Dungeons, and dragons, and Magic! Oh, my!
To outsiders, Wizards of the Coast might seem a mystery. To fans, it’s a standard of the gaming industry. To Renton, it’s simply a neighbor.
Greg Leeds took over as president of Wizards of the Coast in 2008, after working for Hasbro, Wizards’ parent company, for six years. In an email interview, Leeds talked about the importance of Renton’s location to the company.
“In my personal experience, the city of Renton is very well run and makes our location an ideal place to do business,” he said. “Our employees are generally very happy with the location and that is an important factor for our success.”
Peter Adkison founded the company in 1990, and Wizards’ first big splash into the gaming industry came in 1993 with Magic: The Gathering. Magic, a collectible card game, was a hit immediately. It lofted the company from a handful of employees in 1993 to 250 in 1995. It continues to have a huge following today with more than 10 million players.
The company acquired another big-name game in Dungeons & Dragons after purchasing TSR in 1997. Wizards also started producing the Pokemon trading card game in 1999. The game sold nearly 400,000 copies in less than six weeks and Wizards produced the game until 2003, when Nintendo took over. Those big-name games helped position Wizards as a leader in the field of gaming.
Leeds talked about the company’s biggest ongoing challenge: enhancing products for current fans while drawing in new ones. Wizards’ most successful games tend to cater to more serious gamers, meaning it can be tough to bring in new users.
“Luckily, we have found ways to offer experiences that appeal to established fans and bring in new fans,” Leeds said.
One example he cited is Magic’s Duels of the Planeswalkers video game. He said it’s a good intro for new players as well as a more casual playing experience for more entrenched players.
Leeds said that while the games have their trends in audience (Magic customers tend to be young adult males, while D&D skews a little older and is more balanced between male and female), the typical gamer isn’t so easy to nail down.
“Our fans often belie stereotypes,” he said. “What sets them apart is a love of great game experiences and a desire to share those experiences with a strong global community of enthusiasts.”
Located in south Renton on Lind Avenue, Wizards now employs more than 300 people. Leeds said it’s a dynamic work environment, and one where gaming is front and center.
“The creativity associated with developing games is a cornerstone of company culture,” he said. “There are frequent formal and informal testing sessions. We even have former employees come back at night to enjoy gaming with the old gang.”
Leeds and the employees also have to take on their role as a leader in the gaming industry seriously.
Beyond the health of itself, Wizards is concerned with the financial health of the hobby game industry as a whole. They also try hard to promote the industry, rather than the company specifically.
“We want to grow the entertainment pie, not fight for shares,” Leeds said. “As an industry, our competition is not each other but the entire entertainment/leisure business.”
As for what’s ahead, Leeds said adding local talent is vital and a focus for the company.
“Our business is growing and requires more and more talent particularly in the digital and creative areas of the business for us to be successful in the long run,” he said.