
AC: That’s one of the reasons I enjoy these events so much. The vast majority of people here are positive. Even the ones that are negative, they’re open to listening. They want to come up and talk about the game they love. When we can talk to people on a more personal level, it’s amazing how many illusions about the company and us are dispelled. I’ve been playing this game since I’ve been 10, and my D&D cred is as solid as anyone else. There was a guy who has been playing since 1973, he’s got me by a few years.
SR: But that only had to do with age, nothing having to do with desire. Just born a little too late.
AC: Being able to recharge my batteries at an event like this is just amazing.
CH: You’re also able to show people that you’re not walking around in top hats with tons of money.
SR: I put my pants on one leg at a time.
AC: I love this game so much that I invite 70-80 friends and coworkers to my house every year to play for an in-house convention. My wife and I started doing in 7 years ago. We bought a house just for that purpose. It’s called GwenCon.
CH: How do you think the blogs have been working out?
SR: I wish it was a little easier to use. I understand it’s in pre-alpha, but if the software were more built up, I think we would have gotten better responses.
AC: Gleemax can be frustrating right now.
SR: The premise of the blogs is great. It shows everyone that D&D is in our DNA. It lets you see into the designers’ heads and summarize it, to get a better understanding of why we’re doing this.
AC: It demonstrates our decision-making too. It’s not just arbitrary changes; it shows we have plans. There’s a reason for using X races and Y classes. It’s about our decisions of what to include, and not just reprinting everything.
(in the next part, we talk about the preview books, how products get made, and playtesting)