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We always wrote our engines “from scratch”. The problem with buying an “off the shelf” engine is that you can’t really make the product look unique, and you can’t have technical innovations that are yours alone.
As to why we moved to Seattle:
There is a story behind that. Sierra had been located near Yosemite for 15 years; in Oakhurst California. Oakhurst is a great place to live, but it’s in the middle of nowhere. We were the only major employer in the area, and the nearest city of any size was Fresno, which was an hour drive away.
Hiring people was a nightmare. Virtually all management and technical staff had to be hired from elsewhere and relocated. This was both expensive, and limiting. There were aspects to it I liked. I used to say that if we were located in the same city as Electronic Arts, then there would be a regular flow of employees back and forth – and, then you’d start to see our products look alike. I wanted Sierra to do things “the Sierra way”. I wanted us to be different. I didn’t want us to share ANYTHING with ANY competitor. Not employees, not printers, not ad agencies, not pr firms. Not anything.
We were using a search firm in San Francisco, Heidrick & Struggles, to find executives for the company. In late 1992 we were seeking a new VP of Something (I forget what exactly). My contact at the search company, Tom Friel, sent me a batch of resumes, which I didn’t find impressive. So, I called him to ask why there were no “A Players” in the batch. Tom’s response was something I’ll never forget: He said “Ken, you don’t understand. No A Player will ever move to Oakhurst. Oakhurst is a place people go to retire. It’s not where aggressive executives move to.” Tom was right. Hot executives think about their career. Oakhurst is too far off the fast track. Making things worse, most executives have spouses, many of which are also executives with their own career goals. Unless we hired the whole family, one of the couple would have to go unemployed. There was really no place to work except Sierra in the area.
I had two options: 1) Not let Sierra grow at the pace it should, or 2) Move the corporate offices. I chose option 2.
The original plan was to leave all product development in Oakhurst, and manufacturing. We were going to set up corporate offices in Seattle and leave the rest of the company behind. But, you know how that goes. We set up one team in Seattle, then a second, then a third, etc.
We also had problems finding someone to replace me to run development in Oakhurst. Hiring someone to run Oakhurst became a nightmare. Projects starting slipping, both quality-wise, and budget-wise. Ultimately, growth in a location is defined by the products coming from that location. We had a hard time building hits, on time, and on budget, in Oakhurst. That resulted in more slimming down in Oakhurst.
Which comes to your second question – why we sold the company:
I’ve answered that question LOTS of times on the website. Look around. I’m not sure that I can add a lot more to what I’ve already said.
After the company moved in 1993, our revenue exploded. I forget the exact numbers, but our revenue tripled or more between 1993 and 1996. Much of this growth was attributable to some great management we were to bring into the company. In particular, I should mention Mike Brochu, who came in as CFO, but later rose to be President – and, Dennis Cloutier, who was our VP Sales and is an incredible talent. Another name I can’t forget is: Bill Moore, our VP Marketing. Bill had a consumer marketing background, with companies like Starbucks.
The short story on the sale is that we were a public company. I owned a lot of the company, but not all. My responsibility was to the shareholders, and to the employees. We were presented an offer that made financial sense for both of these contingencies, so I had to take it. I also thought it was the right long-term decision for the company.
Unfortunately, I was given false information, and the result was a disaster. That’s a whole separate story that also can be found on my website if you hunt around.
From: Patrick [mailto:email@example.com]
Sent: Thursday, December 11, 2003 4:57 AM
Subject: Just wanted to say hello…
First off thank you for taking what ever risks you did in order to pursue making some of the best games ever. The early Sierra games where the first computer games I ever played ( if you don’t count a vic 20 as a computer ). They were probably the most responsible for me wanting to make games myself. The company you created was defiantly a role model for the game company I wanted, well until the later years when big business did everything they could to ruin it.
Anyways the thought of the old team making a game again is just wonderful. Seems aside from id that all the other great game developers where purchased. Sure could give the industry a reality check to show that you can innovate and still make a sound investment. Plus that whole adventure game is dead thing is just old ( if an adventure game is what you would do?! ). I have been collecting old Sierra games for fear that one day, if they ever get freed that there may not be a perfect complete set around to use for re-issue or what have you. While searching I found that Al Lowe had a site ( I thought all of the Sierra people just walked away from it all ) and he was nice enough to spend some time e-mailing me and then he told me about you’re site so here I am.
I would love to help out in any way if you all decide to do another game. I have a broad set of skill from music to design to programming and have been developing a D3D engine for a bit of time. I’m not sure how you go about developing if you write the engines form scratch or what not but it would be a great honor to work in any facet with you guys.
Oh, why the move to Seattle? And why did you sell Sierra?
Thanks for your time and say hello to Roberta for me also!