West End Games (WEG) is a former company that made board, role playing, and war games. It was founded by Daniel Scott Palter in 1974 in New York, but later moved to Honesdale, Pennsylvania. Its current and past product lines include Paranoia, Torg, Shatterzone, Men In Black, DC Universe, Star Wars, The World of Indiana Jones, Junta, Necroscope, Tales from the Crypt, Bloodshadows, and Metabarons.
Previously a producer of board war-games, the company began producing roleplaying games in 1984 with Paranoia. The high production values demanded by the wargames industry made them one of the few companies who could compete with TSR, and they were able to acquire the license from Columbia Pictures to produce an RPG based on the film Ghostbusters. This game, Ghostbusters: A Frightfully Cheerful Roleplaying Game, formed the basis of the D6 System which was to be heavily used in many of their licensed products.
Around 1987, the company acquired the license to produce a Star Wars RPG . Since the films had been released some years previously, and there was (at the time) no new media forthcoming, the success of these books came as a surprise. Their early work on the Star Wars Roleplaying Game established much of the groundwork of what later became the Star Wars Expanded Universe, and their sourcebooks are still frequently cited by Star Wars fans as reference material. Lucasfilm considered their sourcebooks so authoritative that when Timothy Zahn was hired to write what became the Thrawn trilogy, he was sent a box of West End Games Star Wars books and directed to base his novel on the background material presented within. Zahn's trilogy, in turn, renewed interest in the franchise and provided many sales for West End Games. In the early 1990s, the FidoNet Star Wars Echo hosted a message forum for playing the Star Wars RPG on computer bulletin board systems, and some current and future West End Games freelancers took part.
Despite the company's early phenomenal success, in July, 1998 West End Games went into bankruptcy. Various reasons for this decline have been debated, ranging from the general deleterious effect the growth of the collectible card game hobby was having on the entire role-playing game market at the time to poor financial management to a series of extravagant but failed game lines which West End Games had launched in an attempt to match Star Wars' success (the Masterbook family of games in particular, including Torg, Shatterzone, and Masterbook itself) and continued to support well after it was clear that they had failed to find audiences. This problem was exacerbated by the fact that many of the failed lines were based on various high-profile licences, including Men In Black, Xena: Warrior Princess, Hercules: the Legendary Journeys, Necroscope and Tales from the Crypt. None of these licences performed as well as the Ghostbusters or Star Wars RPGs had, and the additional cost of acquiring such licences in the first place meant that the failed licences were even more financially damaging to the company than they would otherwise have been; furthermore, the reliance on licences meant that when West End ran into financial difficulties it had to give up the licences, decimating the West End product line. By the mid-1990s there was also a perceived decline in the quality of West End's homegrown RPG lines; the "Fifth Edition" of Paranoia, and the later supplements for the second edition, were so badly received (critically and commercially) that when a new edition of Paranoia was produced by Mongoose Publishing the designers jokingly declared that the products in question were "unproducts", and simply didn't exist for the purpose of the setting's continuity.
Another contributing factor to the failure of West End Games may have been the company's failure to establish an internet presence even after most other game companies had done so years earlier; the company's only acknowledgment of the web-based community was a contact e-mail address through America Online. Although these might have played a part in weakening their market position, the culminating event involves mismanagement between West End Games and its then parent company, shoe importer Bucci Retail Group. When the parent company filed for bankruptcy, West End Games could not survive the process and had to go under as well.
No longer considered stable, all of West End's licenses to produce work based upon various settings were terminated, most significantly the Star Wars license which had produced most of the company's business. West End was forced to liquidate most of its assets, including a large backstock of unsold books. Ironically, the company finally created a web-site while in bankruptcy proceedings in order to facilitate the liquidating of their stock.
To add to the company's issues, court proceedings began between Palter and the original designers of Paranoia concerning the rights to the game; although in interviews at the time Palter considered the case to have little merit, it is notable that despite planning to release a new edition of Paranoia in the summer of 1999, West End Games would never have the opportunity to, and eventually the rights to the game returned to its original authors.
However, despite appearances West End Games did not disappear. A European company invested in them, and produced a game using the D6 mechanics for the Metabarons setting, a popular French comic story. Unfortunately the game (The Metabarons Roleplaying Game) never found a following with American audiences and did not lead to a resurgence of the company.
Eric Gibson's Ownership of West End Games
In 2004 West End Games was bought by Eric J. Gibson. Under his tenure, WEG's flagship line was a generic version of the D6 System, which led to a line of irregularly produced supplements and met with general approval from fans. Unfortunately, this approval did not translate into high sales; in a post on the official West End forums in 2008 Eric Gibson announced that none of the D6 products produced since he acquired West End had turned a profit, and West End's other RPG lines were not performing as well as he had expected, leading to losses of hundreds of thousands of dollars.
West End also expanded back into board games, beginning with a new edition of Junta, which according to Eric was one of the few products that was turning a profit.
West End Games' most recent planned offering, the Septimus roleplaying game, was publicly canceled by Eric Gibson in March 2008. Eric Gibson announced on the morning of July 16, 2008 that West End Games could not currently afford to provide refunds to customers who pre-ordered the cancelled Septimus product, and indeed could not even afford to pay the postage to ship books to individuals who expressed a willingness to accept a refund in the form of products instead of money.
On Sunday, July 19, 2008, following both an extended discussion of West End's failure to provide refunds for those who had preordered Septimus and the ensuing forum flameout, Eric Gibson announced on the West End Games forums that he was officially through with the company and was selling all of its properties; he revealed that he had already been contacted by interested parties, but felt that he should not make the facts about the offerings public. Eric Gibson later expressed that he was no longer looking to dissolve the company or sell off any of its properties.
The company has since paid off all outstanding debt, released Septimus via print-on-demand, and released several formerly commercial products for free download under the terms of the Open Game License. West End Games is currently moving forward with Open D6, intending to release more content from their D6 products under the Open Game License.
- D6 System - Used in games like Star Wars, Ghostbusters, and MIB.
- Masterbook - The Masterbook system grew out of the system used in the game Torg. It was further developed and became the basis for games such as Necroscope and Tales from the Crypt.