Why THQ’s Bankruptcy Wasn’t A Surprise… - subsaint Blog - www.GameInformer.com
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Why THQ’s Bankruptcy Wasn’t A Surprise…

The fervor over THQ's public auctioning has mostly subsided and all that's really left is for the employees who no longer have a job to clean out their desks and update their Linked In profiles in their quest to find a new job. Even though I don't know the names of the individuals affected, I really do feel bad for them. In a tough economy that hasn't showed much growth and has witnessed a decline in the video game industry, we're talking about the lives and well-being of fellow gamers...and their families. I don't think any of us want to see that. I can only imagine the struggles associated with landing a video game industry job in the first place, but then losing that opportunity and starting over again has to be extremely frustrating. Thankfully (or hopefully) most of them can use their experience to get another job fairly quickly.

Those studios fortunate enough to get absorbed by other developers or publishers will obviously have to go through some sort of transition, but for the most part, the dust has settled and THQ joins the ranks of those companies who have come before THQ and met a similar fate. As an outsider looking in - meaning I'm just an average gamer who is more focused on purchasing good games than I am the individuals who developed and published it, the THQ financial woes and end result weren't really a surprise to me. I don't say that to be insensitive or apathetic; I say that because the video game industry is notorious for being brutal on studios, especially the less prominent and less financially stable ones. While all of the THQ drama was unfolding, news of Junction Point closing leaving video game pioneer Warren Spector out of job and Atari filing for bankruptcy largely went unnoticed or at least not discussed with the same tone or frequency that THQ was. Last year it was 38 Studios, which despite producing a game that did well (Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning didn't do great, but it didn't totally bomb either) the company still went bankrupt in fiery style since the state or Rhode Island ponied up a large sum of money to help fund the game and essentially lost any chance of ever recouping their investment after the organization failed.

 I acknowledge there's a lot more to it, and the THQ case is different in that the various internal elements were parsed from the overall company and auctioned off, but the point remains,

...the video game industry is notorious for being brutal on studios.


Over the decades, the complexion of the industry in terms of developers and publishers that are "in business" has changed and continues to change with regular frequency. With the exception of a few big names like Electronic Arts and Nintendo, the companies that were around when I first started gaming are mostly defunct, with plenty of new ones being stood up to fill in the gaps (and even EA has changed over the years). This is common knowledge, and plenty of the professional video game journalism experts have written about it. I don't recall when or where I saw it, but somebody actually collated and published a chart that shows the various studios, past and present, and their current status. How many times have we witnessed a developer or two (or whole studio) unhappy with their current employer break away and launch a new studio? It's certainly a tangled web of "who's who in the zoo".

Now, I'll be the first to admit I am not the person to talk about the complexities associated with the history and future of the publishers and/or developers. If you want an expert perspective on THQ being dissolved, I'd recommend listening to Game Informer's podcast Episode 141 that discusses this very issue. These guys are the subject matter experts and provide their thoughts on how the outcome could change the industry, at the organizational and individual level.

So, if that's the case, then why am I posting a blog on the subject?

I suppose because in each instance when this occurs and another game company goes belly up, I seem to reflect on some of the studios that were around in my early days of gaming. It's important to note that some of these companies who played a critical role in shaping the video game industry have been acquired by other organizations, but for the most part are not in any way, shape or form representative of the companies they once were.

Here is a (partial) list of some of my favorite developers, no longer with us...

Strategic Simulations, Inc. - (SSI)

A video game developer and publisher with over 100 titles to its credit since its founding in 1979. It was especially noted for its numerous wargames, its official computer game adaptations of Dungeons & Dragons, and for the groundbreaking Panzer General series. Wikipedia Entry

So, here you have a studio with over a hundred titles in their stable including the famed "gold box" series and over the years it changes hands from Mindscape to Mattel before winding up the property of Ubisoft, who retired the brand. SSI was legendary back in the day and I've played quite a few of their games with some of my favorites being Champions of Krynn, Eye of the Beholder, Pool of Radiance and Silent Hunter. I played a number of these games on the Commodore 64, but for the most part I played them on my Amiga 500.

Ask most current generation gamers about SSI, most have probably never heard of it. Ask most older gamers about SSI, and no doubt they will have played at least one game if not several from this remarkable studio.

Epyx

Epyx, Inc. was a video game developer and publisher in the late 1970s and throughout the 1980s. The company was founded as Automated Simulations by Jim Connelley and Jon Freeman, originally using Epyx as a brand name for action-oriented games before renaming the company to match in 1983. Epyx published a long series of "hits" through the 1980s, but nevertheless went bankrupt in 1989 before finally disappearing in 1993. Wikipedia Entry

Yet another dominant studio from the 80s with dozens of popular and successful titles to its credit, who ultimately went bankrupt and is no longer a recognizable name to your average gamer. As I review the lengthy list of games from Epyx, I'm reminded of some of the good times I've had playing their games like Pit Stop, Impossible Mission and of course all of the Summer, Winter, World and California Games games. I've played even more Epyx games than SSI games.

Brøderbund

Brøderbund Software, Inc. was an American maker of video games, educational software and The Print Shop productivity tools. It was best known as the original creator and publisher of the Carmen Sandiego games. Brøderbund was easily one of the most dominant publishers in the computer market of the 1980s, having released video games for virtually all major computer systems in the United States.[16] This included not only the IBM PC-DOS personal computer, but also the leading home computers from the decade, notably the TRS-80, the Apple II, the Commodore 64, the Atari 8-bit and the Amiga. Brøderbund was purchased by The Learning Company in 1998. Wikipedia Entry

I haven't played as many of the Brøderbund games as I have some of the others, but some of my favorites were certainly created by Brøderbund. I played more of their games on my brother's Commodore 64 with some of my favorites being Choplifter (see yesterday's blog!), Karateka, Lode Runner, Prince of Persia, and (perhaps my favorite) Raid on Bungeling Bay.

Sierra On-Line

Sierra Entertainment Inc. (formerly Sierra On-Line) was an American video-game developer and publisher founded in 1979 as On-Line Systems by Ken and Roberta Williams. Based in Oakhurst, California, the company was last owned by Activision, a subsidiary of Activision Blizzard. Sierra is best known today for its multiple lines of seminal graphic adventure games started in the 1980s, many of which proved influential in the history of video games. Wikipedia Entry


Sierra had so many great series - King's Quest, Space Quest, Police Quest and the Gabriel Knight and Leisure Suit Larry games. On top of that, Sierra was attributed with the first graphical adventure game with Mystery House. What made Sierra truly special was it was created by Ken and Roberta Williams, the iconic husband and wife team considered to be pioneers in the video game industry. Even though they didn't have as many games as some of the other studios, I really loved Sierra.

Lucasarts

LucasArts Entertainment Company, LLC is an American video game developer and publisher. The company was once famous for its innovative line of graphic adventure games, the critical and commercial success of which peaked in the mid 1990s. Today, it publishes games primarily based on the Star Wars and Indiana Jones franchises. Wikipedia Entry

Ha, I know what you're thinking... "But Lucasarts is still in business." That may be true, but the Lucasarts of today is not the Lucasarts of yesteryear. There was a time, believe it or not, when everything they released was gold...and they knew how to make a decent Star Wars game. That's been years ago now, so we don't witness the X-Wings, the TIE Fighters, the X-Wing vs. TIE Fighters...or the games like Full Throttle or Grim Fandango. They might still be with us in name, but I sure miss the spirit of the old Lucasarts.

Video game studios shuttering their doors and laying off their staff is distressing, but unfortunately a common occurrence inherent to our industry. And whether you were a fan of any particular game developed by THQ or not, realize one day years from now you might look back and recall them as one of the greats that are no longer with us.

 

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