Welcome Message From Ken Williams
A letter penned on July 1, 2013
This site is maintained by Ken Williams, founder of Sierra On-Line, and it’s CEO from 1979 through 1996.
In 1996, the company was sold, and my wife, Roberta, and I decided to retire. Currently, we divide our time between Seattle, Mexico and France. Most of my days are spent playing golf, and other than this website I haven’t thought about Sierra or computer games for a long time.
That said, I am very proud of having worked at Sierra, and of its accomplishments. During my time at Sierra we were almost always #1 in the industry, and had assembled the best team of developers, and other employees, imaginable.
Over the past few years, I’ve frequently been asked why Roberta, or I, don’t write a book. This is something I’ve thought a lot about.
Sierra’s history isn’t really the history of “Ken and Roberta” or even the history of “Sierra”. It’s really the history of something much bigger. Actually, not just something bigger, a LOT of different things MOST of which are bigger. Roberta, I and even Sierra aren’t really all that exciting, but we WERE surrounded by some VERY historical events Sierra had the fortune to be born at “just the right time.” Believe it or not: my first programming job was to program keypunch machines. There were no personal computers when I started programming. In fact, there were barely mainframe computers – or, any kind of computers. I was in my second year of college, majoring in physics, when I was blown away by my first sighting of a hand calculator. I hate to admit this, because I’m really not that old – 50 years as I write this. When Sierra was sold, I was only 44. Yes – this would be an old age to be a baseball player, or even a professional model – but, in the great scheme of things that’s not really that old. My (and Roberta’s and Sierra’s) working life happened to have been EXACTLY “the magic years” when computers went from nowhere to somewhere.
I (we) had a front row seat as mainframe computers were born, as micro-computers were born, as laptop computers were born, as educational software was born, as color graphics were born, as video games were born, as sound came to computers, as object oriented programming languages were born, and even as the internet was born (just to mention a few of the thousands of things).
I was lucky enough to meet, and do business with the “movers and shakers” of the computer industry; people like the John’s at Id (Carmack/Romero), the Steve’s at Apple (Wozniak/Jobs), Nolan Bushnell of Atari, and of course the reigning King of Computerdom; Bill Gates himself. I had a front row seat as silicon valley merged with Hollywood (our games employed actors such as Tim Curry, Mark Hamill, Robby Benson etc.) and as the trend towards licensing from other media was born (from Frogger to Disney) and even as the music industry and the computer industry started to join forces, as we started employing professional composers (Michel LeGrand did games for us, as did Jan Hammer). I even watched as email replaced “snail mail” and the telephone as the #1 way we all communicate.
All that said, I’m still not ready to write a book, and may never be. Some people sing, some dance, some write. I don’t do any of those things. Mostly I just write code, and build great product. It’s what I’m good at. If I had to push it just a bit harder, I also have a talent, which is unused at the present time, for motivating creative people to build great product. But that’s about it. Book writing isn’t on my list anywhere. People should do what they do. Frogs shouldn’t bark, and dogs shouldn’t croak. It just isn’t right.
The depressing part is that I really do believe that there is some important history that happened around me, and that I could communicate if I had the talent to do so. The goal for this site is to “hang on to history” so that it doesn’t become lost over time. This is an interactive version of the book that I would write, were I to write a book. And, the coolest part is that you and I get to write it together. My assumption is that you wouldn’t be here if you weren’t someone who remembers Sierra, and played its games. If you were there, you saw the history that was happening around us. You may not have had a front row seat, as I did, but you were there in the arena with me. You and I share common memories, and now we have a new way to capture them. Books are boring, in that all you can do is “lay back and let someone lecture at you.” If I ever wrote a book, it would strictly be my opinions, said my way, in my sequence, and with only what I saw. If that isn’t the definition of boring, I don’t know what boring is. On the other hand, if a bunch of us pool our thoughts, and challenge each other – and each of us aggressively states history AS WE REMEMBER IT – I think there is something that will come out that is more interesting, more accurate, and more complete than anything any of us could have done alone.
To state this in just a few words: No I’m probably never going to write a book. And, yes –to the extent I ever do – you are reading it now. Because, this is it team. This is you, and I, and whoever else wants to kick in, capturing for the future our memories of a very earth shattering time. Sierra is the focus of my recollections, because it was my entry ticket to this amazing piece of history. Therefore, this particular view of history may be somewhat Sierra-centric, but, who cares? If you’re going to read history, why not have it with a bit of fun? Because at Sierra, we did have fun. Too much sometimes. But, the bottom line is that we made history, were surrounded by history, and had a heck of a time doing so.
This site is our story (Sierra’s, yours, and mine). I hope you will have as much fun helping me relive it, as I will.
– Ken Williams