Reply To: Not All Fairy Tales Have Happy Endings: The Rise and Fall of Sierra On-Line

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Ken Williams

Can you give an example of the lousy product shipped by Sierra, a “dog”, and what was the main criteria, the sales figures, I suppose? It is nice to know two or three real examples!

There are two definitions for “a dog”.

1) A product that loses money. If we spent a million dollars developing a game and only sold $1 million worth of copies, that would be a dog. However, if we spent $100,000 on development and only sold $1 million worth, that would be a winner. Winning or losing really was a factor of development cost. Some of our less-expensive products were big winners, for example Mother Goose, or Jones in The Fast Lane. They probably only sold 100,000 copies but were inexpensive to develop.

2) The bigger issue for me personally, than profitability, was whether or not a product was liked by the players. The worst possible scenario would be to have a hot product that sold like crazy but wasn’t fun to play. Losing money on one or two products wouldn’t really hurt us, but damaging the relationship with our customers could easily put us out of business. So, the worst thing that could possibly happen would be to sell a hot game that customers didn’t like. That would be the worst dog of all!

Also, please give a few examples of the impossible technical task at times requested by designers from engineering?
Obviously, 3D effects, advanced music and extensive graphics (disk space limitation etc.), but what else it could be?

There were good things and bad things about using our internal language (AGI/SCI). It made things easy for the game developers but also came with problems. There was a constant battle to improve performance and to add features. As you said, supporting 3d was a huge task, as was adding multiplayer support.

And one more: An AGI/SCI, whose idea it was and how it worked technically: every game developer has the AGI/SCI compiler installed at his machine, or it was some centralized system with restricted access for some particular people?

Every developer used AGI/SCI. We were split (our software engineers) internally to a tools group, a compiler group, and the game development group. The game development engineers were assigned to the game teams whereas the tools and compiler groups just worked on the technology that the other groups used.

By the way: Hi from Azerbaijan, I spent many of my young days (and nights) playing great Sierra games in my colledge computer lab (please do not ask where from a poor post-Soviet student was getting them)!

Grin – Greetings!!!! And, thank you.