November 10, 2006 at 7:11 am #28574
November 10, 2006 at 8:45 pm #28575
I’m not sure how to put into words, exactly how I feel after reading this, but I guess one word which springs to mind is ‘vindicated’. I’ve had a lot of conflicting views of what Sierra was like, but Scott’s is pretty damned close to what I thought it was like (granted, Josh Mandel, Rudy Helm and other Sierra employees have talked to me to kind of shape this view).
I hear the same things here other Sierra employees have said (whether in other interviews or to me)- KQ was overresourced, other series were underresourced, KQ got the marketing money (other games didn’t), Ken Williams became greedier and less quality focused as Sierra got wealthier, people often didn’t get credit for work they did.. and more.
Still, there’s a lot of positives, it’s by no means all a tirade (I just found that the most interesting). As a SQ fan I feel proud to be able to pay homage to the series with a guy like that at the helm.
The Black Cauldron and Monkey Island comments were both just hilarious. Excellent stuff.
If you’ve played a SQ, or if you’re a Sierra fan with some time, READ IT! Definitely read it.
November 10, 2006 at 11:36 pm #28576
…Gillett, Alistair, 2006-11-10 20:45:08
My thoughts: ….Ken Williams became greedier and less quality focused as Sierra got wealthier, people often didn’t get credit for work they did.. and more …
I read Scott’s interview, and didn’t get the perception he was complaining about me. Maybe I should have read closer.
Scott mentions in his interview being there until a couple of months before the day when most of the Oakhurst location was shut down. That’s two years after I left Sierra, and five years after I left Oakhurst. My interpretation of his interview was that he was complaining about the management that came in after I left. Maybe I misinterpreted his comments and should have been offended — which I wouldn’t have been one way or the other. Management is not a popularity contest, and anyone who thinks it is doesn’t understand how hard it can be to run a profitable organization in a tough industry.
My recollections of Scott are 100% positive, and I always rated Space Quest as one of my favorite series of all time. It’s disappointing the new Sierra hasn’t done anything to keep the series going. Reading Scott’s interview reminded me of how sharp his witt is. I have no idea what he is doing these days, but hope that professional writing is in his future. He is a very gifted guy.
As to me becoming “greedier and less quality focused as Sierra got wealthier, and taking away credit for work” .. I was very removed from the issue of who received credit on the games. I don’t remember how this was decided, but our policy was to be inclusive, not exclusive. I don’t remember a single conversation where someone in project management felt an employee belonged in the credits for a game, and I or anyone else fought to keep them off. Why would we want to do this? As to me becoming greedier: I would encourage anyone who believes it is easy to run a profitable software company to give it a try. Sierra, under my management, had a very disaplined approach to how we allocated funds to projects. Budgets depended on marketing and sales estimates, and were guided by prior success of the author and the division. We had a brand management group who built the forecasts for products, and these revenue forecasts determined the product development and marketing budgets for our products. We had very rigid formulas by which we were able to grow the company, and deliver solid results, in a very tough industry. I’m very proud of what we accomplished, both from a product and a financial perspective.
November 11, 2006 at 1:10 am #28577
Thanks for your quick response.
I notice you’ve picked holes in my more contentious points, which is fine, I rant too much- but have missed other bits altogether.
Firstly, here’s what Scott said which was critical of you/how you ran things:
‘The bitterness I posses is at what Sierra and Ken Williams had become as they became more and more successful, and how the Space Quest 6 abortion came about after broken promises and the just plain fucking over I got from the people I’d worked so incredibly hard for. The more successful each game became, the worse they treated us and the less they wanted to pay us. I’m not talking about us demanding more money like some sort of prima donnas. They seemed like they were actually penalizing us for being successful for them. They didn’t want to pay us as much, which wasn’t a lot anyway, as they had for each of the previous games. We’d done well for them despite the fact that they spent virtually no money advertising the games, especially when you look at how much they hyped the King’s Quests. I’m quite proud of how we sold despite that. ‘
‘On Space Quest 2, I worked fourteen months and had only TWO days off during that period, but that wasn’t good enough for them. I got called in and chewed out after that one and SQ3 for taking too long to get them shipped. SQ4 showed how dark we’d become as a result. SQ’s 5 and 6 were abysmal in my opinion and I’ve felt some guilt about 6, even though I inherited a game primarily designed by someone else based around that person’s game design around a lame joke on a title of another company’s game series, which was about as stupid an idea as I’ve ever heard of. What a nightmare that was, but that’s another story for another time, like maybe after the sweet angel of death comes to take me away. And I didn’t even work on SQ5, so comments on “Roger Beamish” might be a little unfair, even though I didn’t know it was even being made until I accidentally saw a beta version that had been sent down from Dynamix to one of the Oakhurst producers.’
This last one’s a full quote, since it would be unfair to quote only half:
‘Here’s a little tidbit about how the parser interface went away and how management worked us. One day when we’re literally halfway through SQ4, Mark and I were called into Ken’s office. We were asked what we thought about using the (dumbass) point-and-click interface that they were using, in I guess it was King’s Quest 5 then, and what we thought about putting it in SQ4. We said we wanted to keep the parser. Ken and Bill Davis asked us to talk about it together and then tell them what we wanted to do the next day. After the meeting, Mark and I agreed without hesitation as we walked out Ken’s office door that there was absolutely no way we wanted the point-and-click. The next day when we came in, Bill Davis tracked Mark down and asked him what we’d decided. Mark told him that we’d decided to keep the parser, to which Bill instantly replied something to the effect of, “But you can’t do that. Ken has already decided that you have to use the point-and-click!” Apparently they figured they had a fifty percent chance that we would make the decision and wouldn’t realize that they’d already made the decision for us. That kind of mentality was another straw on the pile of last ones.
I feel it only fair that I should note that, having said that and some other things in this interview I want to point out that I have some good memories with Roberta, mainly because I didn’t have to work for her. She was the only person I knew in the early days that understood what the pressure was like to pull a game out of one’s ass on demand. We had some really good talks and she was quite supportive. She even took time out to do a cameo in a little video that Leslie Balfour and I put together for inclusion in the first Space Quest Collection, for which I was grateful. She was the only one I could talk to about certain feelings involved in the creative process of adventure game design. That mattered a lot to me and I consider her a friend to this day as oddly, based on certain things I have said here, I do Ken. Away from work Ken was a completely different person and we enjoyed some good times together not to mention some fun and very interesting parties. There were times when we had to blow off some steam from the pressure that we were all under in our various roles. If any of this is taken in, say, not a good way by them or anyone else I mention, then the only thing that comes to mind is one of my favorite song lyrics by Don Henley, “Sometimes you get the best light from a burning bridge.” ‘
As far as I’m concerned, those comments are pretty damning. I really do wonder how good Sierra could’ve been if it had been less embracing of some of the new techs and more embracing of people’s ideas and funded sequels better.
Moving on, but on the theme of comments made of you- I’m curious- what would you say to the following comments usually said about you? :
1. Too much money was spent on developing KQ
2. Too little money was spent promoting non-KQ series and developing sequels to popular games
3. Too little consultation was made between you (or a delegate) and the game designers about changes you were implementing
4. You ran Sierra in the mid 90’s like a divisional business, where each Quest series (as a main example) had to compete with each other for resources, with a pro-KQ bias, meaning other series had an immediate disadvantage, and quality of those series was damaged
5. You sold Sierra under bad circumstances, and let to the untimely death of the company, when sequels should have been made for series and instead a very shoddy couple where made. (Although I think everyone understands you were entitled to compensation for years of work, I also think most people are unhappy you sold the company as far as timing goes and as far as the game series went).
I mean, let’s not beat around the bush. Could you honestly tell me, Ken, that you’re pleased with what happened to Sierra with disasters like Chainsaw Monday? Are you happy with Vivendi’s decision to almost sue AGDI/QuestStudios/others?
<shrugs> Almost every ex-Sierra employee I’ve spoken to has a very happy, but very, very tainted way they remember Sierra. Usually tainted by claims of unfairness and being screwed around. I get the feeling you have a much more romanticised, possibly even inaccurate version of what happened while you ran the company. I’ve heard other stories (won’t name names just yet) similar to Scott’s, which gives me faith that some of it’s true.
But, good reply. Some of what I said was inaccurate and I apologise, and it’s also unfair to use you as a scapegoat. Directors can’t control everything, nor can they make everybody happy all the time. I understand and get that. But I also get the feeling, somewhere along the line, you really lost interest and made some decisions (or high-up subordinates of yours did) that really made the company lose direction and churn out rubbish like King’s Quest 5, bring in point/click interfaces (though I enjoy the interface, there are issues, etc), et al.., instead of potentially investing in well, better stuff.
Anyways, that’s enough for now. Sorry to give you a headache Ken, I’ve probably had this on my mind for years now, and
November 11, 2006 at 9:53 am #28578
November 11, 2006 at 11:16 pm #28579
Heh, pretty awesome response, Ken. Although, some of your responses suffer from the ol’ rose-coloured glasses syndrome.
You sound like such an old, established manager/CEO (though, I guess more than half your life to date was doing that, right?)! I can say that with confidence because I’m a University student who studies Commerce (business, law, accounting).
But hey, credit where credit’s due. And you’re much more civil than I would be replying to myself.
I’ll have to reply someday, but I have exams in the next week, and I’ve wasted enough time online. Thanks muchly for the reply.
November 12, 2006 at 6:02 pm #28580
Hi Ken and everyone!
I read this big exchange between Ken and Alistair about how Sierra could have been in the days it dominated the adventure game industry and I would just like to add this in case anyone here starts to believe that sierra might have been a company ran by an evil capitalistic CEO.
For anyone who has no experience in management and business, please know that once things take – off, you need to be there and focused on the ball, because when the business get’s big, if sales don’t happen with big projects, it’s going to cost a lot of money…
There is a big difference between being an artist creator and being a businessman. In business, you have no time off, it’s be quick or be dead… You have to foresee, understand, plan, control, work, work and work to meet the deadlines… It’s hard to be profitable, don’t forget that, and to be profitable you have to have the vision… how will you make those things happen? How will you make it so that it sells and that it becomes profitable…? It’s a very hard equation and it takes some out-of-the-blue budget cuts and changes of plan to happen… so get ready… It’s hard… just for the fun of it, try and calculate what it costs up front to develop, package, distribute, market and sell 200,000 copies of one single game. If those games don’t sale, that’s a lot of money you just spent… I was flabbergasted when I saw that over 150 people worked to create Unreal Tournament 2003!!!!! That means 150 people with an average of 40,000$ a year for two-and-a-half years of work, plus technology costs, plus marketing , plus distribution, plus packaging, plus even more things to account for that I don’t even know of…
That is hard business, so don’t be too hard on managers and ceos…
Ken Williams Rocks!!!
November 13, 2006 at 12:11 am #28581
I really enjoyed your responses to what Scott and Allistair brought up. I find it fascinating to hear stories about Sierra as I’ve been a fan ever since I was four years old.
Keep on enjoying life! You earned it.
November 13, 2006 at 7:11 am #28582
Well Ken this has been an interesting read, both Murphy’s interview and your replies. 🙂 You do have a large point there Ken – in many interviews with “the old guys” of gaming they always make the management/companies out to be the ones responsible for their career problems. Not saying I’m taking sides here, but it is very true.
I don’t blame Scott for being bitter though. I imagine Space Quest was like his child, and you hate to see the end of an era like Sierra. I don’t think the old ways of development will ever be back again, nor will the classic parser titles return as Scott would have them 😀
All eyes on Jane Jensen I guess. Let’s hope Gray Matter makes us proud.
November 13, 2006 at 7:56 am #28583
Since Scott Murphy liked the parser interface can we call him Tex t Murphy? ( Mean Streets) : )
Wow, tough crowd. : p
November 13, 2006 at 9:15 am #28584
…I don’t blame Scott for being bitter though. I imagine Space Quest was like his child…
I was thinking about this last night, and some of the history is coming back.
Scott and Mark (the two guys from Andromeda) seperated at some point. Perhaps Scott or Mark will jump on this thread and correct me if I have this wrong, but here’s what I vaguely remember:
Dynamix wanted into the adventure business. They were our subsidiary in Oregon that built flight simulators. I remember Dynamix courting Mark to come to Oregon. Meanwhile, Scott and Mark were having some issues between them. Mark decided to move to Oregon, leaving Scott behind in Oakhurst.
Space Quest was like a child caught between two parents. I don’t know how it was decided as to whether Scott or Mark would do the next game. I also don’t remember who did do the next game. From Scott’s comments, it seems that Mark did another Space Quest game from Dynamix, which didn’t do well. That wouldn’t surprise me. Scott’s a great writer, and his biting witt were an important part of what made the series so successful. This is not to downplay Mark’s contribution which was huge.
Space Quest was best when both were involved, but unfortunately, any time there is a divorce, it’s a sad situation, and often, the kids get caught in the crossfire.
November 13, 2006 at 11:06 pm #28585
I believe the Space Quest in question was SQ5, as that one was Mark Crowe’s doing via Dynamix. I am amazed at how Scott blasted it though because many fans (myself included) really loved it. My fav is still Space Quest 3, but next in line is always 5. 🙂
November 21, 2006 at 4:55 pm #28586
Wowie Wowie! Is it the fourth of July already? Cause there’s sure a lot of fireworks going on here!
I always find it fascinating to hear the “behind the scenes” stories of Sierra, good or bad. I fully understand the feelings of the creators from the “early days” when the company felt more like a close-knit family. Then as they got bigger, the attention each person or project was given had to be spread thinner.
I totally agree with Ken from a business perspective. If the game was predicted to sell, then it would get a bigger budget. Just like with film distribution. If a movie company thinks a film isn’t going to do that well, it will remain in limited release (under 1,000 screens) until it prooves its market share. It’s easier to cut your losses on a small distribution than to crank it out to 3,500 locations and fall flat on your face. We’re talking hundreds, if not thousands of dollars for each additional copy.
Believe it or not, Walt Disney Pictures didn’t feel that the first “Pirates of the Caribbean” movie was going to be as big of a success as it was, thus the marketing and promotions weren’t any more than your average Summer popcorn flick. (If you notice, the film doesn’t even have the company’s logo at the beginning. Just the title card) An action flick based on a theme park ride just didn’t fit the formula. After its success, they pulled out all the stops for the next installments.
I didn’t really notice back then that certain games were getting more promotion than others, except Phantasmagoria, which is understandable given the amount of time and money invested in it. Space Quest 6 made the cover of InterAction just like King’s Quest 7 did.
Management is a tough job. No matter what happens, good or bad, it’s always the manager’s fault. Everyone thinks they’re getting less attention than everyone else, and those who are allegedly getting “all the attention” get mad when they don’t get the same amount. It’s like being the parent of hundreds of children who all want the same amount of everything when there’s not that much to go around.
Regardless of what happens behind the scenes, the image that the company projects to its customers and fans is what’s important. Granted, I did become a little concerned of what’s ahead when I only saw Mark Crowe’s picture on the back of the SQ5 box but for the most part, Sierra was my “happy place” that I could always count on for laughs, fun, and most importantly escapism.
As for the transition to point-and-click, it never really bothered me that much. Windows was becoming more prominent and people were getting used to using a mouse so it only seemed like the logical step to the way things were going… away from Dos and Typing to Windows and Mousing. I DID enjoy the hybrid parser feature of Larry 7, but hated the single cursor. But that’s just my opinion. 😉
November 23, 2006 at 6:04 am #28587
I think people should agree both are right. Scott was probably shafted somewhat, and from his point of view Ken did get a little more “greedy”. But Ken is also right on running a business is hard, especially trying to keep it profitable. So anyone who tries to profit is greedy even just a little bit. Actually it’s not really true, greed is the lust for monitary wealth that consumes everything else. But to Scott that’s the way it looked, and to Ken it didn’t look that way.
It’s cool to hear all sides of the story. Because they are different points of view. I don’t deem either view as unworthy. It would make an interesting book about the life of Online Systems (and sierra online later), as told by it’s employees and each on the same point of contention.
Keith Weatherby II