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Bill Heineman: Memories of Interplay

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Bill Heineman: Memories of Interplay

None - posted by Vault Dweller on Sun 6 June 2004, 15:55:20

Tags: Interplay

Bill Heineman, one of Interplay's founders, posted his memoirs called The Fall and Decline of the Interplay Empire. Here it is in full:

The company changed. With the runaway success of the last five years, it was decided that the company needed to go to the next level. Instead of being just a developer, Interplay was to become a publisher. The first two titles, Battlechess and Neuromancer made that milestone in the history of Interplay a reality. Funny, it was Neuromancer that was thought to be the runaway hit. It was based on the movie (That never got filmed). It was Battlechess that took the world by storm. Again, the money rolled in and the company could do no wrong.

The hull of the great ship cracked.

This period of time has the harbiger of things to come. Never in the history of Interplay had a project lost money. So no one even thought that a game that Interplay produced could tank. So, budgets went through the roof as new games were created that pushed the envelope of CD-ROM media (Something that was brand new at the time). This was when Interplay found that not everything it touched turned to gold. But the money from the older titles still came in and covered up the losses. Life was still good at Interplay Productions. Descent, Star Trek 25th Anniversary and the Interplay 10th Anniversary Anthology were bonefide hits.

The ship took on water.

Sadly, the lessons learned from games that didn't make money were ignored. Cinematic games with movie production budgets were started and then eventually canceled costing the firm millions. A sports division was created to compete with established giants like EA Sports. Without anyone with hard experience on making a sports division, the new group spent money like water and produced little to show for it. Interplay had finally begun to spend more money than it was taking in. However, this wasn't that bad since the company was strong, hits still kept coming and the worth of the company as a whole was at its highest level.

The rescue ship came in, or did it?

As another step toward growth, it was decided to take on a partner to give financial, marketing and intellectial property aid to Interplay. This partner, Universal Pictures, would bring in movie properties, money and assist Interplay in 4 years to make a public stock offering. Sounded great, didn't it? Too bad the movies involved were Casper, Flipper and Waterworld, two of which were complete commercial failures.

One ship left, another came in.

With the cash from Universal, Interplay bought Shiny Entertainment to bring in Earthworm Jim into the fold. But Shiny hadn't made a commercial success since. Games like Sacrifice and Messiah brought in further losses and Enter the Matrix was the only title that looked like it would be a commercial success, but the cost overruns were draining away all of the cash reserves and there was no idea when the game would actually ship. With 4 years of floundering profits and sometimes losses, Interplay had a mediocre public offering. This didn't help matters since now Universal's committment to prop up Interplay had expired and the company had to sink or swim on its own. Now, the failures were outstripping the successes, and the successes weren't nearly as profitable as they should have been due to cost overruns and projects out of control. Interplay needed another partner to bring in money to keep the company going and orchastrate a turnaround.

Interplay's ship came in, too bad it was from France.

Titus Interactive came to the rescue. Fresh from an impressive Initial Public Offering (IPO) in France, they were loaded with cash and were ready to come to America. On the surface, it was a match made in heaven. Interplay would have access to cash to brings things back on track and distribution to all of Europe, and Titus would be able to get Interplay's back catalog for its budget line for markets that can't afford $40-$50 games. Interplay was stable again and things looked like it was clear sailing from here on out.

Ahoy mateys! There be pirates afoot!

Now came the sitation of 2002-2004. Not satisfied with being a silent partner, Titus took more and more control over the daily operations of Interplay. With all the infighting going on for control, no one was steering the ship. Teams were working on projects that got canceled, restarted and canceled again. Some titles came out that looked like Interplay was back on track, like the Baldur's Gate series. But money squandering, bickering and the resignation of the company president, Brian Fargo, meant that the ship was on a direct course to ruin.

I'm not dead! I'm not!

April 15th, 2004 was a dark day at Interplay Productions. Payroll was missed completely for the first time ever. There had been times in the last year that paychecks were given at the end of the workday, but it never was actually missed. People were able to make there mortgage payments and feed their families in the past, but no more. The employees thought that the party was over and began to pack up their belongings. However, the company president promised everyone that all is well despite no assurances that paychecks were coming any time soon. Capital management companies were brought in to try to prep the firm for a sale but it was found that it was not worth saving in its current condition. Now, lawsuits were piling up, payroll was now officially missed for two full pay periods and recently, the landlord had given an official eviction notice.

Is the company dead? As a corporation, it's very much alive. But without millions of dollars sunk into the firm just to pay off debt that's due today and millions more to fund operations until a new management team could be found and turn the place around, it's not likely that it will recover.

So, even though I may be premature in saying this, Farewell Interplay. You were the source of many happy memories for me and thousands of current and former employees. May the games that were created there live on forever in the hearts and minds of gamers everywhere. Bard's Tale, Descent, Battlechess and Wasteland were classics that the games of today still try to duplicate their fun factor, but may never do.

Bill Heineman
Interplay Founder with Brian Fargo (InXile), Chris Wells, Troy Worrel and Jay Patel (@ Blizzard now)
Nov 1983 to Feb 1995
Very well written.

Spotted at: NMA

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