The lights are on
Veteran Member - Level 11
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
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
...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
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...
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, 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.
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. 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.
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.
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.
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.