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Big Fish Getting Bigger

I’ve received a LOT of email, social media contacts, texts, and more over the last two days asking about the just-announced Microsoft acquisition of Activision.

For those who may not be aware, Sierra (Roberta’s and my company) was acquired by a company named CUC, that was acquired by a company called HFS, who sold Sierra to a company called Vivendi, who then sold Sierra to Activision. And now, Sierra will become part of Microsoft.

Many people are asking me, “Does this mean there’s a chance that some of Sierra’s old games might make a comeback?” The quick, and only truthful answer I can give, is, “I don’t know.” If I were pushed for a bit longer answer I would supplement it by saying, “Probably not.”

And, if someone wanted an even longer answer, I might say…

I’m not sure that Microsoft knows, or even cares, that Activision owns Sierra. When a company gets as large as Microsoft, a product needs to bring in an enormous amount of revenue to merit attention. Sierra’s products were an infinitesimal percentage of Activision’s revenue. They should have been, and could have been, a much larger piece of Activision’s revenue, but for whatever reason, they weren’t.

There are some products that Sierra had which might have significant revenue potential, and that I do think Microsoft should take a look at. For example: The Incredible Machine, Aces Of The Pacific, Red Baron, King’s Quest, Dr. Brain, EcoQuest, Johnny Castaway, Laura Bow, Quest for Glory, Mixed Up Mother Goose, Trophy Bass, Driver’s Training, 3d Ultra Pinball, You Don’t Know Jack, etc.

Some of the better properties were apparently sold off or allowed to slip out of Sierra’s grasp after the company was sold: Nascar Racing, Hoyle’s Card Games, Half-Life, Leisure-Suit Larry.

It is possible that Sierra’s old series will never be brought back simply due to a lack of clarity over rights. My guess is that Activision isn’t 100% sure exactly what Sierra intellectual property it owns. I doubt any of the old artwork or source code was carefully preserved. Maybe it was? I really don’t know, but my sense is that Sierra went through a period, maybe even several periods, of anarchy after the company was sold and I left.

There is a market for some of Sierra’s old products. But I don’t know if it is a big enough market for Microsoft to be interested. And realistically, there’s a great argument that “times have changed.” Most of Sierra’s products were designed for a world that doesn’t exist anymore. The game we’re now working on is a traditional game, and very fun to play, and Sierra fans will cherish the game. It will bring back a lot of great memories for everyone and is the right game for Roberta’s and my “comeback.”

But, to the extent Roberta and I get to the end of this project and feel we have another product (or more) in us, I’d start by thinking about where the future of interactive entertainment is going and not worry about where it has been. I suspect this would mean giving some thought to the whole rapidly evolving concept of a Metaverse. I am starting to visualize how the Metaverse might evolve and where there might be opportunities to push the envelope. That said, I’m deliberately forcing myself not to think beyond the end of this game. We’re building a great game and I need to avoid distractions, or we’ll never finish it.

Anyway, back to the game. Lots of debugging to do!

15 Responses

  1. Again, very interesting post!
    It’s like reading a book and it’s fun to know all that stuff, I need moar knowledge
    Are you planning on a physical release of the game? Probably not, maybe you could rise a kickstarter or something, and I would LOVE to see some anti-piracy system like ancient times.

    What do you think would cost to buyback Sierra with its IPs?

    Keep it up!

    1. Careful! You’ll give me an excuse to plug my book (which still pops into the top 10 on Amazon a year after release): https://www.kensbook.com Grin.

      As to the game and a physical release, I’ve changed my mind several times. The current momentum is towards a physical release ONLY (for computers, the VR version will be different), and no downloadable version. My current plan is a USB stick with the game, in a Sierra style box.

      And, as to buying back the Sierra IPs, I don’t think we really need to. If I wanted to stay in the game business and return to life as a major publisher, I have many ways to do so. It would certainly be possible with or without buying back the IPs. We are happily retired, and already have enough money to maintain a decent lifestyle for the rest of our lives. Roberta and I are building a game because we enjoy having something to do, and like being creative. We’re enjoying the game, but whether it sells well or not will not change our lifestyle. We’re having fun building it, and we’re VERY concerned that gamers will have fun playing it, but we are not interested in creating a new company or if we make money on the game. Been there, done that. Roberta liked some of the old series, and I did recently speak to Bobby Kotick about using some of the old Sierra IPs for a next product, but recent events probably undo those discussions.

      Anyway … I have no idea what we’ll do after this game comes out. Maybe nothing. Maybe something. Your guess is as good as mine.

  2. And strangely enough Phil Spencer, XBOX CEO, called out the names of IP that sits unused that could be revived and one of these was “Kings Quest”. Kings Quest I is a great game and I have most of the others, including the remakes by AGD. The real question is can you recapture that right time, right game moment that Sierra had with this series? I have programmed some adventure games in my time and my goal was always to give the player a goal, some hope and some great storylines. I worry that “Actisoft” will be the troll at the bridge and lighten every players bank account with micro transactions and an endless quest and your hero never rescues anyone.

  3. Sierra games were such a big part of my childhood, and I credit them for my then-insatiable desire to explore and learn about technology. It’s more depressing than it should be to hear that those masterpieces may have been mishandled by whomever acquired the rights over time. I so vividly remember scenes from Quest for Glory, King’s/Space/Police Quest that they’ll probably be ingrained in me until the day I die. I’m not super nostalgic, but this is one area where I reminisce. Kudos to you and Roberta for jumping back into the fray, especially in the crazy times we live in. I so appreciate it, and only wish my kids have similar experiences in their childhoods as I did with Sierra.

  4. I’ve thought “Poor, Ken” in reading in jolly way a telling about engineer crisis (honestly, I like initial version of post, which I don’t find humiliating and it’s absolutely understanding.). Great to know again about game’s current status. I’m excited that you’re going to release in physical form, Sir. Can I hope on manual? What presumably will box include? Will Al Lowe make his contribution to the game? I apologize for torture of questions. I glad that you develop my favorite kind of games and I hope development of it willn’t extreme long like that goes with SpaceVenture.

    1. Gleb:

      I hate to say anything too firmly because no decisions have been made.

      My current thinking is to release two different versions; a “normal” release at around $35 that will have a box, single page manual and a USB stick. And then, another higher priced version that will be more of a collector’s edition. I am not sure what the collector’s edition might cost or what it might contain. I know that the intent for that version is to invest heavily and really make it something impressive.

      Thanks! – Ken W

  5. “We’re having fun building it, and we’re VERY concerned that gamers will have fun playing it, but we are not interested in creating a new company or if we make money on the game.” Just like Steve Jobs creating some amazing things.

  6. This Sentence, “Most of Sierra’s products were designed for a world that doesn’t exist anymore”,
    broke my heart.

    1. It is a reality though. In the 80’s and early 90’s, graphic adventure games were the type of game you would load on your PC to show off to your friends, to impress them (and yourself too). As technology advanced, only extreme-hardcore players kept on with this type of gameplay and having fun with them. Deaths & dead-end situations, moon-logic puzzles, too easy puzzles are some of the things that lead the genre in diminution. But, wait a minute! Is all of the aforementioned true? Maybe death and dead-end situations could be avoided with a very careful design but, what about puzzles? Ideal puzzles (not too easy, not too hard) is an illusion. Frankly speaking, it can exist. Adventures back in the day, were purchased by thousands of people who didn’t think in the same way. How many times you remember, having trouble in a puzzle that your friend had easily solved and vice versa? We all people (over 35 y.o. who grow-up in their childhoods and early teenage years playing adventure games in the 80’s and early 90’s), have a great inclination for them cause of a strong nostalgia factor. That’s all.

      [Sorry for my broken english]

      1. Our game might bring back the adventure game genre. There have been a lot of games that claim to be adventure games, but are really boring, with not much to do. I was nervous about whether there was a market for an adventure game in today’s world, but not anymore. This is going to be an adventure game that whole families and groups of friends play together (in front of one computer, it’s not an online game). I wish I could say more but I don’t want to spoil the big announcement.

  7. To be honest, I don’t have high hopes but, ya know, miracles do happen all the time….. 🙂

    We will be waiting till Christmas to play your creation

    1. This game probably won’t convert some hard core gamers. But, if someone has an open mind they will find a very fun environment to explore, and a very different experience from what they may have seen before. This is not an “old style” Sierra adventure game. It’s something new and completely different that tries to capture what was fun about our old games and move it into a 3d immersive environment. And, the VR version — wow! I can’t say that I love wearing the headset for hours but I am definitely blown away by the experience.

  8. If I’m interpreting the lack of the third part of the new Leisure Suit Larry series correctly, then there probably won’t be another part.
    So it might be the right time to buy back the rights really cheaply (from assemble-entertainment.com – the CEO is Stefan Marcinek).
    And then your and Al Lowe’s next game will just have to be Leisure Suit Larry Part 9!
    Part 8 was abducted by aliens!

  9. OK, finally an opportunity to admit that I liked Aces of the Pacific, and I was playing World of Tanks before Belarus became a Russian jumping off point before the invasion of the Ukraine. Not that I was hard core let alone even good at either, or any game since the few that I can no longer recall by name (it is an old age thing that befalls some of us).

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Credits     |     Video produced by: Rock Steady Media     |     Teletype photo: Arnold Reinhold     |     PDP-11 photo: Trammell Hudson