Reply To: Davidson & Blizzard


Tough question.

I know nothing about how Vivendi is organized today, and less about how Blizzard is organized. I only know Blizzard is still around because my son is addicted to the multiplayer version of Warcraft. Whether or not today’s Blizzard has anything to do with the Blizzard when I was in the industry, and whether or not Davidson is involved – I have no idea.

All I can comment on is what I knew 13 years ago when Sierra was sold (and, the 18 years I ran the company before that).

At the time of the acquisition of Davidson and Sierra, the two companies were flying high. Sierra was dominant in entertainment and Davidson was dominant in education. Actually it was a perfect marriage in that Sierra lead the market in education outside the US, and Davidson had an entertainment hit in their Blizzard subsidiary. Together, the two companies should have been unstoppable.

Unfortunately, it sounds easier as a theory, than it was as a reality. When first approached by CUC, about being acquired, I was fine. But, then when CUC spoke about their strategy of consolidating us with Davidson, I worried that it was a ‘marriage doomed to failure’. There were companies I could envision being teamed with, but Davidson wasn’t one of them. I had tremendous respect for Bob Davidson, and thought he was a brilliant businessman. But, I didn’t think he was the right guy to run a combined Sierra/Davidson, and I didn’t think he would be willing to subordinate his company to Sierra. On this basis, I refused to ‘do the deal.’ 

My fear had to do with Sierra’s product line, rather than anything personal. Sierra published a wide range of products, including both entertainment and education products. Davidson also published both entertainment and education. That Davidson could publish children’s education AND Warcraft was a positive. However, during the negotiations, there were rumors that Bob and Jan Davidson were concerned about Leisure-Suit Larry and Phantasmagoria — two of Sierra’s biggest hits. To me, it was clear that they were non-supporters of the products. Putting Davidson in charge of selling these products, which were a huge percentage of our revenue, I felt would be a mistake. I just didn’t think it would work.

During the negotiations, CUC convinced me that the ‘Davidson Issue’ was a ‘non-issue.’    CUC put a structure in place which created a consolidation of non-product related functions, such as manufacturing, while leaving Sierra and Davidson independent for the purpose of creating product. In other words, I was assured that only non-product related groups would be merged. Davidson would not be dictating product strategy at Sierra, and neither of us would be reporting to the other. This is quite different than what actually happened. 

One the deal was done,Bob Davidson was put in charge. However, even this had problems -CUC and Davidson had their own conflict, which resulted in Bob Davidson leaving the company. By the time all this occured, I had been transferred out of the software business, and neither CUC nor I wanted me to get reinvolved. At the time, I used to say ‘Put Bob Davidson, or myself in charge of software, but don’t ask us to co-exist. Either of us could do the job, but WE can’t do it together.’ Bob won the short-term battle to run the software business, but then he and his new bosses didn’t get along. My personal theory is that it’s possible that they didn’t get along because Bob sensed that things weren’t completely right at CUC (several members of CUC’s management have been found guilty of, or admitted to, ‘cooking the books’.)

Does this answer your question?

-Ken W